Today’s update of Archive Services’ online catalogue sees the launch of our new catalogue for the Blackhouse Charters, some of the earliest records held within the University Archives.
Although the University of Glasgow was created in 1451 at the instigation of Bishop William Turnbull, its archives go back even earlier and offer a great insight into the city’s medieval past. Indeed, the Blackhouse charters date back to 1304 and recount the expansion and relocation of the University of Glasgow over the centuries through acts of transfer of property, settlements of court, donations, and royal grants.
The main group of charters, and also the oldest, concerns the properties of religious orders before the Reformation, the most important of which being the Dominican friars of Glasgow, or ‘Black Friars’ – hence the name of the collection. The friars possessed many lands and buildings on the High Street, and as every ecclesiastical institution, they carefully recorded any transactions. Another important institution was the cathedral and its Vicars Choral, to whom the University was closely linked from its very creation: since it had no buildings of its own, the meetings were held in the chapter house of the Cathedral, and the masters also held offices in the religious foundations of the city.
However, the Scottish Reformation triggered important changes for the University, as in 1563 and 1573 the properties and revenue previously belonging to the Black Friars were made over to the ‘Old College’, as the University was called, by Queen Mary and the city of Glasgow. These gifts had an important role in enabling the University to flourish and to expand in the 17th century; and not only did the institution continue to acquire the revenue of other ecclesiastical benefices or simply buy properties from laymen, but it also received many donations from important people such as Anne Hamilton, Duchess of Hamilton and Archbishop Robert Leighton.
The catalogue of these documents which is now available, enables researchers and students to have better access to these deeds, as well as a better understanding of them. It offers a precise description of each document, not only from the point of view of the content but also of the form: indeed, the physical aspect of a medieval or modern charter is as important as what it says.
And indeed, the Blackhouse charters have a lot to teach us. As well as a source for the history of the University, it can be a source for religious history, as it contains many pious donations, and even some papal bulls. We can also add that the Blackhouse charters are a good way to study the effects of the Reformation on the religious orders. Moreover, local and family historians will be interested in some of the earliest references to named people in the west of Scotland, and the description of what the city of Glasgow looked like at the end of the Middle Ages through references to named plots and identifiable houses.
Search on “Blackhouse charters” here to explore the catalogue.
Aline Brodin, Erasmus Medieval Charters Intern
Categories: Archive Services