2.2 The 14th Century

Whilst the thirteenth century was a period of successful foundation and building, the following years in Scottish history are dominated by the succession crisis and the Wars of Independence. Both Copsey and Spearman argue that this impeded the progress that the Carmelites had made in Aberdeen. During the Wars Aberdeen was occupied at various points. This occupation would have disrupted the plans of the friars. On the other hand there also seems to have been some evidence that the friars may have worked with the English forces.

Writing over two hundred years later (in 1500) Hector Boece in his History of Scotland wrote that four of the Carmelite friars from Aberdeen were sent by Edward I to Oxford, to Balliol College (Anderson 1909, 14). The name of one of these friars is given as Hugh of Berwick, an interesting name and may well show that the population of the friary some thirty years after its foundation may still, to an extent, have been drawn from (or still composed of those from) the Berwick community. Presumably this event described by Boece happened during Edward's visit to Aberdeen in 1297. These friars were apparently sent to Oxford to study theology and through their learning they might become tools of pro-English propaganda in Scotland.

There are problems in general with the veracity of Boece and many claims as to his unreliability have been made. Many have roundly condemned Boece: in the nineteenth century Leland noted: 'If you should bid me count the lies of Hector's history I might as well as essay to count the stars or waves of sea.' (Moir 1894, xiii). The story about the friars' removal to Oxford remains without evidence although it is very interesting to note that there is other evidence that Carmelites elsewhere worked with the English. Indeed it should also be remembered that the Scottish houses were still part of the English province. In 1296 two Scottish Carmelites took dispatches to Edward whilst two other Carmelites acted as chaplains to the English garrison at Edinburgh Castle. Moreover the Berwick Carmelite house was trusted sufficiently in 1310 to be charged with safe keeping of the prisoner Isabella, Countess of Buchan (Edwards 1909-12, 20). Irrespective of the Carmelites' links with Edward and his army, the uncertainty in the first years of the 1300s must have affected the progress which they had previously made.

The next evidence relating to the friary dates from 27 October 1321, when Bethinus, son of Constantine, late burgess, granted to the Carmelites an annual payment of two shillings from his land in the Green (Anderson 1909, 14). The evidence for this again comes from later on in the reign of David II and it shows that the Carmelites were continuing to be accepted by the community in Aberdeen. There was another bequest in 1350 when John Crab gifted an annuity of 13s 4d to fund prayers for himself and his family, and a Saturday mass to the Virgin (Anderson 1909, 15).

In 1324 the Scottish Carmelites houses became, officially, a separate province from England. Copsey suggests that this may have spurred Robert the Bruce to grant the Aberdeen house an annuity of 10 marks, (Copsey 1995, 50) out of the burgh fermes. The annuity was to be used until their chapel was completed (Anderson 1909, 17). Both Copsey and Spearman argue that the chapel was unfinished because of disruption caused by the Wars of Independence (Copsey 1995, 50; Stones 1989, 30). Spearman argues that these payments continued down to the end of Robert's reign (Stones 1989, 30). However, the exchequer rolls are imperfect and only show the payment in 1327, 1328 and 1329, although it can assumed that it was also made in 1325 and 1326, despite the rolls being missing for that period (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 60, 61 and 90) Spearman also shows that from 1327 there was an additional payment of 40s from Robert, which continued to the end of his reign in 1329 (Stones 1989, 30).

The reason behind these gifts from Robert remains unknown: the stated reason for the 10 merks was for the building of their church. Robert, as Copsey suggested, may have been responding to a newly independent Scottish Carmelite Province or he may have had some other reason for favouring the Aberdeen Carmelites. It is worth noting that the Aberdeen Carmelites received payments from the exchequer in 1327, 1328 and 1329 whilst the Carmelites of Berwick only have one payment recorded against their house, in 1327, of 54s 4d and those of Perth only one payment of 32s 4d in 1328 (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 63 and 88).

So, was Robert being more generous to the Aberdeen Carmelite house? The answer would seem to be no: the Blackfriars' house in Aberdeen received two payments between 1327 and 1329 (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 60 and 90). Whilst that in Edinburgh received five between 1327 and 1329 (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 74, 93, 115, 166 and 215) The Blackfriars of Elgin received three payments between 1327 and 1329 (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 53, 93 and 115). Three payments in the same time frame can also be shown for the Blackfriars of Perth (Stuart and Burnett 1878>, 66, 88 and 168) and those of Stirling (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 86, 160 and 178). In short, although Robert may have been slightly more generous to the Aberdeen Carmelites in comparison to other Scottish Carmelites, in light of his payments to the various houses of the Scottish Blackfriars, it seems that his payments to the Aberdeen Carmelites are entirely in keeping with his general level of commitment to friars in Scotland. That said, the Aberdeen Carmelites, taking in this money along with the annuities granted to them by Aberdonians, would have been able to amass a good collection of money towards their church and friary buildings in general.

