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2.3 The 15th Century

The fifteenth century seems to have been a period of stability and growth amongst the Carmelite community in Scotland as a whole, and in Aberdeen in particular. This should be understood in the context of the previous century's building programme and strong financial position of the friars in Aberdeen.

There were two further Carmelite houses founded in Scotland during the 15th century, at Inverbervie (Bervie Parish Church Heritage Society 1990) and Kingussie (Figure 3). Both of these new houses were close to Aberdeen and Copsey has suggested that the Aberdeen house was intimately associated with these new foundations (Copsey 1995, 94). Copsey also points out that of the nine houses of Carmelites in the Scottish province, four were in the north; this has led him to conclude, rightly, that this reflected 'the vitality of the Carmelites in Aberdeen…' (Copsey 1995, 94). Perhaps it could be said that during this period the Aberdeen house was a regional centre for the north (or the north-east). Just as the initial community in Aberdeen may have, in part, been drawn from the existing community in Berwick, so the new communities in Inverbervie and Kingussie may have been drawn from Aberdeen (Figure 3). Perhaps money had come from the Aberdeen house to help set up these new houses. Advice and assistance would probably have been freely available to these new communities.

In the late 15th century, one of the Provincials of the Scottish Carmelites came from Aberdeen. This was William Liel, who was Provincial from 1447, and again from 1451. Liel was also prior of the Aberdeen house and came from a family that had strong links with the Aberdeen community. Copsey notes that a Thomas Liel, in all probability William's younger brother, was a Carmelite in Aberdeen and a 'dominus' Andrew Liel appeared as an advocate for the Aberdeen house in 1504 (Copsey 1995, 96-7). Aside from these Liels in Aberdeen there was also Mr Andrew Liel, treasurer of the Royal Burgh in the last decades of the fifteenth century (Cooper 1892, 195, 256, 302 and 317-8) and also a 'Sir' David Liel, Collector of the College of Chaplains of St Nicholas in the first decades of the sixteenth century (Cooper 1892, 89, 110-1, 210 and 264). This is important in showing both the strength of the Aberdeen house and its deep seated ties with important local families. Moreover, Copsey has commented that the Aberdeen house was the largest Carmelite house in Scotland, that it was frequently home to the Provincial of the Order and may even have housed the provincial archives.

This period of consolidation, stability and financial growth was reflected in the building works that were undertaken in the later 15th century. Phase 5c revealed the construction of three rooms in the west range (with a probable fourth revealed during an earlier excavation). This new stone west range was not the first; an existing one had been pulled down to allow for the construction of this new one. Perhaps the first west range had been completed after the works to the fabric of the church had been finished after 1360. By the mid to late 15th century, the existing west range was one hundred years old and with the friary being wealthier and more established, a more substantial, and commodious, range may have been their aim in phase 5c.

It is also from the fifteenth century that we have evidence of the names of some of the people buried in the friary. On 1 May 1402, James Fraser left money for masses for his late mother and brother, Mariotta and Duncan, both of whom were buried within the friary (Anderson 1909, 23). By this point the friary, both church and grounds, were probably very full in terms of burials. The situation may have been similar to that in St Nicholas graveyard. The records of the Kirk Work Accounts for St Nicholas in the later 16th century are revealing as to what a busy and crowded 16th century graveyard was like. In 1584 2 shillings was paid to 'gaddir the benis of deid togidder out of the kirk and kirkzard and to bige tham vp betwix tua butrisis…' (Cooper 1892, 386). By no means was this an isolated example: in 1593 money was paid to Andrew Mill, wright, for, inter alia, 'causit him mak ane trevis of tymer qlk is sett in kirk yard for to keip the deddis bonnis…'. Money was then paid to 'William Fyndlay for the gatherin of the deiddis benis in kirk and kirkyard and for laing the benis in the trevis…' (Cooper 1892, 395). This may provide a glimpse of conditions that were comparable to the situation in the Carmelite friary.

Of the Aberdeen Carmelites, in the 15th century, Spearman writes: 'The fortunes of the friary continued to improve over the next hundred years with a steady flow of new annuals and occasional gifts of land.' (Spearman 1989, 32). Whilst Randla has commented on mendicants in general, that: 'If the earlier initiatives had been predominantly ecclesiastical or royal, now the lay people, and especially burgesses, were much involved…' (Randla in Sarnowsky 1999, 246). The 15th century seems to have been a period when the Carmelites consolidated their already strong position in the burgh. By that time they were an historic part of the burgh; a house which had suffered the same vicissitudes as the burgh had, a house that had prospered when it could, in short they were a part of the everyday life of medieval Aberdeen. They were probably perceived as a regular and immutable aspect of life and were of undoubted importance to the town and no doubt through their preaching and scholarly work, a source of some pride to the town's people.

It is during this period of the history of the friary that the paucity of certain kinds of documents is most acutely felt. Whilst there is a wealth of financial detail, there is little or nothing concerning the social composition of the community or of aspects of their lives (cf Coulton 1933). Copsey certainly generalises as to what the daily life of late medieval/early modern Carmelite community would have been. However many of the aspects of life in the community are lost to us. The interaction of the Carmelites with the local population is in fact only reflected in a number of court cases concerning rent disputes. This should not, however, show that the friars were in constant litigation with the local community. Also, unlike other elements of the Roman clergy elsewhere in Scotland and Europe they did not attract adverse attention nor were they guilty of any major crimes (Copsey 1995, 95-6).


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