Saddell Abbey

We can garner evidence for the possessions of Saddell Abbey from five different sources. These are (in chronological order):

1) The papal confirmation of 1393 printed in Highland Papers IV pp 146-9 and Papal Letters to Scotland – Clement VII of Avignon, pp 193-4.

2) A precept of 1498 which was intended to result in a royal confirmation of Saddell properties (J & RW Munro, Acts of the Lords of the Isles pp 71-3 & AL Brown, The Cistercian Abbey of Saddell, Kintyre, Innes Review No XX, 2, Autumn 1969, pp 130-7). The original document is RH6/614B and there is a MS translation in the bound volumes under RH6 in the National Archives of Scotland.

3) RMS II (3170) of 1 January 1507-8 which confirms 8 earlier charters of donations to Saddell.

4) The possessions as listed at the time of their disposal by the Bishop of Argyll to his brother, the Earl of Arran (OPS II, I p 24).

5) A variety of later references to individual farms having once been owned by Saddell.



The 1393 Papal Confirmation


The papal document is a confirmation of the ancient grants of Saddell Abbey and gives details of their assessment, their annual value and their donor. Firstly it records the gifts of 10 ‘nummatis’ of Balebeam, 5 ‘nummatis’ of the valley of Sagadyl and 5 ‘nummatis’ of ‘Steschayn in Hareyn’ (Shiskine in Arran). It is claimed that these 3 sets of properties, (totalling 20d), were not worth more than 30m Scots per year. Accordingly MacPhail, the editor of Highland Papers IV, concluded that a ‘nummata’ of land must have been the same as a ‘librata’ of land since £20 equals 30m. I do not agree with this. I think the essential problem here is ambiguity over the term ‘worth’. Pennylands, (and poundlands), are land-valuations, not rentals. At the time of origin of each of these systems they probably were also rentals, ie one pennyland returned one silver penny per annum, one merkland a merk, one poundland a pound etc. As time went on so the land assessment might diverge from the annual rent. In good years more rent might be expected, in lean times (such as the latter part of the fourteenth century) less could be demanded. The problem with the 1393 document is that the two categories, assessment and annualrent, become confused. The monks who supplied the information from Saddell were probably clear as to the difference but by the time the text emerges from the hands of the papal scribes it is laden with ambiguity. So whilst it may be true that the lands of Saddell, Ballevain and Shiskine were only producing £20 (30m) annualrent in 1393 their assessable value was more like three times this.


A ‘denariata’ is the usual word for a pennyland in mediaeval documents covering the West Highlands but occasionally the word ‘nummus’ or ‘nummata’ appears instead. I think the 5d total for Saddell was probably correct. (We can still track almost 20m of the 24m which was the total theoretical assessment of Glen Saddell and Torrisdale). Balebeam (Ballevain) is more problematic because the rate of exchange prevalent though Kintyre (1d: 4m) would suggest that the Ballevain estate should be 40m. In fact it seems to have been worth only 12m in RH6/614B of 1498 and RMS II (3170.1) of 1507-8.


There are more problems with Shiskine. 5d would be 20m at the Kintyre rate of exchange but the rate was different in Bute & Arran (1d : 6m) which would make the 5d of Shiskine equivalent to 30m. However in 1507-8 Shiskine is stated to be 20m which would only be 3⅓d at the Arran rate of exchange. It is possible that by 1393 the fact that differing exchange rates had existed in the past had been forgotten. Conceivably someone worked back from the fact that Shiskine was known to be 20m and assumed that this would mean 5d in Arran just as it did in Kintyre. These initial endowments come to exactly one ounceland and were given by Reginald, son of Somerled.


Next in the 1393 list come a ‘nummatum’ of Chorsradyl and half the land of Wgladal which lands were not worth more than 6 merks yearly. Since a pennyland in Kintyre was worth 4m and since each half of Ugadale was worth 2m the 1½d of Torrisdale and High Ugadale had both a valuation and a rental of 6 merks. These lands were given by Roderick, son of Reginald.


The third gift was from John of Islay who gave half a ‘nummatum’ of Darneychan worth not more than 2m. (The mistake as to donor in HP is pointed out in Munro, ALI p 12). I shall leave aside for a moment the question of where Darneychan was but the value is consistent with other evidence from Kintyre at 2m to a ½d.


Finally Christina Macruari gave Eilean Davaar which was barely worth 5s per annum. This would be ⅜m and equivalent to 3/32nds of a penny at Kintyre values. In 1556 Davaar is given as ½m (=⅛d) which is perhaps a more likely valuation.



