Some Scottish Catholic Historians
By Fr Anthony Ross O.P.
The word historian is used here in a wide sense, to include not only antiquarians who made collections without ever attempting to write history but those too who presented historical accounts to the world without having undertaken any research for themselves. It covers also those to whom it rightly applies, who combined the labour of research with an attempt to interpret the records which they discovered and to present not only their interpretation of events to the world but also the evidence by which that interpretation might judged. An interest in history is almost inseparable from Catholicism, Catholics have a long tradition of writers who, in one way or another, might be called historians. In addition to antiquarians who produced little or nothing, there has been a remarkably large number Scottish Catholic historical writers, a few better known than they deserve to be, and others neglected. The work of some of them has helped mainly to establish error, usually unintentionally ; others have contributed in a high degree to the growth of sound historical studies in Scotland. This account 1 of the more notable among Scottish Catholic historians may be useful as a guide to the general reader and to the student, offering a tentative revaluation of certain writers and some fresh information about others.
Such a survey may well start with two men who wrote in the period when Catholic-Protestant divisions were beginning in this country. John Major and Hector Boece 2 were both priests who remained faithful to the Catholic Church. They were scholars of international standing who studied and taught in the University of Paris, before settling finally as important figures in Scottish university life. Each was a specialist in other fields before he wrote history. Major was a scholastic ; a logician, philosopher, and theologian. His published works 3 include treatises on the logical writings of Aristotle and Peter of Spain ; a commentary on Aristotle's Ethics dedicated to Cardinal Wolsey ; commentaries on the Sentences, and on the Gospels. The list indicates the scholar rooted in medieval tradition. Boece was rather humanist than schoolman ; a man of letters, correspondent of Erasmus ; interested particularly in medicine, but also in everything strange and colourful. The contrast between the two men is illustrated in their historical writing, and is carried on in later Scottish Catholic writers, so that these two in their approach to history are prototypes of subsequent development.
Major's Historia Majoris Britanniae tam Angliae quam Scotiae was published at Paris in 1521 4 It takes the story of Scotland and England far as the marriages of Henry VII's children. Major's political theory has drawn attention to it, more perhaps than its merits as a piece of historiography, and it was possibly in order to propagate the idea of union between Scotland and England that he undertook the work. His general moral purpose is declared at the beginning of the book, in the dedicatory preface addressed to James V. (He is admittedly a theologian, and writing as one.) "I will not believe that I transgress when I narrate not only what has come to pass, or by whose counsel such and such matters were carried, but if I also make definite distinction whether these matters were carried rightly or wrongly. And, indeed, I have given my utmost endeavours to follow this course in all cases, and most of all where the question was ambiguous, to the end that from the reading of this history you may learn not only the thing that was done, but also how it ought to have been done, and that you may by this means and at cost of little reading come to know what the experience of centuries, if it were granted to you to live so long, could scarcely teach.". 5 He deliberately adopts a plain, dry style, in keeping with his desire to give nothing but truth in his narrative. He holds that the first law of the historian is to write the truth, 6 and that it is of more moment to understand aright, and clearly to lay down the truth of any matter, than to use elegant and highly coloured language." 7 This anxiety for truth appears again and again in the course of his book. He applies scholastic technique to the material at his disposal, accepting nothing without examination, distinguishing, qualifying, not afraid to disagree even with Bede (whom he regards as the chief of English historians), on occasion freely admitting his inability to offer a definite judgment. So, for example, discussing a problem in chronology, he says, " That I may not offer as certain what is uncertain, I will express myself in this matter doubtfully." 8 And when he comes to write of David I, he remarks : " Here I will make my frank confession that it transcends my feeble powers accurately to take the measure of this man; yet within my narrow limits I will try, hurriedly it must be, to set down this and that concerning him." 9 His pages about David give that king the highest praise, yet noting that some things he did were of questionable wisdom, and especially that the wealth which he gave to religious foundations was to lead to their undoing.
This moderation of judgment appears in nothing so much as in his treatment of what concerns the English. He is unquestionably a patriot 10 and takes an obvious pride in great exploits of the War of Independence, but he is blind neither to the virtues of other nations nor to the defects of his own. "I am not wont" he writes "to credit the common Scot in his vituperation of the English nor yet the Englishman in his vituperation of the Scot. It is the part of a sensible man to use his own eyes, to put far from him at once all inordinate love of his own countrymen and hatred of his enemies, and thereafter to pass judgment well weighed in equal scales ; he must keep the temper of his mind founded upon right reason and regulate his opinion accordingly." 11 It was this cool rational outlook which enabled Major to examine the legends of early Scottish glory critically, discarding the fables then fashionable which found Scots' ancestors among the princes of ancient Greece and Egypt. Although, unlike Fordun, he made no search for new sources but was content to draw on established writers, such as Fordun, Bede and Froissart, he at least succeeded in giving a more critical and reliable history than any that had yet appeared, and what he added to his book, by way of description of men and places in his own time, has a lasting value for students of the early sixteenth century. Numerous small digressions, like the delightful passage on the music of bells in Cambridge, or the one on oatmeal, reveal a sympathetic observant mind. In this, as in much else, Major is reminiscent of some of the great early schoolmen. He has been commended as a man who was in advance of his time, because of his dispassionate analysis of men and things. He is better described as the last great representative of an older tradition ; to anyone familiar with the earlier writer, Major's History shows kinship with such a man as Albert the Great.
