We left the Abbey at the height of Medieval Scotland with the shrine to St Margaret attracting pilgrims from across Christendom.
The Abbey became one of the most important religious sites in the country and was the burial place of many of Scotland’s kings for around 400 years. Margaret had four sons and all of them would become kings in turn until the youngest, David, could carry on the dynasty. Thereafter Most of the monarchs were interred in the Abbey Church, including Robert The Bruce.
During the wars of Independence at the end of the 13th century, the English King Edward I – Longshanks – held court in the abbey whilst on one of his regular attempts to subdue the Scots. He burned many of the buildings on leaving.
In the Abbey grounds is a small tree on a slightly raised mound. The site is supposed to be the grave of William Wallace’s mother and the legend says that returning from Dundee to Selkirk Forest, Wallace stopped here to visit the grave. He was set upon by English soldiers but managed to kill several of them and make good his escape. In the glen that runs to the south of the abbey, there is a spot known as “Wallace’s Well” were he was supposed to have hidden from pursuing soldiers.
Unfortunately there are many legends such as these up and down the country and given the lack of any documentary or contemporary evidence, legends they must remain.
After Bruce had regained his kingdom, he specified that his heart was to be taken to fight the infidels on a crusade, whilst his body was to be interred in the traditional resting place of Kings; Dunfermline Abbey. His heart was removed from his chest and borne by
Sir James Douglas in battle against the Moors in Spain. It was retrieved after the good Sir James was killed and was brought back to be buried in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders. His body – with a sawn through rib-cage – was interred in Dunfermline.
In 1367 Robert’s great-grandson – the future Robert III – married Anabella Drummond in the Abbey and on her death and burial in 1401 a stained glass window was erected with her coat of arms.
It is around this point that the abbey reached its peak as a religious house. The church to the north of the complex, had two towers to the West which still survive largely
intact. To the south was the typical monastic buildings of a cloister and refectories used by the monkish community.
Benedictine monks followed the rules set out by St Benedict in the 7th century and focused on a strict hierarchy and submission to God – and by extension the church. They were self-contained communities supposed to be acting separately from wider secular society. However, given the all-pervasiveness of Roman Catholicism in the medieval world and the fact that the church was closely entwined with the monarchy, the fact was that the monasteries often acted as a secular organisation. Dunfermline for instance as noted earlier, owned the rights to the ferry at nearby Queensferry, they owned much of the land – and therefore the incomes – in West Fife and so it was obviously wealthy in its own right.
With earthly wealth comes both the potential for corruption from within and jealousy from without. The Reformation of the 16th century arrived a little late to Scotland but it swept away the monastic community in Dunfermline and its wealth was transferred to secular landowners.