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




ROBERT CAIRNCROSS (C-1475 - 1545) Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, Bishop of Ross, etc.

The district of Melrose lies in the Shire of Roxburgh which forms the major portion of the border between England and Scotland, and has been the scene of many conflicts with the English, as when, for instance; in 1545 King Henry VIII, enraged at the failure of his "rough wooing" of the youthful Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, for his son, (Edward VI) sent Lord Hertford with an army which laid waste the whole of the district and totally wrecked Melrose Abbey. This abbey situated on the River Tweed, was founded in 1136 by David I, King of Scotland, who conferred upon it extensive possessions and privileges. The name Melrose is supposed to be derived from two Gaelic words, maol and ros, meaning "a bare headland", though in point of fact this "bare headland" is a beautiful promontory, a few miles below the present town of Melrose, on which the monastery of Old Melrose, a desolate and ruined place by 1073, was situated. Joining the Tweed some two miles above Melrose is the estuary of the Allen Water, which flows through several estates which at one time belonged to the Cairncrosses - Allenshaws, Wooplaw, Colmslie and Hillslope, the latter now renamed Glendearg, under the mistaken idea that it is the Glendearg of Sir Walter Scott's "Monastery".

Probably the first Cairncross to arrive in the district was Robert, who, according to Crawford, was undoubtedly a cadet of the Balmashanner family, and may have been a brother of James Cairncross of Balmashanner. Crawford's own words, written in 1726, are: "Robert Cairncross, Bishop of Ross descended without doubt from the family of Balmashanner in Forfarshire where seated as early as Robert II (1316-90). Could not learn who his parents were, nor yet time of his birth, nor of which university but in one or other of them".[1] It must have been through his influence, being a priest of the same diocese as Melrose, that the convent of the abbey there granted his relatives lands belonging to it - Colmslie for instance.

[1] Crawford here is probably eluding to Univ. of St. Andrews (founded 1410) and Univ. of Glasgow (founded 1451). Univ. of Aberdeen (founded 1494), would be just outside the period when Robert was likely to be at university.


This Robert was probably the ablest of all the Cairncrosses, ancient and modern, and held various high offices of state. Prior to 1528 he was provost of the collegiate church of Corstorphine (four miles west of Edinburgh), which was considered a rather lucrative office, and has been held by several important personages. He was twice Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, in 1529 and 1537, and in 1528 became the twenty-eighth Abbot of Holyrood, holding this position under a Bull of Clement VII, which commanded the Archbishop of Glasgow and the Bishops of Dunkeld and Aberdeen to admit him, being then a priest of the diocese of Glasgow, as a canon regular of Holyrood. The Bull is dated November 6th, 1528, or about five weeks before his provision as abbot.

On September 5th, 1528, under a charter by King James V to "his **familiar clerk and Treasurer Sir Robert Carncorse" Robert became possessed of the land, mansion and buildings, in Edinburgh, which belonged to the late Philip Forestar, on the south side of the Nether Bow, and belonging then to the King, estranged by the forfeiture of Archibald Douglas, sometime of Kilspindy. ("Sir" was a courtesy title to a dignitary of the church). Those possessions passed into the hands of William Cairncross of Colmslie on December 14th, 1538. "The ** Netherbow Port was the gate which divided the city of Edinburgh from the suburb called The Canongate. It had towers and a spire which formed a fine termination to the view from the cross. The gate was pulled down in one of those fits of rage for indiscriminate destruction, with which the magistrates of a corporation are sometimes visited".

Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie, uncle of the Earl of Angus, was Lord High Treasurer from October 1526 to September 1528, when he was forfeited, and had to retire to France, owing to the downfall of his nephew the Earl. His immediate successor was Robert Cairncross, Provost of the Collegiate Church of Corstorphine, but the latter was removed from office from some suspicion that he favoured the Douglases. He was superseded by Robert Barton, whose accounts commence on August 21st, 1529, extending for a year. Robert Cairncross recovered the office in 1537 but lost it again on March 24th, 1538.

