The acts of the Earls of Dunbar relating to Scotland c.1124-c.1289 : a study of Lordship in Scotland in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
Hamilton, Elsa Catherine
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, October (2003)
The House of Gospatric was established in Scotland by Malcolm III after 1072 and endowed with lands surrounding the stronghold of Dunbar, in Lothian. The descendants of Gospatric accumulated vast estates in Lothian and the Merse, assuming the title ‘earl of Dunbar’ by c. 1200. Their charters, of which the earliest surviving dates to the earldom of Gospatric, brother of Dolfin (died c. 1138), belong to the mainstream of European charter culture and exemplify many of the changes in diplomatic observable elsewhere. They are rich in evidence which can be used with that of the chronicles, and of the English and later Scottish public records, concerning the extent of the Dunbar estate in south-east Scotland. They indicate a variety of forms of lay tenure, with land used flexibly by the earls to endow the family, to install associates as tenants and dependants, and to elicit service and revenue; and they show these patterns of land use to have been replicated by those to whom Dunbar land was granted. Women were part of the process, making and assenting to grants. Links with the religious orders were forged and re-forged through benefaction, but dispute settlement and control mechanisms lay at the heart of much of the charter production of the period. Patterns of witnessing varied, according to the context of the charter. The people who served the earl – his family and his dependants, his employees in his estate and household, his associates in aristocratic society – can be identified, grouped and analysed through studies of the witness lists, and the origins and offshoots of their families explored. These formed a network of both dependency and support which was crucial to the functioning of the Dunbar lordship. Whether the structure can be
termed feudal is more problematic. The comital economy was based on arable and pastoral farming, and in the charters there are land management agreements which suggest a heavy involvement in the wool trade. The importance of the maritime economy is glimpsed in arrangements linking to fishing and shipping, and ancillary industries such as salting. There are references to an infrastructure sophisticated enough to sustain extensive trade and commerce. Moreover the developing sense of the cohesiveness of the earldom to which aspects of the Dunbar charters testify connects well with the impression of an active lordship with a coherent economic strategy at a time of growth and expansion. In an era of change also in the relationship between the Church and lay society, the charters tell of issues of patronage and the control of teinds, of the foundation and endowment of religious houses with land and churches, the competing jurisdiction of lay and ecclesiastical courts. When its power was challenged, the Dunbar lordship responded flexibly, standing its ground in some areas, yielding or seeming to yield in others. Similarly on the national stage the earls played a prominent role, but one which had to be adapted to the growth of royal justice and the evolution and systematisation or judicial processes. They intermarried with the royal house and from earliest times were close associates of the Scottish kings whose charters they witnessed. Though cross-border lords with extensive English lands and particular frontier responsibilities, they undoubtedly played primarily on the Scottish stage.