Bishop Robert Wishart | The Warrior Bishop

Essay by Rev. James Primrose (Mediaeval Glasgow, Pages 34 – 59, Published 1913)

WHEN Bishop Robert Wishart, in 1272, began his rule over the diocese of Glasgow, Scotland was enjoying a period of great national prosperity under Alexander III., known among his countrymen, as “the Peaceable King.” Commerce with the Continent was in so flourishing a condition that Berwick-on-Tweed, which then led the way in enterprise, was regarded as a second Alexandria. Religion also was in a healthy state; the vigorous efforts of Bishop Bondington of Glasgow, and of his contemporary, Bishop Bernham of St. Andrews, had not spent their force, while the evangelistic zeal of the two new orders, the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars, was reviving spiritual life. “The Church of Christ flourished” says Fordun, “her priests were honoured with due worship, vice was withered, craft there was none, wrong came to an end, truth was strong and righteousness reigned.”1

Doubtless there were exceptions to this glowing picture. Indeed, we obtain a glimpse of the darker side of things from an incident related, says the chronicler, by way of a joke. A certain knight of Roberton had an estate in Annandale, the tenants of which committed all sorts of scandalous offences which brought them to the court of the official, and filled the purse of the archdeacon with fines.2 And, as the knight was not getting in his rents, on account of the money being all given to the archdeacon in fines, he decreed that, if his tenants did not leave off their evil ways, he would expel them from his lands. When the people heard this, they left off their evil ways and devoted themselves to agriculture and, accordingly, the archdeacon got no money in fines. When the archdeacon one day met the knight, he accosted him and, with haughty superciliousness, asked who had made him guide of such matters. The knight replied that he did it for the good of his property and not as interfering with the archdeacon’s jurisdiction. The knight added, however, “I see, if you can fill your purse with their fines, you have no care who takes their souls.” At this, the exactor of fines and lover of transgressions held his peace.3

Robert Wishart was Bishop of Glasgow from 1272 till1316, and so ruled for forty-four years, the longest period of any bishop in the annals of the See. On glancing over the events that occurred during his long tenure of office, we may conveniently divide his reign into two periods, the first twenty years, when the bishop might be described as a man of peace, and the next twenty-four, when the bishop was most assuredly a man of war. With reference to his early days, we have scarcely any information except that he was descended from the principal family of Wishart of Pitarrow, near Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire.  It appears that a certain John Wishart had lands in the Mearns in the reign of Alexander II, and William Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, and immediately afterwards of St. Andrews, was his second son. His third son was Adam, who got the lands of Ballindarg and Logie-Wishart (in Forfarshire) in I272.4 Bishop Robert was the son of this Adam, and accordingly the nephew, not the cousin, as so often asserted of Bishop William Wishart, his predecessor, and thus belonged to the Logie-Wishart branch, also called of that ilk.5 An interesting account of the Wisharts of Pitarrow will be found in the Memorials of Angus and the Mearns6 from which we learn that George Wishart, the martyr of 1546, and George Wishart, Bishop of Edinburgh (1662-1671) both belonged to the Logie-Wishart family.

Passing now to speak of the education of the future Bishop Robert, we have no information as to which monastic school he attended, but as the name of the Wisharts of Pitarrow and also of Logie occurs very frequently in the chartulary of Arbroath, in connection with gifts to the abbey,7 the probability is, as Arbroath was not many miles distant, that his education would be obtained at this famous abbey, whose lord abbots in those days, bearing crosier and mitre, were among the leading churchmen in the kingdom.8  Nor are we informed as to the university he attended,but, as Scotland and England were not on the best of terms,Robert may have gone to the Continent to study at thefamous Universities of Paris or Bologna. But Denifle’slists of the students attending Paris University do not begintill I330,9 while the lists of the early students of Bolognahave not been preserved. The first time Wishart’s namecomes into prominence is as Archdeacon of Lothian in thediocese of St. Andrews, from which post, on the recommendation of the king and his uncle, Bishop William, he was elected to the See of Glasgow in 1271, but not consecrated till 29th January 1273. In the interval between his election and his consecration he journeyed to Rome “to expedite his own affairs, as well as those of the Chancellor his uncle.”

At the date of his election, Fordun describes him as “a young man in age, but older in manners.”10 He was consecrated, not at Glasgow, but at Aberdeen, by the Bishops of Aberdeen, Moray, and Dunblane.11 From the first, Bishop Wishart appears to have set himself vigorously to carry out the work of his diocese. In 1273 we find him holding court at Castletarris (Carstairs) to settle a dispute. Castletarris was a manor-house, built with stone and lime, belonging to the Bishops of Glasgow from a very early period, and this, between the years 1287-1290, Wishart sought to fortify as a castle, after the death of Alexander III., when Edward I. was threatening the independence of Scotland.12 In 1275 Scotland received a visit from Boiamund or Benemund de Vicci, Canon of Asti, Piedmont, but popularly known as Bagimont, who was sent as legate by the Pope to collect a tax for another crusade to recover the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem from the Turks. This Bagimont announced to the clergy assembled in a provincial council at Perth, that they must either pay a tenth of the true value of their benefices or suffer excommunication.13 This demand of the Pope somewhat exasperated the Scottish clergy, and we may be certain that Bishop Wishart would take a prominent part in the opposition; nevertheless they agreed to be taxed according to the ancient valuation of their benefices, which was considerably below their true valuation. Accordingly, an appeal was made to the Pope to this effect, but in vain; so they reluctantly consented to pay the tax according to the new valuation roll. The list of church properties thus assessed in 1279, and known as Bagimont’s Roll, is not to be confounded with the Ragman Roll of 1296, which contains the list of those who swore fealty to Edward I as Overlord of Scotland. Two years after Bagimont’s visit, viz. in the year 1277, occurs an important reference to the completion of the building of Glasgow Cathedral, which seems to have been generally misunderstood. In this year, Bishop Wishart procured from Maurice, Lord of Luss, Loch Lomond, for a certain sum of money, a grant of whatever timber might be necessary for the building of a campanile and a treasury for the Cathedral (ad fdbricas campanile et thesaurarie) . Not only so, it was covenanted that the contractors of the work, their carriers and artificers, should have free entry to Maurice’s lands, and should have the right of felling and dressing timber wherever they chose . . . and should have pasturage for their horses and oxen.14

