[ FoGO ]
The Prebend of Govan: 1150 - 1560


Revd. Tom A. Davidson Kelly, M.A., B.D., F.S.A. Scot.

For many years there has been no physical trace of the mediaeval parish church of the extensive Prebend of Govan. It is understood that around 1136 and stone, Norman-style building was erected within the enclosure where the earlier stone-carving community had been based. An aisle was added in 1651 ( Marwick 1882, p.215 ) during the ministry of Hugh Binning. The enlarged mediaeval building was demolished in 1762 and therefore not recorded in the Statistical Account thirty years later.

It is easy to be deceived by the north / south orientation of the Victorian church building. Stewart Thomson suggested the orientation of the present building must have followed "a very ancient tradition" ( Thomson 1963, p.9 ). All the post mediaeval parish churches were built on the site of the present structure. The plan of the graveyard prepared for the Heritors of Govan Parish by Thomas Kyle in 1809 shows the eighteenth century church in the same place. When in and the 1826 church were built, 'correct' liturgical orientation had not become an issue for Scots Presbyterians. The church James Smith of Jordanhill designed for Dr. Matthew Leishman ( 1826 ) stood exactly where the narthex and first section of the nave stand today. The plan showing the outline of Smith's church under that designed by R. Rowand Anderson is among the Govan Heritors Records, preserved at the Scottish Record Office ( West Register House ). By the time Dr. John Macleod and Anderson moved away from upgrading and enhancing Smith's church to plan a new building there was no room left among the lairs to extend to east, south or west. The only option was to build to the north, pushing the building through the boundary wall of the graveyard. This explains the orientation today, but is not relevant in discussion of the mediaeval parish church and earlier structures.

[ Plate 1 ]
Plate 1

The enlarged insert from Robert Paul's early view of Govan shows a building pushing towards the Clyde and a cupola or belfry. That structure is likely to be the ile buildit in the kirk of Govane ( Marwick 1882, p.215 ) before 1 November 1651. The belfry does not appear to be fixed to that roof. It is fixed to some structure behind, possibly above the true west door of the mediaeval parish church. In addition to the Parish Church, there was a leper hospital ( said to have been founded about 1350 ) and chapel dedicated to St. Ninian in the Gorbals, and the hospital of St. John in Polmadie ( founded before 1249 ).

[ Plate 2 ]
Plate 2

Govan is not specified in the enquiry ( Inquisition ) of about 1114 ( before 1224 ) into the lands belonging to the Church of Glasgow ( Innes 1843, 3 no. 1 ). King David I, with his son Henry also making the grant ( Innes 1843, 11 no. 6 ), granted the lands of Govan to the Cathedral before 1152 ( Cowan 1967, p.77-8 ): You are to know that I have given and granted to the church of St. Mungo of Glasgu and to the bishopric of the same church Guven, with all its bounds ( Innes 1843, 10 - 11 no. 6 ). Govan ( latterly along with the whole of Partick, Shields, Gorbals and Polmadie ) was made a Prebend of Glasgow Cathedral by Bishop Herbert ( 1147-64 ): the church of Guvan with all ecclesiastical rights pertaining to the same church, and the islands between Guvan and Perthec [Partick] and that part of Perthec which king David of Scotland gave as a dower to the church of Glasgu at its dedication, and an [or the] other part of Perthec which the same king David gave to the aforesaid church of Glasgu and to Bishop John and his successors. ( Innes 1843, 11 no. 7 ). The tiends were appropriated to the Bishop's Table, which meant the income from the parish supported the household of the Bishop of Glasgow. The gift of Govan to Glasgow Cathedral is confirmed by five bulls issued by three of the Popes.

A great lawyer ( born in Siena ) Orlando Bandinelli, son of Ranuccio, reigned as Pope Alexander III from 1159-1181. He was caught up by the power struggle between the papacy and the emperor Frederick (I) Barbarossa ( 1152-90 ). Eight hundred and fifteen years ago ( 5-19 March 1179 ) he was in the chair at an important conference - the third Lateran ( Eleventh General ) Council. He had to contend with no fewer than four anti-popes ( Kelly 1986, p.176-7 ). A busy man? Not too busy to issue three bulls about Govan - 25 Match 1172 ( Innes 1843, 25 no. 28 ), 29 April 1174 ( Innes 1843, 30 no. 32 ) and 19 April 1179 ( Innes 1843, 42 no. 51 ).

