Appropriation of parish churches in medieval Scotland
Cowan, Ian B.
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It has long been realised that the appropriation of parish churches - a process which involved the diversion of parochial revenues to other religious institutions or persons - was one of the greatest flaws in the structure of the medieval church in Scotland. To modern minds the practice may indeed seem indefensible, but even allowing for the fact that from the medieval standpoint, the system may be partly justified, it is unquestionably true that the evils of the practice, which could not but seriously weaken the structure of the pre - Reformation church were realised even before the Reformation itself.As the evils of a prooriation have long been recognised, so too has it been accepted that this system was much more widespread in Scotland than in most other countries, Switzerland alone, it has been suggested, possessing a comparable rate of annexations.1 While it has been agreed, however, that the ratio of appropriated to free parsonages must have been very high in Scotland, all attempts to give any definite set of figures have advanced little beyond the conjecture made by David Masson that of the nine hundred to one thousand parishes of medieval Scotland, almost seven hundred of these were annexed to some foundation or prebend leaving approximately two hundred and sixty free parsonages. This and similar assessments all had their drawbacks, since it was evident that even allowing for unions, that medieval Scotland possessed more than one thousand parishes, while it was equally difficult to find over two hundred independent parsonages.Nevertheless, just as the student of the medieval church in Scotland suffered, until quite recently,2 from the lack. of a reliable guide to the religious foundations of that period, so too is there no accurate account of the growth of the parochial system in Scotland. Certain parts of the country are indeed better served than others in this respect and two works in particular deserve honourable mention. These works are of course Caledonia 3 and Origines Parochiales Scotiae.4 The compiler of the first, George Chalmers,may well have laboured "under the disadvantages of defective scholarship ",1 but it is unwise to completely reject this work, which while maintaining a high accuracy in certain parishes, especially in Ayrshire and the south -west, also embodies several rentals which are no longer extant. Likewise, that other valuable and much more scholarly work the Origines Parochiales contains rentals drawn from the Books of Assumption, which are no longer contained either in the National Library or the General Register House copies of these valuations.Both these works give some indication of the incidence of appropriation in certain areas, but not unnaturally the information available in both these volumes has been vastly supplemented by the large amount of material which has been since made available through the examination of the Vatican archives. Nevertheless, had such works existed for the whole country, it ,,rould have been comparatively easy to give some indication of the total number of appropriated churches. In the absence of such --orks, however, it.has been necessary in the past to fall back on lists given in volumes, such as Gordon's Monasticon or Walcott's Scoti- Monasticon, both of which are incomplete, undocumented and wholly unreliable.It was on such lists that the editors of the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae appear to have been dependent, and while the supplementary volume does give valuable information on certain parishes, it is again highly selective, and no overall picture of aopropriations can be gained. Regional studies have of course their importance, but even in this sphere only too many do little more than to work over older listsald very few possess adequate documentation.It was in the light of this rather unsatisfactory evidence that an attempt has been made to complete a survey of all the parishes of medieval Scotland and in so doing to trace who in the final instance enjoyed the parocl..ial revenues. _, ch an 1 r : :e:_tt:ig.tion v further cu.plicated, ,however, .by the fact that in many instances both parsonage and vicarage revenues were diverted from their parish of origin, and this factor, which has largely been ignored in the pest and has led to many incongruous statements in previous lists, has in itself proved no mean task.This study which has now been completed, and is presented as an append `__. to this thesis,1 gives a fully documented account of all the parishes of medieval Scotland, and shows that pre -Reformation Scotland possessed 1136 parishes during the medieval period although due to unions this figure had been reduced by 108to give a final figure of 1028 parishes at the Reformation. Such an analysis cannot, however, claim to be definitive but it is hoped that this initial compilation will provide the basis for a fuller, and possibly more accurate, study of the parochial structure of the medieval church in Scotland.More pertinent to the task on hand, however, the figure of 1028 parishes does provide a basis upon which the incidence of appropriation can be calculated. On the strength of those calculations and information derived from a complete analysis of the available evidence, it has been found that only 14+8 of the remaining parishes appear to have been free parsonages and thus 880 or approximately 86 percent of the parish churches had their parsonage revenues diverted to some other source. Moreover, of those appropriated parishes, it would appear that at least 56 percent had their vicarage revenues also annexed.When it is realised that the corresponding rate of annexation in England was but 37 percent of the total,2 the very magnitude of the figures first quoted can be appreciated. It is obvious, moreover, that any study of the medieval church in Scotland cannot ignore the study of appropriations, which were in themselves to dominate the organisation of the church for so long, and were destined to leave a legacy with.which successive generations of reformers were to grapple.It is with the various .problems which appropriation raised with particular emphasis upon the incidence and pattern of such annexations and the service of the appropriated churches_ themselves)that this study is principally concerned. The problem is dealt with as one relatip9 to Scotland but sight should never be lost of the fact that this study is only part of a much wider examination of a movement which not only effected Ecclesiae Scoticanae but also the whole Church Universal.