While this affords an interesting sidelight into the condition of the times, it nevertheless raises a question about which there has been considerable discussion. Here, in 1277, a grant was made to Bishop Wishart by the Lord of Luss, of sufficient timber for the erection of a campanile and treasury. Yet, in 1291 fourteen years later we read of the bishop begging from Edward L, then acting as Overlord of Scotland, a supply of timber for building a “clocher” for the Cathedral.15 Now, if the “clocher” here be identical with the “campanile” before mentioned, it would appear that the campanile was still unfinished, for we read that the bishop, instead of using the sixty oaks from Ettrick Forest, which the king granted for this purpose, actually turned them into engines of artillery catapults and mangonels with which to besiege the castle of Kirkintilloch, then held by the Comyn in the interests of England.

As the great central tower of the Cathedral was not erected till the early part of the fifteenth century, by Bishop Lauder, if we may judge from his arms inscribed on the parapet thereof, the campanile and treasury referred to in 1277 would be what were known as the two western towers the north-west and the south-west, which, unfortunately, were removed about the year 1848. This being so, the campanile, latterly called the steeple, would be the north-west tower, and the treasury the south-west tower. There is good reason, experts tell us, for believing that the campanile or north-west tower was erected to some height, at least, before the nave was completed.16 With reference to the south-west tower, however, some, from the style of its architecture, conclude that it was a later building erected by Bishop Cameron in the middle of the fifteenth century. This may be, but we are inclined from the reference made to the campanile and treasury in 1297 to think that they were two separate erections, and that both began to be built about the same time. As confirming this contention, there is a reference in the year 1306, which seems to show that a building known as the treasury was then in existence, for when Robert the Bruce rode from Dumfries after his assassination of the Comyn, and reached Glasgow on 10th February, Bishop Wishart prepared in his own wardrobe the robes in which Bruce was to be arrayed for the coronation ceremony. And he sent the same, together with a banner of the arms of the kingdom of Scotland, which had been long concealed in his treasury (en sa trésorie], to Bruce at the Abbey of Scone.17

But, further, since experts agree that the style of the nave is that of the latter portion of the thirteenth or early fourteenth century, the golden age of the Gothic in Scotland, the likelihood is that when Bishop Wishart was building the two towers he also about the same period completed the nave.18

To sum up, so far as documentary evidence can be found, to which architectural evidence is complementary, the two western towers were commenced by Bishop Wishart and were added to, or altered subsequently; while the northwest tower, also termed the campanile, clocher, or steeple would seem to have been erected more than a century before the great central tower and spire. If this distinction between the north-west tower or steeple and the central tower be observed, it will help to clear one’s mind from the confusion that has arisen among writers on the fabric of the Cathedral.

In July, 1282, the Pope grants a commission to the Bishops of Glasgow, Dunblane, and Caithness, to consecrate Henry le Chen, a deacon, precentor of Aberdeen, whom the Pope has appointed to that See. But whether Wishart journeyed to Aberdeen on this occasion is uncertain, for it is expressly stated that if the three bishops cannot be present, the other two are to call in another Scotch bishop to their aid.19 At any rate, Bishop Henry, like Wishart himself, became a staunch supporter of Robert the Bruce in his struggle for the Scottish Crown.

Another interesting fact is that early in Wishart’s episcopate, in 1285, there is found mention of a bridge over the river Clyde at Glasgow,20 which, if we accept the authority of Blind Harry, was not a stone bridge but “a bryg that byggyt was of tre,” in other words a timber bridge,21 which Wallace and his three hundred crossed on their way up High Street to fight the English at the “Bell o’ the Brae.”

If we turn to the Register of Glasgow during the period of Wishart’s episcopate, we find quite a large number of documents, such as papal bulls, charters and other instruments, but these are of little general interest. Cosmo Innes draws attention especially to two,22 which give us a glimpse of what the burghal laws prescribed before a burgess could sell his inheritance in those days. From these it appears that the property had first to be offered for sale to relatives, parents and friends, at the three head courts (placita), and at other courts often, according to law and the custom of the burgh. When the sale took place, seisin was given to the purchaser in the presence of civic authorities, described as “prepositi et ballivi,” and twelve burgesses. Then took place the ancient and picturesque bit of ceremonial known as “in-toll” and “out-toll” In accordance with this, the seller gave the bailie who presided at the transaction, a penny for the “ische” or out-toll, or outgoing, while the purchaser gave the bailie a penny for seisin or taking possession of the property, i.e. for in-toll.23 “Symbols of investiture generally bore some reference tothe subject. Seisin was taken of a mill by clap and hopper,of a house by the key, of fishings by net and coble, of patronageby a psalter and the keys of the Church” 24

