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Cambuskenneth Abbey

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Cambuskenneth, an ancient abbey on a low peninsula, on the left bank of the river Forth, ¾ mile E of Stirling. The tract around it is within Clackmannanshire, was long extra-parochial, and is now in dispute between the parishes of Stirling and Logie. This tract is supposed to have been the scene of a conflict with the Picts by Kenneth II., or some other of the royal Kenneths, and to have thence derived its name of Cambuskenneth, signifying 'Field of Kenneth.' It is all alluvial and very fertile, forming one of those rich loops of the Forth, respecting which an old rhyme says- 'A crook o' the Forth Is worth an earldom in the North.' The abbey on it was founded in 1147 by David I.; was dedicated to the Virgin Mary; was planted with a community of monks of St Augustine, or canons-regular, from Aroise, near Arras, in the French province of Artois; was sometimes called the Monastery of Stirling; gave name to St Mary's Wynd, leading from High Street in Stirling; was very richly endowed; and, in 1445, was occupied by an abbot, a prior, and 17 monks. Its abbots, from the beginning of the 15th century, were often employed in high state duties, or raised to high civil offices. Abbot Henry, in 1493, was made high treasurer of Scotland; Abbot Patrick Panther (1470-1519), reckoned one of the most accomplished scholars of his day, was secretary to James IV., a privy councillor, and afterwards ambassador to France; Abbot Alexander Myln (d. 1542), author of a Latin history of the Bishops of Dunkeld, twice printed for the Bannatyne Club, was employed by James V. in several state transactions with England, and became the first president of the Court of Session in 1532; and David Panther (d. 1558), last abbot of the monastery, and a distinguished scholar, was a privy councillor, secretary of state, and a frequent ambassador to foreign courts. The abbey itself, too, figured prominently in several great national affairs. Edward I. of England was here on 1 Nov. 1303 and 5 March 1304; Sir Niel Campbell, Sir Gilbert Hay, and other barons, in 1308, here swore on the High Altar to defend the title of Robert Bruce to the Scottish crown; a parliament assembled here in July 1326, remarkable as the earliest in which the representatives of burghs are minuted as having assisted; other parliaments, at other periods, assembled here; several of the Scottish kings here granted charters; and James III. (d. 1488) and Margaret of Denmark, his queen, were here interred before the high altar. The barony or property of the abbey, shortly after the accession of James VI. to the English throne, was given to John, Earl of Mar; was transferred by him to his brother, Alexander Erskine of Alva; remained with that gentleman's family till 1709; and then was purchased by the town-council of Stirling for the benefit of Cowan's Hospital. The abbey buildings were pillaged during the wars of the succession; were sacked and in great measure demolished, in 1559, by the iconoclasts of the Reformation; and are now represented by little more than one massive four-storied tower. This, 35 feet square and 70 high, is pure First Pointed in style; has a S doorway in a pedimental-headed projection, a polygonal NE stair-turret, and a low saddle-back roof, rising in a thin corbelled parapet; and thence commands a wide and brilliant view. A renovation was lately carried out to maintain its stability, but without effacing or altering its original or architectural features. Excavations also were made, in 1864, to discover the tomb of James III., and to ascertain the extent and alignment of the entire buildings; and were so far successful as to exhume the relics of the king and queen, and to lay bare the foundations of the cruciform church (178 x 37 feet) and the chapter-house. The sub-basement of the high altar was found about 3 feet beneath the surface, near the centre of the ruins; and a large flat block of limestone, covering the remains of the king and the queen, was found immediately in front of the high altar. The skull and other remains of the king were found in an oak coffin beneath the limestone block; and close by were remains of a female figure, evidently the queen's. These, after a stucco cast of the king's skull had been taken for Stirling Museum, were carefully reinterred in an oak box; and a neat stone altar monument was erected over them, in 1865, by command of Queen Victoria. The chartulary of the abbey, written on 174 leaves of vellum, is preserved in the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, and was reproduced in facsimile for the Grampian Club in 1872 by W. Fraser.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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