Boece's Historiae Scotorum 12 was published in 1527, in Paris also, by Ascensius. It has this in common with Major's work, that it was written with a moral purpose, and possibly with some political purpose also. Like Major, Boece is anxious that the young king, James V, should learn from history. 13 He is anxious about the general state of public morals, as might be expected from a friend of such reforming Churchmen as the Cistercian Abbot Thomas Chrystal of Kinloss, and the Dominican Father John Adamson. His history looks back to a golden age when living was simple and good, free from the intemperate habits, the lust, insolence and deceit of his own day. The monarchy appears as the most ancient in Europe, of lofty character, and normally accountable to the people for its behaviour. Good kings are in the majority : bad kings come to an unhappy end, frequently at the hands of their subjects. The importance of this section of Boece's work as an influence in political thought, and the related question as to where Boece's " facts came from, has been discussed by Professor Black, 14 and by Father Thomas Innes. 15 Both exonerate Boece from the charge of deliberate invention, and agree that he was misled by some writer, who cannot be identified, who succeeded in passing off as an early chronicle what was most probably the invention of a political group, concerned to justify the rebellion against James III which ended with the kings death at Sauchieburn. This conclusion serves to stress what is one of Boeces outstanding qualities, his credulity. He is no rational scholar like Major, but an eager Renaissance artist with a vivid imagination which seizes readily upon material which will add colour and variety to his picture. His patriotism accepted anything which might enrich his country's glory. Previously unheard of kings, playing great parts on a world stage, added some 700 years to Scottish civilisation. In sharp contrast to Major is the ascription of Scottish moral degeneration to English influence. 16 Boece laid no claim to learning, but hoped to be found truthful and eloquent. 17 His eloquence is unquestioned ; the books he left are among the most attractive in style that sixteenth Century humanism produced. Reading the wonderful, picturesque stories which crowd upon one another, we can appreciate a literary gift that in a later age might have found expression in a series of great historical novels.
Yet it would be unjust to dismiss Boece simply as
a splendid writer of fiction, carried away by emotion and patriotic prejudice. Although
easily deceived in some respects, he passes shrewd judgment on occasion, and when speaking
of his own time he deserves close attention. This is especially true where his lesser
historical work is concerned, the Vitae Episcoporum Aberdonensium which Ascensius
published in 1592. 18 It is the main source for the life of Bishop Elphinston,
which is written with an affectionate warmth which makes Boece himself attractive. The
same warmth is found in his account of the state of Aberdeen University when he was
Principal. Warmth and eloquence in historians produce an instinctive caution in the
reader, but recently I have found so much of Boece's account confirmed by other sources
that I am now inclined to Weigh even his most eloquent passages seriously. This passage,
for example, about the Dominican John Adamson, is at first sight mostly rhetoric. "He
by his pious and holy life, pre-eminently deserves the place of exemplar to his order. And
this is so: since indeed, feeling indignant that the sacred duties of the Friars Preachers
were so neglected in our country as to have almost passed into contempt. he dreaded not
the dangers of the deep, nor the fierce fury of rivals, nor threats, nor outrages, sparing
no exertion nor his bodily strength, and persevered in great and incredible efforts while
he traversed his very rough province in order that the tottering fabric of religion might
be restored" 19 The passage acquires a different value when it is known that
Adamson travelled to Rome to press his plans for reform, that there his remarkable
asceticism combined with his other qualities to make him regarded as a possible successor
to Cajetan as Master General, 20 and when, in addition, it is discovered that his
appointment as Provincial of Scotland was resisted by a section of Scottish-Dominicans,
apparently headed by the man whom he was appointed to replace. 21 The learning
ascribed by Boece, in the same pages, to Adamson and other early teachers in King's
College, is further attested by what remains of their libraries, 22 and by that
rare fragment of early Aberdeen professorial effort, the manuscript containing William
Hay's teaching on Extreme Unction, Orders and Matrimony. 23
Boece's history of Scotland eclipsed Major's book. By James V's order, it was translated into Scots by John Bellenden, the translator of Livy and printed in Edinburgh about 1537. In 1538 a French translation of parts of it was published in Paris. An English version, based on Bellenden, was made in 1577 and passed into Holinshed, so that Boece's account of Macbeth became a source for Shakespeare. Ferrerius, the Piedmontese humanist who was called to teach at Kinloss by Abbot Chrystal who became a close friend of Boece, was responsible for a second edition of the History, published in Paris in 1574, with two additional books by Ferrerius himself. Buchanan drew on Boece extensively as did John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, and some other Scottish scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth century who must be noticed.
There can be little doubt that the appeal of Boece was heightened 'by the circumstances in which many Scottish Catholics lived after 1560, or after the flight of Mary, Queen of Scots, into England. As exiles in France, Spain, or Italy, they not only felt the keener patriotism of exile, but they had to struggle to maintain prestige at foreign courts and -Universities, among English and Irish exiles who were competitors for the favour and help of foreign authorities. There was no disposition to doubt that the past had been glorious. Lesley's De Origine, Moribus et -Rebus Gestis Scotorum, the most notable historical work by a sixteenth century Scottish Catholic, after Major and Boece, was begun in prison in England and finished in Italy. Written first in Scots, it was turned into Latin and published in Rome in 1578. 24 In the dedicatory Epistle to Pope Gregory XIII there is an evident hope that the Pontiff will come to realise that the Scottish Church deserves all the help he can give it. The Scots were not slow to receive the faith, nor ever timid in its defence. They were firm against all heresy, until the recent calamity overwhelmed them. Heresy, even at the time of writing, is not universally triumphant, and the many who are held by fear of a tyrannical power might be rallied if the example of their ancestors were 'brought to their notice. There is a double hope, therefore, behind Lesley's glowing account of the eighty Scottish kings who kept the Catholic faith, and the listing of saints and scholars whom Scotland could claim. His book is for all Scots, whether Catholic or not, and it is frankly offered in the hope that it will help in the work of Counter-Reformation. In the circumstances in which it was put together, in prison and in exile, by a man who was ceaselessly active on behalf of the Queen and his fellow Catholics, 25 it could not be a work of careful scholarship. But Bishop Lesley appears to have worked conscientiously, within his means, and his book deserves attention for its account of the events in which he took part. It is even more important for an understanding of the minds of the exiled Scottish Catholics, and the work of Thomas Dempster, David Chalmers (or Camerarius) and George Conn.
