SECTION I. For List of Authorities consulted, see Appendix No.4, pp. 164 - 6.



(by A. F. Cairncross)


a. The Columban Church in Scotland.

It is highly probable, if indeed it is not a certainty, that the first individual to adopt CAIRNCROSS as a surname was descended from the lay abbots of the Celtic Church in Brechin and Glenesk, in Forfarshire, then called Angus.

It would take too long to try and explain how the lay abbots came into existence; but, briefly, they were, in the above places, powerful landowners, in possession of abbatical lands, who were of the family who had given these lands to the monasteries at the time of their creation.

The Celtic Church of Scotland, founded and organised by the great St. Columba, was a monastic Church, and the monasteries [2] between the Forth and the Drumalbin range of hills (Southern Pictland) were thrown into confusion, when, in A.D. 717, Nectan, King of the Southern Picts, ordered that within his jurisdiction all should conform to Rome with regard to the time for observing Easter. This was a vexed question between the Papal Church in England and the successful missionaries there from the Columban Church in Scotland. The monks saw no reason why they should depart from the teachings of Columba; the greater part of them therefore resisted the change and were driven across Drumalbin, and so expelled from Nectan's kingdom. Dissentions arose within the monasteries and decay set in, hurried on, in the case of Brechin, by the devastation made by raiding and invading Scandinavians, until it came about that when the abbot died or was killed, no one, owing to the confusion of those turbulent times, was appointed in his place; and the landowner who was in possession of the lands belonging to the abbey came to be designated, though a layman, "the abbot". Skene, in his "Celtic Scotland", surmises that the last real abbot of Brechin was made bishop by the reforming zeal of David I, and that the lands were given to his son, a layman. But it should not be forgotten that "there was connected with each Columban monastery a lay family, in whom the tenancy of the lands was vested, possessing a regular lineal succession, and furnishing also, as it was required, the elective ecclesiastical succession of heirs to the first abbot".


The authority for stating that the Columban monks were driven out of Nectan's kingdom for not conforming to the then Roman usage, as the date on which Easter should be observed, is the clear statement in the "Chronicles of the Picts and Scots" that such was the case. The venerable Bede was apparently unaware of this, neither did he know that "the most ancient Roman table for Easter agreed with that of the Celtic Church". Easter was the name of a heathen German goddess, whose festival was celebrated in April. The festival in memory of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ has no Christian name other than "Passover". The French is paques and the Scots pasch, from the Greek pascha, the Passover. "Many of the popular observances connected with Easter are clearly of Pagan origin, and traceable to the feast of the Saxon deity Eastre". The word Easter occurs but once in our English Bible, and has been corrected to "Passover" in the Revised Version. "Neither the Lord nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this (Easter) or any other festival. The Apostles had no thought of appointing festival days, but of promoting a life of blamelessness and piety".[3]

"The unsettlement caused by the invasion of Norsemen affected seriously the monasteries on the islands and near the sea coast. There grew up in some places an extreme ascetic spirit, which disposed men to adopt an anchorite life of retirement rather than to carry out the practical duties of the Columbian rule; and lastly, owing to the tribal law of ecclesiastical succession, the property of the earl'; monasteries gradually became secularised, and the institutions which had leavened Scotland with the knowledge of Christian truth were allowed in many cases to fall into decay."[4]

[1] FORFARSHIRE: At the very start of this record it should be made clear that the name of this region was ANGUS back in the time of Andrew of Wyntoun, as that was the name he used throughout his narrative poem - p.158. In the time of A.F.C. the name in official use was FORFARSHIRE. In 1928 it officially reverted to ANGUS. Next, under the Local Government Act of 1973, Angus was merged into what is now known as the TAYSIDE REGION.

[2] "Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church" by F. E. Warren, p.64, quoted by Bishop Dowden in "Celtic Church of Scotland".

[3] Chambers Encyclopaedia 1889 and "Easter" in Encyc. Brit.

[4]. "History of Early Scottish Education" by John Edgar M.A.(Glas.) B.A. (Oxfrod), Classical Master of Royal High School. Edinburgh, p.16. At p.17 of this work "Brechin" is in the list of monasteries of Columban origin, which David I found existing at the time of his reforms.


b. The Lay Abbots of Brechin. 1124 - 1230.

The first known abbot of Brechin was Leod, who witnessed a number of the charters of David I, (1124 - 1153), and who appeared to farm part of the king's court. The next abbot was Dovenald (modern Donald) who, about 1178, witnessed a charter[1] by Turpin, bishop of Brechin, and is designated abbot of Brechin; he also granted lands to the monks of Arbroath for the weal of his father Sampson. The third abbot was John, abbot of Brechin (1204 - 1219), the son of Malise. He made a grant, with the consent of his son Morgund, to the monks of Arbroath of the privilege of making charcoal from the wood in their forest of Edzell. This Morgund, son of John the abbot, granted a charter gifting to his son Michael, 416 Scottish acres of his lands of Cairncross in Glenesk. The charter is still in existence, and now reposes in the charter chest in Panmure House, the seat of Lord Panmure, now Earl of Dalhousie, some five miles from where these notes are written. It is not dated, which was not unusual in those days, but several of the witnesses were so well known - Gregory, bishop of Brechin, Laurance, archdeacon of St. Andrews, the celebrated Allan the Durward, David de Hastings, John de Vallibus, John de Cambrun, Robert de Loreng, and others - that it is safe to say that the date is about 1230, if not that very year.

