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The administration of the diocese of St. Andrews, 1202-1328

The administration of the diocese of St. Andrews, 1202-1328

By Marinell Ash

PhD Dissertation, Newcastle University, 1972

st andrews cathedral

Abstract: This thesis is an attempt to discover the administrative procedures employed in Scotland’s premier, largest, and wealthiest see under seven bishops holding office between 1202 and 1328. The period under consideration opens with the climax of the great innovative period of the twelfth century, which saw the transformation of the Scottish church from a decentralised Celtic institution, maintaining tenuous or intermittent links with England and the continent, to a national and “western” church sharing common institutions, attitudes, personnel and language with the rest of western Christendom.

Introduction: This thesis is an attempt to discover the administrative procedures employed in Scotland’s premier, largest, and wealthiest see under seven bishops holding office between 1202 and 1328. The period under consideration opens with the climax of the great innovative period of the twelfth century, which saw the transformation of the Scottish church from a decentralised Celtic institution, maintaining tenuous or intermittent links with England and the continent, to a national and “western” church sharing common institutions, attitudes, personnel and language with the rest of western Christendom. William Malvoisin (1202-1238) stands at the end of a line of reformist bishops beginning with the episcopate of “Scotland’s Lanfrano”, Bishop Robert (1127-1153). The Frenchman Malvoisin was succeeded by the first native-born bishop of St. Andrews since the last of the Celtic line of bishops, Fothad (d. 1093). In many ways the episcopate of Bishop David Bernharn is the most intereating of the seven which are the subject of this study, for in this man’s career it is possible to see the channelling into Scotland of many of the reforms initiated by the third and fourth Lateran councils and the Council of London in 1237. Bernham may fairly be described as Scotland’s Grosseteste.

In a sense Bernham’s episcopate marks a climax in the history of the diocese. The rest of the century evidences an increasing political emphasis in the careers of the bishops and the affairs of the diocese. This is partially the outgrowth of the careers of the men who succeeded Bernham as bishop, obtaining the office largely through royal and family patronage and political self-seeking. The height of this trend is reached in the career of William Wishart (1270-1279), but before this bishop there had been two pontificates which came about due to the political machinations surrounding the young king Alexander III. In a sense, this use of the premier see in the Kingdom as a partisan or political sinecure was an outgrowth of the close relationship between royal authority and the church which had been a part of the fabric of life in Scotland since the mission of Columba. The extent of crown influence over the church and the episcopate in Scotland might have shocked Gregorian reformers (if they ever heard of it), but it was an important and accepted part of the exercise of kingship in Scotland. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was too ancient to allow serious modification. The Comyns in providing their candidates, Abel (1254) and Gamelin (1255-1271), to the see were thus following in a long-established tradition.

The last two bishops to be studied, William Fraser (1279-1297) and William Lamberton (1297-1328) represent a new “nationalist” phase in the Scottish episcopate. Both men, from minor baronial and knightly families, were caught up in one of the first “nationalist” wars in European history, the Scottish war of independence. It is perhaps superficially ironic. that they, as members of an international church, should be consistent supporters of Scottish claims to independence. This dichotomy is more apparent than real, for the national self-consciousness of the Scottish church was itself a product of the twelfth-century integration of the Scottish church with western Christendom: a consciousness forced upon the leaders of the church by the failure of David I to obtain metropolitan status for St. Andrews and the repeated attempts of the English church to claim superiority over the Ecclesia Scoticana. Fraser and Lamberton were inheritors of this tradition. The military and political struggle against England represented for them the consummation of a long struggle against the claims of both English archbishoprics to have jurisdiction in Scotland.

It can be seen from this brief outline of the careers of the seven bishops that the general trend of the history of the diocese, with the possible exception of the outbreak of the wars with England, differs little from what was probably the common experience of other dioceses in the same period. Why then study St. Andrews? There are two major answers to this question. First St. Andrews is important because it was Scotland’s premier see, enjoying a national prestige roughly analogous to Canterbury in England. Its bishops had anciently borne the title Ardescop Alban (High Bishop of Alba) and continued to bear the title of Episcopus Scottorum as an alternative to the more usual title of St. Andrews until the late thirteenth century. The bishop of St. Andrews was in many respects the ecclesiastical counterpart of the king of Scots: he was the chief pontiff of the shrine of the national saint and therefore had the right to join the earls of Fife in the enthronement ceremony of the kings of Scots. King and bishop represented two aspects of a common ancient national identity. The second reason for studying St. Andrews diocese is that it was the largest and wealthiest in medieval Scotland. Its borders coincided with the area of most complete and effective royal control. It was also geographically most open to southern influences. Thus to gain some idea of the administration of this see would provide a key to the study of other contemporary Scottish dioceses.

Click here to read this thesis from Newcastle University

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