Urban III ( 1185-87 ) was pope for only 23 months. He was a fierce but not resolute opponent of Frederick Barbarossa. He conveniently died on a visit to Ferrara and saved the church a fresh crisis ( Kelly 1986, p.181-2 ). His bull was issued in Verona ( Rome was too hot for him! ) on 12 June 1186 ( Innes 1843, 54 no. 62 ) confirming all Bishop Jocelin's possessions, including Govan.

An elderly and frail aristocrat became pope on 18 July 1216 - Honorius III ( 1216-27 ). His problem emperor was Frederick II ( 1220-50 ), his greatest concern the new Crusade called for by his predecessor ( Innocent III ) - the ill-fated Fifth Crusade ( Kelly 1986, p.188-9 ). He was not too busy to forget Govan. Three months and one day into the job ( Innes 1843, 94 no. 111 ) he confirmed the Bishop of Glasgow's possessions, including Govan!

[ Plate 3 ]
Plate 3

The picture of mediaeval Govan presented in our Outline History is very limited because two essential works had not been consulted, although Brotche ( 1938, p.30-32 ) had been able to make use of the first in his History of Govan. First one of the minute books of the Archdiocese of Glasgow, Cuthbert Simson's Protocol Book, published as long ago as 1875; secondly Annie Dunlop's Doctoral thesis, published in 1934, an invaluable introduction to Vatican documents dating from 1418-1488. As befits a former dominie of Bellahouston Academy, John MacFarlane is remembered in Govan Old as an energetic man with a vigourous personality. Sometime Session Clerk of Govan Old Parish Church, MacFarlane was able to list 11 mediaeval 'incumbents' of Govan ( 1965, p.78 ) with suggested date(s). His list reads:

John de Lund1319
William de Govan1432
Thomas Cameron1453
Friar John1454
Robert Blacader1478
John Otterburn1480
Malcolm Durans1497
Adam Colquhoun1508
Thomas Muirhead1511
Walter Beatoun1525
nb Stephen Beatoun1561 - 77

Recent publication of Vatican and Avignon archival material has brought to our notice additional names and information. We have to alter one name and delete others from the list, alter dates and add more names.

We know of at least three members of the Govan ministry team during the period of the Prebend of Govan. The Prebendery ( or Rector ) was a canon of Glasgow Cathedral, played his part at the Cathedral Chapter and in the administration of the Diocese ( latterly Archdiocese ). He lived in the prebendal Manse, immediately north of Provand's Lordship, between St. Nicholas Hospital for twelve poor men and the Renfrew Mase ( Durkan 1986, plan of Cathedral precinct ).

The work of the parish was done by the vicar and the parish clerk, both of whom were required ( unlike the Rector ) to live in the parish. The vicar served the church and its worship services, and was responsible for the cure of souls ( the pastoral work ). He lived on a small fixed pension allowed him by the Rector. It is not certain where his Manse might have been.

The duties of the parish clerk included tasks that would be described today as both sacred and secular. He was part assistant minister and part church officer, and by "the middle of the fifteenth century the priest and people of every parish...in Scotland could claim by the law and custom of the realm to have an official assistant minister known as the parish clerk" ( McKay 1967, p.25 ). The appointment was for life ( perpetual ) ( ad vitem aut culpam ) ( McKay 1967, p.31 ). There was a strong popular element in his election ( McKay 1967, pp.28, 30 ), and which often took place before the main mass on a Sunday ( McKay 1967, p.32 ). The full range of his duties included daily morning and evening worship and the masses at church, taking part in processions, looking after the church bells and ringing them, looking after the holy water and the fires needed for incense burning ( McKay 1968, p.32-38 ). The last parish clerk of Govan was James Hill, who also served the endowed altar of the Virgin Mary within the church. At the Reformation, he reported that the endowment yielded 12 bolls of Oats, 3 bolls of Meal and 26s of money ( Hill 1902, p.2 ).

