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4.2 Historiography

Writing about scholarship on the mendicant orders in Scotland, Randla commented that: 'In spite of their importance very little interest has been shown in the mendicant orders…' (Randla in Sarnowsky 1999, 243). Randla goes on to remark that general histories of Scotland 'make hardly any mention of the friaries…' (Randla in Sarnowsky 1999, 244). Both of these statements are true. However, some very specific attention has been focused on the Aberdeen Carmelite friary. Tangentially it has featured in works on Scottish history, works on Aberdeen in general and general works on religious houses. There are also works that deal specifically with Aberdeen's Carmelite friary.

To begin with the tangential treatments: Kennedy's Annals of Aberdeen treats the Carmelites very briefly along with an analysis of the other mendicant orders in Aberdeen (Kennedy 1818a; 1818b, 72-75). Brevity is the problem with this sort of work: there is simply not sufficient space to deal with the friary in any narrative or thematic manner. Despite this caveat, Kennedy devotes several pages to the Carmelites and does provide a reasonable overview of the friary's history. Kennedy had a sound knowledge of the archives of the City of Aberdeen as he, in part, is remembered as the compiler of a three-volume index to the Council Registers which covered the period 1398-1800. Much of his work is based upon archival research, although he does also use material from other sources. The history of the friary has also been dealt with by G.M.Fraser in his work on the history of the Green (Fraser 1904). This work provides a much fuller analysis than Kennedy does. Fraser was the librarian in the Central Library in Aberdeen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like Kennedy, he had a real passion for the history of his city (indeed he was responsible for building up the collection of works in Aberdeen that today forms the core of the Local Studies department of the Central Library) and to a certain extent this colours some of his work with an overly sentimental view.

Second are works on Scottish religious houses: Spottiswoode and Brockie are the main examples here and have been discussed by Spearman (1989). In the late 17th century John Spottiswoode wrote An Account of the Religious Houses in Scotland at the Time of the Reformation, whilst in the 18th century Father Marianus Brockie wrote Monasticon Scoticon (never published) which has to be treated with caution as Spearman shows that Brockie did fabricate certain charters and other pieces of evidence. These works both suffer in the same general manner as the works on Aberdeen: there is insufficient space to focus on the Aberdeen Carmelite house and a revision of their work in light of newer work is necessary.

Certainly there are not as many works on Scottish mendicants in general as there could be; however, the body of work has been growing. In 1994 the Cambridge Medieval Textbook series produced a volume on Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain, 100-1300 (Burton 1994). This work does have one chapter devoted to the mendicant orders. In some regards this is a step forward. However, it is also symptomatic of the problem outlined by Randla: the references to Scotland are rare. That said this remains an important contribution to the historiography in a general sense. In recent years there is the work of Randla herself. This is a specific attempt to 'fill the gap' in terms of published work on mendicant architecture. This extremely useful study does show how mendicant architecture fits into a broader pattern with certain local and regional variations and differences. Most recently, there is the work of Foggie (2003). Although focused only on the Blackfriars, this study is invaluable as it does provide a number of useful parallels between the Dominicans and the Carmelites.

The Aberdeen house is dealt with, along with the general development of the Scottish province of the Carmelites, in John Edwards' work of the early 20th century (Edwards 1909-12, 10-89). This work is based largely upon general texts and only to a limited degree upon documents from Aberdeen. The bulk of his primary research was conducted in the Register of the Great Seal. As with the other works thus far mentioned, he lacks the space to deal effectively with the history of the Aberdeen friary and the work is largely out of date. This is also true of Cowan and Easson's outstandingly important reference work on religious houses in Scotland (Cowan and Easson 1976). This work has been superseded by the work of Copsey on the foundation dates of the Scottish Carmelite houses, which is an authoritative account based on extensive primary research (Copsey 1998, 41-65).

Anderson's work in the early 20th century has been invaluable. In 1909, Aberdeen University published Anderson's Aberdeen Friars which is a calendar of all the documents known to Anderson concerning the Black, White, Grey and Red friars of Aberdeen. The calendar is composed of abstracts of all relevant documents, some of which contain sufficient detail to be extremely useful (Anderson 1909). This is especially true of the financial and economic details published in the calendar. Anderson made extensive use of the various archives in Aberdeen to draw this seminal work together. At the time of its compilation Anderson was the archivist at Aberdeen University and as such had an excellent knowledge of the documents concerning the Black, White and Grey friars which passed through the hands of Marischal College to the University of Aberdeen (which was formed by a union of Marischal and King's College in 1860). Moreover, Anderson's work provides information on documents that have become lost: Marischal College inventoried its charters in 1617, 1716 and again 1781. Many of the manuscripts mentioned in the earlier inventories were missing at subsequent ones. Anderson, however, has included these lost charters and thus provides a better glimpse of what may have been the surviving bulk of the friars' charters after the Reformation. Along with Anderson's Calendar there must also be mention of his work for the Spalding Club on the records of Marischal College. In this, he included several college rentals from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that provide invaluable information on the post-Reformation history of the site and of the Carmelites' lands and annual rents (Anderson 1889).

The first of the two modern studies of the Carmelites in Aberdeen is mostly archaeological and partly historical (Stones 1989). This is a publication of archaeological excavations at Carmelite friaries in Aberdeen, Linlithgow and Perth. This combined both the excavations with a structural history of the friary. Next is the work of Friar Richard Copsey, a Carmelite friar and historian who has researched and published widely on the history of his order. Aside from the general works already mentioned on the Scottish houses and the province he has published an essay on the Carmelite house at Aberdeen and has produced a book on the friary in greater detail which has not yet been published (a copy of which is available in Special Collections in the University of Aberdeen). As with Spearman, his work is based on extensive documentary research. Copsey took the financial aspects of the history of the friary further than anyone previously. In part this is a reflection of the surviving documents which on the whole concern money.


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