Before discussing these three historical writers, it may be noted that the controversial writers of the sixteenth century all made some appeal to history. Winzet, Kennedy, Tyrie, John Hay, Nicol Burne, Adam King and John Hamilton 26 serve to illustrate a changing mental climate which affected men's approach to history. In the earlier writers, who had the corruptions of ecclesiastics before their eyes, there was an objectivity, and a restraint of tone, which decreased as controversial heat grew in Scotland. The temper of Major was in such men as Kennedy and Winzet. Later writers were further removed from the conditions which helped to bring about the Reformation. They were more affected by the emotionally surcharged atmosphere first created by Luther and Eck, seconded in Scotland by the sermons of Knox and some of the early preachers, among whom Willock and Paul Methven seem to have been especially galling. The later Catholic controversialists were disposed to disbelieve what was brought against them in the name of history, and to counter-attack with an ideal picture of the past, and a collection of Protestant scandals.
Controversialists cannot make good historians. They may be useful in collecting material which later scholars will revalue, but the character of their collection and interpretation of evidence is inevitably affected by their controversial purpose. The outstanding illustration of this among Scottish Catholic historians is Thomas Dempster. I do not think Dempster intended to deceive, or deliberately invented facts, but rather that his historical work was unconsciously vitiated by haste and controversy. He lived between 1579-1625, and had a stormy career on the Continent, a teacher in several universities, 27 writing voluminously on a wide range of subjects, recognised internationally as a classical scholar and an archaeologist. Personal quarrels were numerous in his lifetime, but were transcended by the running fight which he maintained with the Irish. Friction between Scots and Irish had begun before Dempster contributed to it. The Irish on the Continent rivalled the Scottish followers of Boece in the claims they made to past glory. Claims overlapped seriously as a result of the ambiguity of the name " Scot," which in the early centuries of British history was a racial term which could mean an inhabitant of Scotland or Ireland. The question had practical importance with regard to the ownership of the " Scottish " monasteries at Ratisbon and elsewhere, which had been founded in the Middle Ages and which promised to be shelters, and bases for Counter Reformation activity, to Catholic exiles.
Dempster threw himself into the vindication of Scottish claims with all the passion and industry he possessed. Both are witnessed to by Italian writers, 28 whose account of his life and character throws light on his writing. One describes him as "a man made for wars and strife : who, indeed, easily injured by word or action, had constant recourse to arms and dispute. He allowed hardly a day to pass without strife."
Another, whose estimate of Dempster is markedly cool and judicial, speaks of his unparalleled diligence in study and his amazing memory. He was apparently in the habit of working for fourteen hours a day. His teaching career in France and Italy, his literary Output and the vast reading which is displayed in it, suggest that there is no exaggeration in the statement. He was jurist, classical scholar, archaeologist, poet, well read in Latin, Greek, French and Italian, proficient in Hebrew, an enthusiast for Scottish literature and history. He wrote a number of short historical works before publishing his magnum opus in Scottish history into which he probably put all the material at his command, rum, which appeared at Bologna in the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Scotorum.
It is a book whose faults are so glaring that it is easy to dismiss it as a parcel of impudent inventions. Boece had made Scots of any heroes of British resistance to the Romans, and whole tribes, like the Brigantes, become Scottish in his history. Even Boadicea becomes a Scot. Boece may have written in ignorance, but it is impossible to explain away the large confiscation of the saints and scholars of Ireland, England and Wales, which was made by Dempster. There is the same evidence of enormous reading which is to be found in his other works. He knew Bale, whom he calls " Dei veritatis et Scotorum hostis, illiteratissimus descriptor, 29 and a great range of English and Continental historical texts. How he used these sources is well illustrated in his note on St. Alban. According to Dempster, Alban was a Scot, but the English, taking evil advantage of the fact that ancient writers call him a Briton, have made him their own, as they have many others. No evidence is adduced to show that the proto-martyr of Britain did in fact come from North of the Cheviots. In a similar fashion, Alcuin, Columbanus, Sedulius, Gildas, and other early saints are captured. St. Stephen Harding is included without any attempt at justification, but there is some slight caution in the section on Bede, whose Scottish nationality is left open to question. Pope Innocent I is wrongly claimed for Italy by the jealous natives of that country, who refuse to see that he was called " Albanus " because he came from Albany. John Scotus Erigena is not Irish, but has his name from Ayr. Wherever he looked, Dempster found Scots, and with equal case he compiled impressive lists of their writings.
No real attempt has been made to sift so much chaff, in order to find how much of value may be present. But Irvine rightly pointed out, in the Preface to his edition of the Historia Ecclesiastica, that Dempster is not entirely worthless. Much of his book is taken up with men who were his contemporaries, or near contemporaries. He claims, perhaps truthfully, and certainly with more claim to reasonable consideration, that he used sources which are not known to be extant, but which may well have existed before the French Revolution made havoc of Scottish libraries on the Continent. Gilbert Brown, the last Abbot of Sweetheart, may have supplied the material which Dempster attributes to him. There is independent evidence to suggest that his references to a manuscript De Sanctis Scotiae, by the Dominican Father Hunter, may indicate a real, not a fictitious work - although one whose intrinsic worth is open to doubt. 30 It is possible, therefore, to use Dempster, with great caution, as a source of clues which may lead to something positive, if followed up.
