Skye Boat Song at Dryburgh Abbey: History

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Today's video was filmed in the chapter house at Dryburgh Abbey, one of the four great Border Abbeys, along with Kelso, Jedburgh, and Melrose, in Scotland.  Today, these abbeys are part of a popular 55-mile bicycle route.  Carol and Amy walk part of it, on their way to Melrose, in The Water is Wide, Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles.

Dryburgh is regarded by many as the prettiest of the four border abbeys.  Having been to all four, I agree.  Melrose, Jedburgh, and Kelso are all within towns, while Dryburgh sits farther out on a large, pastoral plot on the banks of the River Tweed.  Not only are the remains beautiful, but the setting is one of peace.

Dryburgh was founded at a time of great religious revival under David I of Scotland.  It's official founding was on November 10, 1150, a joint venture of Hugh de Morville, Lord of Lauderdale and Constable of Scotland, and the Premonstratensian 'White Canons' (priests living in community) of Alnwick, in England.  The first priests and their abbot, Roger, arrived more than two years later, on December 13, 1152.

As there is a great deal written on Dryburgh Abbey, I will stick only to its history as relates to Niall's time, and was impacted by the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Abbeys depended largely on the patronage of wealthy nobility.  We see the patronage of Dryburgh shift in 1196 from Hugh de Morville to Lochlann, Lord of Galloway, who was married to de Morville's granddaughter, Helen.  Lochlan, as a Lord of Galloway, was far wealthier than de Morville.  However, he was already benefactor to four other religious houses in Galloway, including Glenluce Abbey.

In 1234, Alan, the last of the Galloway lords, died, and his property was split among his three daughters.  By the 1250s, these lands were owned by Helen of Galloway and her husband Roger de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, and by Dervorguilla of Galloway and her husband John I de Balliol, Lord of Barnard Castle and Gainford.

Their son, John Balliol, became King of Scots from St. Andrew's Day 1292 until July 1296, when he was forced by Edward I of England to abdicate.  Thus began even more trouble in Scotland, and particularly in the susceptible Borderlands.

In the infamous Ragman's Rolls, not only nobles, but abbots, were forced to submit to Edward I.  On August 28, 1296--just weeks after Balliol's forced abdication--the abbots of Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Melrose, and Kelso were among those submitting.  In return, on September 2, Edward ordered the restoration of lands belonging to Dryburgh Abbey.

From then until 1316, we hear little of the abbey, except that Sir Henry de Percy was there with his occupying force in 1310--about midway between the death of Edward I (July 1307) and the defeat of Edward II at Bannockburn (June 1314).

In July 1316, Bruce used the abbey as a base from which to conduct his raids into Northumberland, and sometime before October of that year, the abbot and priests of Dryburgh expelled two of their members for refusing to acknowledge Bruce as king.  They went to the abbey at Berwick, where Edward II rewarded them with the rent and fishery thereof.

In July of 1322, Bruce made more raids into England.  Edward II in turn stormed into Scotland, where he and his army looted and burned both Melrose and Dryburgh.  Bruce gave Melrose 2,000 pounds for restoration.  Dryburgh received nothing.  It is unclear why.

From here, however, we see a bit of a Who's Who of Bruce's Day involved in the support of Dryburgh.  Sir Andrew Murray, Bruce's brother-in-law, may have given it some of his Smailholm lands.  Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, Bruce's son-in-law, and father of Robert II of Scotland, provided for it with a transfer of his entitlements from Maxton church and its lands, and also with 4 acres of his own lands.

In 1326, Bishop Lindsay of Glasgow allowed the abbey to use its income to help with restoration.   Patrick Dunbar, earl of Marsh, Sir William Abernethy, and assorted minor nobles also helped.

This, however, brings us beyond the scope of the History Behind the Story as Dryburgh fits into the world of the Blue Bells Chronicles, and so, as entire books can be--and have been--written on Dryburgh, I will stop here.

Find two sets of lyrics at my previous post, Skye Boat Song at Hermitage Castle.

Watch for future posts on what the life of the White Canons was like at Dryburgh.

Further Reading:

British Heritage
Historic Environment

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  1. I love the acoustics. Hauntingly beautiful. Thank you for the history, too. I learn so much from your posts, and I LOVE your books!

    1. Thank you, Patty! I'm glad you're enjoying them! And yes, aren't these acoustics amazing! I think of all the places I've played in Scotland, this might be the very best! The chapter house at, I think it was Glenluce, is also pretty amazing!


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