Queen Mary’s gift, 1563 – by Meghan Rathbun

This is the last of three blog posts by Meghan Rathbun, who did a placement with Archive Services working with the early records of the University of Glasgow while an MSc Museum Studies student in 2014/15. (She previously completed an MLitt and an MA Hons from the University of St Andrews, both in medieval history).

One of the more striking documents in the Blackhouse Charter collection details a gift to the University of Glasgow by Mary I of Scotland (ref. BL 394). Mary issued the charter in 1563 with the aim to provide bursaries for five poor children. The reasoning, explicitly stated in the document, was the concern that the University of Glasgow had fallen into a ‘ruined state’, both physically and financially. In addition to having many buildings that were in a terrible condition, being half built and dilapidated, the University had found itself unable to provide endowments for both teachers and poor students.

BL 394

BL 394

As it was an institution founded by the Catholic Church, the Reformation was hard on the University. During the Reformation a number of the teaching staff and students, including the Chancellor of the University, left the University. This same period saw the University struggling to attract new students; however this was hardly a problem it faced alone. Scotland’s other ancient universities in Aberdeen and St Andrews faced a similar dilemma; some years saw matriculation drop to zero at all three institutions. The decades leading up to the Reformation had seen the University of Glasgow fall into a perilous state, providing the incentive for Queen Mary’s gift in 1563.

In the charter Mary arranged for revenue to finance the education of five poor children who could not otherwise afford to pay University fees. To achieve this the charter states that the University would receive ‘the manse and kirkroom’ from the Black Friars, who resided beside the University, as well as 13 acres of land, 20 merks from the town of Hamilton, 10 merks from Avondale, and ‘10 bolls of oatmeal yearly’.

All of this would have provided the bursaries needed to fund these boys, who were to be known as the Bursars of Queen Mary’s Foundation. Perhaps the most interesting part of the gift is the ‘10 bolls of oatmeal yearly’ to be given to the University as part of their upkeep. A boll was a Scottish measurement of volume used for dry goods such as oats, wheat, and barley, roughly equivalent to six bushels.

This provision for student bursaries was the first of several attempts in the second half of the sixteenth century to provide financial stability for the University. A second intervention was required in 1573, and it would not be until 1577 that the University would be financially secure.

Categories: Archive Services

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1 reply


  1. Reformation 500 – University of Glasgow Library

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