Despite these payments and any progress made, the 1330s may have brought disaster for the Carmelites. Relations between England and Scotland deteriorated after the death of Robert I; Edward III invaded Scotland and in 1336 his troops reached Aberdeen (Copsey 1995, 51 and Spearman 1989, 30). It has been argued that there was a battle between the English forces and the Scots in Aberdeen. Moreover it has been suggested that the battle ended with Aberdeen being burned to the ground by the English troops. Wyntoun in his Chronicle of History wrote that: 'Till Abbyrdene syne ar thai [the English] gane, And in to wengeawns off Roslyne The towne wp halily brynt thai syne.' (Laing 1872, 430). This suggests that the action was done in revenge for the killing of an English Commander, Roselyn. Many people have repeated this story and, inevitably, it has been embellished as the centuries have passed. Writing in the seventeenth century Parson Gordon noted that:

'thretty English ships, who hade been lent as ayds to Edward Balioll, came befor Aberdeen in the night tyme, and having sett a party of souldiers armed a shore, thes did enter the toune so unexpectedlie, the citizens dreaming of no such surprise, that many of the touns men being killed, they did burne the toune. The fyre raged for sex quholl dayes therafter (a sad sight to the beholders.) Notwithstanding, the Englishes did preserve all the churches and religious houses, having sett guards to keep them from taking fyre.' (Innes 1842, 5).

It is uncertain where Gordon obtained this information. Perhaps it was a story that was current at the time, or he may have seen it in a document that has become lost. Nevertheless, if true, it would mitigate against the disaster theory.

Wilson, in 1822, wrote:

'The citizens and other partisans of David met him in the Green, near the Denburn. A fierce battle ensued. The English came off victorious; yet not without severe losses, for their commander, and many besides, were mortally wounded. The inhabitants, overwhelmed by terror, fled from the town; but being pursued by their infuriate enemies, many of them were overtaken and slain. The town was next pillaged and set on fire. The fire continued its ravages for six days, until the whole was reduced to ashes.' (Wilson 1822, 8).

Of which theory Copsey writes:

'The Carmelite house, at the centre of the battle site, would have been one of the first buildings to suffer. There is no record of any friars losing their lives but the buildings were severely damaged and it is likely that the whole convent was put to the flames. It took the convent a long time to recover from this devastation.' (Copsey 1995, 51).

Copsey and Spearman use evidence from the following decades to substantiate the disaster theory. Both cite a series of payments recorded in the exchequer rolls to the Carmelites: in 1340 10 merks to the 'fabric' of the church with some to the roof and specifically to the roof in 1341, 1342 and 1343 (Copsey 1995, 51 and Spearman in Stones 1989, 30). Both Copsey and Spearman also cite David II's charters of confirmation of 1361 (after his return from captivity) as evidence for the disaster theory. In part the charters granted new money to the friary and in part they confirmed a series of existing charters. Commenting on why David II had done this Copsey writes:

'It seems probable that the reason for these royal confirmations was the loss of the originals in the destruction of the Carmelite house in Aberdeen in 1336. In fact, apart from a copy of a papal bull of 1326, the earliest Carmelite document preserved in Aberdeen dates from 1347.' (Copsey 1995, 52).

However it should be noted that the charter of confirmation by David II, dated 7 May 1361, states that the original grants had been 'produced by Friar Adam Sper provincial of the order in Scotland…' (Anderson 1909, 17). Thus the originals were still extant in 1361, which certainly indicates that they had not been destroyed in 1336.

Moreover there is also the fact that it is simply not the case that the payments from the burgh fermes were stopped after Robert died in 1329 and the same with the additional payment of 40s. The ferme payment was still made in 1330 (Stuart and Burnett 1878, 308). They may have stopped after this, but as the rolls are largely missing between 1332 and 1339 (and given that records of the payments start again in 1340) we can not inevitably leap to the conclusion that the payments were not made during that period. Thus the 1340 payments might simply be a continuation of the earlier payments and not a response to a disaster.

