19th Conference 1976

The 19th Conference of the Scottish Medievalists was held at the University of Stirling, 10-11 January 1976. Minutes Secretary Alexander Grant.

19th Conference Scottish Medievalists

19th Conference Saturday 10 January 1976

4.20. p.m. Border Society in the 15th and 16th Centuries: Chairman: Dr T.I.PRae

The Structure of Scottish Border Society in the Fifteenth Century: Mrs A.Cardew.

This paper gave a general survey of the structure of Scottish border society in the later 15th century, without concentrating exclusively on any particular aspect of the subject.

After the fall of the earls of Douglas in 1455, no one family was able to dominate the entire border region in the way the Douglases had done. Instead, specific areas of the borders tended to be dominated by one or two greet families, such as the Hepburns and Humes in Berwickshire. The power of such families was based chiefly on land, which provided wealth, man-power, and feudal ties: ‘the feudal dependency of a tenant on his landlord was almost certainly still at this period the chief binding-force in social organisation on the borders’. Appointments to royal offices, especially those of warden, conservator of the truce, and sheriff, also strengthened border families’ power. Connections among the leading families through marriage, land-holding, and employment were examined, with examples; it was however difficult to determine the significance of such connections. Bonds of Manrent were also discussed; in the borders at this time they ‘seem usually to have been contracted in connection with particular circumstances, not as an end in themselves’. In general, therefore, although families were bound together in are way or another, it appeared likely that there wan less conscious creation of ties of affinity and dependence as a means of securing and extending power than in England at the same period. Instead, it was suggested that in the later lath century kinship was becoming the most important factor in determining ties of affinity and dependence within this society, although because of the nature of the surviving evidence it was difficult to say whether the 16th century situation was already present. Examples of the employment of kinsmen and of feuding (which implied a heightened sense-of’ kinship) were given. By thee end of the 15th century surnames were well established in the region among the lower ranks of society, and their development was considered. Unfortunately lack of contemporary information meant that the origins, organisation, number, and location of surnames at this time was very difficult to discover. Finally, the insignificance of the urban, commercial rank is Scottish border society was stressed; this led to a lack of social fluidity, and was one of the main differentiating features of the society. The other main feature of Scottish border society in the later 15th century was the extreme power of the leading families in relation to the rest of the population.

English Border Society in the Fifteenth Century: Dr A.Tuck

The paper concentrated an society in Tynedele and Redesdale, an attempt was made to see what light 16th-century surveys and descriptions shed on conditions a century earlier. The main features of 16th-century society in Tynedale and Redesdale were the ‘surname groups’, in which men were bound together by kinship ties indicated by a common surname, and which engaged in blood feuds; the system of land tenure called ‘tenant right’, which was virtually freehold; partible inheritance of land; and endemic thieving of cattle and sheep by individuals and gangs. The system of ‘surname groups’ was clearly in operation by 1498 (the date of the first mention of ‘surnames’ on the English side of the Border), but cannot be found in the 14th century, where society seems to have been based on lordship. However, whereas the two lordships were well administered by their lords in the 13th century, in the 14th and 11th centuries they changed hands frequently and were often held by absentees, which led to poor administration and an absence of effective lordship. As a result, it seems that by the 15th century men were relying on their kin rather than their lord for protection. Protection, leading to blood feuds, was probably the main function of the ‘surname groups’. They do not, however, seem to have had any connection with landholding, which was individual rather than communal. ‘Tenant right’ possibly dated back to the 13th century, and probably increased in the 14th and 11th centuries, again is response to the decline in effective lordship.

