MSR uses images from documents produced by Church of Scotland presbyteries between 1560 and 1689 to gather data on clerical careers. Indeed, at the time of writing, we have read over two and a half thousand pages of such material. And we aren’t finished!
Our friends at the National Records of Scotland provide us with bulk deposits of images of these manuscripts, presbytery by presbytery. These images were taken between 2003 and 2005, during which time around five million document images were snapped and digitised. These images form a terrific resource that can be accessed via the Virtual Volumes system at the National Records of Scotland reading rooms in Edinburgh. Due to bandwidth constraints in the early 2000s, these images were taken at a resolution of 2174 × 1655 pixels, or just over 3.5 million pixels per image. By contrast, images snapped on a current mobile phone camera can hit around 12.1 million pixels per image. These technical constraints and the fact that our manuscripts were produced four centuries ago and survive in varying states of decay means that our source base can be quite difficult to read. This blog post will take you through some of the methodologies we use to enhance the amount of data we can recover from our source base.
The following image is from a particularly faded section the records of Dalkeith Presbytery from 1614 (NRS, CH2/424/1). One can observe how the marginal annotation appears in a much deeper ink on the left-hand side, but the main entry to the right is faded. Moreover, some of the ink from the other side of the manuscript is just starting to bleed in to cloud our vision further. While this isn’t the worst manuscript pre-modern historians are likely to see (!), this is a common trait of some of the volumes with which we work.
Any illegible part of a manuscript is irksome, but it is particularly annoying in projects like ours that rely on parsing large numbers of manuscripts each day. Moreover, the early part of the seventeenth century was when Dalkeith Presbytery became far more active in recording details of clerical careers (among other things), so it is essential that we capture this data.
Fortunately, there are a number of simple techniques that historians can use to improve their chances of seeing through this sort of haze. In particular, we can manipulate the colour balance of the image to bring the text into greater relief using quite basic computer software. Here’s one example with the image contrast boosted and with exposure increased. I think this setting allows manuscripts to appear as my family expect them – suitably old – but it also allows the ink to become far clearer to the naked eye.
The next example saps most colours from the image to bring darker colours into greater relief. Such methods can also produce the dreaded white-on-black images that you might remember from older microfilm scans. Nevertheless, this approach can reveal obscured letter forms and even obliterated text.
With higher resolution images than ours, the amount of detail captured by a more modern camera’s sensor will allow for potentially better results. But at 3.6 megapixels, I’m quite happy with the results we’ve obtained here.
There are a number of different methods scholars can use to get these results, some more computationally intensive than others. The first is to use in-built image editing software that comes bundled with most consumer computers. For example, the app Preview in MacOS has an ‘Adjust Colour’ feature in its ‘Tools’ menu. Similar tools are available in the Photos app on Windows.
The key options here are the contrast and exposure sliders, that will allow you to adjust image accordingly. The sliders at the top of the menu allow manual adjustments so you can emphasise particular colours.
More specialist software packages offer more powerful tools that can be used to target certain problematic areas of a manuscript image, rather than affecting the entire image. Software packages like Adobe PhotoShop and the cheaper Pixelmator are understandably associated with commercial enterprise work but can be used fruitfully by scholars to improve the visibility of problematic manuscripts. In particular, these software packages offer tools that will metaphorically ‘burn’ areas of the manuscript in order to raise faded text into a darker, more readable, form. Here’s a video of our manuscript sample from Dalkeith Presbytery again, this time being ‘burned’ in Pixelmator:
The more times the user passes the cursor over the chosen area, the deeper the darkening effect will become. Changing the ‘Exposure’ (or ‘Opacity’) setting (at the top of the screen in the video) allows the user to adjust the strength of the effect. While this is a time-consuming process, it can serve to reveal details in manuscripts that would have been too faded to enter into our analysis. It is an ideal approach for small-scale repairs to areas of the source base.
Such is the power of online computing that there are some online tools that can process images in equally powerful ways. The website Retro Reveal runs a number of image processing algorithms that are tuned to bring the sorts of text one might find in manuscripts into greater relief. While Retro Reveal is more suited to looking for very specific details in manuscripts, it can prove useful for generating alternate versions of large manuscript images, too.
These techniques are part of MSR’s daily toolbox to help us navigate the world of Church of Scotland presbytery manuscripts from between 1560 and 1689. We wanted to share our experience because these approaches will be of interest to other scholars working with manuscript images, but they will also be largely hidden when our dataset is released into the wild. When viewing MSR’s dataset, it is effectively naked and extracted from its physical context of the manuscript in which it exists. It is easy to forget that each entry in our database involves numerous steps of discovery, manipulation and manuscript analysis.
Mapping the Scottish Reformation is all about tracing clerical careers. Central to this project is the parish as a node: a place where ministers can travel to and depart from over the course of a career. While one of our early blog posts discussed ministers’ moves from university upon graduation to their first parish, I want to discuss some of the spatial aspects of parishes: how we plot them, what digital representations of them can tell us, and where we go from here.
