The Stewart 700 Conference Report

The Stuart 700 Conference, to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the birth of King Robert II, organised jointly by Paisley Abbey and Renfrewshire Local History Forum was held on Saturday, 10th September, 2016. Professor Michael Brown ably chaired the programme of excellent speakers. Our Forum stall at the conference increased awareness of the Forum’s activities and an interest in our archaeology lectures.


Professor Richard Oram, University of Stirling

From colonists to Kings: the rise of Stewart Power in Scotland c 1150-1371

The first speaker was Professor Richard Oram. He firstly explained how, early in the twelfth century  Alan Fitzallan, the son of a Norman nobleman, came to England and was granted  land in Shropshire. His third son, Walter, moved to Scotland with thirteen monks of the Cluniac order from Much Wenlock in Shropshire and founded a priory in Renfrew which was the forerunner of Paisley Abbey. Walter’s other claim to fame was defeating Somerled at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164.

Professor Oram’s lecture centred on how Walter served King David I (1124-53) to establish the Anglo-Norman culture feudal system on Scotland. King David appointed Walter Fitzallan as High Steward of Scotland. Professor Oram explained how Walter colonised lands for the king to bring territory under the King’s control, firstly in the Borders and the East and finally in Renfrew and Kyle. Walter had good family connections in Scotland and England. Through the High Steward, these families were given land by the king, and were virtually appointed as local ‘agents’ to establish territorial loyalty to the monarch.

Under King Malcolm IV the title ‘High Steward of Scotland’ became a hereditary title and the Fitzallan family, who later changed their name to Stewart, rose in power. By the end of the 12th century the Fitzallan family was one of the most powerful in Scotland.  Eventually in 1371, Robert, 7th hereditary High Steward of Scotland, became Robert II, the first Stuart King of Scotland.


Dr. Stephen Boardman, University of Edinburgh

Lord of the Westland:  Stewart kings and the royal patrimony

After Robert the Bruce died in 1329, Robert the 7th High Steward was one of the noblemen who was involved in the regency during the minority of Bruce’s son and heir, King David II (the half-brother of Robert’s mother, Marjorie Bruce), and again during King David’s imprisonment in England. Robert finally became the first Stewart king, in 1371 when he was in his fifties. He reigned from then until 1390, when  he died at Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire.

Dr Boardman, in his talk on royal patrimony and the Stewart Kings, said ‘stewartisation’ continued after Robert became king. The Stewart kings  had interests in Rothesay, Portencross, Dundonald and Kilwinning. The transformation of the private estates of the stewards into ‘royal’ patrimony, was one of the most significant aspects of early Stewart kingship.

Dr Boardman continued to discuss the question of the tombs of the High Stewards and Majorie Bruce at Paisley Abbey. The memotial tomb of Marjorie Bruce, topped by an alabaster effigy is situated beside the northern wall of the choir. (Alabaster effigies were popular at the time.) Walter the 6th High Steward, who died in 1327, is also said to be buried in Paisley Abbey, but this tomb has never been located.


John Malden, Slains Pusuivant of Arms

 The impact of Stewart heraldry

John Malden gave a most interesting talk on Stewart heraldry. He first explained that the checkerboard design common on local heraldic shields originated on the Stewart/Fitzallan coat of arms in Normandy. Their coat of arms was a band of checkerboard across a plain background. The Stuarts brought families from the continent into Scotland. These families, such as Flemings, Maxwells and Cunninghames became the landowners and gentry in Renfrew and Kyle. Over time local noble families could add the Stuart checkerboard pattern to their own coat of arms to display their connection to royal power, and in more recent times  this symbol of power was adopted by the army and the police force.

John Maldon then discussed the burial of the High Stewards in Paisley Abbey. As no evidence of these burials has ever been located in the Abbey, he pointed out that old documents state that the burial of the High Stewards was not in but at Paisley Abbey. He postulates that the burials would have been in the grounds of the abbey, not in the building. He also discussed the memorial tomb of Marjorie Bruce and the location of an early high altar.


Dr. Warwick Edwards, University of Glasgow

“Good ear, Voice rawky and harsh” the Stewarts and Music

Dr. Warwick Edwards, an expert in early Scottis music, gave a most interesting talk on what is known about the music which flourished under the patronage of the Stewarts.

The talk was accompanied by interesting and entertaining sample pieces of the type of contemporary music which flourished under the patronage of the Stewart kings and their courts, from the time of Robert II to James I and VI. Evidence of what the music actually sounded like prior to the sixteenth century is drawn from early literary and archival references. Documents tell us that James VI, although musical,   had  a terrible singing voice  –   good ear, voice rawky and harsh.


Dr. Sally Rush, University of Glasgow

The Scottish Renaissance Palace and the Stewart Golden Age

Dr. Sally Rush gave a most informative and detailed discussion on the artwork in Scottish Palaces, mainly in Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Palace. The discussion centred principally on images of the restored roundels at Stirling Castle and numerous contemporary paintings.


Margaret Lumsdaine, Marie Stewart Society

The rich dynastic inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots, from her Stewart Queen ancestors

 Margaret Lumsdaine from the Marie Stewart Society gave an interesting lecture on Mary Queen of Scots and her inherited biological legacy from her Stewart Queen ancestors.

After discussing Queen Mary she went back in time through the earlier Stuart queens, starting with Mary of Guise, who regularly kept in touch with her young daughter during her childhood spent at the French Court, and ending with Euphemia Ross, the spouse of King Robert II. These previous Stewart queens were strong women, who were very protective of their young sons’ inheritances and, in some cases, acted as Regents of Scotland during the minority of their respective sons. The lecture drew interesting comparisons between Mary and her strong queen ancestors.


Dr Alan MacDonald, University of Dundee

The Union of the Crowns: absentee monarchy and its impact on Scotland

Dr Alan MacDonald discussed the absentee monarchy and its impact on Scotland after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. James VI had been a good Scottish king. He participated in parliament and was personally involved in parliamentary affairs.

When he left Scotland for England in 1603, he appointed John Graham, Earl of Montrose, as Commissioner General.  From then on King James had no interest in Scotland or the Scottish Parliament. He wanted unify Britain into one country and concentrated his political attentions solely on England and its parliament. He had left Scotland in 1603 with a promise to return every three years, but returned only once in his lifetime, and that was fourteen years later, in 1617.

As Commissioner General, John Graham had the power to pass acts of parliament in the name of the king. The crown regalia was taken to parliamentary meetings and, in the absence of the king, a touch of the sceptre on the paper of an Act of Parliament ratified the Act. King James had no knowledge of the passing,  or the content, of the Acts which were passed by the Scottish Parliament. Parliament soon became difficult to control.

James also wished to Anglicise the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and General Assemblies were disbanded for twenty years. This resulted in Episcopacy being imposed on the Church of Scotland. The economy too suffered, especially in Edinburgh, where  the absence of a royal court in the town led to a sharp and sudden decline in the demand for luxury goods and clothes.  Tailors particularly were severely affected.

Dr MacDonald made a clear case for the view that the absentee monarchy had an extremely adverse impact on Scotland.