He is also worth studying for the light he can throw on Scottish Catholic ideas in his own day; his estimate of Mary, Queen of Scots, is a case in point. But, in whatever way he is used, it must always be with caution amounting almost to constant suspicion. Nothing can rest on his authority securely. If passion, ungoverned imagination and invention were all absent from his pages, they still contain enough evidence of hasty compilation, and of reliance on the memory of which he was so proud, to induce caution in the modern reader.
Camerarius 31 and George Conn 32 belonged, like Dempster, to the class of Scottish scholars and officials so prominent on the Continent at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. Neither was primarily a historian. Like Dempster, they collected fragment of Scottish history from a love of country and religion. Both were widely read, more sober than Dempster in their approach to evidence, and free from suspicion of deliberate invention. Neither was free, however, from the influence of controversy and a too great readiness to accept, on insufficient examination, what added to the glory of Scotland and its Catholic past. Their affinity, on the whole, is with Boece and Bishop Lesley, although Camerarius draws considerably on Dempster. Conn may have taken from Bishop Lesley the idea of presenting a picture of the tragic contrast between Catholic and post-Catholic Scotland. His book De Duplici Statu Religionis Apud Scotos, published at Rome in 1628, is apologetic in purpose, but with something in it of the frankness of Winzet and Kennedy, for Conn admits the existence of scandals in pre-Reformation Scotland. He is of interest also as the preserver of some stories, which there is no reason to reject, which bring a sudden glimpse of actuality which we would be glad to find more often among the pages of controversy in the Counter-Reformation period. Such, for instance, is the story of a Dominican saying Mass during the siege of Leith, unperturbed by the cannon shot which passed close to him. 33
The De Scotorum Fortitudine of Camerarius, published at Paris in 163I, has a dedication to Charles I, who is addressed as the successor of a hundred and eight Scottish kings. The author's hope that Charles will give kinder treatment to Scottish Catholics is not disguised. In this book again, there is wide reading and a lack of discrimination. Camerarius asserts his intention of drawing "ex vetustissimis annalium monumentis, firma probabilissimorum scriptorum consensione", rather than from conjectures wrapped in a mist of fables. He attempts to argue ,systematically, for example, when trying to show that the Scots were prior to the Picts, or that Duns Scotus was a native of Scotland. He is, like Dempster, not afraid to cross swords with Baronius or to dismiss Camden : and he is capable of naming a pamphleteer like Colville as a Scottish authority ! Because Camden is a heretic he has no regard for tradition, hence his easy dismissal when he conflicts with the fables of Scottish genealogists. 34 The De Scotorum Fortitudine was a book to exacerbate controversy among English, Irish and Scottish exiles, and the advance in historical scholarship in Italy, France and England, in the seventeenth century, meant that unless Scotsmen abandoned the romantic tradition of Dempster and Camerarius for a more solid method, they would become ridiculous in the eyes of educated men.
Camerariuss reference to ancient annals pointed in the right direction, although he himself failed to travel far. His work, like that of Dempster and of Lesley, shows no direct acquaintance with any ancient manuscript sources and there is little to suggest that these writers looked for any. -Probably the first Scottish Catholic historian who can be called a record scholar was, John Paul Jameson, 35 a native of Aberdeen, born in 1659. He was an ecclesiastical student in Rome from 1677 to 1685, when he became Professor of Divinity in Cardinal Barberigo's seminary in Padua. He returned to Scotland in 1687, in obedience to James II's in direction to all Scottish priests to come home. Until his death, in Edinburgh in 1700, he worked as a priest in Scotland mainly in the north, experiencing poverty and imprisonment like many of his colleagues at that time. He apparently planned to write a history of Scotland, and Father Thomas Innes speaks of his diligent search for Scottish records in the libraries of Italy. 36 He made copies of documents in the Vatican archives, and discovered and transcribed the Book of Kinloss. There are several references to his work by the Protestant scholar, Bishop Nicolson, in his Scottish Historical Library, 37 which made use of some of Father Jameson's material. It appears from Nicolson's s pages that Jameson had studied manuscripts in France also, among others some of those eventually printed in the Statuta Ecclesiae Scoticanae. Some of his transcripts went to the Scots College in Paris : others, in what bulk is unknown, were left in Aberdeen with Father Robert Strachan and have disappeared. 38 Jameson wrote critical notes on Martin's Reliquiae Divi Andreae, and on Spotiswood's History. A sentence in Nicolson seems to imply that he communicated some of his discoveries to Scottish Protestants who were interested in history.
John Paul Jameson belongs to a new school of Scottish Catholic historians, whose work was to be of more lasting value than any that had gone before. He and his colleagues were primarily concerned to. preserve and publish, as far as possible, early Scottish records. The Scots College in Paris was the principal centre of activity, influenced for over forty years by the brothers Louis and Thomas Innes. It is a remarkable fact that these men were all closely and actively concerned with the Scottish mission.
Most of them worked in Scotland for several years at least, and knew what it was to live secretly, in danger of arrest. None of them enjoyed the resources which academic or ecclesiastical position gave to Dempster, Conn, and Camerarius. The main part of their education was philosophical and theological not literary. They were free from the striving after rhetorical effect which marks most of their predecessors. Another characteristic which they had in common was friendliness towards Protestant scholars. There was nothing in them of that spirit of contemptuous dismissal of the work of heretics or apostates which has been noticed in Dempster, and they showed a willingness to communicate their knowledge to other Scottish historians, Episcopalian or Presbyterian. They found some in Scotland who were eager for such help as they could bring, and willing to find them access to manuscripts in Edinburgh and other places. They were better equipped for research than their Scottish friends would be for some time. In France the work of the Maurist Congregation was well established ; the scholars at the Scots College benefited from that work and in some cases enjoyed the friendship of prominent Benedictine scholars. 39 For nearly one hundred years, until it was disrupted by the French Revolution, the College in Paris preserved a care for sound scholarship, and a spirit of friendly co-operation in research whose effects are seen in several of the notable books published in Scotland, 40 and even in England, during that time.