As well as 15 Rectors ( also called Parson and Prebendary ) the records provide the names of 3 vicars pensioner, 3 perpetual parish clerks, and the names of 4 fifteenth century Govanites who took orders ( two wrongly listed by MacFarlane as Rectors ) and 1 notary. The first name 'Help' appears to be incorrect. It is true that Bishop Herbert conferred the prebend of Govan on his clerk between 1147 and 1164 ( note the earlier date ), but the name is more likely to be Elias. Ralegh Radford ( 1967, p.184 note 54 ) suggests: 'We read Elias for the 'Help' of the text, on the assumption that the true reading is 'Hely', a contracted for for an oblique case of 'Helyas'.'

The phrase 'de Govan' does not normally infer 'in Govan', but 'from Govan'. William, B.Dec. ( Bachelor of Decreets ) ( 1432 ) in not working in Govan - it is his birthplace. Another William de Govan was clerk of the Diocese of Glasgow and notary public during 1417-18 ( Carte Glasguensis, p.238 no. vii ). Friar John is another Govan boy, from the next generation, who became head of the Black Friars ( Dominicans ) of Glasgow ( 1447-56 ) and secured substantial grants of property and land for them ( Robertson 1846, xlviii ). Another Govanite Patrick also became prior of the preaching friars at Glasgow ( 1471-76 ) ( Robertson 1846, iv ). The fourth Govanite I have traced is an Alan, an older contemporary, who became conventual prior of Paisley Abbey, and who died before 24 February 1422 ( Lindsay & Camera 1934, p.282 ).

The new names culled from Cuthbert Simson's Protocol Book are:

George Culquhoun Perpetual Parish Clerk
( Bain & Rogers 1875, 333 no.146, 343 no.166, 359 no.202 )
18 July 1505-08
Sir Andrew Androsone Vicar Pensioner
( Bain & Rogers 1875, 333 no. 146, 343 no.166, 359 no.202, 414 no.309 )
18 July 1505 - before 2 December 1508
David Dwne Vicar Pensioner
( Bain & Rogers 1875, 414 no. 309, 518 no.554 )
2 December 1508 - 11

and from the Apostolic Camera:

John Kennedy Rector and prebendary
( Cameron 1934, p.239 )

Adam Colquhoun became rector of Govan before 24 February 1505 ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 336 no.150 ) and the last mention of him as rector is dated 2 December 1508 ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 414 no.309 ). Thomas Muirhead is in post before 7 May 1510 ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 470 no.438 ) and was still there on 20 September 1511 ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 518 no.554 ). Hopefully, further research will provide fresh names, and confirm the doubtful ones. The fresh list of names and revised dates is offered for comparison:


        Elias                       c.1150 - 1160
        John de Lund                      1319
        John Wishart                       - 1437
        Patrick Leitch, M.A.        1437   -
        Thomas Cameron              1444   - 1453
        Alexander Napier                   - 1460
        John Kennedy                1460   - 1464
        Vedastus Muirhead                 1465
        Robert Blacader                   1478
        John Otterburn                    1480
        David Howieson                     - 1483
        Malcolm Durans              1483   -
        Adam Colquhoun              by 1505 - 1508
        Thomas Muirhead             by 1510 - 1511
        Walter Beatoun                    1525
        Stephen Beatoun             1561   - 1577


        Andrew Androsone            1505   - 1508
        David Dwne                  1508   - 1511
        Sir George Hervey                    1549
        ( curate and executor )


        George Colquhoun            1505   - 1508
        Sir James Colquhoun                - 1549

        Sir James Hill of Ibrox     1549 Elected 14 June, Inducted 19 June

        Post abolished by Act of Parliament 1560. Hill Reformed Reader
        at Cathcart by 1568. He had married c.1558

In 'Glasgow Cathedral Close' during 1507 and 1508 events surrounding Prebendary Adam Colquhoun of Govan and John Gibson, Prebendary of Renfrew, deserve the pen of an Anthony Trollope. They are first seen together on 24 February 1505, sitting in judgement between Sir Andrew Quhit ( White ) and Mr. John Sanquhare, alleged vicar of Wallistoun ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 336 no.150 ).

On 22 May 1507, the sub-dean, the president of the chapter and the canons transfer a piece of property from Gibson to Colquhoun. Previously the sub-chanter and master of the hospital, Sir William Silver, had granted John Gibson, prebendary of Renfrew, a certain tenement belonging to the said hospital, lying in the city of Glasgow near the palace of the archbishop, on the west side thereof, between the manse of the prebendary of Govan on the south, and the lands of Partick Culquhoun of Glen on the west and north ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 377 no.235 ). The chapter ratifies the annexation of the tenement to the prebend of Govan for ever, with consent of the said prebendary of Renfrew ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 377 no.235 ).