The 1498 precept


This is discussed by AL Brown in ‘The Cistercian Abbey of Saddell, Kintyre’, Innes Review XX, 2, Autumn 1969, pp 134 & 136. Part of it is quoted by J & RW Munro in ‘Acts of the Lords of The Isles’, p 72. Brown comments that it does not refer to Saddell’s lands in Knapdale or the gift of Knockhantybeg & Kellipol. The latter is not surprising since the 1498 precept is to confirm a confirmation of Alexander, Lord of the Isles, who died long before John (and his son Angus) gave these farms to Saddell. The precept is important because it was signed and dated at the new castle of Kilkerran (by what is now Campbeltown) which is only a few miles south of Saddell. One might naturally assume that somebody from the Abbey provided the detailed information. However the 1498 precept is not good on the specific issue of who gave what. It omits Roderick (the son of Reginald) completely and gives no donor for Cregban or Davaar.



RMS II (3170) of 1 January 1507-8.


James IV and his Lords of Council had inspected documents, shown to them by the Bishop of Lismore, which detailed the various donations to Saddell Abbey. These were:

a) Charter of Reginald, (son of Somerled), founder of the monastery, who gave Glen Saddell and 12m Baltebeam (Ballevain).

b) Another charter of his giving 20m Ceskene (Shiskine) in Arran.

c) Charter of Roderick, son of Reginald, of the lands of Torrisdale and (High) Ugadale.

d) Charter from Neill, Earl of Carrick and Isobella, his countess, of 2d Kildonune & Creisboig in Carrick. (The former was later exchanged for the parish church of Inchmarnock).

e) Charter of John, Lord of the Isles of 2m ‘nuncupat’ (called) Lesenmarg.

f) Charter of Alexander, Lord of the Isles, of 2m Cragvane in Gigha and also the island of Sanctbarre (Davaar) at Loch Kilkerran.

g) Charter of John, Lord of the Isles and his son, Angus, of Knockhantybeg and 12 ouncelands of Kellipull. (This is plainly a mistake but I cannot offer an alternative since Kellipull was 8s 4d (⅝m) and 12 such units make 7½m or £5 land).

h) Charter of Duncan Campbell of Lochawe giving a ½d in Knapdale.


This evidence should be reliable since the documents on which it was based were then extant. The first charter (a) agrees with the papal document as to the donor but 10d is now 12m. The 20m of Ceskene (b) would imply a pennyland value of 3⅓d since there were 6m to a pennyland in Arran. This document also agrees as to donor as does (c) where no values are given for Torrisdale and (High) Ugadale. The lands in Ayrshire (d) are not mentioned in the 1393 confirmation but are partly acknowledged in a papal commission of 17 January 1390-1 (HP IV pp 142-4). This was to ratify a deal between the Abbeys of Crossraguel and Saddell whereby the chapel of ‘Kyldomine’ and the parish church of Inchmarnock had been swapped. Internal evidence suggests the exchange took place by c. 1360.


For reasons gone into more fully below I think that document (e), which is by John, Lord of the Isles, should be matched with the gift of ½d (or 2m) Darneychan by John of Islay which is noted in 1393. We cannot compare the next two gifts (f & g) with the evidence from 1393 since they were made long after that document was written. Alexander gave 2m Cragvane in Gigha (c. 1436-1449) but is also credited with the gift of the island of Sanctbarre. This is Eilean Davaar and I prefer the earlier evidence from 1393 that it was actually a gift from Christina Macruari. (However the 1498 & 1507-8 documents offer evidence of the perceived etymology of the name – ‘Skbarre’ or ‘Sanctbarre’). John, and his son Angus, then gave Knockhanty(beg) and Kellipull. This probably took place after 1481 because in that year John was himself given Knockhanty and Killypol in RMS II (1485) – (see also Munro, ALI p 202). Document (h) is not referred to in 1393 at all.



The transfer to lay ownership


In May 1556 the Bishop of Argyll granted his brother, the Earl of Arran, the Saddell Abbey estate in Kintyre which came to a theoretical total of 48m (OPS II, I p 24 quoting Argyle Charters – in fact the properties listed only come to about 47⅛m). In the same month Arran struck a deal with Macdonald of Dunnyveg whereby the latter gave up his claim to Ceskane (Shiskine in Arran) in return for infeftment in the lands of Saddell (CRA pp 88-9 & OPS II, I, p 24). In 1612 James VI confirmed the bishop’s earlier charter, as well as the lease of (20m) Ceskane in Arran (RMS VII (760) & Historical Manuscripts Commission Fourth Report p 480 No 125). The transactions were repeated in 1615 (RMS VII (1243), Historical Manuscripts Commission Fourth Report p 480 No 126) and also in AS II (198) of 1626. These documents are consistent with each other and are of importance in that they break down the Saddell Abbey estate into its constituent parts.


At least 19½m of the estate are located in Saddell and Torrisdale (theoretically worth 6d or 24m). Another 4m lie just to the south at Ugadale and Kildonan. Ormsary, Knockhantibeg, Kellipoll & Eilean Davaar lay in South Kintyre and this section of the estate is normally given as 3m in the Exchequer Rolls, although technically worth c. 4m. (Possibly Kellipoll at ⅝m & Davaar at ½m (or ⅜m) were omitted). Unfortunately the copious evidence from the Exchequer Rolls does not include a clear statement of Saddell’s holdings in North Kintyre during the early part of the sixteenth century.


