THE VIEW FROM THE SCOTTISH CLOISTER
The ramifications of the politics, the disputes, and the complexity of relations between the various religious entities in Scotland in the High Middle Ages is worth several theses at least. It is necessary to keep to the obvious. By 1320 the Templars had gone, but whether a hidden remnant remained is a mystery. Their replacements, the Knights’ of St. John were recent.
There were a number of Orders with their own interests and polities. The presence of the Order of The Most Holy Trinity for The Redemption of Captives in (The Trinitarians) in Ayr raises some delicate and difficult questions, particularly in relation to the imbalances in Scottish customs revenues, not accounted in terms of ordinary trading.
There were Franciscans, Augustinians, differing groups of the Orders of the Benedictines, and the Premonstratensiens. Nevertheless, in 1320 in Scotland the three Orders that mattered when it came to State business and who were crucial to the Declaration of Arbroath were the Tyronensian Benedictines, the Dominican Blackfriars, later the Inquisitors of the Church, and the Cistercians with their parallel interests to the south.
The Abbeys of Arbroath and Kilwinning were both of the Tyronensian foundation of the Order of the Benedictines, and Bernard de Linton had been the Abbot of the latter before preferment to the former. In the Borders, the Abbey of Kelso, a foundation of King David I was another. They were all establishments with large holdings of lands and substantial incomes.
In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council had recommended that the 37,000 houses of the Orders of the Benedictines instead of being grouped administratively in a variety of linked groups be brought together in Congregations of the various principalities and kingdoms. By the time of Pope John XXII in 1316 little progress had been made except, significantly, in England, where Cantuar, the Archbishopric of Canterbury, with Royal support, had forced the issue.
Were Scotland to become a fief of the King of England, the large Tyronensian Houses of Arbroath, Kilwinning and Kelso would be subsumed into the Benedictine Congregation of England. Almost certainly this would have had implications for prestige, influence, standing in the Church, hopes for a Cardinal’s hat, and not least, finances. The direct line to the Pope would go, as would a fair part of the revenues, to England and to Canterbury.
It was known that Pope John XXII was determined to deal with the problems of the administration and the structure of the Order of the Benedictines during his papacy, and he had a preference for having large number of small political elements to deal with rather than a small number of large, powerful, richer, ones. Abbot Bernard de Linton, a Scots prelate of a Scots landed family, an ambitious man with a strong political role in Scotland would have seen only one option open to him, and that was separation from Canterbury.
There were eight Houses of the Order of St. Dominic in Scotland one of which was a major presence in the Royal Burgh of Ayr. Ayrshire and the South West of Scotland was the power base of the de Brus family and there is evidence of his interest in and favour to the Dominicans in Ayr. In the time of his exile, they had come to his support at a critical juncture. In 1328 they were given the right to have their meal ground free at the Burgh mills of Ayr. At this time the Royal Burghs were under the direct rule of the King of Scots, administered by the Sheriff and his agents, the Bailiffs or Praepositors, and they did not have the elected and representative assemblies of later centuries. In 1320 the Royal Burghs were properties for the development and promotion of trade and commerce, providing cash flows in a Scotland starved of silver and serving both God and Mammon.
In the Royal Burgh of Ayr the Dominicans stood for God, and their role is of critical importance, given the Pope’s background. In 1318 the Dominican Abbey of St. Andrew’s had been newly consecrated in the presence of King Robert. Like the Order of Benedictines it is very probable that the Scottish Houses wanted to maintain their distinct role as a defined separate foundation in the Order of Dominic, directly answering to their own Master and allotted Visitor, as opposed to being a backwater of the English organisation, subject probably to London, with all the disadvantages of such subordination.
The Cistercians were an austere Order who had gained a major political grip on the affairs of the Church since the time of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. They were a trading order with interests across Europe and this was an important part of their revenue. Their perspective was not the narrow confines of a poor scattered set of tribal communities attempting to create a polity, but the needs of a Church militant engaged across Europe with a mission to the Holy Land.
They were the power within the Curia, the Pope’s bureaucracy and means of authority. In Scotland they were at Newbattle, founded from the powerful Melrose that was linked by the memory of St. Cuthbert to Lindisfarne and to Durham. They were in continuing contact with the great Cistercian Houses of the North of England, of Fountains, Jervaulx, the Byland of the Mowbrays, Furness and others.
