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The Medieval Bishops

Since bishops played a leading part in the government and administration of the kingdom, it was important to the king to have the right individuals in office; but relations between king and bishop were not always good. The Chronicler of Lanercost seems to hint that Bishop Richard Inverkeithing (1250—72) was poisoned by Alexander III, who wished to gain some of his possessions. But if this was the case the king was thwarted because the bishop had given away most of his possessions before his untimely death.

Life in a medieval diocese could be turbulent, as in 1392—3, when there was a conflict between Bishop Robert Sinclair (1391-c. 1398) and the abbot of Cambuskenneth, which led to the excommunication of the bishop himself. It is perhaps no coincidence that when in 1394—5 the abbot of Cambuskenneth had to provide him with hospitality in the course of a visit to Alva, the bishop turned up with an enormous - and doubtlessly hungry - retinue of horsemen. Dunkeld’s position close to the Highlands could also be a problem, and on one Whitsunday Bishop Thomas Lauder (1452-75) had to take refuge in the loft above the choir screen when Clan Donnachie attacked the cathedral.

The income of the Scottish dioceses varied considerably, and Dunkeld was only of the middle rank. In the late middle ages a newly appointed bishop of Dunkeld had to pay a tax of 450 gold florins to the Papal curia, as compared with the 3,300 florins payable by an archbishop of St Andrews. Beyond this, the costs of election were formidable, and Bishop Richard Pilmuir (1337-c.1347) had to borrow the enormous sum of 3,000 gold florins to cover his expenses.

Yet none of this should make us assume that all bishops were purely worldly individuals whose only interest was their own welfare. Sevaral bishops of Dunkeld left behind them a reputation for having made great efforts for their Church and its members. Bishop George Brown (1483—1515), for example, both greatly beautified the cathedral and appointed rural deans to watch over the clergy in the diocese. Another bishop, Gavin Dunbar (1515-22), was an outstanding poet, who translated Vergil’s Aeneid into fine Scots verse. Unfortunately, Douglas’s life was a model of neither godliness nor patriotism, and when he died of the plague in London, it was because he was there in exile.

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