This leads us to advert to the subject of seals, appended to charters and other documents, and not infrequently referred to in the long period of Wishart’s rule. Nor need we be surprised at this, for during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the making of seals was reaching the height of its development as a fine art. Those who are desirous of acquainting themselves with the various seals used by Bishop Wishart will find an account of these with illustrative plates in the Book of Glasgow Cathedral.25 One of these, strictly speaking, a counterseal and particularly rich in design, is generally believed to give a representation in three compartments of the legend concerning the fish with the ring in its mouth; but this, Archbishop Eyre thinks, may be questioned. Not only had the bishop and chapter their seals, but it appears there was in existence at this period, in the years 1280 and 1293, a common seal for the Burgh of Glasgow,26 the device of which apparently was taken from the private seal of the bishop, observe, not of the bishopric, for, previous to the Reformation, ecclesiastical heraldry, properly socalled, viz. the seals of bishoprics, abbeys, etc., did not exist in Scotland.27 As Archbishop Eyre states, “in old times there were no arms belonging to the various Sees. In the bishop’s seals the family shield was introduced.” As we examine the various seals used in Wishart’s time, we discover upon them one or more of the familiar emblems that are emblazoned on the armorial insignia of Glasgow at the present day, viz. St. Kentigern with his crozier, the fish with the signet ring in its mouth, the bird on the branch of the tree, and the saint’s hand-bell. We are thus carried back not only to the days of the warrior-bishop, and of the patriots Wallace and Bruce, but to the days of St. Kentigern and the legends that clustered round his name. Thus it may be said, the heraldic escutcheon of the City of Glasgow preserves to posterity the earliest relics, albeit legends, of the history of Old Glasgow.

Let us now give consideration to the events that led to the great war for Scottish independence, in which the Bishop of Glasgow played so prominent a part. In the year 1286 there occurred an event fraught with disastrous consequences to Scotland, the death of her good king, Alexander III, whose horse stumbled in the darkness of the night as he was nearing Kinghorn, where the queen at the time was residing, and both rider and horse were precipitated over a cliff and killed.

Not only was the death of such a noble king a national calamity, it was intensified by the fact that the king’s own family had all died before him, thus leaving as his nearest heir his granddaughter, the Maid of Norway, otherwise referred to as Damsel of Scotland. She was a child of his daughter Margaret, who had married Eric, the young King of Norway. It was at this critical period then that Edward I. began to scheme for the throne of Scotland, and attempt to bring the country completely under his domination.

The details of Scotland’s long, fierce and indomitable struggle to maintain her independence cannot be entered into here, but only the events with which Bishop Wishart was more immediately concerned.

Shortly after Alexander III.’s death an assembly met at Scone, April 1286, and appointed six regents or guardians to carry on the Government. Three were assigned to the north of the Forth, and three to the south among the latter being Bishop Wishart.28 Then in 1289, when the interest of the period begins, the bishop is found at Melrose as one of the three guardians appointed to settle a treaty with the representatives of Eric, King of Norway, concerning the affairs of his daughter, the Scottish Queen, and, later on in the same year, he appears at Salisbury.29

Evidently in all these negotiations the bishop proved his ability as a patriotic statesman, for he stands out as a leading figure at Brigham, near Coldstream, in March and in July 1290, when the marriage treaty between Edward I.’s son and Margaret, the infant Queen of Scotland, was drawn up a treaty which clearly shows the sensitive patriotism of the Scots. But “man proposes and God disposes,” for the young queen sickened on her voyage to Britain and died at one of the Orkneys, September 1290; at which news “the Kingdom was troubled and its inhabitants sunk into despair.”30

And now began in earnest the bitter internecine struggle between Bruce, Comyn, Balliol and others, as competitors for the Crown, when Scotland passed through the darkest period in her history, inasmuch as her independence was almost lost, and her name, like that of Poland, well  nigh blotted out from among the nations.

During these days of interregnum, Edward I in pursuance of his policy summoned the Scottish barons and clergy, along with the claimants for the Crown, to meet him at Norham-on-Tweed, 10th May 1291, professedly to settle the affairs of Scotland, and to have himself recognized as her Lord Paramount. After an opening speech on the part of the king, which rather staggered the Scottish representatives, Bishop Wishart rose, and having thanked the king in the name of the representatives for the interest he had taken in their country, proceeded, “But where it pleased the King to speak of a right of supremacy over the Kingdom of Scotland, it was sufficiently known that Scotland from the first foundation of the State had been a free and independent kingdom, and not subject to any other power whatsoever. Howbeit, the present occasion hath bred some distinction of minds, all true-hearted Scots will stand for the liberty of their country to the death, for they esteem their liberty more precious than their lives, and in that quarrel will neither separate nor divide.”31

