2.4 The 16th Century until the Reformation

Had it not been for the Reformation Crisis of 1559-60, the 16th century as a whole would probably have been very similar to the 15th century in terms of stability and consolidation of the position of the friars. During the first fifty years of the 1500s the Carmelites in Aberdeen continued with building works and acting, in all probability, as a regional centre for the north.

Again, in the 16th century one of the Provincials of the Scottish Carmelite Order was drawn from the Aberdeen community. Andrew Storour was both Provincial of the Scottish province and prior of the Aberdeen house (Copsey 1995, 97). There is also evidence of two provincial chapters taking place at the Aberdeen house: the first was held in June 1506 and the second, more controversial one, was called for September 1539 (Copsey 1995, 99). In the 16th century there were attempts at a general reform of the Scottish province. James V took the initiative in 1537: writing to the Prior General he requested the appointment of a new Provincial. James requested that one William Stob be appointed in place of the current Provincial, John Malcolmson. Stob was duly appointed at the next general chapter (Copsey 1995, 99). On returning from that general chapter Stob called a chapter to be held at Aberdeen, in September 1539. The ousted Provincial John Malcolmson was outraged; he refused to attend and entered into a legal challenge over the issue of exactly who really was the Provincial, a challenge which Stob eventually won.

These provincial meetings would have been important events and would have generated a considerable amount of work for the friars. There would have been a number of guests and visitors arriving for the meetings. Some of these would probably have been accommodated in the friary precincts and others may have sought accommodation elsewhere in the town. No doubt other senior clergy, from either Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen were involved. It is here that the lack of other documents relative to the history of the friary is once again felt.

It has been said that the Carmelites staffed St Ninian's chapel on Castlehill (Macfarlane 1985, 255). Macfarlane cites a charter of 2 May 1502 to substantiate this theory. The charter is in fact a grant by Robert Blinseile to Thomas Chamer as chaplain of St Ninian's of a land in the Shiprow (Anderson 1909, 62). Curiously, this charter does not support this theory and there is no other evidence that has any bearing one way or another on this suggestion.

After the founding of King's College in the last years of the 15th century, a connection with the Carmelites seems to have been established. The connection was general to the Scottish province and to the Aberdeen house in particular. The Bishop of Dunkeld gave money for two Carmelites, John Musch and John Pareis, from Perth, to study at King's (Copsey 1995, 65). Whilst William Shewan, an Aberdeen based Whitefriar, was secretary for William Hay, sub-principal of King's Shewan also transcribed a volume of the Bishop of Aberdeen's register (Copsey 1995, 65).

Between 1519 and 1522, there were four new bequests to the Aberdeen Carmelites. This shows that as the Reformation approached, there was no concomitant slowing of monetary bequests to the order. It is worth noting, nonetheless, that there were no new bequests or gifts to the Carmelites after 1522. There was, however, an increase in the number of court cases involving unpaid annual rents. This may have been related to growth in protestant sentiment in the burgh, although there were few if any real signs of the impending change in Aberdeen before the Reformation Crisis of 1559-60. The court cases may have been the result of other economic difficulties experienced by the burgh, such as a localised crisis ensuing upon the plague epidemic of the 1540s. To the potential problems caused by plague might be added the exigent needs of the wars with Henry VIII. Foggie notes that these issues affected not only the regularity of income from the crown but also hit each burgh community in Scotland hard (Foggie 2003, 142). An increase in Carmelite involvement in litigation for rents may then reflect that economic reality, rather than a developing aversion to aspects of Roman Catholicism. However the increased number of court cases could not have had positive impact on the way the friars were viewed by the local populace. It may be significant that they came just before the Reformation.

Clearly a reduction of income from annual rents would eventually have an adverse economic impact on the friars' finances. However there is not sufficient evidence to show that that point had been reached before the Reformation. On the contrary the friars seem to have been in a stable financial position: this finds expression in the archaeological evidence (Section 3.9). It is interesting to note that whilst in the fifteenth century there is evidence (see below) for two burgage plots to the north of the friary gates between the friary and the Green (King's Common Highway), not long after the Reformation the evidence points to there only having been one plot in front of the friars' lands. Thus in the Books of Assumption there is a reference to 'the land of John Hill lying in the Gren Gait between the lands of the Carmelite Friars of the said burgh on the south and the King Street on the north parts pays yearly 6s 8d.' (Kirk 1995, 419). It is possible that the two plots to the north of the friary had been amalgamated, or the evidence is imperfect, or even that this reference is to lands other than the friary proper, but it also remains possible that the friars had expanded into the congested land to the north of the friary precincts, as part of this aesthetic and functional series of works in the 16th century.

Importantly, there is also evidence of increased business between the Carmelites and Provost Thomas Menzies in the years leading up to the Reformation. This began in 1558: on 12 May Friar John Crysteson, Provincial, renounced an annual rent of £8 from four crofts within the Burgh (Prattiscroft, Cowliscroft, Clayhills and Gallowhills), which renunciation was redeemed by Thomas Menzies (Anderson 1909, 95). Eight days later on 20 May Provost Thomas gave a sasine of a third part of a tenement and yard in the Green to the Carmelites (Anderson 1909, 95 and ACA Burgh Register of Sasines IX). This land had been sold to Thomas two years previously, on 6 November 1556, by Helen Imry (Anderson 1909, 95). Also on 20 May 1558 Friar Crystesoun renounced an annual from a tenement in the Castlegate, which was redeemed by Provost Thomas (Anderson 1909, 95) On 6 September sasine was given by the Carmelites to Thomas on Cowliscroft and Prattiscroft (Anderson 1909, 96). On the same day sasine was given by the Carmelites to Gilbert Menzies, senior, burgess, on an annual rent of £5 from these same two crofts (in other words the majority of the annual previously taken from the 4 crofts renounced on 12 May) (Anderson 1909, 96). Thus, in the years immediately prior to the Reformation crisis a very close, complicated and financial relationship was building between Provost Menzies, and indeed the Menzies family more widely and the Carmelites.

In the early 16th century, the friars continued to maintain and replace parts of the exterior of their church, while burials also continued in some numbers. All of this evidence, both archaeological and historical, points to the fact that the friary was thriving prior to the Reformation. The history of the Carmelite friary in Aberdeen, until January 1560, was one of foundation, followed by some disruption and then by what appears to be several centuries of consolidation, growth and stability. By the time of the Reformation, the Carmelite friary in Aberdeen was an established part of the burgh and of its history. The Carmelites had been in Aberdeen for 287 years when the reforming mobs arrived in January 1560.


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