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  • Feature of the month: No.1 June 2009

Feature of the month: No.1 June 2009

Robert, Prior of Restenneth (fl. 1165)

Dr Amanda Beam, PoMS Research-Assistant

One of the benefits of this study of people and interrelationships in Scotland is, of course, highlighting persons of interest for the period 1093-1286. Each and every person mentioned in any transaction which takes place within Scotland or any charter created in Scotland during this time will be included in the database, which means otherwise previously unknown members of Scottish society will now be known to us. Of course, a single document could offer us the sole proof of a person's existence and, for some members of society, their name and the date in which they appear is the only information we have. However, the date of many of our more than 6,000 charters is not given in the text itself, which complicates the identification of these individuals as the date must be estimated based on known dates of other people mentioned in that charter or other events. We can see this in practice now as we examine a charter revealing a new prior of Restenneth. As a new person, it seemed fitting that he should be our first 'Feature of the Month'.

The priory of Restenneth, near Forfar in Angus, was founded by 1153, as an Augustinian house and daughter-house of Jedburgh Abbey in the Borders. King Malcolm IV had given the church to Jedburgh between 6 January 1161 and 24 January 1162 with instructions to Abbot Osbert to appoint a prior there 1 . The first prior on record was Robert, who is found in a charter datable to 1147×59 and who became prior of Scone in '1162' and, subsequently, first abbot of Scone between 24 May 1163×23 May 1164 upon Scone's elevation 2 . The Chronicle of Holyrood claims that this Robert had been a canon of Jedburgh Abbey upon his appointment as prior of Scone in 1162, while the 15th-century chronicler Walter Bower says he was prior of Restenneth when he became abbot 3 . Robert's successor is not found at Restenneth until '1178' 4 ; Robert himself died in '1186' 5 .

A new prior?

A problem of identification emerges, however, when a Robert, prior of Restenneth, witnesses a royal charter dated 1165 × 9 Dec. 1165 6 . When entering 'Robert, prior of Restenneth' into the database, the first instinct was to associate him with the Robert, prior of Restenneth, later abbot of Scone, who can be found under the headline name Robert, abbot of Scone (d.1186). Surely, though, this Robert would have been styled abbot of Scone in this particular charter since that was his current title.

In the notes to Chronicle of Holyrood, A.O. Anderson has mentioned that Bower might have been confusing two separate men in his chronicle – one who was the prior, and one who became the abbot 7 . Anderson goes on to say that the chronicler of Holyrood is probably correct that the Robert who became abbot of Scone was a canon of Jedburgh while Bower's assertion that this Robert was also prior of Restenneth needs some confirmation. Bower's confusion is certainly possible if the first Robert was succeeded as prior by a second Robert.

Yet, one could go further and suggest that Robert, a canon of Jedburgh, became prior of Restenneth and remained in that office; while an un-related Robert went to Scone. This is plausible as Restenneth was a daughter-house of Jedburgh and its offices could very well have been filled by members of the Jedburgh monastic community. Either way, these are most probably two different men.

Dating the document

The date of this document is based on the promotion of Nicholas of Roxburgh, the chamberlain, to the chancellorship of Scotland and by the death of King Malcolm IV. Had this been the same Robert, now abbot of Scone, one can assume that he would not have used his former title of 'prior of Restenneth'.

Anderson suggests, though, that the 1165 document – which forms part of the Cambuskenneth Cartulary, compiled in the 16th century – might have mistaken the original 'Nicholao, cancellario' for 'Nicholao, camerario', a simple scribal error which would re-date the document to 1159×1165 8 . Given Robert's promotion to prior and then abbot of Scone this document would thence be dated 1159×1162. Geoffrey Barrow's edition of the Regesta Regum Scottorum (i, no. 260), makes no mention of this potential error and dates the document firmly in 1165 based on Nicholas's promotion.

This in itself creates a grey area for scholars. If the surviving notarial copy of the Cambuskenneth Cartulary is, in fact, in error by mistaking 'cancellario' for 'camerario' then the theory of a new Robert, prior of Restenneth, would be voided. The document would simply need to be re-dated to 1159×1162, before his promotion as prior of Scone. So a question historians must consider is whether this is a scribal error or a newly-discovered prior.

The witness factor

Further examination of the other witnesses does not narrow things down for us at first glance: Countess Ada did not die until 1178; Earl Duncan, in 1204; and William de Vieuxpont between 1196 and 1205. Finally, Robert the chaplain's other appearances are two royal charters dated 24 June 1161 or 24 June 1162 (probably the former date) and again 13 September × 28 October 1164 9 .

