- The Bishopric
now and then the curtain hiding the past is lifted for a moment.
and we are given a brief glimpse of how our familiar surroundings
looked five hundred or three hundred or two hundred years ago.
For many hundreds of years Dunkeld was a powerful bishopric,
many of its
bishops were famous men in their generation, many a time the
Cathedral was ravaged by wild clansmen sweeping down from the
hills, stormy characters like the Wolf of Badenoch, the wild
son of Robert the Second.
were its neighbours, but the clearest picture of the bishopric
is given us just before the Catholic power was broken in Scotland.
Canon Myln who wrote The Lives of the Bishops of Dunkeld, was
well fitted for the work, for he had personal, and even intimate
relations with Bishop
Brown and Gavin Douglas, the poet bishop of Dunkeld. Myin was
a most competent civil servant, and the accounts of the diocese
were scrupulously kept in his time. He became clerk to the diocese
in 1500, Dean of Angus in 1505, and Prebend of Moneydie in 1510.
He super intended the work on Dunkeld Bridge. Later he was made
Abbot of Cambuskeneth, and was the first president of the College
of Justice instituted by James V. The memory of Bishop Brown
was very dear to him, and in his ‘Life’ he dwells
lovingly on all the details of the Bishop's life and works.
His account of the earlier bishops is not without value but
the scene springs to life when we get to Bishop Brown.
Brown did not obtain his bishopric without opposition; indeed
the appointment of bishops was at that time a knotty question
between the Scottish Church and the Pope. Bishop James Livingston
died in the August of 1483, and the Chapter got in first with
their candidate. Alexander Ynglis, Dean of Dunkeld, Register
and Councillor to James III. The Pope, however, appointed George
Brown, a Dundee man, Chancellor of Aberdeen and rector of Tyninghame
in the diocese of St. Andrews He had to overcome great opposition
from the Court; but by payment. by ready wit, and by diplomacy
he gained the day. He naturally came to the diocese heavily
in debt; but by careful management he contrived to pay off his
debts and yet behave liberally to his household and neighbours.
As soon as he was solvent he devoted himself and his income
to the welfare of his diocese. He divided it into four deaneries,
the first Atholl and
Drumalbane, the second Angus, the third Fife, Fothick and Strathearn
and the fourth those parts south of the Forth. He arranged that
friars minor who knew the Gaelic should preach in all the upper
parts of his diocese at least once a year. They won many to
confess sins that had been concealed for over thirty years;
and open and unrepentant offenders were so sternly dealt with
that by the end of the Bishop’s time comparatively few
offences were committed. The Bishop would not apply the fines
levied on these men to his own use. He said: ‘The oil
of the sinner shall not anoint my head,’ and spent the
money on the churches to which the offenders belonged. He did
much for church building and endowment. Little Dunkeid Parish
was of unwieldy size, and he divided it, and built and consecrated
a church at Caputh, with a small vicarage and glebe belonging
to it; and later he built the Church of St Anne at Dowally in
the upper half of Caputh Parish, to serve the Gaelic-speaking
there. When the plague broke out at Caputh he consecrated a
churchyard there, established a camp for the sick at Spittalfield,
and sent them holy water in which a bone of St. Columba’s
had been dipped as a cure. It is reported that all who drank
it were cured; but one profane fellow who refused it and said
that he had rather the Bishop had sent some of his good strong
ale perished of the plague. The Bishop rebuilt and einstituted
Tibbermore’s Church of St. Serf, which had long fallen
into disuse. He cleared a dangerous nest of robbers out of the
Castle on Loch Clunie, and built an episcopal residence there,
with houses and a church dedicated to
St. George. He dedicated chantry chapels in the Cathedral, and
gave it many gold ornaments and vestments; he built the south
side of the Episcopal Palace in Edinburgh, the House of Kinvaid,
and the nave of the Carmelite Church at Tullielum near Perth,
and he began a bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld. He lived to see
the first arch finished in 1513. His zeal for the temporal as
well as the spiritual welfare of the Church in his
diocese had involved him in a great deal of litigation; and
his last days were troubled by the lawless incursions of a freebooting
highlander, William McPatrick McAllister McRobert McDonoquchy,
otherwise called William Strowan. He was troubled too by the
conduct of one Stowick, who (unrebuked by the Earl of Atholl)
had carried off the Bishop’s niece. Matilda Johnson, the
widow of Sir John Rattray, from the Bishop’s house of
Kinvaid. He died in 1515. If we may judge by Myln’s account
diocese was in his time ocdupied by a set of very pleasant,
able incumbents, good Christians and cheerful companions.
successor, Gavin Douglas, had even more trouble in obtaining
possession of his diocese. Andrew Stewart, the brother of the
Earl of Atholl, was the Regent Albany’s candidate for
the bishopric; but the Queen Mother secured the Papal appointment
for Gavin Douglas, the
uncle of the Earl of Angus, whom she had just married. Local
armed force was naturally at Stewart’s disposal, and his
adherents seized the Episcopal Palace and the tower of the Cathedral,
from which they opened fire upon Gavin Douglas when the unfortunate
man came to celebrate his first mass in the Cathedral after
being freed from a year’s imprisonment for receiving a
Papal Bull. The service had to be held in the Deanery instead.
