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October 5th 1553

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The Perth Friars

The Blackfriars Monastery in Perth, built in 1231, was one of eight establishments in Scotland all built in the reign of Alexander 2nd. It stood in the area between Atholl Place and Carpenter Street though there is no trace to be seen today.

The Blackfriars or Dominicans (named after their founder Dominic de Guzman) were a missionary rather than a contemplative order. They preached the Word, being particularly severe upon what they believed to be heresy. They were very active during the Spanish Inquisition. Though they took a vow of poverty, almost inevitably the Monastery acquired money and property through gifts from local landowners.

The King himself endowed the monks with money from the “fermes”  of Perth and the customs of Perth and Dundee with a supply of “petits”  (peats) from the tenants of Logy, together with other privileges. John Moncrieffe made an annual gift of 8 bolls bere, 8 bolls oats and 4 bolls wheat “to pay the same perpetuallie”  in exchange for prayers to be offered yearly for the welfare of his own soul and those of his relatives. The Earl of Errol assigned £5 yearly in exchange for a daily mass for the repose of his soul and that of his wife Beatrice. Thomas de Lyn granted his croft in Clayhill on condition the Monks held three masses weekly for the repose of his soul.

So it went on, with more money, more produce and more land accruing to the Monks. Even so, they were not a particularly rich order. As John Knox put it “The lyke abundance as in the Gray Freris was not in the Black Freris” , though he adds that they had “more than became men professing poverty” . They also began to suffer from the religious change that were taking place in Scotland, particularly in the area around Perth. Men were no longer so keen to leave money or goods to the Friars in exchange for regular masses for the repose of their souls. In many cases their children were less filial or more cynical or perhaps more acquisitive and the Friars found increasing difficulty in obtaining their dues.

The Countess of Huntly made a most generous gift to the Monastery of the half lands of Lettleton in the parish of Longforgan, but her son Lord Glamis was less than enthusiastic in carrying out her intentions. The Friars complained to Edinburgh that “he will not enter into his superiority of the said lands causand thame to tyne (lose, be deprived of) the profits thereof” . The trouble persisted after his death then the lands reverted to Lord Gray.

Though the Friars succeeded in obtaining a number of interdicts against his Lordship, they were ignored and it was not until 1550 that under threat of imprisonment “within the castell of Blackness, there to remain upon his ain expenses quhill he haif fulfillit the command of thir Sovrane Ladeis letres….”  That the Friars entered into their inheritance.

Even so, Lord Gray still had the last laugh. After the Reformation, Littleton should have been conveyed to the Perth Hospital. But an entry in the Hospital records states the “these lands are wrangouslie detenit and withhalden by the Lord Gray now the pretendit possessor of the same” . By this time the repose of the soul of the Countess of Huntly had long been forgotten.

The contemptuous attitude of the lairds in the years immediately before the Reformation was mirrored by that of the people of Perth. The Gylten Herbar was a garden, later converted to a croft, in front of the monastery, which had been in their possession “in tymes bygane past memorie of man” . But the peace of this agricultural holding was shattered one night in 1535 by “some neichbours of the said burgh (of Perth) with the assistance of the communities, mair upon the nicht nor upon the day, (who) biggit ane pair of buttis upon the said greyne ley, intending to perturb the said Pryor and convent in their peceable possessioun” . In other words the Town Council with local support just appropriated the land as a practice area for archery.

The poor beleaguered Friars protested to the Privy Council who were asked to arbitrate between the Monastery and the Town Council. The Town Council for their part disputed the claim that the Gelatine Herbar had belonged to the Blackfriars “past memorie of man” . A compromise was reached whereby the Blackfriars “of kindness, to nocht cast doune the said buttis, but to thole them to weir away thaimselves” , a very self denying ordinance on their part.

Certainly, the agreement lasted for some years but in 1553 there were more complaints. The townspeople “in grete nummer came and saw ane pest of wald seyd (dyers weed, a fast growing choking weed) in the eist end of their said croft efter it was twyce tyllit to the beir seed (beir or bere, a from of barley) to the utter destruction of the said croft” .

By this time the Friars must have felt friendless indeed. Their protest, after a number of delays did eventually succeed but by this time the Reformation was about the burst upon the people of Perth. Blackfriars monastery suffered the fate of the other religious houses in Perth. The Gylten Herbar reverted to the Kirk Session and was assigned by them to the Perth Hospital.

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