Most of the credit for such a development must go to the two Innes brothers already named. The greatness of Father Thomas Innes has long been acknowledged among historians, but it is not generally known how great a part was played by his brother Louis in helping him with encouragement and with money. From their correspondences 41 it is evident that Thomas Innes's research was something which his brother had very much at heart. It is obvious, too, how much his brother's interest meant to the historian when he felt more than usually worn down by the difficulties among which much of his work was done. Louis himself was responsible for the printing, in Paris in 1695, of the charter showing the legitimacy of Robert III. Both men had a deep love of their native country, and an appreciation of its needs which made them among the first and keenest supporters of the seminary at Scalan. It is clear in their correspondence that much as they loved history and the work of research, they were devoted first of all to the religious needs of their own people.
A letter written by Thomas Innes in 1698, from Paris, is at once a source of information as to his early studies and a good illustration of his character. He is about to leave for Scotland to "goe home to the Mission where both my inclination to the service of my poor country as well as my obligation by reason of my education to that end and my Bishop's call lead me." After some more preliminaries he continues : As to what regards myself, I came to this Colledge very young 42, in M. Barclay's time, when haveing made my studies of humanitys, Philosophy and divinity in the space of ten years, and being in the meantime(notwithstanding my own indignity and dread of so weighty a burthen) assumed by superiors in to holy Orders for the service of our country, immediately after my Ordination to the Priesthood, I went to the Seminary of the Fathers of the Oratory, at Notre Dame des Vertus, where intending to remain till Superiors should call me home, I was brought back to this Colledge to put in order both the papers of the house and some remnants of the Ancient Catholick Churches of Scotland conserved here, among which that Charter lately printed was found, and obliged to draw up a kind of History of the Colledge from the first foundation in time of King Robert Bruce downwards upon our own ancient records, which are allmost all yett extant and of the Registers of the University. This with such kind of occupations, keept me here from my return till 1695, when by our Bishop's leave, and with his exeat, I went to stay with a Curate in the country, a very pious and learned man and much a friend to our King and country, thinking it more to my purpose to learn the administration of Sacraments by being daily in the reall exercise of all parochiall functions than by the bare speculation of them, which is most what's to be got in ordinary Seminaries ; and esteeming the best preparation to the life I intend to lead all my dayes, by the help of God, among the poorer sort of the country people, to begin even here to inure and accustomate myself to it. I stayed with this Curate above two years and left him only lately to come in to this house for some short time to make ready for the Mission whither I intend to go, God willing at, or immediately after Easter. As to my intentions in goeing to the Mission, the pressing needs of the country and the course of providence over me had bredd in me an inclination above all other things to two, viz. to the helping the poor people of the highlands and to serve, in as far as I am able, or as Superiors applie met for forming of the younger sort, whether children or others in the highlands, either to be ordained there in the place, in case we can gett then, brought that length in knowledge of necessary things, or at least for disposeing them for our colledges abroad. This I must confess, if God has given me any beginning of talent for anything, it is chiefly for that of education of such of the poorer in order to an Ecclesiastick state, and I should not have mentioned it, if after consulting the most spirituall Persons I could find in this country they had not, on knowledge of our wants and of my own education and inclinations, confirm'd me in it. But I must also add that I am, and alwayes have been of that mind, of which also I find many best of men I know here, that for our highlands the surest way, and most canonicall and naturall to establish the Religion among them is to educate these on the place and instruct and form churchmen without ever bringing them abroad from their own hardships, to feel the ease and (in regard of the poor and hard life they lead at home I may say) the delicacies of our Colledges abroad. But whatever my own particular inclinations may be, I shall do no thing but by order of our Bishop, to whom I shall endeavor to be obedient as to Him whom he represents, and look on what he appoints me to do as the providence and will of God over me and the means of my Sanctification in my Ministry."
The letter was written in January, and by June of the same year, Father Innes was in Aberdeen, from which he went to serve in Strathdon and Glenlivet. 43 Dr. Jameson was also in Scotland, and both were associated for long periods with Bishop Nicolson, the Vicar Apostolic. Father Innes reached his own district at a particularly trying time for in that year early snow ruined the harvest and there was famine among his people. An Irish priest in charge of Braemar and Glengairn went away, leaving these districts to be added to Father Innes's charge. Crossing and recrossing the mountains, in winter of that year, must have driven home the contrast between the academic quiet of the Colleges abroad and the grim life of the priests in the Scottish Highlands. In 1700 the nature of the Scottish Mission was more fully known to Father Innes, from his being Bishop Nicolson's companion on a visitation of the Highlands and Islands which occupied six months. To think of the contrasts in the lives of these three men, Bishop Nicolson and Fathers Jameson and Innes, brings home something of the sacrifice made, not only by them but by many others with similar careers. Bishop Nicolson, a convert to Catholicism had taught for nearly fourteen years in the University of Glasgow. 44 His subjects were Greek, Mathematics and Philosophy. Like the other two, the sometime Professor at Padua and the Master of Arts of the University of Paris, he came from Aberdeenshire. All three were born in comfort, then experienced the scholar's life, before they began the hard and dangerous life on the Scottish Mission. Their academic distinction explains the high standard aimed at in the seminary at Scalan.
