10.7 Economic and financial evidence

In the case then of the function, layout and appearance of the friary buildings, it is fair to say that archaeological evidence has been extremely useful and documentary evidence has contributed some important information. To a certain extent this is due to the nature of the two different sorts of evidence provided by both disciplines. The historical economic and financial evidence can point to where money was used for building purposes but in this case falls unfortunately short of being specific. The economic and financial evidence for this friary is copious in its survival and one issue emerges from it.

In terms of wealth there remains an unresolved problem: the friars were mendicants, they were beggars, they were supposed to be poor, but by way of gifts of land and money (as well as in kind) and through the administration, leasing and feuing of lands, they became wealthy. This was a problem for all of the orders of friars, as much as for the great monasteries of Scotland (and indeed Europe). However, there can be no real comparison between the income of friaries and that of the great monasteries. Indeed, Kirk has noted:

'The more modest revenues accruing to the friaries (which eschewed endowment and were located usually in the burghs)…Few friaries could expect an annual income of more than £100, and most appreciably less' (Kirk 1995, lxiv).

Nevertheless the owning of property and working within a cash economy remained a theoretical problem for the Carmelites. Writing about the Dominicans, Foggie comments that when they adopted a stricter regime (known as their Observance), in the decades prior to the Reformation, this was an attempt to get back to their original stricter and 'purer' aesthetic. However Foggie goes on to state:

'The conclusion must be faced that in this sense, the adoption of Observance by the Scottish Dominicans did not extend to their attitudes to their property rights' (Foggie 2003, 174).

The Carmelites, similarly, were prepared to work within the cash economy of the burgh. When the Carmelites' rental was drawn up in 1542 its avowed purpose was for use by Friar John Donaldson, their collector of annual rents (Anderson 1909, 83). Later in 1547 Friar John Allirdes was named as collector of rents (Anderson 1909, 87). Thus we can see that the Carmelite friars themselves were happy enough to go around the burgh collecting money.

The Carmelites were also involved in a variety of means of selling and administering land and making a profit from it. They feued, tacked and granted land where appropriate. On 10 August 1401, letters were issued by John Yhule, burgess, in respect to defaults on a payment of 8s from a land in Fittie, feued to him by the Carmelites (Anderson 1909, 22). When necessary the Carmelites would also sell a land outright. Thus on 20 February 1412 they sold the lands of Little Glensaught (Figure 4) to Friar Duncan, son of John (Anderson 1909, 26). Unfortunately it has not been possible to track down which order Friar Duncan belonged to. There are also examples of the Carmelites granting sasine of their lands to various people. For example on 24 May 1520 Prior Galloway granted a precept of sasine to George Leslie, the actual instrument of sasine was issued the next day (Anderson 1909, 74). Finally the Carmelites also issued tacks: on 3 April 1557 Prior Christeson issued a tack to Isobel Rolland for three crofts in Aberdeen (Anderson 1909, 95).

This 'discrepancy' or inconsistency was noticed at the time. Foggie notes that the three main themes of anti-mendicant literature in Scotland consisted of allegations of hypocrisy, sexual immorality and false teaching (Foggie 2003, 213). Allegations of hypocrisy in this sense play directly into the seeming contradiction of the pious mendicant as wily landlord. Foggie rightly notes, however, that the tradition embodied in this literature was greatly influenced by Continental writings. Moreover she notes that often all orders of friars as a whole were the subject of condemnation in this literature, and not a specific order. Also, that the surviving literature shows confusion amongst the authors as to which order was which and finally that the literature could also be positive at times to friars (and was thus sometimes more complex than simply anti-mendicant). Despite these caveats we should remember that anti-friar literature was published and read in Scotland and that the friars did to an extent bring these criticisms down upon themselves. Although there is no specific evidence for this from Aberdeen in relation to the Whitefriars, it is not too difficult to imagine them inspiring contempt and financial jealousy amongst some of their neighbours in Aberdeen over the course of their existence in the burgh. Perhaps, to an extent, there will always be aggression and jealousy inspired by 'cloistered' communities living within the world.

In the end this issue was clearly one that some people were uncomfortable with, and this found an expression in anti-friar literature. Moreover some friars clearly wrestled with the problem as well. However, the fact that friars administered their lands and made money from this was part of the existence of the community. They required income to erect and maintain their buildings; to continue to provide their ministrations to the community.


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