Surely these were the outspoken sentiments of a brave man and ought to have impressed Edward with the spirit of the people he sought to subdue. But the king, although not at all pleased with the bishop’s free speech, said nothing at the time. A few weeks afterwards, however, he summoned the various claimants for the Crown, now numbering eight, to meet him in an open field in Scottish territory opposite Norham Castle, when all of them acknowledged Edward as Lord Paramount.32 But it was not till after a weary period of delays that Edward, in November 1292, at Berwick-on-Tweed, definitely pronounced that among the various competitors, John Balliol had the best claim. At the same time, the great seal of Scotland used by the regents was broken and its fragments deposited in the treasury of England, “in testimony to future ages of England’s right of superiority over Scotland.”33 Then Balliol swore fealty to Edward, an act that caused him to be universally detested by his countrymen, who later nicknamed him the “Toom Tabard,” signifying that he was only the empty show of a king. However, he was nominally king for four years (1292-1296), during which he was loyally supported by Bishop Wishart, especially when he rose up against Edward’s authority. This is clearly evident from the letter addressed by Edward to Pope Clement V., in which Edward complains bitterly of his conduct.34 “Bishop Wishart, without hesitation or compunction, aided and abetted the new king in all his treasons. It was the bishop who instigated Balliol to ally himself with the King of France, to which alliance the bishop affixed his seal. Again, Balliol made war against Edward principally by the aid and assistance of the bishop, who was continually helping and inciting Balliol to commit arsons, robberies, murders, and as many ravages as he possibly could in the English territory; all which matters are public and notorious as well in England as in Scotland.”35

Balliol having submitted, Edward made a veritable triumphal progress throughout Scotland from May to August 1296, during which he received the oath of fealty practically from the whole community. Although he did not visit Glasgow on this occasion, it would appear that the Bishop of Glasgow of his own free will, travelled north to Elgin, and humbly prayed forgiveness of Edward, renouncing every kind of allegiance against the King or Crown of England. Then he swore the following oath, which he afterwards ratified at Berwick-on-Tweed:

“I shall be true and loyal and I will keep faith and loyalty to the King of England and to his heirs of life and of members and of earthly honour, against all persons who can live or die, and never will I bear arms for any one, nor will I give advice or aid against him, nor against his heirs in any case which can happen, and I will truly acknowledge and truly perform the services which belong to the tenements which I claim to hold of him. So may God help me and the Saints.”36

Not only did he take this carefully worded oath, but swore it in the most solemn circumstances upon the consecrated host, upon the gospels, upon the cross of St. Neot of Wales, and upon the black rood of Scotland. In those days, this black rood was regarded as Scotland’s most sacred and venerated relic. It belonged originally to the saintly Queen Margaret, and was believed by her to be a bit of the true cross; hence it was adorned with gems of priceless value. Notwithstanding this most solemn oath, the bishop, having learned that King Edward had quitted England for Flanders, immediately joined the rising under William Wallace. Indeed, Wishart was charged with being the prime instigator of the rebellion.37 The tyrannical acts of the English officials, appointed by Edward to govern Scotland, so exasperated the people that it roused to intensest pitch their patriotism, so that, as the old chronicler says, “From his den, William Wallace lifted up his head.” Accordingly, we find Bishop Wishart arrayed in armour, allying himself with the party of Wallace. Unhappily, the bishop, with Bruce and Douglas, surrendered ignominiously to the English at Irvine on July 9, I297.38 Wallace, it is said, was very indignant and according to King Edward’s secretary, “he proceeded to the bishop’s house” Glasgow Castle is generally supposed to be meant “and carried off all his furniture, arms, and horses,” not to mention other particulars which can hardly be credited.39 Here, perhaps, if anywhere, should be introduced Blind Harry’s account of what has been termed the battle of the Bell o’ the Brae. If the minstrel is to be believed, Wallace with three hundred horsemen rode from Ayr to Glasgow, entering the town by the “tre brygg” over Clyde. Then, dividing his forces into two, one section headed by himself advanced up “the playne street,” supposed to be the High Street, while the other under his uncle, Auchinleck, proceeded by “the north-east raw,” probably the Drygate.40 The English garrison then occupying the castle made a sally against the Scots, led by Wallace, and a fierce encounter took place in the High Street, near where it joins Rottenrow, and where for many a day was a somewhat steep and rocky ascent known as the Bell o’ the Brae. Here, while Wallace was dealing death among the English, the second division of the Scots, coming unexpectedly upon the scene by the Drygate, attacked the enemy in the rear and completed the victory, leaving the castle in the hands of Wallace.

But while there is a certain amount of local colouring in the poet’s narrative that suggests a substratum of fact, there are other statements proved to be unhistorical.41

Within a month after the capitulation at Irvine, and when he had apologized for his conduct to Cressingham, Edward’s Treasurer of Scotland,42 the bishop changed sides again, and instigated both Wallace and Bruce to rise against the king. But on seeing the power of Wallace and Bruce decrease before Edward’s superior forces, he changed sides once more, and repaired to Roxburgh Castle the same year, 1297, where he surrendered himself as a prisoner. This act of his, however, was suspected by the English as an attempt to get within the castle walls in order to betray the garrison to the Scots. Nevertheless the bishop seems to have been detained as prisoner by the English for the next three years.

