Not so Fasti? Tracking clergy wives in early modern Scotland

One of the Reformation’s most immediate changes was in the Reformers’ insistence on clerical marriage and their rejection of the idea of clerical celibacy. While scholars assessing other parts of early modern Europe have revealed some interesting aspects of the lives of clergy wives (see the work of Helen Parish and Anne Thompson, in particular), only the intrepid research of Ian and Kathleen Whyte and, more recently, Janay Nugent has started to scratch the surface of this subject in Scotland. Our efforts to understand clergy wives are often stymied by one simple yet overlooked detail: we don’t have a usable catalogue of their names.

The pilot phases of Mapping the Scottish Reformation have mapped data extracted from Hew Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae. Scott’s Fasti is a huge, daunting, multi-volume work that includes very short biographies for ministers across Scotland between 1560 and Scott’s own time. Scott’s focus was the male ministry but he would often include a note about the identity of a minister’s wife. While he recorded the identities of these women with little consistency, Scott recorded the names of two-hundred and eighty-two women who married clergymen between 1560 and 1689 in his volume focusing on the region of Lothian and Tweeddale. Put into perspective, Scott recorded the names and details of some nine-hundred and sixty-five ministers from the same period meaning that there are over three times as many men as women recorded in the Fasti.

When we dive deeper in Scott’s findings we see that his data is remarkably consistent. Sixty-five of the women he named were from Dalkeith Presbytery, an area with seventeen or so parishes. Appropriately, at the other end of the spectrum, Dunbar Presbytery, an area with only ten parishes, contains the fewest surviving names. Scott’s findings for the densely packed parishes in Edinburgh Presbytery are more surprising. The area contained around twenty parishes but Scott was only able to identify forty-three clerical wives. While this is certainly puzzling at first glance, the fact that the intramural parishes of Edinburgh Presbytery often contained entries relating to ‘second charges’ (junior ministers) whose marital status would remain unrecorded until he was appointed to a more significant post.

 

Clergy wives in four Lothian presbyteries, 1560-1689

 

Wills and testamentary data confirm the names of clergy wives found by Scott. Using a resource developed by our partners at National Records of Scotland, ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk (subscription required), one is able to quickly confirm the names of the clerical wives in Scott’s sample. ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk allows users to search all of the surviving wills and testaments that passed through Commissary Courts across Scotland in any given time period. Adding the keyword ‘minister’ to a query will produce a long list of all of the relevant documentation left behind by ministers. A manual search then allows the user to find entries that relate to widows and children of ministers (with phrases like ‘relict of’, for example). Searching through ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk for clerical wives between the years of civil war and occupation between 1637 and 1660, documentation from forty-five women, either wives to living ministers or widows to ministers who had already died, survives. Almost all of these women were recorded in Scott’s Fasti.

Despite Scott’s remarkable attention to detail, a great many questions remain.  First, it is important to remember that Scott’s findings for Lothian and Tweeddale were far more detailed than any of his work for other areas of Scotland. Moreover, the data Scott collected  on the ministry before 1600 is atrocious. Over three quarters of the data assessed here was for the period after James VI’s accession to the English throne. With this in mind, while we have now systematically collated the names of these women as part of MSR, one needs to search for them in a wider range of manuscript source materials across a much wider geographical area.

 

An initial search of the ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk site suggests that we could find out a great deal about clergy wives outside of Lothian and Tweeddale through the use of will and testament papers (including details of individuals in areas with otherwise low levels of record survival like Angus and the Mearns and other underrepresented areas like Orkney).

 

Surviving will and testament data, 1637-1660

 

The next stage of Mapping the Scottish Reformation will make a start to this process by parsing through surviving manuscript records from presbyteries elsewhere in Scotland to find out about the activities of these women, to ascertain the degree of agency they exerted in lay and ecclesiastical matters. Now we have the names of these individuals, separate projects will search for these women in civic court papers — like the court of session, for example. We expect MSR to facilitate more insights into future research paths as the project progresses. 

While Mapping the Scottish Reformation is a prospographical analysis of clergymen, the project’s exhaustive use of manuscript sources from synod and presbytery records will recover the identities of these largely forgotten women and start to explain more about their own networks and connections. We are only just at the beginning of this process but it is quite clear that mapping the interests of the clergy in early modern Scotland must also say something about the women who lived in the manse, and offered suffered for the Reformed faith, alongside them. 

 

 

Chris Langley

Mapping Clerical Training: Ministers and their Alma Mater, Lothian and Tweeddale, 1560-1689

The Reformed Kirk of Scotland contained over a thousand parishes. Scattered among rural, urban, coastal and ‘landward’ areas, parishes in early-modern Scotland varied in shape and size: a great many still adhered to boundaries established centuries before by the Catholic Church. As with all polities during the Reformation, authorities were increasingly concerned with ways to provide high-quality religious services and spread the Reformed message around the country. Unlike the dual university system south of the Border in England, there were five universities in early-modern Scotland: two colleges in Aberdeen and one each in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. Using data collected in the early stages of the Mapping the Scottish Reformation project, we can tentatively reconstruct the impact of each of these institutions on the character of the Scottish ministry.