It was during his first years of missionary work, before he went back to Paris in 1701 to become Prefect of Studies in the Scots College, that Father Innes did part of his research into Scottish records. In March, 1699, he wrote to his brother Louis that he thought of going south, as his brother had desired, to view manuscripts in the Advocates' Library. He is hindered by want of money. Having been forced to borrow already in order to live, he will have to borrow again if he is to go south. As he cannot be long absent from his district there will be no possibility of transcribing very much. (He was in correspondence also with John Paul Jameson, then in Edinburgh.) By June of that year he was at last in Edinburgh, forced to move very circumspectly as only a few weeks before his arrival the Duke of Gordon's house had been raided, several Catholics had been arrested, and Father Carnegy had narrowly escaped capture. His visit to Edinburgh was nevertheless successful. Through the good offices of Sir Robert Sibbald, whose love of learning did so much good for Scotland in many fields, he was admitted to the Advocates' Library, and sent a long account of what he had examined to his brother, on June 20th, 1699. This visit appears to have lasted only a fortnight. In a letter from Glenlivet, written in July, after his return, he has more to say about his stay in Edinburgh -The following passage is of special interest.
The Lawiers bibliothecarian was very civil to me, and I was with him two afternoons learning him to read the Charters and distinguish them by the character. I marked likewise, almost of everyone of their MSS. (at their desire) the time of the writing, as near as I could guess by the character or other marks, for they had made ridiculous mistakes that way. I was still there supposed only a foreign travelled man called M. Fleming, and so both secure and yet publick. 45
His appointment by Bishop Nicolson as the Scottish Agent in France, in May, 170I, was the occasion of a slow journey south to London, by way of Aberdeen, Arbroath, St. Andrews and Edinburgh. At Aberdeen he saw some of the manuscripts in King's College and the papers of Dr. Jameson already mentioned. At St. Andrews he visited George Martin, the author of the Reliquiae Divi Andreae, who took him to see the ruins of the Cathedral. Martin also conducted him through the Colleges of the University, and showed him a number of manuscripts. He reached Edinburgh on May 30th, and wrote to his brother a few days later. He was uncertain how long he would stay,
"I told you formerly," he wrote, " the difficulties I had to gett any copies here of anything worth. The Advocates' Library lends no MSS. upon no account whatsoever ; all one can doe is to sie them for about an hour and a half at a time in a publick place where all sorts of persons resort, and that not without danger, especially in this time of the Session where people of places where your friend is known will come. So I cannot yet say it will be worth my while to stay till your answer."
How long he did stay, and to what effect, is not stated in his extant letters, but it must have been for little more than three weeks at most, as he was writing from London on July 15th about the difficulties he was having in getting access to the Cottonian Library.
He succeeded in gaining the friendship of Dr.
Smith, the Librarian, who knew him as Mr. Melvil. He was helped also by Dr. Sloane, then
Secretary of the Royal Society, to whom he was presumably recommended by Sir Robert
Sibbald. He worked hard in London, sitting in a room in the Cottonian Library where he was
allowed to have one volume at a time, except anything concerning Mary, Queen of Scots that
Dr. Smith wished to reserve for himself. He transcribed Turgot's Life of St. Margaret,
collated the manuscript of the Melrose Chronicle with an imperfect copy already in his
possession, and examined a copy of Fordun. In an account of his labours which he sent his
brother, he describes St. Aelred of Rievaulx's life of St. Ninian as 'very long and
legendary." Money difficulties were relieved by a remittance from his brother, and he
began to think of buying books. While on that subject he drew up a list of English
historical works, malnlv editions of medieval chronicles, which it would be good to have
in the Scots College Library and concluded: This account of them I give you, not as if I
thought it proper to buy them, or half of them, now, but that as occasion serves of any
benefactor to the Library you may know better what to advise them." Altogether he was
in England three months, and before he left for France had succeeded in gaining access to
the Archbishop of Canterbury's library at Lambeth, the library of the Bishop of Norwich
and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Enough has been said to give some idea of the early work of Father Innes, and to show how, long before his famous book was published, he had begun to investigate early Scottish history. It is perhaps an indication of how carefully " Mr. Fleming's " real identity was concealed that when long afterwards Wodrow wrote his famous description of Father Innes it was apparently with no previous acquaintance with him. 46
Discussion as to how the Critical Essay on the Ancient Inhabitants of the Northern Parts of Britain or Scotland might possibly be published, began two years before it appeared. 47 On May 24th, 1728, he was on the point of leaving Edinburgh for London, going by sea to save money.
A series of letters from London, to his brother Louis, reports the progress of the printing, and shows the scrupulous care with which he revised every page, and also something of the worry which he had in the whole business. Financial troubles and attacks of rheumatism added to his difficulties, and he felt keenly the lack of any fellow historian to consult. On February 22nd, 1729, he wrote to Louis :
I am forced to depend ,on God after using my endeavours. And yet I have been obliged on reading and reflecting to make many alterations, additions, retrenchments, etc. Most of the additions are in the article of Buchanan, whose admirers will not be pleased neither with what I say of him nor of Q. Mary, which is also enlarged." It was May before he was able to leave, London, to his immense relief.