As you may have seen from some of our recent posts on Twitter, one of the earliest maps that shows the ecclesiastical structure of Lothian and Tweeddale (indeed, all of Scotland) is Aaron Arrowsmith’s map of Scotland from 1825 housed in the National Library of Scotland. As you can see from the image above, Arrowsmith visually represented the boundaries of presbyteries and synods in which they sat. The coloured outlines are very helpful here. Unfortunately, while individual parishes are recorded here, they are largely ephemeral to Arrowsmith’s project: a map of this scale can never show the tightly-packed intramural parishes of Edinburgh, for example.
From our initial work with Hew Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae and from our use of relevant presbytery manuscripts housed in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, we have created parish lists for each parish in all of the seven presbyteries that made up the 2,500 square kilometres of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. Lists like the one found in the November 1659 meeting of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale list the names of parishes, as well as giving us a useful note of their minister (or if they sat vacant). The final list consists of 119 parishes of differing size, density and settlement type.
To allow us to locate these parishes for some form of spatial analysis, we need to create a point for them using latitude and longitude coordinates (‘lat,long’ in the table below). One can easily find such data using a free-to-use online resource like this one. Some parishes, however, are easier to locate or ‘pin’ than others. For example, Greyfriars kirk in Edinburgh, remains, unsurprisingly, in situ today. A handful of other parishes (like Keith-Marischal in Haddington Presbytery) no longer exist and require more generalised coordinates. After a lot of searching, we were able to provide approximations for all 119 parishes.
Running these coordinates through mapping applications (like Palladio, shown below) allows the ‘lat,long’ coordinates to be plotted onto a modern two-dimensional map.
It is only with this kind of basic visualisation that we are able to see the dispersal of parishes in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. First, while the map shows great similarity in overall shape of the region presented in Arrowsmith’s 1825 map, it shows where parish density is greatest and, perhaps more interestingly, the locations of more sparsely populated areas. Second, we can see how topography affects parish distribution. So, the Pentland Hills (and the modern A702) form a natural boundary that separates the Synod from the neighbouring Synod of Glasgow and Ayr (in the shape of Lanark Presbytery). The amount of coastal parishes in the region is also quite striking (especially the clustering in West Lothian).
The distribution of parishes also reflects how the presbyteries of Peebles (and then Biggar in 1643) were remarkably remote. In many ways these parishes, while under the same synodal umbrella as the rest, would have had a very different experience of ecclesiastical authority. I’m struck that the distance between the northernmost parish in Biggar Presbytery (West Linton) and the southernmost in Dalkeith Presbytery (Penicuik) was over thirteen kilometres. The gap between the two parishes is highly visible on the map. We have already seen how this geographical distance could affect the types of graduates who would work in these areas. It is curious to consider what impact this might have had on journeys to Synod meetings that took place in Mid- or East Lothian (spare a thought for the minister of Glenholm on the southernmost tip of Peebles Presbytery having to journey seventy kilometers or so to Dunbar on the East Lothian coast for the Synod meeting in May 1657!). It begs the question if, to the early modern mind, these distances even mattered if they had no effect on day-to-day business (in May 1657, for example, all of the ministers from Peebles Presbytery were present at the Synod meeting in Dunbar!!). Such findings may also allow us to consider ideas of clerical and godly sociability.
Basic mapping like this also allows us to see more densely populated areas in greater detail. Edinburgh Presbytery, for example, shows this remarkable clustering of parishes around its medieval centre but one can see how the parishes in Leith would have drawn parishioners well into areas like modern-day Newhaven and Granton. The placement of these parishes tells us a great deal about the growth of Edinburgh since the end of the seventeenth century and opens the way for further studies of ecclesiastical discipline in the capital.
These visualisations pose more questions than Mapping the Scottish Reformation intends to answer. It is quite clear that: 1. GIS mapping of Scottish parishes over time is an urgent project. 2. Our understanding of how parish and regional finances created such an ecclesiastical landscape is very much lacking. 3. How did these parish density patterns compare with population density? Were these parishes more a reflection of Scottish life in the late-medieval period than the seventeenth century? 4. How did contemporaries think about space and how parishes related to one another?
Above all, however, having these points located in space for us in this manner allows us to develop the first stage of Mapping the Scottish Reformation. With universities already mapped in an earlier phase, we can now go about tracing clerical careers through time and space. And while much of the attention on our project will focus on these journeys, let’s spare a minute to consider the parishes that form the backbone of MSR.
Historians of Scottish Church history often plough into the tomes of Hew Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae and move past the innocuous-looking abbreviations page without a second glance. It is, however, worth pausing for a moment to take them in.
Most of Scott’s abbreviations relate to events within a minister’s career that were quite distinct components of a clerical vocation: ‘admitted’, ‘appointed’, ‘inducted’, ‘instituted’, ‘presented’, ‘translated’. All words relating to a clear and identifiable action.
These verbs are replete with meaning for clerics, and we can see from individual entries in Scott’s Fasti how these events formed the backbone of his narratives of clerical lives. The example of Archibald Row, minister of Stobo between 1603 and 1618, is fairly typical: his ordination to the parish of nearby Drumelzier, his presentation there, his transfer and admission to Stobo. Entries like this all suggest that these stages of the clerical life course were distinct and can be assigned a date with some precision.
