Tour Scotland
Home Page


The Four Monasteries

Before the Reformation there were four monasteries in Perth, housing about 50 monks or friars—the Dominican Monastery, the Carthusian Monastery, known as the Charterhouse, the Franciscan Monastery, and the Carmelite Monastery. Of these, the Dominican Monastery was the oldest, having been founded in 1213, 31 years before the Carmelite Monastery. The founder was Alexander II. It was situated on the north side of the town, next to the ancient Royal Castle, which had been laid in ruins by the lay floods of 1210, when Prince John, son of William the Lion, was drowned. In later years the kings developed the habit of staying in the Dominican Monastery, when visiting Perth; it gave them the added
protection of being in a holy place in those dangerous times. The monastery buildings were large and spacious, apparently, often being referred to as “a palace” they were arranged in a quadrangle, with a fine tower. On the south side there was a small church and a burying ground; and on the north side was a court where we know that James I played tennis. Inside the eastern main gate was another large court. When Alexander II founded the monastery he gifted the monks two gardens for their use and pleasure: the Friars’ Croft and the Gilden Arbor, or King’s Garden. The latter commanded a fine view of the North Inch and the Tay, and from it King Robert III watched the Battle of the Clans in 1396. The name of the garden is interesting: “Arbor” indicates a garden
with herbs and flowers, and “Gilden” refers to the gilded crosses with which it was decorated. The gardens were separated from the North Inch by a canal. The lands attached to the monastery apparently included present-day Atholl Place, Atholl Crescent, Rose Terrace, lackfriars Street, and Pullar’s Dyeworks, and they extended to the Dunkeld Road. The Dominican Order of monks was founded by St. Dominic—a Spaniard born in 1170. They lived lives of poverty and travelled around preaching the word of God. They were known as Black Friars from their dress which consisted, as a rule, of a white tunic with a leather belt, over which was a black mantle.

There were 15 monasteries of the Order in Scotland in
pre-Reformation times. The monastery in Perth housed about 13 friars. Unlike their placid neighbours, the Carmelites, the Black Friars in Perth had quite a varied and turbulent history. In the church of the monastery the Scottish Parliament met on several occasions. There, too, James I and his Queen were inmates when the King
was murdered by Sir Robert Graham, despite the heroic efforts of Catherine Douglas (later known as Kate Barlass because of her attempt to bar the door to the King’s murderers with her arm). This savage deed led to the decline of Perth as the capital of Scotland, and in 1482 Edinburgh became the capital instead. Buried in the church of the monastery was the Queen of Robert II.
Reference is made in the Chartulary (i.e., book which contains charters) of the monastery to frequent quarrels with the townsfolk— e.g., in 1543 some of the citizens broke into the building, destroying locks and removing brass chandeliers and glasses; they took away the monks’ large brass kettle which was filled with meat and was cooking on the kitchen fire. This they mischievously paraded through the streets to show how well the brethren fared. The monks immediately protested to the Queen, and the wrong-doers were summoned to answer for their misdeeds; but no record of the outcome of the “riot of the kettle” has survived. A feu-right granted by the friars in 1517 made a condition that the feuar was to lose all rights under the grant if he sub-let the gardens
and orchard of the building concerned to any master of a school for teaching, or to anyone exhibiting shows. So the good friars attempted to ensure quiet around them!
When the final upheaval of the Reformation led to the destruction of the monastery, Knox’s comment on the property found there was: “... The lyke aboundance was not in the Black Friars (as in the Grey Friars), and yet there was more than became men professing poverty . .

The Carmelite Monastery, as we have mentioned, was the second oldest of the four Perth monasteries, having been founded in 1262. in the reign of Alexander III, by Richard, Bishop of Dunkeld. It was on the west side of Perth, in the lands of Tullylumb. The Carmelite Order of Monks took their name from Mount Carmel. One of the mountains of the Bible, it was situated beside the Medi-
terranean, and abounded in vineyards. It attracted many tourists as the home of Elijah. Under the special protection of the Virgin Mary, the monks of the Carmelite Order assumed the title: “The Order of the Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel.” At first they lived in seclusion, but later took up the role of mendicant friars, mingling freely with the people. Their dress was a white cloak above a grey or tawny gown, hence their name of White Friars.
James Scott, in “Lives of the Protestant Reformers,” says that their monastery in Perth was “richly endowed and superbly built.” Records, however, show that the building was allowed to become ruinous—which does not bear out the implication of great wealth. Compared with the Dominican Monastery, in all its long history, the Carmelite Monastery was not concerned with any historical
events; nor does it appear to have had any quarrels with the people and magistrates of Perth. Twenty charters only of the monastery have been preserved. Alexander Young was the last Prior of the Carmelites. He con-
formed to the Reformation, and became the minister of Tibbermore.