Mr. David Conigham and Sir Andrew Merschell had been appointed vicars-general during the absence of Archbishop Robert Blackadder on pilgrimage to the holy land. On Sunday 15 July 1508 John Gibson appears before them and presented and left a certain schedule of complaint respecting Mr Adam Culquhoun, canon of Glasgow, complaining to the said vicars-general of the said Mr. Adam ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 408 no.295 ). Colquhoun is a match for Gibson. In defence, he alleged the form of quarrel to be contrary to the oath of the canons and to the statutes of the chapter of Glasgow, upon which Mr. John was sworn, and to the observance of which he was bound by his oath ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 409 no.295 ).

Things really came to a head in November of the same year. The unwelcome news had filtered back to Glasgow of the alleged death of Archbishop Robert Blackadder. The King and members of the Cathedral chapter resolve to act. On 9 November Mr. Adam Culquhoun, prebendary of Govan, presented certain royal letters subscribed with his signature and closed with his signet... for elevting or postulating James Beaton, bishop of Galloway, to be archbishop of the church of Glasgow, which was destitute of a pastor and archbishop, as was alleged, through the death of Robert, late archbishop of Glasgow, and last possessor thereof ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 404 no.288 ). Beaton's appointment goes through on the nod: the president and chapter... unanimously, and with one voice, in accordance with the supplication of his highness, postulated the said reverend father James to be archbishop of Glasgow ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 404 no.288 ).

Colquhoun and Gibson clash during that meeting, and both ask for instruments. The Concise Scots Dictionary defines an 'instrument' as: a formal narrative, duly authenticated, of any proceedings of which a person wished to preserve a record, latterly chiefly with a view to protesting or appealing against them.

John Gibson, on being asked for a vote...answered that a certain time ought to be given to the chapter to advise or deliberate in regard to the said election or postulation ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 405 no.289 ).

Gibson carefully qualified his delaying tactic; adding that he well knew that if Robert, archbishop of Glasgow, now alleged to be dead, were present personally in the chapter, and wishing to resign his archbishopric, he would sooner elect or postulate the said James to be his successor than any one else ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 405 no.289 ). Colquhoun interpreted this as refusal to postulate Beaton. Upon which Mr. Adam Colquhoun asked instruments lodging his protest at John Gibson's refusal to support the king's nominee. On this occasion Colquhoun seems to have been either paranoid or hasty, because Mr. John Gibson asked instruments on the premises, and that he had not refused to postulate the said James to be archbishop ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 405 no.289 ).

What a meeting, called in the absence of the dean, sub-dean and precentor.

Dean Robert Forman lodges a firm protest the very next day, on returning to Glasgow and discovering Prebendary Colquhoun had seized the initiative in a matter that would profoundly affect each member of the chapter ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 405-6 no.290 ).

Instrument on the protest by Mr. Robert Forman, dean of Glasgow, before the canons of Glasgow, assembled in the chapter-house, that the fact of Mr. Martin Rede, president, and the chapter, having, on the previous day, without his being present, postulated Mr. James Beaton, bishop of Galloway, to be archbishop of the see of Glasgow, and to be transferred to the same, should not prejudice him or his successors, or their right or jurisdiction. Done in the chapter-house, 10th November 1508.

There has been no opportunity to prove Colquhoun's next appointment, probably Rector of Stobo, but an Adam Colquhoun was to become Official of the Archdiocese 1524-41 ( Watt 1969, p.189 ). On Sunday 13 March 1511, in the prebendal manse of Govan he is nominated as one of two executors by his successor in Govan, Thomas Muirhead ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 521 no.562 ).

Following the death of the vicar pensioner of Govan, Sir Andrew Androsone, David Dwne, presbyter, has the pensionary vicarage of Govan conferred on him. David Dwne was presented to the chapter by his patron Mr. Adam Colquhoun on 2 December 1508 ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 414 no.309 ). When Thomas Muirhead, prebendary of Govan, made the will already referred to, he was suffering from a near fatal-illness. However, he recovered, and it seems he did not enjoy cordial relations with his vicar pensionary. Muirhead gives Dwne a blast on Sunday 20 September 1511 ( Bain & Rogers 1875, 518 no.554 ):

Instrument on the warning given by Mr Thomas Murhede, prebendary of Govan, to Mr. David Dwne, vicar-pensioner of Govan, to make personal residence at the foresaid church of Govan, as he was bound by law, within nine days thereafter, on pain of deprivation.