Such clarity would be ideal for building a Digital Humanities project like Mapping the Scottish Reformation. Unfortunately, our scoping of presbyteries of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale between 1560 and 1689 suggests how informal and profoundly messy the ministry actually was, both in terms of lived experience and how clerical information was recorded in the records. Historical discourse often presents the clerical career as a very structured, straightforward path, with obvious steps of training, installation, and movement from parish to parish. But as we’ve learned from going through the records, the path to a given pulpit was often circuitous and unclear.
For example, installation in a parish—often viewed by historians as the pivotal moment when a new minister officially becomes part of the club— is sometimes recorded informally and months after the fact. Sometimes, a newly admitted minister would simply give his presbytery a letter noting the date of his installment. In the case of John Barclay, his installation as minister of Cocksburnspath in 1682 was casually noted by the Dunbar Presbytery clerk in parentheses in that day’s roll call.
Moreover, we’ve learned that the presence of an admission date does not necessarily mean that was the precise moment when the minister actually took up his post. Take, for example, the case of Gilbert Tailor. Scott notes that Tailor was appointed as minister of Manor by the brethren of Peebles Presbytery at some point in 1596. Unfortunately, while formally admitted, it seems that Tailor was not active in his parish, as the presbytery wrote in January 1597:
‘The quhilk day gilbert tailyeor being present The brethren ordaines him to cum with his familie and mak his residence at the kirk of mennar with his parochinaris betuixt this and the first day of maiinixt to cum uthwyse thay will use the sensure of the kirk againes him’
Rather problematic is that Tailor’s ‘presentation’ to the parish of Manor isn’t recorded anywhere in the manuscript, Scott only assumes that his presentation was the previous year. Without this note of Tailor’s difficulties in moving his family to the Tweeddale parish, one would never know he was present.
Later in the century, Dunbar Presbytery would have to write a similar letter to David Sterling to ‘hesten’ to his new charge at Cockburnspath. The note here that the presbytery was ‘informed’ of his installation is telling and suggests that records of installations relied on word of mouth, rather than formalised, written, records.
In other instances, clerics appear one day in the records listed as minister of a given parish, as in the case of Gavin McCall, who was apparently second minister at Peebles in 1600, but was never noted as having been formally admitted. Later in the century, John Darngavel was recorded in the minutes of Dunbar Presbytery as having received ‘collation’ to Prestonkirk in 1670, but there is no reference to his installation/admission. It is possible that these words lacked the precision ascribed to them in Hew Scott’s time: even if these words meant very distinct things in theory, they could be used interchangeably by seventeenth-century scribes in practice.
Further complications arise when we consider the many clerical expectants who passed their trials and ended up in a pastoral no-man’s land of going to presbytery meetings and occasionally giving sermons there, but having no permanent post. Some went on to become readers, schoolmasters, and domestic chaplains– all critically important to the spiritual life of a community– but never official minister of a parish. Do we record their careers as we would other clerics, or should they occupy a separate category? Such questions generated by the data-gathering phase of this project are encouraging us to expand and rethink some of our fundamental definitions of and expectations for the clerical profession.
Scott’s terminology — of ‘admitting’, ‘instituting’, and ‘transferring’ ministers — was one of a distinct profession. And these terms perfectly suited the Church of his own time, with its developed sense of procedure, and professional etiquette. Unfortunately, by applying such terms to the early modern ministry, we may be transposing a system and language of formality that just wasn’t there (in concept or practice) or was in an embryonic state. Historians elsewhere have identified the early modern period as the moment when clerics started to develop the sort of esprit de corps and formality that defines any modern profession, but few scholars would go so far as to argue that the ministry was totally professionalised by the end of the seventeenth century. A failure to comprehend the shifts in language around ministers may blind us to the significant changes experienced in this period.
Such questions of categorisation are highly pertinent to our project. According to the work of Townsend, Chappell and Struijvé, Digital Humanities projects cannot (and should not seek to) ‘convey every nuance of the original’ documents that form the backbone of the study. They should, however, have a clear sense of ‘how and why decisions were taken’: in other words, understanding editorial methods. Scott’s obsession with the verbs of the clerical life are more reflective of his position in the early twentieth century than the realities of ministry in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Unfortunately, these terms are frequently deployed by historians of earlier periods (including the authors) with little critical appraisal. Mapping the Scottish Reformation has to present answers to these questions that remain sensitive to the shifting context of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while also creating a sustainable resource that will have the shelf life of Scott’s Fasti.
We’re delighted to be able to share with you that the next phase of Mapping the Scottish Reformation will be supported by a HCRR Level 1 Advancement grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. You can find out more about our grant at the NEH website. We are humbled to be in such good company.
The next phase of our project will begin in May 2019 and use manuscript material in National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh, to extend the dataset that forms the backbone of MSR. Please stay tuned for more updates.
Until then, we’d like to thank all of you for supporting this project so far. We’re excited about what the next stages of MSR will bring!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.