 

The initial dataset was based on the research of Hew Scott in his multi-volume work the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae. In what amounted to a lifetime’s work, Scott travelled around the country recording biographical details about the ministers that staffed the established Kirk of Scotland from 1560 to his own time. The Fasti (literally, the ‘Scottish Church Calendar’) remains an important resource for a range of scholars. By using volume one of Scott’s work, we created a rudimentary database of ministers from the area known then and now as the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale: an area of two and a half thousand square kilometres that included Edinburgh as well as the rural areas of Peebleshire. We recorded the names of ministers, their respective parish appointments and, importantly, where they had been educated. We then georeferenced both the parishes and the universities to create a point-to-point representation of the ministers’ careers when plotted on a map. The results represent the first visualisations of the Scottish ministry in any period.

 

Entrants to the Ministry, Edinburgh Presbytery, 1560-1689

 

Using Stanford’s web application Palladio, we were able to assess the impact of individual universities on certain areas of Lothian and Tweeddale. First, we mapped the ministry of the Presbytery of Edinburgh – made up of some of the smallest, but most prosperous, parishes in the country. Unsurprisingly, the town College of Edinburgh provided the greatest number of graduates for this area but St Andrews was not far behind. Indeed, from the visualisation one can see the parishes of Edinburgh Presbytery being bombarded by graduates from St Andrews – especially those entering into the wealthy intramural parishes of Greyfriars, St Giles and St Cuthbert’s. More surprising was that, at least in the data Hew Scott collated, Edinburgh Presbytery contained more graduates of the Aberdonian institutions (King’s and Marischal) than those who had studied at Glasgow. Only two ministers in the sample were educated outside of Scotland – one in Oxford and the other at the renowned Protestant seminary at Saumur.

 

Entrants to the Ministry, Dalkeith Presbytery, 1560-1689

 

We observe slightly different patterns when analysing the education of ministers in the more rural parishes of Dalkeith Presbytery to the south and south east of Edinburgh. It is quite clear from this sample that the (usually) poorer parishes around Dalkeith drew overwhelmingly from the local seminary in Edinburgh. Of the sixty-four ministers for whom Hew Scott collected such information, thirty eight were educated in Edinburgh and only sixteen from St Andrews. This means fifty-nine percent of the ministry of Dalkeith Presbytery was drawn from the graduate pool of University of Edinburgh. The figure may be much higher when considering that Scott was unable to track down information on the education on at least a third of the ministry of this area.

 

Entrants to the Ministry, Biggar and Peebles Presbytery, 1560-1689

 

Looking further south in the Synod region, the very rural parishes of Biggar and Peebles presbyteries show a different trend altogether. Here, the University of Edinburgh remained dominant in furnishing graduates for the ministry, but the University of Glasgow played a much greater role than elsewhere in Lothian and Tweeddale. Much of this was to do with the fact that Biggar Presbytery was erected in 1643 and effectively took possession of lands that had once been part of the neighbouring Synod of Glasgow and Ayr. This jurisdictional change opened up this part of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale to far greater influence from the University of Glasgow.

 

On the other hand, parishes around Biggar and Peebles seemed to have had little desire or inclination to appoint graduates of the Aberdeen colleges with only two appearing in this dataset between 1560 and 1689. Interestingly, these two men were appointed to the neighbouring parishes of Traquair and Stobo. It is tempting to speculate how the patron obtained his connections with the schools in Aberdeen when no other parish in the region showed even a remote interest in alumni of the Aberdonian institutions.

 

The most obvious conclusion one can draw from this data is that the Scottish university system was effectively churning out graduates to man the Scottish ministry. A selective search of the Clergy of the Church of England Database shows remarkably few Scottish ministers entering the English clergy. That very few graduates were drawn from universities elsewhere in Europe to serve in Scotland should not surprise us.

 

Other conclusions must be more tentative. The early stages of MSR raise a great many questions for us to ponder. For example, there’s the local perspective: did certain parishes and patrons prefer graduates from certain institutions? What was the personal role of patrons and neighbouring ministers? Then there’s the idea of change over time: Did graduates from some institutions make a significant impact at key points – like the Covenanting Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century – only to fall away at other junctures? Did some schools fall out of fashion after the Restoration when any whiff of fanaticism was likely to be rebuffed? Did some parishes continue to carry a radical torch by appointing clerics from trusted sources?

 

This analysis has been fruitful but it is based on the selective efforts of Hew Scott’s Fasti. As such, there are a great many details that we do not have in this current dataset. For example, were graduates of one university more likely to be hounded out of office? Were ministers from the colleges in Aberdeen more suited to charges in the north east? What were the push and pull factors drawing ministers to certain areas or discouraging them to go elsewhere? Did these ministers marry local women? To answer these and other questions, our dataset will shortly move onto assessing extant manuscript material – adding details that Scott missed or thought unimportant. Only then will we be able to more accurately map the contours and character of Scotland’s early-modern ministry.

 

Chris R. Langley

Senior Lecturer in Early Modern British History

Newman University, Birmingham, UK