In August 1297, the Pope, writing from Orvieto, gives mandates to the Bishops of Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Ross to consecrate Andrew, Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Cupar-Angus, to the See of Caithness. The Pope also allows Andrew to choose the principal consecrator from among these three bishops. This permission was given because it was dangerous, on account of the hazards of the wars in these parts, for Andrew personally to resort to Rome for consecration.43

Next year, 1298, Edward, having invaded Scotland and gained a great victory at Falkirk over the Scots under Wallace, avenged the defeat to his arms at Stirling, and thereafter proceeded by way of Ayr and Annandale back to England.44

While Edward was marching with his army in the southern parts of Scotland, Pope Boniface VIII, at the request of certain Scottish emissaries at Rome, issued, in July 1299 a bull directed to Edward, stating that, among other things, it had come to his ears, that he (Edward) had imprisoned and harshly treated Robert, Bishop of Glasgow, and other ecclesiastics, whom he now urged the king to set free; and also to recall his officers from Scotland, since that realm belongs to the Roman Church and is not a fief of the King of England.45

Accordingly, in October 1300, Bishop Wishart, having been liberated, voluntarily took for the fourth time the solemn oath of allegiance to Edward at Holmcultram. Yet, while the oath was still fresh, he issued letters-patent to William Lydel, his bailiff, to assemble all the forces of the See to assist Bruce and Wallace in Galloway against the English under the Prince of Wales.46

During August and September 1301, Edward visited Glasgow, and made offerings several times at the shrine of St. Kentigern, in the lower church and at the high altar in the choir, as well as in the private chapel he carried about with him in his campaigns. The amount was usually seven shillings, probably equal, remarks Bain, to five guineas of our day. He also worshipped at the Blackfriars’ Church, High Street, and gave the friars a grant for their own diet, for three days of six shillings. This grant then was not given to pay expenses for lodging with them as is often represented, but to provide them with a few delicacies to add to their usual scanty meals.47

Besides, it is unlikely that Edward would reside at the Blackfriars’ Convent during his stay in Glasgow. His usual custom was to sleep in his tent in the midst of his army, which at this time numbered 7000 foot and 500 horse, and was probably encamped in the Gallowmuir, where the barracks afterwards stood, the ancient champ-de-Mars of the city.

Passing to August 1302, we find Pope Boniface VIII now taking the side of Edward, writing to Wishart, severely reprimanding him as follows: “I have heard with astonishment that you, as a rock of offence and a stone of stumbling, have been the prime instigator and promoter of the fatal disputes which prevail between the Scottish nation and Edward, King of England, my dearly-beloved son in Christ, to the displeasing of the divine majesty, to the hazard of your own honour and salvation, and to the inexpressible detriment of the Kingdom of Scotland. If these things are so, you have rendered yourself odious to God and man. It befits you to repent, and, by your most earnest endeavours after peace, to strive to obtain forgiveness.”48

In 1303, Edward, now set free from his continental wars, brought his whole resources to attempt to subdue Scotland. Wishart, seeing resistance hopeless, came to Edward at Cambuskenneth and humbly prayed his grace and mercy for all his trespasses, and for the fifth time, in the most solemn manner, swore allegiance.49 Whereupon the king restored him to the temporalities of his See, which he had forfeited by his treasons. Then in the following Easter the bishop went to St. Andrews, and there at the high altar of the cathedral solemnly took the oath of fealty for the sixth time.

It surprises us that such solemn oaths were so lightly treated by a bishop, but in those days of oppression it seemed quite customary for clergy as well as laity to break their pledges. Indeed, Edward himself kept oaths only so long as served his purpose. Yet, as has been remarked, “he prided himself on his personal good faith and caused the motto to be inscribed upon his tombstone, Pactum serva, Keep troth.”

In the year 1304,50 Bishop Wishart and his chapter granted to the Friars Preachers a “perennial spring called the Meduwel in the place which is called Denside to be led to the cloister of the said fathers for their necessary uses. “This Meadow-Well or Deanside Well was originally in a meadow at the foot of the Deanside Brae, bordering on the lands of Deneside, hence its name. The site of this ancient well is now in George Street, midway between Shuttle Lane on the one side and Deanside Lane on the other. But in those days the spot was rural, the whole lands on the west as far as Partick being garden grounds and cornfields.51

The water was led from this overflowing spring to the Monastery of the Blackfriars on the east side of the High Street. As the friars had been settled there about the year 1246, their beautiful church with the other conventual buildings would be completed when the new water-supply was introduced. This well, afterwards enclosed with a circular wall of ashlar stones as a draw-well and thirtyfive feet deep, continued for centuries to be held in great repute by the inhabitants of the city.52

After the capture of Wallace at Robroyston, near Glasgow, and his trial and death at London in August 1305, Edward, considering Scotland to be thoroughly subdued, consulted with Bishop Wishart and others, and by their advice ordered a general council of the Scottish nation to be held at Perth, in order to elect representatives to Parliament and formulate a system of government for Scotland.53

But within six months of the execution of Wallace this new system of government was completely overthrown, and Scotland breathed freely. What contributed to this result was the unpremeditated assassination of Comyn by his rival Bruce at the altar of the Franciscan Church at Dumfries on February 10, 1306. Thereafter Bruce acted with the utmost boldness and decision. This sacrilegious act, which put him outwith the pale of Christendom, and was, according to Barbour,54 the cause of his subsequent misfortunes, nevertheless seemed to set his whole soul on fire with new energy, as if he said:

“I must mix myself with action

Lest I wither by despair.”