This is one of the two houses which survived the fire of Dunkeld.
In a short time, however, he gathered forces to his assistance,
and regained the tower and Palace from Stewart’s supporters,
who took to the hills. The matter was not over, however; and
it was not finally settled until he had ceded Alyth and Cargill
to the postulant.
Gavin Douglas finished the building of Dunkeld Bridge, which
was a great benefit to the neighbourhood so long as it stood.
It was swept away by flooding within two years, but an indulgence
was granted for its rebuilding, and in 1551 the bridge still
stood. It was, however, only a footbridge. It was not the first
bridge to span the Tay at Dunkeld, for in 1461 a stone and wooden
bridge had been begun near the Episcopal Palace by Bishop Thomas
Lauder and finished by James Levington. In the eighteenth century
some of the stone piles on which this earlier bridge was based
were still to be seen when the Tay was low.
Douglas seemed likely to be a good and efficient bishop, but
he was not long left to the peaceful performance of his duties.
A year after his installation he was sent abroad with Albany
on a diplomatic mission,
and when he returned the fued between Angus and Albany’s
faction was hotter than ever. In 1530 the Queen Mother divorced
Angus, and his friends and connections were forced into exile.
Douglas fled to England, where he was well received by both
Henry and Cardinal Wolsey. He
died in the house of his old friend Lord Dacre in 1522. The
inscription on his tomb describes him as Bishop of Dunkeld and
an exile from his country. He was a poet of considerable importance
in the Chaucerian tradition, the first man in Europe to make
a verse translation of Virgil. He seems to have tried in turbulent
times to live at peace with his neighbours and to do his duty
as a churchman. He deserved a happier life.
Crichton who succeeded Douglas was a man of very different tastes.
He is said to have thanked God that he knew neither New nor
Old Testaments, and yet he had prospered well enough. From this
came the proverbial saying, ‘Ye are like the Bishop of
Dunkeld, that kent neither the new law nor the auld.’
Bishop Crichton died in 1559, and was succeeded by his nephew,
Robert Bishop. Robert was an ardent Roman Catholic, but more
solicitous of the worldly revenues of the Church than
its theological position. Seeing the change of times ahead he
did his best to secure lands to the Church, though unavailingly.
In the attempt to do so he conveyed Clunie Castle and the land
adjoining it to a kinsman, Robert Crichton of Nithsdale, to
hold for the Church. Its restitution, however, was never demanded.
It was this conveyance which gave Dunkeld one of its most notable
worthies, the Admirable Crichton.
Reformation in Scotland was a more gradual affair than in England,
and we can give no set date for the abolition of the monasteries.
Lay abbots continued to hold many of the monasteries with the
pensioners, and church property was only gradually taken over
by the state or absorbed by the nobles. 1560 may be given as
the operative date in Dunkeld. In that year Atholl, Argyle and
Ruthven, as representatives of the Privy Council, wrote a letter
to the lairds of Airntully and Kinvaid telling them ‘to
fail not to pass incontinent to the Kyrke of Dunkeld and tak
doun the haill imagery thereof, and bring them furth to the
kirk-yaird, and burn tham oppenly, and sechligh cast doun the
altaris and purge the
kirk of all kinds of manuments of idolatrye’. They enjoined
them, how ever, not to hurt desks, windows nor doors, neither
glass nor iron work.
appear to have carried out the first part of their orders thoroughly.
but disregarded the last part, for Dunkeld Cathedral was little
better than a ruin until the choir was re-roofed and made usable
in 1601. So
good an opportunity for plunder and destruction was not to be
missed. There was an end of the fourteenth-century stained glass
of Bishop Peebles, and of the stained glass and silver plate
and seven-branched candlestick of Bishop Lauder; of his high
altar with the great panelled reredos showing the twenty-four
miracles of St. Columba; of Levingston’s Catherine Chapel
and the seven chapels of Bishop Brown, with all the vestments
and candles so lovingly enumerated by Canon MyIn. Stewart’s
cannons and the Robertsons of Struan may have accounted for
some of them: but the greater part vanished on that August day
of 1560, and no trace of them has since been found.
To The History of Dunkeld