Bishops of Dunkeld – before the restoration

The Rt. Rev. James Bruce, Bishop of Dunkeld, (1441-1447)

James Bruce, who became bishop of Dunkeld on 4 February 1441, was a member of the lesser nobility, hailing from Clackmannanshire in central Scotland.

According to John Dowden, he may have been a grandson of Robert Bruce of Clackmannan. Robert Bruce of Clackmannan was granted the manor of Clackmannan and other lands in Clackmannanshire in 1368 by David II; in that charter, he was referred to as ‘our kinsman’. This may explain why James Bruce claimed on a number of occasions in petitions to the pope that he was a ‘kinsman of James, king of Scots’ and ‘of noble race on both sides’.

One of James II’s charters also called him ‘king’s relative’. He seems like a pretty distant kinsman, probably a cousin several times removed. However, we should not be too quick to dismiss as remote his claims of kinship; he clearly had Crown patronage. In September 1440, James II, king of Scots, had petitioned the Pope to permit James Bruce to hold multiple incompatible benefices.

In November of the same year, it was claimed that James, king of Scots, ‘perhaps believing that the collation [the right to appoint] had devolved to him, collated the same [the archdeaconry of Dunkeld] by royal right, so it is said, to a certain James Brusse, who has intruded himself into the said archdeaconry’.

James Bruce’s educational attainment was typical of fifteenth-century Dunkeld bishops; he had achieved an MA at the University of St Andrews in 1427. There is no evidence that he chose to undertake further study for a higher degree, unlike both his predecessor, James Kennedy, and successor, William Turnbull, who achieved degrees in canon law at university in Louvain after their MAs at St Andrews.

After his studies, he progressed to the priesthood and from April 1432 onwards, papal petitions document his search for benefices.  He is an example of an ambitious cleric seeking multiple wealthy benefices who was prepared to travel to Rome to present his case. He was at the Curia in April and May 1433 and again in the summer of 1437.[10]  He also attended the Council of Basle between June 1434 to at least March 1435.[11] He repeatedly sought to gain possession of cathedral canonries; from May 1431 onwards, he was a canon of Aberdeen, eventually holding the canonry and prebend of Belhelvie. Such a prebend provided a set stipend or income to a cathedral canon. Then in 1435 he added the canonry and prebend of Moneydie in the church of Dunkeld before acquiring the canonry and prebend of Dupill in the church of Moray.

The church that he was associated with the longest was the rectory of Kilmany in the diocese of St Andrews which he held from August 1437 until his election to the bishopric in late 1440.  By the time of his election, he had also attained the archdeaconry of Dunkeld. He had one of the shortest services, he was archdeacon for less than a year, in a senior diocesan office for a Dunkeld bishop; the median length of service in diocesan offices, such as dean, precentor or archdeacon, for the fifteenth-century Dunkeld bishops was five years.  He was elected bishop by the chapter of Dunkeld sometime between late 1440 and 6 February 1441 when he was provided by Pope Eugenius IV.

James Bruce was fairly typical of the cohort of fifteenth-century Dunkeld bishops; hailing from the lesser nobility, educated at St Andrews and with a background in cathedral chapters. Less usual was his family connections to the Kings of Scots, the only other bishop who could claim a close relationship, and indeed had much stronger ties, was James Kennedy. For Bruce, like Kennedy and his successor William Turnbull, Dunkeld was a stepping stone to a better diocese. He was translated by Pope Eugenius IV on 3 February 1447 to the bishopric of Glasgow. Unfortunately for Bruce, he died in the same year.

The Rt. Rev Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld (1515-1522)

portrait_gallery_james_ii_v_x4958f
James V King of Scots; Gavin Douglas, poet and Bishop of Dunkeld; James IV King of Scots; Margaret Tudor, Queen of King James IV; William Dunbar, poet; Blind Harry, author of life of Wallace; Archibald “”Bell-the-Cat” Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus, soldier and politican; Robert Cochrane, Earl of Mar, architect and court favourite of James III, Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany, brother of James III, James III King of Scots, Margaret of Denmark Queen of James III; James Kennedy, Bishop of St Andrews, statesman; Robert Boyd, Lord Boyd, statesman; Marie of Gueldres, Queen of James II; Sir William Crichton, Lord Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland; James II King of Scots; Sir Alexander Livingston Guardian of James II…

Gawin Douglas, (born 1475?—died September 1522, London), Scottish poet and first British translator of the Aeneid. As a bishop and a member of a powerful family, he also played an important part in a troubled period in Scottish history.

Four surviving works attributed to Douglas reflect his moral earnestness and his command of difficult metrical forms: a long poem, Conscience; two moral allegories, The Palice of Honour and King Hart; and the Aeneid. The Palice of Honour (1501), a dream allegory on the theme “where does true honour lie,” extols a sterner rhetorical virtue than the young poet was to exemplify in his own subsequent career. King Hart (uncertainly ascribed to Douglas) describes vigorously and graphically the progress of Hart (the human soul) from a youthful enslavement to pleasure through the inevitable assaults of conscience, age, and death. Douglas’s last literary work was the first direct translation of the whole Aeneid to be made in Britain.

After the Battle of Flodden (1513), in which James IV of Scotland was killed, creating a struggle for power between rival Scottish factions, Douglas abandoned his literary career for political activities. The marriage of the king’s widow, Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, to Douglas’s nephew invested the Douglas family with an almost royal dignity and aligned them with the pro-English faction in Scotland. Douglas became bishop of Dunkeld and the queen’s chief adviser and involved himself in a series of intrigues to advance her cause and the power of his family, which led ultimately to his downfall. In 1521 he was forced by political enemies to flee to England, where he remained in exile until his death in London from the plague. In his last years he found comfort in his friendship with an Italian humanist, Polidoro Vergilio.

Though his work stands on the threshold of Renaissance humanism, Douglas’s heritage as a poet and translator is medieval. In his rendering of the Aeneid he shows a scholarly concern with the technique of translation and sensitivity to linguistic differences, but he is medieval in the casual way he brings his original up to date, and in the absence of “classical” diction and gravity of tone. Each book has an original prologue that is a notable piece of writing.