The Carthusian Monastery (often referred to as “the grandest monastery in Perth”) was founded by James I; the building apparently being completed in 1429. Otherwise known as the Charteihouse, it stood on the site later occupied by the James VI Hospital. Its grounds extended as far as Craigie Haugh, and included
Pomarium, King Street, James Street, Leonard Bank—as well as part of the South Inch. The building which housed 13 monks was oblong in form, with a cloister along which were arranged the monks’ cells. Each of these cells had two rooms furnished with bedding—a straw mattress, a
pillow, and a woollen coverlet. Food was passed to the monks through slits in the cell doors. Only on Sundays and fast days did they dine together, and then in silence! They ate no flesh, and on one day of the week they
observed a fast day, when they ate only bread and drank water. Their dress consisted of haircloth next to the skin, and a white gown, with sometimes a white cloak. The monastery had a tall steeple, with bells. On the west side was an orchard called “Pomarium”. The great gate of the Charterhouse faced the south end of New Row. There was a burying-ground on the south side. An air of mystery surrounded this monastery as none of the monks
ever appeared in the streets of Perth—as did the Carmelites and Black Friars; only the Prior had this privilege. The monastery was known as the “House of the Valley of Virtue”. It was the burial place of James I, and the doublet of the murdered King, showing sword rents, was kept there as a relic. Queen Margaret, mother of James V, was also buried there. The last Prior of the Charterhouse was Adam Forman. To defend the building in the troubled times of the Reformation he brought several sturdy Highlandmen to Perth. If they had been used for the purpose he intended, with the aid of the strong walls of the monastery, they might well have beaten off an attacking mob. But, unfortunately, the Prior fell out with them, refusing to guarantee certain advantages to their wives and families, in case they were killed, and also declining to supply them with the best liquor in the monastery. As a result, when the mob attacked, the Highlanders stood idly by with folded arms.
Richard Lesley in his Latin history says the Charterhouse was levelled to the ground “lest any remains of so magnificent buildings and so splendid a place should remain to posterity. . .“ The orchard trees were cut down, and the royal tombs were lost under the rubble of the fallen edifice. Afterwards, however, the tombstone above the grave of James I and his Queen Joanna Beaufort was salvaged and transported to St. John’s Kirk, along with the handsome gate of the Charterhouse.
In the “Historie of the Reformation of Religion” John Knox’s comments on the affair includes the following: “The Pryor of the Charterhouse was permitted to tak’ with him evin so much gold and silver as he was well able to carrie. . .“

The Franciscan Monastery was founded in 1460 by Laurence first Lord Oliphant, and it was the third monastery of the Franciscan Order in Scotland. The building is said to have been plain, without any distinguishing features. It was situated on the east side of Perth, near the river, and in the north-west corner of the present-day Greyfriars cemetery. The monks of this Order were known as Grey Friars from their dress which consisted of a grey gown and cowl the gown being
girded with a rope. Their vows of poverty originated from Matthew 10 “...Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses. Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves; for the workman is worthy of his meat. . .“ All charters and records of the monastery have been destroyed, unfortunately, so little is known of the condition of the monks in Perth. As Mendicant Friars they mingled freely with the people and
got their living by begging. In the riots of 1559 they attracted the special fury of the mob because of the part they had apparently taken in the Spey Gate martyrdoms (1543-1544). After the monastery had been pulled down by the rioters the ground was left vacant until 1580 when it became Greyfriars Churchyard. Knox’s comment on the Grey Friars was “...the Grey Friars was a place well provided. Their sheets, blankets, beds and covers
were such that no Earl in Scotland had better; their napery was fine; there were but eight persons in the convent, and yet had eight puncheons of salt beef (consider the time of the year), wine, beer, ale, besides store of victuals. .

These then were the four monasteries of Perth on May 10, 1559.— on which date Knox’s fateful sermon was preached in St. John’s Kirk. Two days later, history records that where their towers and pinnacles had graced the city of Perth, there remained only naked
walls and shapeless heaps of ruins; and the “Fair City had become less than Fair,” says an old writer.

Return To Perthshire History

Tour Scotland
Tour Edinburgh
Tour Island Of Skye

Rent A Self Catering Hoilday Cottage In Scotland

Share This Tour Scotland Web Page

Top Destinations
Tour Europe