So we must leave Glasgow's lively late mediaevale alternative to Barchester Close.


An early version of this article was delivered to the Society of Friends of Glasgow Cathedral on the 25th January 1992. A revised version formed part of the annual lecture to the Friends on the Eve of St. Constantine's Day 1993. The aim of this article is to present information about this phase of the Govan story easily available from a range of sources. My hope is to stimulate a complete rewriting of the period by a mediaeval specialist.


The staff at Glasgow University Library, the Glasgow Room, the Mitchell Library, and the Strathclude Regional Archives all helped with the labour of researching material. The Regional Archivist, Mr. Andrew Jackson, supplied accurate contemporary translations of Latin texts from the Bannantyne and Maitland Clubs volumes. Special thanks to Dr. John Durkan, who gave invaluable advice at the start of my research, and who was kind enough to scrutinise the final version, and bring to my notice Rectors Alexander Napier, Vedastus Muirhead and David Howiesone, culled from Calendar of Papal Registers ( ed. W.H. Bliss ) and Munimenta Almae Univ. Glasg., neither of which I had the opportunity to consult.

Selected References

Bain J. and Rogers C. (eds), 1875        'Protocol Book of Cuthbert Simson', Diocesan Registers of Glasgow, London
Brotchie, T.C.F., 1905                  The History of Govan burgh and parish. Govan ( reprinted 1938, Glasgow )
Burns, C. (ed), 1976                    Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon 1378-1394, Edinburgh
Cameron, A.I. (ed), 1934                The Apostolic Camera and Scottish Benefices 1418-1488, Oxford
Cowan, I, 1967                          The Parishes of Mediaeval Scotland, Edinburgh
Donaldson, G. (ed), 1949                Accounts of the Collectors of Thirds of Benefices 1561-1572, Edinburgh
Dunlop, A.I. & MacLaughland D. (ed), 1983                      Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, volume iv 1433-1447, Glasgow
Durkan, J., 1986 a                      'The Bishop's Barony of Glasgow in Pre-Reformation Times', Records of Scottish Church History Society, vol. XXII, Part 3 (1986), p.277-301
Durkan, J., 1986 b                      The Precinct of Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow
Hill, W.H., 1902                        The Early Records of an Old Glasgow Family, Glasgow
Innes, C. (ed), 1843                    Registrum Episcopatus Glasguensis ( Bannantyne Club ), Glasgow
Kelly, J.N.D., 1986                     The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, Oxford
Lindsay, E.R. & Cameron, A.I. (eds), 1934       Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-1422, Edinburgh
MacFarlane, J.C., 1965                  An Outline History of Govan Old Parish Church, Glasgow
McGurk, F. (ed), 1976                   Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, Edinburgh
McKay, D., 1967                         'The Election of Parish Clerks in Mediaeval Scotland', Innes Review, Volume XVIII, Part 1, (1967), p.25-35
McKay, D., 1968                         'The Duties of the mediaeval Parish Clerk', Innes Review, Vol. XIX, Part 1 (1968), p.32-9
McKay, D., 1969                         'The Induction of the Parish Clerk in Mediaeval Scotland', Innes Review, Vol. XX, Part 1, (1969), p.59-67
Marwick, J.D. (ed), 1882                Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow, Vol. II, 1630-1662, Glasgow
Radford, C.A.R., 1967                   'The Early Christian Monuments at Govan and Inchinnan', Trans. Glasgow Archaeol. Soc, New Series, Vol. XV, Part IV, (1967), p.173-88
Roberston, J. (ed), 1846                Munimenta Fratrum Predicatorum de Glasgu, Liber Collegii Nostre Domine ( Maitland Club ), Glasgow
Shead, N.F., 1969                       'The origins of the Mediaeval Diocese of Glasgow', Scot. Hist. Review, vol. XLVIII (1969), p.220-25
Thomson, T.B.S., 1963                   A Guide to Govan Old Parish Church, Glasgow ( reprinted 1963, Glasgow )
Watt, D.E.R., 1969                      Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi., Edinburgh

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