Because of their locations and wealth they had suffered both from the incessant and rapacious Scots raiding in the North of England, and the military strikes and reprisal raids into Southern Scotland. The Houses in Scotland may not have wished to be drawn into a general English grouping that might have meant governance from London. They might have been attracted by the economic and political potential of an eventual territorial settlement and arrangements that led to them operating jointly with their brother Houses in the Earldom of Northumberland, or the old Kingdom of Northumbria, under a King of Scots.
One question that might be dealt with, and that would indicate that the overall position was not quite as simple as it appeared is why the meeting for the Declaration was held at Arbroath, and not at Dunfermline, the great Benedictine Abbey, and burial place of the revered St. Margaret of Scotland. Dunfermline was linked to Canterbury.
It was St. Margaret who brought from Hungary as her escort Magyar horseman descended from the Huns of old to give a cutting edge to the army of Malcolm Caennmor. The Huns are said to be the founders of the family of Drummond. If so, then through many Scottish hearts flows the DNA of Attila the Hun. Given the purpose of the Declaration, the inconsistencies would have been evident to a learned Scholar. A Pope displaced from Rome would not wish to be reminded of Attila.
More subtly, not only was the Abbey of Arbroath a foundation of King William The Lion, over whose grave the terms of the document were agreed, but it was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, cut down in 1170 by liege men of King Henry II of the House of Anjou, ruler of the then Angevin Empire which included the conquered realm of England.
The Norman men had over reacted to personal losses of money and land, and humiliation suffered at the hands of the predatory and litigious Thomas. The consequences were disastrous, causing an upheaval across Christian Europe and affecting the nature of relationships between the Church and States for long after, as the justification of a firmer attitude of the Church to temporal power. On a scale of Papal authority, Pope John XXII rated as high as any, and it was the quality of Papal firmness to which the Declaration was addressed.
The issue is what line of reasoning would be the most acceptable to the Pope, would gain his support and sympathy, and just as important, bring the Curia into action on the side of the King of Scots? It would not be an appeal based on the views of the Order of the Franciscans. It was at the Franciscan Abbey of Dumfries that King Robert I had earned his excommunication by the murder of John Comyn.
For the Pope the standing of the Franciscans had been damaged by the disputes and the taint of heresies, and the divisions and uncertainty in its ranks. It had been compounded by the vigorous action he had been obliged to take against elements within the Franciscan Order in the immediate period previous to 1320.
It is said that no man is a prophet in his own country. John Duns Scotus the Franciscan, who died in 1308, had a following at the time and his conceptual structure as it applied to politics and states certainly has had substantial influence and the benefit of posterity. He may have been a respected Scholar with a following across Christendom, but that does not mean that the men who produced the Declaration were disposed to follow his thinking, or indeed take much notice of him at all.
In any case his concept of free will was to do primarily with Man’s immortal soul and his relationship to Christ, and only secondarily having a political meaning in the temporal world that became of more interest to a later world. The order of loyalty in the Medieval Church world was first to God, then the Church and its Vicar the Pope, then your Order, and then to your House. In practice this often suffered a reversal.
The reality of life was more intricate, and some accommodation with the local temporal elites often had to be made. But to assume that because John Duns Scotus may have had his personal origins in Scotland (a matter of debate, he could have been a Scott from Dunwich) that necessarily his thinking is at the root of the Declaration is to engage in a circular argument. The matters to which he gave his mind were under profound study by others, also Schoolmen in the highest ranks.
That the work of John Duns Scotus has been looked on as seminal in later centuries does not mean that the Churchmen engaged in the cut and thrust of the politics of the early years of the 14th Century would have been dependent on his theories. The Dominicans, their allies the Premonstratensians, the Cistercians and the Benedictines had their own perspectives on the operative doctrines of the Church to promote.
Similarly to assume that Declaration was only really a political business and of major interest to the landed elites, because that is of more interest in later centuries, than the intricate theology of the Medieval Church and the interests of the major Orders of Churchmen at the time is to impose the present on the past.
For the Declaration of Arbroath, with a Dominican centralising Pope, a Curia dominated by Cistercians, the Augustinians still being a major Order, and a need to gain support within the Benedictine Order, followers of the St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo; because of the needs of the time, you do not submit a document redolent of the philosophy of a disputed and possibly heretical Scholar some of whose more devoted adherents are still visible only by the smoked remnants of their mortal flesh left on public view as a visual aid to practical theology whilst others are being excommunicated or hunted down as heretics.