Dr. John Stuart, the eminent antiquary, writes in the Preface of "Registrum de Panmure":- "The Abbots seal still remains at the document .... The matrix consisted of a rim of metal enclosing a gem of classical character on which are cut two stags with horns".

[1] See appendix for Latin original. (Appendix No.1, p.157)

(map). This Map appears between pages 3 & 4 in the original.

(Map covers approx. 132 Square Miles.)


NORTH ESK - Scotland.

Refer pages 7 & I2 of HISTORY for notes concerning this District.


The same authority writes of the charter:- "Among the Panmure papers is an original charter granted by Morgund, son of John, to his son Michael, of one davoch of his land of Carrecros, lying between Taife and Turrethd, about the year[2] 1239. These lands, which form a large portion of the lower part of Glenesk, are now known as Cairncross. They lie, as described in the charter, between the waters of Tarf and Turret, and their recognised boundaries at the present day are the heath-covered hills on the north, The North Esk on the south, the burn of Mangy on the east, and the river Turret on the west".

This charter was confirmed by James the First at Aberdeen on August 2nd, 1428, and instead of Carrecros, the spelling is Carneors.

We do not know the extent of the abbey lands of Brechin, but the forests of Edzell, and the lands of Cairncross in Glenesk, were probably outside, belonging to the lay abbot in his own right, apart from Church matters, and not because he was lay abbot. It must be remembered, however, that the Cairncross charter was witnessed by the bishop of Brechin and the archdeacon of St. Andrews, which seems to show that the Church had some interest in the Cairncross land. After John's death, or, at the latest, after the death of his son Morgund, before 1249, the abbacy was diverted away from the family, but the family was probably still the owner of lands in Edzell and in Glenesk. It is surmised by E.W. Robertson in his "Scotland under Her Early Kings" that Juliana, the lady who married Henry, the natural son of David earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion, got the abbey lands of Brechin, and so her husband became lord of Brechin, and that this Juliana was the daughter of Morgund, son of John the last lay abbot; and, further, that Gillandrys MacLeod was the heir male, and that the lands of Gillandrys, hitherto held by him of the abbot and clergy, were erected into a barony held by charter of the crown.

[2] See article "Laurance, archdeacon of St. Andrews" in Aberdeen Weekly Journal of 30th July, 1915.


Michael obtained Cairncross, and the other members of the family seem to have adopted the surname "de Glenesk", since they were the owners of that district, for the first person of this name to be mentioned is a knight, who, soon after 1254, witnessed a grant of lands by the widow of Sir Peter Maule of Panmure. In 1260 John of Glenesk, knight, appeared near Montrose. This knight was a party to the Scottish national consent to the marriage of Prince Edward of England with our Princess Margaret. In 1296 four barons called "de Glenesk" all did homage to the usurper and would-be-kaiser of his day, Edward I of England. One of them was Morgund de Glenesk. Thereafter this name disappears and the Stirling family appears as proprietors of Glenesk, It is not known how the Stirlings obtained possession, but probably the Glenesks changed their name, or a Glenesk heiress married a Stirling, About the middle of the 14th century the Glenesk-Stirling family failed in two co-heiresses, one of whom married Sir Alexander Lindsay, third son of Sir David Lindsay of Crawford, becoming the mother of Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk, afterwards the first earl of that famous family. This Sir David was the victor, and hero, in the famous combat with Lord Welles at London Bridge before the English king and court. He appears later on in this little story.

Leod, the first known lay abbot of Brechin, was designated Abbe de Brechin, and was one of the witnesses to a proclamation by David I to "bishops, abbots, earls, sherrifs, barons, ministers, all men, French, English and Scots". He ranked next to Morgund, Earl of Mar.

Dovenald, the second lay abbot, son of Sampson, and supposed to be the grandson of Leod, is designated in contemporary charters Abbis de Brechin, Abb de Brechin, Abb de Brech and Abbe de Brechyn, also Abbe de Brechin.

John, the third lay abbot of Brechin, son of Malise, was designated Joh Abb de Brechyn, Joh Abb, Johis Abbe, Johe Abbe, and Johannis Abbe.

The scribes of those days, who were the monks, used a kind of rough shorthand. They abbreviated written words in many ways, and used various signs to show that letters had been omitted from words.


Documents were all written in monkish Latin, and Abbe or Abb de Brech meant "Abbate de Brechin", that is,"the Abbot of Brechin." Where Abbe is seen, it means that the scribe did not trouble, or forgot to put the mark ~ over the bb. Later on Abbe was further contracted to Albe, the 1 being an unfinished b. The correct English, then, of Johannis Abbe de Brechin is - John the Abbot of Brechin, and of Johannis Abbe, John the Abbot.

If Abbe or Abbot had at that time been adopted as a family name, as most historical writers seem to think, then the sons of and brothers of John the Abbot would all have been called Abbot or Abbe, but such is never the case; we are told in the original writings that they were the sons and brothers of John the Abbot, not the abbot himself. In other words, Abbe or Abbot was not the name of the man, but the name of the office or position - the representative of the one-time Abbot.

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