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Scottish Church Lands

David I. was, according to James VI., nearly five centuries later, “a sair saint for the Crown.” He gave Crown-lands in the southern lowlands to the religious orders with their priories and abbeys; for example, Holyrood, Melrose, Jedburgh, Kelso, and Dryburgh, centres of learning and art and of skilled agriculture. Probably the best service of the regular clergy to the State was its orderliness and attention to agriculture, for the monasteries did not, as in England, produce many careful chroniclers and historians.

Each abbey had its lands divided into baronies, captained by a lay “Church baron” to lead its levies in war. The civil centre of the barony was the great farm or grange, with its mill, for in the thirteenth century the Lowlands had water-mills which to the west Highlands were scarcely known in 1745, when the Highland husbandmen were still using the primitive hand-quern of two circular stones. Near the mill was a hamlet of some forty cottages; each head of a family had a holding of eight or nine acres and pasturage for two cows, and paid a small money rent and many arduous services to the Abbey.

The tenure of these cottars was, and under lay landlords long remained, extremely precarious; but the tenure of the “bonnet laird” (hosbernus) was hereditary. Below even the free cottars were the unfree serfs or nativi, who were handed over, with the lands they tilled, to the abbeys by benefactors: the Church was forward in emancipating these serfs; nor were lay landlords backward, for the freed man was useful as a spear-man in war.

We have only to look at the many now ruined abbeys of the Border to see the extent of civilisation under David I., and the relatively peaceful condition, then, of that region which later became the cockpit of the English wars, and the home of the raiding clans, Scotts, Elliots, and Armstrongs, Bells, Nixons, Robsons, and Croziers.

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