As has been remarked, the only alternatives at this point of his career lay between the throne and the gallows; and realizing this, he became more determined than ever to win the Crown of Scotland and overcome every obstacle. Along with a band of patriots, later joined by good Sir James Douglas, he rode from Dumfries to Glasgow.55 And here in the cathedral, within eight days after the murder, Bishop Wishart gave plenary absolution to Bruce, and not only so, but furnished him with robes for his coronation which took place at Scone on 27th March, and at which both the Bishop of St. Andrews and Wishart were present. Besides, he went about the country preaching to the people in order to excite them to espouse the cause of Bruce, assuring them that carrying on war against the King of England was as meritorious as fighting against the Saracens in the Holy Land.56

So enraged was the Pope at the conduct of the bishop that he sent a mandate on 11th May, 1306, to the Archbishop of York, and another to Antony, Bishop of Durham, to seize and cite him, suspended from spirituals and temporals, to set out for Rome within a month.57 Wishart, instead of surrendering to the Pope, once more donned his coat of mail and assisted in defending the Castle of Cupar, Fife, which held out against the English. This castle, being captured by Sir Aymer de Valence in July 1306, the bishop in his armour underneath his canonicals was taken prisoner and sent to England in chains.58 As soon as he was brought into the royal presence, King Edward declared “he was as glad as if it had been the Earl of Carrick (Bruce) himself” We can imagine the shame and discomfiture of the bishop when brought face to face with the king whose solemn oath he had so often broken; but there is a lack of reverence and seriousness about him which detracts considerably from his otherwise heroic character. For example, after his capture at Cupar, when accused by Edward to the Pope with breaking fealty six times, he humbly petitioned the king and council for leave to remain quietly in England till the ” riot of the Scots” as he termed it, was put down.59

From Cupar, Wishart, along with other Scottish prisoners heavily ironed, was sent under a strong escort to Newcastle, and thence by daily stages, by a chain of castles, so to speak, to Nottingham.60 But Nottingham Castle was not considered safe enough for such an irrepressible patriot as the Bishop of Glasgow; he must be removed as far as possible from Scotland. Hence, in August 1306, Edward orders that Wishart be kept in chains at Porchester Castle away in the far south of England, near Portsmouth; a castle still standing hoary with the antiquity of centuries, having originally been a stronghold of the Romans, and later associated with memories of the Saxon and Norman Kings of England.61

From records of the period some interesting details may be gleaned regarding the bishop’s imprisonment at Porchester. For example, he was provided with a chaplain to celebrate mass every day, also with a valet and a groom, each of whom received as salary so much per day. It was stipulated, too, that these be all faithful servants of the king, and that there be a sufficient number of soldiers on guard, for, should the bishop escape, Viscount Southampton, to whose charge he was committed, would be held responsible. Nor was this enough. Edward, who, doubtless, would have put the bishop and other ecclesiastics to death, had not their sacred office, in his eyes, shielded them, wrote to the Pope and his cardinals to give credence to certain messengers concerning the misconduct of the Bishop of Glasgow, and stating also that he had given the See of Glasgow to Geoffrey de Moubray, praying also the Pope’s confirmation of this appointment.62

Although Edward I. died in July 1307 at Burgh-on-Sands, near Carlisle, on the march with his army to subdue Scotland, Wishart was still continued in prison. Meantime, Pope Clement V. in April 1308 appealed to Edward II. for the bishop’s release. But “instead of releasing the bishop he delivered him to the Bishop of Poitiers to be conveyed to the Pope, then at Avignon, November 15, 1308.” Then Edward sent, in December 1308, a letter to the Pope “concerning the horrible crimes of the Bishop of Glasgow.”63 This letter of the king’s to the Pope was evidently drawn up with great care and eloquence.  Among other charges made against the bishop it was stated that ” he had stirred up the inhabitants of Scotland to rebellion, broken his oaths of fealty and homage, and been the source of many conspiracies. . . . Forgetful of his calling, he has not been peaceful but warlike, not a Levite at the altar, but a knight on horseback, with a shield instead of a censer, a sword instead of a stole, a breastplate instead of an alb, a helmet instead of a mitre, and a lance instead of a pastoral staff.” In short, the king makes out Wishart to be the root of all the trouble in Scotland, and hopes that the Pope will administer such punishment as will make him an example to all others.

Now it so happened that while Bruce was making headway against the English oppressors all over the land, a council of the clergy held at Dundee in February 1310 unanimously acknowledged him as lawful King of Scotland, a recognition that proved extremely helpful to his claims. But while rejoicing at the happy turn things had taken in his own favour, he did not forget his old and staunch friend, the bishop, lying immured in the dungeon at Porchester. For we read that King Robert,64 when granting the restoration of churches and lands that had been alienated from the See of Glasgow, spoke most sympathetically of the “imprisonments and chains and persecutions and vexatious delays which the venerable father, Robert, Bishop of Glasgow, has borne and still so patiently bears for the rights of the Church and of the Kingdom of Scotland.” Meantime, the king, “hearing that the Bishop of Glasgow is busy suing his deliverance at the Court of Rome and leave to return to his own country,” orders letters to be sent to the Pope and the cardinals, January 1310-11, urgently opposing the said bishop’s restoration, either to his office or his country, and recommending instead that Master Stephen de Segrave be appointed in his place as Bishop of Glasgow.65 No further steps seem to have been taken in this direction, for we find the bishop still in prison at Porchester, December 4, 1312.66 Soon thereafter, Wishart was again sent to the Pope, for King Edward refers to the bishop having been summoned before the Pope and sent back to England under charge of Arnold, Cardinal of St. Prisca, to be retained in custody. Thereupon, the king, on 20th November, 1313, wrote to the Prior of Ely to have Robert of Glasgow in his custody and to provide lodgings befitting his spiritual condition within the precincts of the priory, where he might be securely kept and treated with respect, and maintained at his own expense.67 Here he remained a prisoner within the Convent of Ely till after the battle of Bannockburn. Then on July 18th, 1314, three weeks after that memorable event, King Edward orders Wishart to be brought to him at York, when he was exchanged for the Earl of Hertford, one of the English leaders captured by the Scots at the siege of Bothwell Castle.68 Wishart, now blind,69 was conveyed to the Castle of Carlisle, 2nd October, 1314, en route for Glasgow.70