General criminal activities had to be distinguished from feuding. Contemporaries argued that the lawlessness of Tynedale and Redesdale was largely the result of inadequately-sized holdings and landlessness caused by the system of partible inheritance. However partibility could hardly have been a 15th-century innovation, and in earlier periods it clearly did not militate against prosperity. The general inadequacy of law-enforcement machinery in 15th-century England, and particularly, in Tynedale and Redesdale, seems a better explanation for their lawlessness. But two other more specific reasons could be suggested. First, the rapid expansion of kinship groups in the 15th century would probably have led to dispossession and landlessness, and in turn to retaliation. Secondly, there seems to have been a shift in the balance of agriculture from arable to pastoral farming: in the 16th century Tynedaie and Redesdale were predominantly pastoral societies, whereas in the 13th century both had arable regions. Judging by other pastoral societies, it could be suggested that in general these were mere given to the kind of criminal activities that went on in Tynedale and Redesdale. In conclusion, it appeared that the main features of the society described in the 16th century were of relatively recent origin. Indirectly, they may have been the product of the Scottish war, but, this did not have the same effects on other parts of the north of England. Instead, it seems that two key factors conditioned the development of society in 15th-century Tynedale and Redesdale: a failure of effective lordship, and a shift in emphasis from arable to pastoral farming.


Mr Cant asked Dr Tuck whether inadequate local lordship would be compensated for by the royal law-enforcement agencies. Dr Tuck replied that 14th century Tynedele had a secession of absentee landlords who were not interested in the lordship, and its inhabitants had to petition the central government for justice. The lordships of Tynedele and Redesdale were exempt from the ordinate judicial machinery, in a similar way to the Scottish regalities. Mrs Cardew said that in contrast the Percies were very adequate lords, and there was such less disorder in their lands. Dr Tuck added that in the eastern part of the region society seemed to be much mere seignorial. Dr Brown [later Wormald] commented that material relating to kinship was usually the last thing that would be recorded, and therefore there was relatively little historical evidence available for it, especially in comparison with seignorial institutions. She also pointed out that kinship groups clawed a strong emphasis on compensation for wrongs done, and that this raised the question of the relationship between legal jurisdiction and kinship. Prof. Nicolaisen argued against relating the 16th century situation back to earlier periods, before the concept of the surname, had developed. A surname group was not the same as a kinship group, the two had clearly to be distinguished. Prof. Barrow said that he was struck by the number of early medieval names in the papers; most of the names mentioned could be found in the 13th century, and some in the 12th. De Rae pointed out that, on the Scottish side, the families discussed by Mrs Cardew did not have the ‘real’ Scottish border surnames, such as Elliot or Armstrong. Mr Cant raised the question of the similarity, so far as kinship was concerned, between the border region and the Highlands. One answer, front Dr Rae, was that this was due in part at

least to royal propaganda from 1560 onwards. Dr Brown then asked why 15th century Scottish society was so kin-based. Mr Grant suggested that, so far the the landowning classes were concerned, this might perhaps be related to some 15th century developments: the disintegration of much of the old structure of Scottish lordship, the emergence of many newer families as substantial landowners with sufficient resources to endow cadet branches, and the establishment of many tailzies, which introduced an extra link between the head of a house and its cadets. Prof. Brown warned against assuming that kinship had the same importance everywhere; in 15th century England, for instance, kinship was far more important in Cheshire than in Lancashire. Moreover 15thecentury records indicated that blood feuds were not found in areas under the ordinary jurisdiction of the crown. The question of partibility of inheritance contributing to the development of kinship groups was then raised. Mr Harding suggested that, since families in transhumant societies tended to be large, this would tie in with-the 15th century movement towards pastoral farming. Dr Crawford wondered whether the effects of the Black Death had brought about a change in the balance of rural society in the borders, as it had in 14th-century Caithness. Mr Webster pointed out that partibility would may mean a decline in the size of holdings at a time of population increase; it therefore had to be discussed in relation to the population trends. Prof. Barrow stated that where it was found, partibility was a fundamental feature of society, and was unlikely to have intensified at any one period. Also, land held in freehold was not partible. Returning to the question of surnames, Prof. Nicolaisen said that kinship groups were to be found before fixed surnames appeared, inherited surnames, indeed, often came into use as a result of the dictates of administrative convenience. Dr Munro added that this may well have been the case with the Grants at Duthill parish in the 16th century. Dr Brown stressed the importance of kinship groups, and said that other factors, for example geography, night condition their development. Finally; Prof. Brown asked about the attitude of the societies on either side of the border to each other. Mrs Carder replied that there was evidence of intermarriage acres the border in the 16th century, but not in the 15th, although there were no laws forbidding it.