It is hardly necessary to enlarge on the
qualities of his Essay, which has been long recognised as classic. Professor Black calls
it "one of the truly epoch-making books in the history of Scottish historiography. He
adds, "What strikes one about his work is its profound analytical power, its great
learning, and its engaging simplicity. There is a precision and neatness in his reasoning
that bear a close resemblance to the technique of a scientist." 48 Father
Innes demolished the legendary Scottish history which had been given currency by Boece and
his followers, and set a new standard for Scottish historians. His friendship with the
Maurists, and his study of their methods, lies behind his achievement. We can only
conjecture as to what he might have produced had his plan for a complete ecclesiastical
history of Scotland come to maturity, if he had been free from financial stress, and able
to study where and when he pleased. As things were, he was able to publish nothing more,
although some of his writings were to appear, during the nineteenth century in the volumes
of the Spalding Club. 49 Other writers received his help during his old age, by
correspondence, among them Bishop Keith and Dr. Wilkins, the editor of the ConciliaMagnae
Britanniae. The University of Glasgow entered into correspondance with him, and in 1738
received copies of manuscripts in the Scots College concerning the early history of the
University. In the following year the aged historian was made a Burgess of Glasgow, his
burgess ticket being sent to him " in all the forms from the Provost and Magistrates
in a silver cace with the arms of the City." He was then 77 years Of age, "
quite decayed in memory, mind and body, scarce able to writt a legible letter having one
half of me so benummed by daily increasing sciatick that I can scarce make a step without
help and grasping at all that can support me." Yet in June of that year he was at
work transcribing some of the ancient records of Glasgow, which he hoped might be "
acceptable to the Lord Provost and City Council," for in spite of his condition he
" could not frustrate those Gentlemen's expectation, nor fail to answer the
civilities with which they have so generously preveened us." He died in his 81st
year, on February 8th, 1744, having suffered greatly in body, and having suffered much
from accusations directed against himself and his brother Louis during the Jansenists
controversy. He was cleared from all such charges before his death, but they gave his
peace-loving nature considerable pain. He wrote a few years before his death that he was
willing to forgive all, and that, as for himself and his surviving brothers "as we
were all by the mercy of God born and bred up in the bosom of the Catholic Church and
obedient children of that holy Mother, so we are firmly resolved all to dy, leaving all
disputable points to her infallible decision." 50
In 1661 two years before Thomas Innes, there was born in Edinburgh another outstanding scholar, less known perhaps than he deserves to be. 51 Richard Augustine Hay who became a Canon Regular of St. Augustine, and whose troubled life and character I hope to discuss at greater length on some other occasion, was in many respects in advance of his time, at least in Scotland. Like Father Thomas Innes, he was acquainted personally with Mabillon, Ruinart and other French scholars. His industry and learning were immense, although perhaps he was less meticulous than Innes, and certainly less dispassionate in his judgments. Essentially he was a record scholar, whose projected publications were more ambitious than contemporary interest could accept. In his search for records he was helped by his important family connections. He was related to the families of the Hays of Tweeddale, the Sinclairs of Roslin, and Spottiswood of Spottiswood. The National Library possesses the bulk of his writing, much of which will never be printed, as the volumes of the nineteenth century historical clubs have replaced it. The three folio volumes of his Veterum Diplomatum Collectio 52 are a good example of his work. They contain the chartularies of Newbattle, Holyrood, St Giles, Arbroath, and Paisley, with some miscellaneous matter. The library manuscript is not in Father Hay's own crabbed writing, close packed to economise in paper, but is a fair copy made in Paris in 1696. The two folio volumes of his Scotia Sacra, 53 similarly copied by an amanuensis in 1700, are almost as remarkable an achievement.
There is still valuable material to be found in his collection of material relating to Scottish family history. 54 He printed some small works, in France and Scotland, and there seems little doubt that the fair manuscript copies now in the National Library were intended for the printer. He actually issued in 1719, in Edinburgh, a prospectus of an edition of Fordun which he was contemplating. 55 The edition failed to appear., presumably for lack of subscribers. The manuscript upon which his edition was to be based was eventually presented by him to the Advocates' Library.
When Father Hay died, somewhere about 1735 or 1736, in the Cowgate of Edinburgh, his manuscripts passed into the possession of his kinsman, the Laird of Spottiswood, who was half-brother of Walter Macfarlane. The connection is an interesting one, and although there is no collection of letters by Father Hay, similar to that which throws light on the relationship of Father Innes and other Scottish and English scholars, it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that his years in Edinburgh, and his acquaintance with such men as Thomas Ruddiman and Spottiswood, had some influence on the development of Scottish historical research.
There were other contemporaries of Fathers Hay and Innes, among Scottish Catholic priests, who investigated Scottish history. The Scottish Benedictine community at Ratisbon had a strong interest in the discussion of racial antiquity, the Abbey having been a subject of contention between Scots and Irish. An example of the historical activity at Ratisbon is to be found in Glasgow University Library, in the form of a manuscript dated 1705, by Father Joseph Falconer. The volume is entitled : Lucubrationes ad Res Scotorum Ab Anglorum et Irlandorum Rebus Discernendas Et Clarius Intelligendas.56 It is a fair copy, in folio ; the text covers 516 pages. Father Falconer used as authorities Boece, Lesley, Dempster and Camerarius, and his treatise is a curious mixture of sharpness and credulity, combined on occasion with an amusing wit. Scattered throughout it are fragments of information which did not depend on his "authorities." He speaks, for example, of Scots who have gone to Ireland on account of their Catholic belief, in great numbers ; he has seen them himself. 57
Another Scottish Benedictine historian, more erudite than Father Falconer, and possessing a better acquaintance with historical method, was Father Marianus Brockie. His Monasticon Scoticum was written at Ratisbon about 1750, some of the material used in it having been assembled in the course of missionary work in Scotland. The original manuscript, which is now imperfect, extends to 1600 folio pages, closely written. This is at Blairs, together with an eighteenth century transcript. and a transcript, with additional material, made by Canon Wilson towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Monasticon Scoticum offers a complete history of Scottish religious houses, of men and women, and some of the material contained in it has filtered into circulation in various ways. Unfortunately there are good grounds for thinking that a large part of the work is the invention of the author, or of those who supplied him with material. Even in those parts which are demonstrably based on authentic manuscripts there is evidence of unscholarly treatment of evidence. The Brockie manuscript, however, like the work of Richard Augustine Hay, is a subject which requires fuller discussion elsewhere.
