Pluscarden Charters

Scope and Content

The collection comprises twelve of the earliest surviving charters of Pluscarden Priory, including a confirmation by Andrew, Bishop of Moray, in 1233 of the grants made to Pluscarden by King Alexander II of Scotland (PLU/1); Alexander II's second charter of 1236 (PLU/2); a charter of Andrew, Bishop of Moray, 1237 (PLU/3); a transumpt of 1240 purporting to summarize all charters granted during the first ten years of the priory's existence, amongst them the lost foundation charter (PLU/4); a writ of David II of Scotland in favour of Pluscarden concerning the multures of certain lands, 1367 (PLU/5); and a transumpt of 1551 containing copies of a papal Bull of 1453/4 concerning the amalgamation of the houses of Urquhart and Pluscarden, and of the charter of confirmation PLU/1 above (PLU/12).

There are also two precepts from Walter, the Abbot, and the Convent of Kinloss to their bailies to give seisin of certain lands, 1559 and 1565 (PLU/13-14).

Administrative / Biographical History

Pluscarden Priory near Elgin, Morayshire, was founded in 1230 by Alexander II, King of Scots, for monks of the Valliscaulian Order, whose mother house at Val des Choux in Burgundy had been established a mere thirty years earlier. The only other Valliscaulian houses outside France were also in Scotland, at Beauly in Ross-shire and Ardchattan in Argyll. Both dated from the same year, 1230, but unlike Pluscarden they were not royal foundations: Beauly was founded by Sir John Bisset, Lord of the Aird, Ardchattan by Sir Duncan Macdougal of Lorn. Alexander II granted Pluscarden Priory extensive estates between the rivers Ness and Spey, along with mulcture, fishing rights and tithes. However, the original foundation charter for Pluscarden has not survived.

Pluscarden was damaged during Edward I's invasion of Scotland in 1303, and allegedly suffered depredations at the hands of the 'Wolf of Badenoch', Alexander Stewart, in 1390. In 1398 Prior Thomas Fullonis resigned, informing the Bishop of Moray that the priory had fallen upon hard times and that his successor had been tasked with repairing the church. On 12 March 1453 Pope Nicholas V issued a papal Bull authorizing the merger of the priories of Urquart and Pluscarden; by then, Urquhart had only two monks and Pluscarden six. Thereafter, Pluscarden became a daughter-house of Dunfermline Abbey, of the Benedictine Order.

Alexander Dunbar, the last prior of Pluscarden (1533-60), alienated large swathes of the priory's estates, much to his own family. Dunbar died in 1560 and the community became the responsibility of a succession of lay commendatory priors who managed the monastic revenues and the welfare of the remaining monks. The last monk recorded at Pluscarden was Thomas Ross, who witnessed a document in 1586. During the 17th century the priory buildings fell into ruin.

A new Benedictine foundation was established at Pluscarden in 1948, as a dependency of Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire. Pluscarden gained independence in 1966, and was elevated to abbatial status in 1974.


The charters were arranged and numbered in chronological order after their transfer to the John Rylands Library in 1955.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was deposited in the John Rylands Library by the Reverend Father Norbert E. Cowin, O.S.B., Local Superior and acting Prior of Pluscarden, in September 1955.

Conditions Governing Use

Photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The previous history of the collection is largely unknown. The majority of items are transcribed and/or discussed in S. R. Macphail, History of the Religious House of Pluscardyn (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1881). Macphail acknowledges the assistance of Rev. J. [John] Woodward of Montrose, 'from whom the original Charters and Copies of Charters of Pluscardyn, forming the collection of the late Dr John Stuart [author of Records of the Monastery of Kinloss], have been procured.' It would therefore appear that the charters passed from Stuart to Woodward upon the former's death in 1877.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

The National Library of Scotland, Manuscript Collections, holds a 16th-century rental of Pluscarden Priory, ref. Adv.MS.49.7.2.


S. R. Macphail, History of the Religious House of Pluscardyn (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1881). [accessed 16 December 2017].