And here we light upon an interesting incident. When the bishop was brought before Edward at York, there were also brought to the same place the wife, sister and daughter of King Robert the Bruce, who, all like himself, had been captives in England.71 And these the king sends to the

Castle of Carlisle along with the Bishop of Glasgow. How far on the road to Glasgow these royal ladies travelled with the bishop may be uncertain. At any rate, so long as they were in company, we can easily conjure up the nature of their conversation how the memories of the fateful struggle through which they had passed would be recalled yet, in all hearts there would well up a profound sense of gratitude to God that Scotland was freed from the oppressor and once more in possession of her ancient liberty and independence. We can picture to our imagination also, the venerable and patriotic bishop, after all his wanderings and vicissitudes, blind as he was, led on horseback and welcomed with acclamation by the inhabitants of Glasgow as he entered the city and rode past the Cross and up the High Street to his palace at the townhead a scene so full of pathos, especially to the older citizens, that it would touch many a tender chord.

On his return to Glasgow, there would be much business to transact, for the offices of the diocese, during the troubles of the past twenty years, must have fallen sadly into confusion. Among other matters, we read of Bishop Robert on April 25, 1316, appointing one Sir Patrick Floker, connected with the Church of Kilpatrick, master and guardian of the hospital at Polmadie, and granting him power of discipline over the brethren, sisters and pensioners.72

This hospital, which stood on the south side of Rutherglen Road and west side of Jenny’s Burn, where several ancient thoroughfares intersected, has long since vanished. It is believed to have been used in pre-reformation times as a retreat for poor persons, and for the accommodation of travellers.73

Spottiswood74 tells us that Bishop Wishart died on November 26, 1316. He was buried in the lower church between the altars of St. Peter and St. Andrew, perhaps because building operations were going on in the upper church at this time. It is said that the recumbent effigy underneath the open arch, now sadly dilapidated, is that which once covered the tomb of the warrior-bishop.74

In reflecting upon the life of Bishop Wishart, one is struck with the boundless energy of the man, as well as with the irrepressibility of his patriotism. It might be said, too, seeing that he treated so lightly the breaking of the most solemn oaths, that his besetting sin was patriotism. Hitherto historians have sung the praises of Wallace and Bruce, as if these two alone were the outstanding heroes in the great War of Independence. But, is it not evident from the official documents of the period that another name must be added to make a trio, viz. that of Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, who is spoken of as the prime instigator of the rebellion, the source of many conspiracies, and the root of all the trouble between Scotland and England ?


1 Historians of Scotland, iv. pt. ii. p. 304.

2 During Bishop Bondington’s rule, if not earlier, the diocese is said to

have been divided into two archdeaconries, Glasgow proper and Teviotdale.

Reg. Epis, Glas. p. xxix.

3 Chron. Lancrcost, 1277 A.D.

4 Sir W. Fraser’s Earls of Southesk, ii. p. 479.

5 MS. History of Family of Pitarrow, Lyon Office, Edin.

6‘Vol. ii. p. 174 Jervise edited by Gammack.

7 Liber S. Thome Aberbrothoc, pref. xxvi.

8 C. Innes, Sketches of Early Scott. Hist. pp. 155 and 159.

9 Auct. Chart. Paris. Univer.

10 Scotichron. lib. x. cap. xxix.

11 Scotichron. lib. x. cap. xxx. Fordun adds : R. Wishart was made bishop more by influence than merit.

12 Liber de Calchou, pp. 267-334 ; also Catalogue of Documents, Scotland,

ii. p. 433; Diocesan Register, Glasgow, i. pref. p. 33.

13 Calendar Papal Registers, i. p. 465.

14 Reg. Epis. Glas. No. 229.

15 Documents and Records, Hists. of Scotland, i. p. 348, 14 ; also Dr.

Joseph Robertson’s Scottish Abbeys and Cathedrals, p. 60. No authority is given here for the date 1291.

16 Book of Glasgow Cathedral, p. 277. From the style of the towers in drawings taken when they were standing, architects regard it as not unlikely that additions were made at later periods to the original buildings. In September, 1911, while the nave was being re-roofed, the upper portion of this north-west tower was laid bare, as Mr. M’Gregor Chalmers pointed out.

17 Palgrave, Docts. and Records, Hist, of Scot. i. pp. 346-7 ; also clxxx.

18 See R.E.G. ii. plate v. 2 for representation of a church. Does the reverse of this seal represent the chancel and nave as they existed in Wishart’s time with the underbuilding laid by Bondington ? Does the obverse represent the two Western Towers ?

