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The Abbey of Dunkeld and the Robertsons
Dunkeld Abbey may have been established by the followers of St. Columba as early as the 6th century AD, but was clearly in existence under the rule of the Culdee monks by the early 9th Century AD, when a substantial monastery was constructed.
Monasteries in Scotland at the time were granted under feudal tenure, meaning that the Abbott pledged loyalty and service to the king for the lands of the Abbey. Canon law did not allow a clergyman to perform some of the feudal services to his lord required of a vassal (the individual receiving the land from his lord or king). There were two ways of dealing with this: The Abbott could be a clergyman, assisted by a layman who became steward of the estate; or the Abbott could be a layman, assisted by a Prior or Provost who was a clergyman and responsible for supervising the religious aspects of the monastery.
The early Abbots appear to have been clergymen, but by the 9th Century, the situation reversed and the Abbots of Dunkeld were laymen. This followed a pattern introduced to Continental Europe by the Franks, in which a layman, usually a royal relation or nobleman, was appointed Abbott. He managed the secular affairs of the abbey, which often included vast estates and wealth. Since feudalism was a military system in which military service was required of a vassal in support of his lord, the Abbott also led his soldiers into battle. Such was the case with Dunkeld, which held large tracts of land in modern Perthshire and adjoining regions.
In the early 11th Century AD, Crinan was the lay Abbott of Dunkeld. By this time, the position had become hereditary. Crinan descended from a prominent royal line of Dal Riada, that of Cenel nGabrain, the rulers of one of Dal Riadaís major sub kingdoms. He was also believed to be Mormaer of Atholl (a Pictish title similar to Earl). As such, he controlled both secular and religious affairs in Atholl and surrounding areas as far as Argyll. At this time, the abbey of Dunkeld was one of the wealthiest in Scotland, and Crinan was rich and powerful. He married into the royal house of Scotland by wedding Bethoc, daughter of King Malcolm II.
Crinanís son, Duncan, succeeded his maternal grandfather as King Duncan 1 of Scotland and founded the house of Dunkeld that ruled Scotland intermittently for a century and a half. His early reign was quiet, but he later became involved in wars with the English. Eventually, civil war broke out when the Mormaer of Moray, Macbeth, rebelled and eventually killed Duncan, who himself may have been another grandson of Malcolm II, and so Duncanís cousin. Duncan Iís father (Duncanís royal claim was through his mother) Crinan attempted to oust Macbeth, but was killed in the attempt. After Macbeth died, Macbethís son succeeded to the throne, but was killed by Duncanís son, Malcolm III Canmore (big head).
This time period coincides with the Norman invasion and conquest of England, which affected events in Scotland. Many Normans migrated north to the Scottish royal court, and soon became influential advisors to the king. Another result of the Norman conquest of England was the departure from England of Margaret, niece of the late King of England, Edward the Confessor. Her ship wrecked on the coast of Scotland, and by 1070 AD she was King Malcolm IIIís second wife. Later known as St. Margaret of Scotland, the new Queen encouraged her husband to expand Roman Christianity into the highlands and absorb the Celtic Church.
This process was accelerated by Malcolm and Margaretís son, King David I of Scotland. King David, influenced by his mother, sought to suppress the Celtic rites of the Scottish Church, and in practice this meant suppress the Culdees, who dominated the Scottish Church through their control of the religious life of the monasteries, even when the monasteries had lay abbots, as in Dunkeld, who controlled the finances and secular affairs of the monasteries.
King David began a program to convert the abbeys into dioceses, and the abbots into bishops. To deal with the Culdees, he introduced the order of secular canons to Scotland, and offered the Culdee monks the choice of remaining monks for their lifetime (without any further recruitment of new Culdees), or of becoming secular canons. Most became secular canons. Secular canons were clergyman attached to the cathedral chapter of the diocese, serving directly under the Bishop, and as such participants in nominating a deceased bishopís replacement. As a result, Dunkeld Abbey became the Diocese of Dunkeld.
The last member of the house of Dunkeld to be Abbott was Malcolm IIIís son, Ethelred. He was succeeded by Cormac, the first Bishop of Dunkeld. Cormac was also Abbott of Dunkeld. Eventually, these two positions were separated, as was the diocese, which was divided between Dunkeld in the east and the diocese of Argyll in the west. The diocese of Dunkeld continued until the Reformation, when it was suppressed by the Presbyterian authorities, and the cathedral, begun in the 13th Century, fell into disrepair.
Clan Donnachaidh Connection
The link between Dunkeld and the Clan is that Duncan Iís son, Malcolm II, was the lineal ancestor of Duncan the Stout, first recorded chief of the Clan Donnachaidh. This suggests that the clan chiefs are descended not only from the lay Abbotts of Dunkeld, but from the Pictish Mormaers and Celtic Earls of Atholl who preceded the later Earls of Atholl from the Steward and Murray families, and are the heirs of the original Scottish and Pictish lords of Atholl. And so the member of the Clan Donnachaidh descend from these Pictish and Scottish ancestors.
1. William Skene, Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban, Volume II, Church and Culture.
2. History of the Scottish Nation.
This site was last updated 02/09/13