Earl Duncan, though, may provide us with the answer. His position in the witness list reveals the biggest clue that this document is likely datable to 1165 and that we do have a new prior of Restenneth. Earl Duncan was a minor when he succeeded his father, also Duncan, as earl of Fife in 1154. Before 1161/62, Duncan appears at the lower end of the witness lists for royal charters, highlighting that, as a minor, he may not have had experience or capability to function fully in his role as earl of Fife. From 1162, though, the young earl appears more prominently in the lists on account of his reaching an appropriate age 10 . This means that the document in question – in which Duncan is second in the witness list behind Countess Ada, the king's mother – is unlikely to be earlier than 1162.

Once again we find ourselves in a grey area since Duncan's position as witness only narrows our date-limits for this document. And, if we assume that 'cancellario' is a mistake for 'camerario', one could argue that the charter is narrowed even more to 1162, based on Robert's promotion to Scone. While the possibility remains that our Roberts are one and the same, re-dating the document to 1162 leaves a very small window for the appearance of Robert, future prior of Scone, as prior of Restenneth.

Cancellario vs. Camerario

What we are left to do now is simply factor the probabilities. The crux of this issue is the potential 'cancellario'/'camerario' mistake. In Scotland, this is rare. Perhaps surprisingly, any scribal errors are – more often than not – in personal names, not titles. In fact, only once in our period do we find a 'cancellario'/'camerario' mistake: Philip de Valognes, chamberlain (d.1215) is once called 'cancellario' rather than 'camerario' 11 . This particular instance, though, could easily be solved by inserting the name Florence, who was chancellor at this time. The witnesses would then read: Philip de Valognes (no title), Florence, the chancellor. (In other words, this is a mistake involving a name – the omission of 'Florence' – not the title 'chamberlain'.) There is apparently only one other scribal error related to chancellor: Walter de Bidun, the chancellor, is recorded in a witness list as 'Waltero senescallo cancellario', an obvious mistake 12 . The third witness in this charter of King David I is Walter, son of Alan, the genuine 'steward', so it could be that the scribe had inadvertently given Walter de Bidun the title of Walter, son of Alan, and followed this with the actual title without correcting his mistake.

For our charter under consideration, it should be noted that the titles attributed to Nicholas of Roxburgh – who is unique as the only holder of both offices in Scotland – are always correctly recorded, whether he is a clerk, chancellor or chamberlain.

The sixteen-year gap between Robert's promotion as prior of Scone and the appearance of his successor at Restenneth can also be factored in. It would not be unheard of for one prior to be succeeded by another of the same name. In fact, there are ten occurrences of an incumbent and a successor bearing the same name during our period under consideration: Adam (res.1260) and Adam (d.1270) of Balmerino; Richard (d.1269) and Richard (el.1269) of Cambuskenneth; William (res.1258) and William (dep.1272) of Coupar Angus; Geoffrey (d.1154) and Geoffrey (d.1178), William (d.1223) and William (d.1238), all of Dunfermline; Malcolm (1220s/30s) and Malcolm (a.1251) of Fearn; William (dep.1221) and William (res.1227) of Holyrood; Ralph (1189-94) and Ralph (d.1220) of Kinloss; Richard (d.1220) and Richard (1220-23) of Newbattle; Robert (d.1186) and Robert (res.1198) of Scone 13 .


The verdict, then, based mainly on Nicholas's promotion to chancellor, but also on the unlikelihood that 'chancellor' is a mistake, and to some extent on Earl Duncan's position as a witness, is that there is a 'new' leader of a medieval religious community in Scotland.

Author's Addition - August 2010

Since the above Feature was produced, more data has been entered into the PoMS database, revealing another new prior of Restenneth. 'Walter, prior of Restenneth' appears as the first witness in a charter of Eva of Carsegownie, daughter of Walter Lorimer, in which she grants – in her widowhood – the donation made by her son, William, of the land of Carsegownie in Angus to Malcolm the clerk, son of Waltheof. 14

The charter is datable between 1241 and 1264, based on Robert de Mowat's appearance as the second witness. He was sheriff of Forfar in 1241, 1250 and 1264, as well as justiciar between 1241 and 1244. His likely relative, Laurence de Mowat, also appears in this charter and was known to hold the church of Kinnettles in the late 1240s.

Prior Walter does not appear in the Heads of Religious Houses of Scotland (ed. Watt and Shead, Edinburgh, 2001, pg. 182), but would have succeeded German, whose last appearance on record is after 21 March 1224; he would have preceded William, who occurs only in the year 1267.

This document is also unique in that it is the only record of Eva of Carsegownie, and her son William, and hopefully showcases the benefits of the PoMS database as a prosopographical research tool for our end users.


Feature of the Month