The collecting of historical material went on throughout the eighteenth century. No work was produced to compare with the Critical Essay, but the spirit of Father Innes survived among the Scottish Catholic clergy. It appeared in those Prini'pals of Scots Colleges on the Continent who communicated material to the recently formed Society of Antiquaries, 58 in the years immediately before the French Revolution. Bishop Geddes continued in a remarkable degree the tradition of friendship with non-Catholic scholars, a friendship that was more public in the more tolerant atmosphere of the end of the eighteenth century. His Life of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, published at Aberdeen in 1794, is written in a sober, critical style. He was of use to a number of contemporary students. as his correspondence with the Earl of Buchan and General Hutton shows. 59 The Society of Antiquaries admitted him to membership in 1790 and for a time he was one of its Censors.
Nothing has been said about a number of other men who deserve to be noticed, Father John Thomson, the Abbe Macpherson, Canons Kyle, Clapperton and Wilson; or about Bishop Kyle, who in his way did more than any Scottish Catholic, after Father Thomas Innes, for the preservation and publication of Scottish historical records. A full account of Scottish Catholic historians would require also some discussion of the Benedictine and Jesuit scholars who lived nearer our own time. It would involve drawing attention to some efforts in historiography more akin to Boece and his followers, than to that rational spirit of inquiry which Major showed, and which, after nearly two hundred years, emerged in even more impressive form in the work of Thomas Innes.
It is the spirit of Innes which, on the whole, has inspired most Scottish Catholic historians. Like him they have usually been engaged primarily in priestly work, and their historical research has been carried out in odd intervals or in old age. They published little, for lack of resources. They were generous in their assistance of other scholars. The story of their efforts not only shows a steady tradition of scholarship among Scottish Catholics ; it reveals a comradeship of scholars behind the history of religious dissensions and penal laws. Modern Catholics owe to their efforts the accumulation of records on which the history of the Catholic Church in Scotland will rest. There is a debt owing to them which will not be settled until these records are properly cared for, and until the history which they had in mind is at last written.
1 A Paper read to the Scottish Catholic Historical Conference, 1949.
2 For the life of Boece, see D.N.B. v. 297,
and articles by Dr. Douglas Simpson and Professor J.B. Black
in Quatercentenary of the Death of Hector Boece. (Aberdeen, 1937). For Major see D.N.B. xxxv. 386, and a Life, by A. J. G. Mackay, prefixed to the Scottish History's Society translation of the History of Greater Britain. (Edinburgh, 1892).
3 A revised Bibliography of Major's works will appear in a future number of The Innes Review.
4 . English translation by Archibald Constable, with Notes. Scottish History Society. Volume X. (Edinburgh, 1892).
5 OP. Cit., p. cxxxiv. sq.
6 Ibid., p. cxxxiii.
7 Ibid., p. cxxxv.
8 Ibid., p 108.
9 Ibid., p. 134.
10 See, for example, the letter to Alexander
Stewart, Archbishop of St. Andrews (Op. cit.,
p. 419), and the eulogy of Wallace and Bruce (Ibid., 264).
11 Ibid., p. 40.t.
12 Boece's Historiae Scotorum, published March 15, 1527. Ferrerius's edition, Paris 1574, was printed at Lausanne. Scots translation by Bellenden, printed at Edinburgh by Thomas Davidson, undated but probably 1537. A metrical version by William Stewart, printed in Rolls Series. The Scottish Text Society is publishing the Scots translation, from the Mar lodge manuscript, in three volumes, two of which have already been issued.
13 See the prefatory letter addressed to James, especially the concluding lines.
14 Quatercentenary, p. 47.
15 Critical Essay (The Historians of Scotland, Vol. VIII.), p. 207.
16 Historiae, f. xix. verso.
17 Ibid., Prefatory letter addressed to James Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrews,
18 Text, with an English translation, printed by the New Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1894).A limited edition was published by the Bannatyne Club (Edinburgh, 1825).
19 Vitae, p.92 sq.
20 Sebastian De Olmeda, Chronica Ordinis Praedicatorum ad annum 1550 et ultra. (Rome,1935) p. 196.
21 . Registrum Litterarum Fr. Thomae De Vio Caietani O.P. Magistri Ordinis 1508-1513. (Rome, 1935), p. 317 sq sub anno 1511.
22 An article on these will appear in a future number of the Review.
23 Aberdeen University MS. 239. An edition of this text is in preparation.
24 Lesley's own Scots text was printed for the first time by the Bannatyne Club in 1830. A Scots translation of his Latin text, made in 1596 by Father Dalrymple, O.S.B., a monk printed by the Scottish Text Society. Vol. I. in 1888, Vol. II. in 1895. For his accounts of events between 1561-71 see Forbes-Leith's Narratives of Scottish Catholics (Edinburgh, 1885) pp. 85-126.
25 Bishop Leslie was Mary's ambassador to Elizabeth in 1569, was imprisoned on suspicion of complicity in the Rodolfi plot; left England in 1573, and represented Mary in Paris and until he returned to France in 1579 as Vicar-General of Rouen. He wrote several books on behalf of Mary.
26 cf. W. Forbes-Leith, S.J., Pre-Reformation Scholars in Scotland . (Although very often inaccurate this is still a useful source of bibliographical information). See also T. G. Law's edition of Catholic Tractates (Scottish Text Society, Edinburgh, 1888).
27 Dempster studied in Cambridge, Louvain, Douai, and Paris. He was professor of Huma