** Are these two quotes also from Crawford's "OFFICERS of STATE" ?


This Map appears between pages 42 & 43 in the original


In 1533 Robert, then Abbot of Holyrood, granted a nineteen year lease of the lands of Reidheucht to William Cairncross, a layman and probably his nephew, who subsequently became William of Colmslie. Later, in 1543, this William obtained sasine under a feu charter by Robert, who was then Bishop of Ross, of the lands of Canlochmore and others in Ross. Another nephew, Nicol Cairncross, burgess of Edinburgh, obtained through a feu charter by Robert in 1536, the lands of Bakspittaill and Foirspittail, in the regality of Brouchtoun and sheriffdom of Edinburgh.

On November 4th, 1535, the King considering that Robert, then Abbot of Holyrood, had granted a portion of the public street within the burgh of Canongate near the King's Palace of Holyrood, for the passage of carriages and carts, granted him an impost of a penny on every such vehicle passing thereby, for the repair and maintenance of the street. In 1531, also during the period that Robert Cairncross was abbot of Hollyrood, there had occurred an event known as the "Miracle of John Scott", which made some noise in its time. This man, a citizen of Edinburgh, having taken shelter from his creditors in the sanctuary of Holyrood, subsisted there; it is alleged, for forty days without food of any kind.

On November 12th, 1538, Robert entered into an indenture with James V whereby he undertook on certain conditions to resign the abbacy of Holyrood in favour of the King's nominee, and the King undertook to write to Rome recommending him for the bishopric of Ross, vacant by the death of James, bishop thereof, with the result that on April 14th, 1539, he was elected Bishop of Ross by Paul III, paying his taxes of 600 florins by his proctor James Salmond. He was admitted to the See on June 23rd, 1539, and at the same time took out a fresh provision to Holyrood. Although the first provision to Holyrood was not effective, Paul III allowed him to have a pension from Holyrood of 500 merks Scots, specially from the churches of Falkirk and Livingstone, and the town of Brochton in the parish of St. Cuthbert. The same Bull announces that Holyrood thus vacated was conferred on Robert Stewart, clerk or scholar of St. Andrews diocese. Robert Stewart was a natural son of James V, and was afterwards Earl of Orkney. In the interval between the death of James Hay and the admission of Robert Cairncross, the King had made a temporary grant of tie temporality of Ross to William Cairncross of Colmslie, from a writ under the Privy Seal dated October 3rd, 1538.


Robert was one of the commissioners who held parliament on 9th March, 1540 - 41, and on this date was recommended to the Pope for the commendam of Ferne in a letter of James V, being admitted to the temporality on October 21st, 1541. On April 1st, 1545, Queen Mary petitioned the Pope that Robert might resign Ferne, and that the Pope would admit thereto James Cairncross,* clerk of Glasgow, Robert being allowed to retain the revenue and "regressus." He died on November 30th, 1545, and was buried in his cathedral.

Robert Cairncross had three children, John, Andrew and Isobell, whom he had legitimated on September 2nd, 1537, but they appear either to have predeceased him, as was probable in those turbulent times, or to have been disinherited, for on July 8th, 1550, John Cairncross, described as "brither and heir to umquhile and reverend father in God, Robert, Bishop of Ross", brought an action against certain persons. This John Cairncross was in all probability the father of William Cairncross of Colmslie, and is dealt with in a subsequent chapter.

Note: - This chapter was prepared in 1933.
Twenty years later it Was discovered that one of the abbots of Melrose Abbey was John Cairncross (Carnecorse), 1488. This date appears to be the end date of his tenure of office. It is thought that John was a younger brother of Alexander Cairncross of Balmashanner, and either the father or the granduncle of Robert the Bishop and of John in Colmslie.

* Identity of this person in doubt - see p.48.

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