The four farms of Ballevain, Knokingor, Drumalay & Bordadow are what remains apparent of the Ballevain estate mentioned as 10d in 1393. In 1556 they were worth 8m and not the 12m recorded in RMS II (3170) of 1507-8. Lessework (Lesenmarg) I shall treat separately and I don’t think it was necessarily part of the Ballevain estate although situated nearby.


Finally there was a cluster of farms near Killean on the west coast of Kintyre. Kilmory was 4m, Auchinloskin was 3m while Drumnamuckloch and Monycuil were 1½m each – making a total of 10m or 2½d. (Kilmory is specifically called ‘Kilmorrie of Saddell’ in 1678). These four farms made a compact group near Killean.



Later evidence


We have a lot of later snippets of information which refer to lands once owned by Saddell. These can add to the listings given above.


From 1556-1751 Eilean Davaar is given as ½m in Kilkerran parish (South Kintyre).


Cregban/Cragvane in Gigha came to Saddell c. 1436-49 (Munro, ALI p 72). Could this have been as a result of an excambion with the MacNeills of Gigha who seem to have got Darrarychane & Lesnerk as part of their estate at Machrihanish? The Machrihanish estate is given as 13m in RMS II (1485) of 1481 when it consists of Cralekill, Macharhanys, Darbrekane & Clagkeile. Thereafter it usually appears as 16m and now includes Lesnerk (or similar). The spellings are many and various but I think two of these names represent Darneychan or Lesenmarg which was an early acquisition of Saddell. Since the names now appear as part of the Macneill estate in Machrihanish I wonder if the Macneills and Saddell did some sort of exchange at the end of the fifteenth century? However there remains the anomaly of why Lesenmarg (in the form of Lessewark) still appears in the lists of Saddell properties given to the Earl of Arran from 1556. I suspect that by then the name was just being copied from earlier lists without a full understanding of what it meant or where it was.


‘Lesenmarg’ was apparently given to Saddell by John, Lord of the Isles, in the period 1330-1387. I know of no place-name in Kintyre which this could be. However the fact that a 2m gift of John is recorded by two different sources makes me wonder if Darneychan (of the 1393 list) is in fact the same as Lesenmarg (of the 1498 & 1507-8 lists). I have argued elsewhere that the denomination ‘senemargis’ (old merks), which is peculiar to Kintyre, are the same as pennylands and davachs. In Kintyre one pennyland was equal to four merks Scots (or one ‘old merk’ equal to four new) which would mean that the half ‘nummatum’ of Darneychan would be worth 2m – just as the 1393 document claims. (In the earliest periods annual worth or rent would match valuation on a one-to-one basis. Only later did rents outstrip valuations). I suspect Lesenmarg is just a contraction of leth + seann + marg (ie half + old + merk) – a colloquial term for the half-pennyland of Darneychan which became a proper name over time. (In exactly the same way as pennylands, half-pennylands and farthing-lands did throughout in the Highland area).


There is, however, lots of room for ambiguity. Firstly Lessewark appears in the 1556 list of Saddell properties sold to the Earl of Arran. It reappears in the same context in 1612 & 1615. At the same time both Darrarychane & Lesnerk appear as farms within the Macrihanish estate. (Darbrekane by itself in 1481, with Lesnerk from 1539). It is difficult to locate them exactly since they occupied low-lying ground beside the now-drained Loch Sanas. West Darlochan is in NR 6723, Durry Loch in NR 6722 and Dhurrie itself in NR 6822. Durry and Darlochan are treated as separate in Langlands (1793 & 1801) and are described as the 4m Darloch & Derry in the 1751 Argyll Valuation Roll. I am not sure we can provide answers to all these ambiguities. Darlochan and Dhurrie may originally have been one farm. Lesenmarg was a valuation which became a name. It/they became part of the Machrihanish estate although Lesenmarg also lived on as a ‘ghost’ property in transactions involving the Saddell Abbey estate in Kintyre.


Saddell’s Ugadale was what is now Upper (or High) Ugadale. It was indeed half of Ugadale (as claimed in 1393) since High & Low Ugadale were each worth 2m.


Ballevain is an important name since it suggests that baile- was being used as a place-name element between about 1160 and 1190 in Kintyre. The subdivisions become apparent in the rental of 1678 when we are told that 4m Ballivean, Knocknagour & Drumlea were part of Saddell’s lands. We have assessments for each of these components from 1556 when they totalled 7m. I think Bordadubh (1m) was their associated shieling but this still leaves us with 4m unaccounted for (out of a total of 12m in 1507-8). Mulbuy was possibly also part of Saddell and this is probably what is marked Molluy on Blaeu’s map.


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2 comments on “Saddell Abbey
  1. David McNeill says:

    Hello Denis – this is a fantastic resource. Thank you so much for sharing. Kind regards David McNeill

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