Thus it cannot simply be said that there had been a disaster in 1336 which destroyed part of the buildings and caused the loss of their charters and hence necessitated a new series of payments from the fermes. The payments may simply have been a continuation of those from the 1320s. Moreover, by the evidence of the 7 May 1361 charter the earlier charters were still in existence a considerable time after they were supposed to have been destroyed. On balance there is no overwhelming evidence of a disaster in 1336 affecting the Carmelites. There may have been a battle in Aberdeen and certainly parts of the town may have been put to the torch. However the only historical evidence for that lies with Wyntoun and his slender comments written after the fact (Laing 1872). Any further detail of this now fully developed theory is a later embellishment lacking proper evidence.

What remains clear is that there is evidence for further building works in the 1340s, 50s and 60s. Spearman argues that the rebuilding work was completed by around 1360. He shows that in that year, David II gifted ten pounds to the friars and in the following year continued the payments from the burgh fermes (originally granted by Robert I) and notes that the proviso concerning spending the money on the church fabric was withdrawn, suggesting that the building work had ceased (Spearman 1989, 32). Perhaps the end date suggested by Spearman is not that clear, but the archaeological evidence indicates that the fourteenth century was the main phase of building work on the stone church. All of these grants are therefore related to the building, maintenance, repair and shoring up of the stone Carmelite church. The archaeological evidence does not, however, bear out any disaster in the early 14th century.

Amongst all of this, the Carmelites made another foundation close to Aberdeen in the 1320s. Copsey has shown that in 1321 Robert the Bruce granted a chapel in Banff to the order. In 1323 he confirmed his gift along with additional lands to erect a church and priory (Copsey 1995, 50-1). Copsey argues that the members of this new house no doubt derived from the Aberdeen house and that the smaller Banff house probably looked to the older and more secure Aberdeen house for support when it was needed.

In the fourteenth century Philip de Arbuthnot granted money to the Carmelites: this is an unusual story and the details have been well rehearsed by both Copsey and Spearman. The two charters confirming Arbuthnot's grant have been dated 1304. However Spearman and others prefer a date of 1355 (also given in the Register of the Great Seal). Spearman has shown that the 1304 date does not fit in with either Arbuthnot history or genealogy, and seems to be a deliberate error by the Carmelites at the time (Stones 1989, 32; Copsey 1995, 52). A second issue here is that in the 18th century Father Marianus Brockie argued that Arbuthnot had founded the house at Aberdeen. Spearman, however, shows that Brockie fabricated evidence to support his theory. The evidence against Brockie is convincing: the style of the 'charter' he cites to support his theory is not consistent with a 14th century charter and the names given in it do not tally with known names of friars (Stones 1989, 32).

To return to the first conundrum: that of the Carmelites falsifying their own records. If that is what happened, then it is a very intriguing scenario and begs the question, why? Spearman suggests that: 'In 1366 it may have been felt that it was unwise to be too closely associated with the Cheyne family who had sided with the English during the earlier wars.' (Spearman 1989, 32). If this is the case then it may be important to read this in the context of the Carmelites sent to England by Edward and along with the other evidence of pro-English sentiments in (elements of) the wider Carmelite community. Perhaps certain friars were loyal to Henry le Chen, bishop of Aberdeen and brother to Reginald, who had been generous to the friars. Loyalty to Henry, or to the stance of the le Chen family, meant loyalty to Edward I of England. At Berwick in 1291, Henry swore fealty to Edward, and again in 1296, whilst in 1297 he was appointed by Edward as one of the guardians of the sheriffdom of Aberdeen (Innes 1845, xxvii). Perhaps there were factions of the Carmelites in Aberdeen drawing in different directions; to this it might even be added that the grants and beneficence from Robert I may even have been his attempts to win over a less loyal group. This point is entirely conjectural and while there is no substantial evidence to support this suggestion, nevertheless it does seem to fit with an interpretation of the slender facts.

In the final analysis this is a complicated point. The friars were part of a wide international community. Their loyalties as a corporate entity may have been at odds with the feelings of specific friars. The evidence of their later attempt to re-orient their early history towards a family that did not have English sympathies remains interesting, if this is indeed what happened. The motives of Robert Bruce in granting money to the friars are lost to us. It may have related to 'conventional piety' at the time and may have had a political dimension to it as well.

Despite the problems which may have been encountered during the early to mid part of the fourteenth century, the remainder of the century was probably quiet. The evidence shows that a significant building programme was underway. More burials were also found during phase 5a which along with the increasing number of bequests from town's people, shows the increased integration of the friars into the community in Aberdeen. The financial position of the friary was also considerably stronger at the end of the 1300s than it had been at the start of the century.


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