19th Conference Sunday 11 January 1976

2.15 p.m.

Medieval Sites: illustrated talks by Mr Talbot, Mr Dunbar, and Mr Fisher

Mr Talbot dealt with three excavations carried out by members if the department of Arehaeology at Glasgow University in the summer of 1975.

At Crookston Castle the entrance and the scarp were investigated. Near the entrance, the bank of the 12th-century ringwork had been levelled (probably in the 11th century, when the tower house was built) and a stone building erected on it, but it was impossible to date or explain this building. Attempts to locate a barmkin wall at the N.W. corner of the scarp were unsuccessful, but much rubble was found. Beneath this was an undatable horizontal layer of occupation. and the level of this indicates that the tower house stands on a pronounced knob of boulder clay.

At Clow Chapel, Watten, Caithness, (which does not appear in written records until the 18th century, when it was ruinous) there are remains of a nave (27′ x 16′) and chancel (14′ x 10′) with a doorway in the south side of the nave. Excavation showed the nave was an addition, with a straight join between it and the chancel, and there may have been an earlier timber church; the south side of a composite stone altar was located in the chancel. To the north of the nave, the intriguing discovery of a series of skulls neatly pleced in smell cists was made.

At the Peel of Inmehanan (in the first, partly preparatory, season of excavations) the main area investigated was the side of the motte. Half the height of the motte appears to be natural, and, turf bank at the edge of this natural mound stabilised the upmost used to. raise the motte. Some 13th century pottery was found in the turf, suggesting that this is a Durward stronghold rather than a strongpoint constructed in the 12th century. In addition, the foundations of Halton House, and a cobbled causeway across the ditch, were examined; stones near the latter any show that a flying bridge was the first means of access to the site.

Mr Dunbar and Mr Fisher gave brief illustrated accounts of some historic sites on offshore islands recently surveyed by the Royal Commission. The twin islands of Cairn na Burgh More and Peg in the Treshnish group occupied a strategic position which made them a subject of dispute between the Scottish crown and Ewen, lord of Argyll, in 1249. There are no identifiable remains of this period, and the existing defensive walls and buildings (a chapel a small barracks and

the foundations of guard-rooms and stores) probably date from the MacLean occupation which lasted from the late 14th to the early 18th century. Similar defences, using drystone-walls in gullies to complete a circuit of precipitous cliffs below a summit plateau, are seen at Dun Chonnuill to the Garvellachs, Fordun’s ‘magnum castrum de Donquhonyle’. The entrance was by a zig-zag path leading up a steep slope through gates in a series of cross-walls, and the summit-area contains traces of at least ten buildings. Both castles suffered-from exposed landing-places and the lack of nearby anchorages. There is no record of post-medieval military use at Dun Chonnuill, and Cairn na Burgh owed its prolonged occupation to its security as a refuge for leading members of the Clan MacLean in times of unrest.

Detailed survey of the well-known ecclesiastical site at Eileach an Naoish, also in the Garvollachs, suggests that the double beehive-cell and some of the enclosure walls are of the Early Christian period, while the clay-mortared Chapel is also of early date. The nucleus of the so-called ‘monastery’ may be a medieval structure, possibly a priest’s dwelling associated with the fragmentary medieval church that stands close to it. The exiting L-plan of the ‘monastery’ resulted from additions in a post-medieval period of agrarian activity, like the well-preserved corn-drying kiln and barn.

Slides were also shown of the enclosed site at Sgor nam Bane-naomha, dramatically situated at the foot of rocky cliffs on the south coast of Canna (cf. Scottish Archaeological Forum, 5 (1973), pp. 71-5) and of Inchmarnock, Bute where recent amateur excavation has uncovered the remains of a small Romanesque nave-and-chancel church of the late 12th century, as well as a number of carved stones of Early Christian and medieval date.

The rest of the 19th Conference was taken up with project reports and ongoing business discussion.