19 Cal. Pap. Reg. Letters, i. pp. 465-7.

20 Reg. de Passelet (Paisley), p. 400.

21 The Wallace, bk. vii. 533.

22 R.E.G. pref. 33, Nos. 222, 265.

23 Charters and Docts. Glas. pt. i. pp. xv-xix.

24 Scotch Legal Antiqs. p. 91.

25 Pp. 362, 366 ; R.E.G. ii. p. xxxiii, plates i. 6, ii. i, iii. i, v. 2.

26 M’George’s Armorial Insignia^ pp. 98 and 100 ; R.E.G. ii. plate v. 3.

27 Scot. Hist. Review, v. p. 313.

28 Scotichron. lib. xi. i, 3.

29 Rymer’s Foedera, ii. 431, edit. 1705 ; Hailes’ Annals, A.D. 1286.

30 Hailes’ Annals, A.D. 1290.

31 Spottiswoode’s Hist, of Ch. of Scot. ed. 1655, p. 48; a translation of

Scotichron. lib. xi. cap. 10, Goodall’s edition. Spottiswoode gives the

year 1279 5 it should be 1291.

32 Hailes’ Annals, A.D. 1291 quotes Rymer’s Foedcra.

33 Hailes’ Annals, i. yr. 1292; Anderson, Diplomata Scotica, No. 38,

shows that the Scottish Seal had the lion rampant on one side and on the

reverse a St. Andrew’s cross with St. Andrew.

34 Palgrave’s Docts. and Records, Hist, of Scotland, introd. p. clxxiii,

text p. 341. The introduction gives a translation of the text, which is in

Norman-French.

35 Tytier’s Hist, of Scotland, A.D. 1296, and Prof. Hume Brown’s Hist. i.

p. 143.

36 Docts. Illustr. Hist, of Scotl. ii. pp. 67 and 68 : Jos. Stevenson.

37 Docts. and Records Scotl. i. p. clxxv.

38 Hailes’ Annals, 1297, for terms of treaty. 1297 is the date of the wellknown Lübeck MS.

39 R.E.G. i. xxxvi. note ; also Sir W Wallace, Famous Scots Series,

pp. 75-77-82.

40 Tradition seems to point rather to what is now called Ladywell Street, and the ancient bridge over the Molendinar known as ” Wallace’s brig.”

41 Blind Harry’s Wallace, bk. vii. 515 ff.; Book of Glas. Cath. pp. 335-

339 ; Renwick’s Glas. Memorials, pp. 29, 30.

42 Hist. Docts. Scot. 1286-1306, 5i. pp. 219, 220.

43 Cal. Pap. Reg. Letters, i. p. 572 ; Dowden’s Bishops of Scotland,

p. 240.

44 Jos. Bain, The Edwards in Scotland, p. 30.

45 Cal. Pap. Reg. Letters, i. 584.

46 Bain’s The Edwards in Scotland, pp. 34-5.

47 Jos. Bain, The Edwards in Scotland, pp. 34-35; R.E.G. ii. p. 621; Cal.

Docs. Scotl. iv. pp. 448-449.

48 Hailes’ Annals, i. p. 271, and Theiner’s Monumenta, No. 372.

49 Cal. Docts. Scotl. iv. pp. 482-3.

50 R.E.G. p. xxxiv.

51 M’George’s Old Glas. 3rd ed. pp. 123, 145, 272*

52 Cleland’s Annals, i. p. 394. When the tramways were being laid this circular draw-well was laid bare. Fifty years ago, says Mr. Andrew Brown, George Street, this draw-well, after it had been removed to a spot near the kerb-stone at 89 George Street, and changed into a pump-well, was much frequented by the inhabitants on account of the purity and coldness of its water. The domestic water-supply drawn from the Clyde was often infested with eels and required to be filtered before using.

53 Hailes’ Annals, i. p. 283.

54 Bk. ii. Bruce.

55 Ibid. bk. ii. 1. 175, Scot. Text Socy.

56 Palgrave, Docts. etc. p. 348. Pope Nicholas IV., in a bull dated 1291, had exhorted the Scottish bishops to preach a crusade, and for every sermon so preached a hundred days’ indulgence would be granted.

57 Cal Pap. Reg. ii. pp. 6, 7.

58 Palgrave, Doc. p. 349 ; Hailes’ Annals, ii. p. 13, A.D. 1306.

59 Bain’s The Edwards in Scotland, pp. 49-50.

60 Rymer’s Foed. ii. p. 1015, edit. 1705.

61 Ibid. ii. 1016, and Hist, of Hampshire, Victoria Edition, iii. p. 151.

62 Sept. 20, 1306 ; Rymer’s Foed. ii. 1025-6, edit. 1705.

63 Ibid. iii. 121 ; also Cal. Docts. Scotl. iii. Nos. 58 and 61.

64 R.E.G. No. 258 ; Glas. Chart, i. pt. ii. p. 21.

65 Cal. Docts. Scot. iii. Nos. 194 and 207.

66 Syllabus, Rymer’s Foed. p. 170.

67 Rymer’s Foed. edit. 1727 ; iii. pp. 450 and 459 ; Cal. Docts. Scot. iii. No. 342 ; Bentham’s Hist. of Ely Cathedral, p. 155, edit. 1812.

68 Cal. Docts. Scot. iii. No. 372.

69 Harbour’s Bruce, bk. xiii. 683, Skeat’s edit.

70 Syllabus, Rymer’s Foed. p. 1 84.

71 Rymer’s Foed. iii. pp. 496-7, edit. 1727 ; Cal. Docts. Scot. iii. No. 393.

72 R.E.G. No. 263.

73 Glas. Memors. pp. 247-250.

74 Hist. Church Scotl. i. p. 222.

75 Book of Glas. Cathedral, pp. 412-413.