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The Chronicle of Fortingall - ON SALE

We, in the Clan Gregor Society, have been shocked to discover that the original Chronicle of Fortingall has being put up for sale on May 18th 2021 by the Breadalbane estate in whose care it has been since the late 16th century. Lyon & Turnbull, auctioneers, are offering it for sale at a guide price of between £20,000 and £30,000. It would be a scandal of the greatest magnitude if this precious document was allowed to leave Scotland and disappear into a private collection. The manuscript should be presented to the National Records of Scotland, where the rest of the Breadalbane Papers are preserved under GD112.

The chronicle of Fortingall, with the Book of the Dean of Lismore by the same authors, is the oldest extant manuscript in Scottish Gaelic. It appears to have been contributed to by several authors in the mid 16th century at Fortingall, Perthshire.

William Skene, in his introduction to "The Dean of Lismore's Book" wrote: -
“In the latter part of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, there dwelt here, the village of Fortingall, a family of the name of Macgregor. They were descended from a vicar of Fortingall, who, at the time when, during the century preceding the Reformation, the Catholic Church was breaking up, and their benefices passing into the hands of laymen, secured for himself and his descendants the vicarage of Fortingall and a lease of the Church Lands.

“Of the history of this family we know something from an obituary commenced by one of his descendants, and continued to the year 1579, by the Curate of Fortingall (Fothergill) which is still preserved. “His son was Ian Rewych, or John the Grizzled, termed Makgewykar or son of the Vicar.

“His Grandson was Dubhgall maol, or Dougall the Bald or Tonsured called patronymically Dougall Johnsoun, or the son of John. This Dougall Johnsoun appears in 1511 as a notary public, and dwelt at Tullichmullin, where his wife Katherine, daughter of Donald McClawe, alias Grant, died in 1512. He is twice mentioned in the ‘Obituary or Chronicle of Fortingall’; in 1526, as repairing the cross in Inchadin, or the old Church of Kenmore, situated on the north bank of the river Tay, nearly opposite Taymouth Castle; and in 1529, as placing a stone cross in Larkmonemerkyth, the name of a pass among the hills which leads from Inchadin to the south.

“Of Dougal the Bald, the son of Eoin riabhach, or John the Grizzled, we have no farther mention; but of his family we know of his two sons, James and Duncan.

“James was a churchman. He appears as a notary-public, an office then held by ecclesiastics, along with his father, in the year 1511, and he early attained to honour and influence, through what channel is unknown; for in 1514, we find him as Dean of Lismore, an island in Argyleshire, lying between the districts of Lorn and Morven, which was at that time the episcopal seat of the Bishops of Argyll. He was besides Vicar of Fortingall and Firmarius or tenant of the church lands; and died possessed of those benefices in the year 1551, and was buried in the choir of the old church of Inchadin. "

Lyon & Turnbull's description of it is as follows:

THE MANUSCRIPT
comprising 36 quarto pages, with two vellum leaves taken from a Latin mass book or similar acting as protective front and back cover, now bound into a leather volume, bearing 'Chronicle of Fortirgall M.S.' on the spine.

The work was compiled at Fortingall, at the mouth of Glen Lyon in Highland Perthshire, near the eastern end of Loch Tay. It is written in several hands. Compilation took place between 1554 and 1579, although it may have begun earlier.

One of the compilers records that he said his first mass in 1531, began to serve the curate at the church of Fortingall in 1532, and acknowledged the chief of the MacGregors. He may be the principal compiler, and further identified with Dubhghall (Dougal) MacGregor, on record as vicar of Fortingall in 1544. The authorial perspective reveals continuing Catholic allegiance, and hostility to the Scottish Reformation brought into law in 1560.

The manuscript is a miscellany written in three languages: Latin, Scots and Gaelic. It contains:
1) A list in Latin of 104 kings of Scots, copied directly from the printed edition (possibly 1533) of John Bellenden's translaton of Hector Boece's Scotorum Historiae, 'The Histories of the Scots'.
2) A list in Latin of obituaries and reign-lengths of kings of Scots from Malcolm III to James IV/V.
3) A list in Latin of Scottish battles from Bannockburn to Flodden
4) (a) A 'local' chronicle in Latin and Scots recording the deaths of prominent men and women, principally from the central and western Highlands, between 1390 and 1579;
(b) from winter 1554-5 onwards, the chronicle becomes more personal in voice and diverse in its content, taking in the weather, economic conditions including the prices of victual, and events of local, regional, national and European significance
5) A Gaelic poem written in an orthography based on Middle Scots
6) Poetry in Middle Scots: the stanza beginning 'Luffaris be war and tak gwd heid about' from Robert Henryson's Testament of Cresseid; two stanzas from the poem sometimes attributed to William Dunbar, generally known as The Ballate againis Evill Women
7) Miscellaneous verses, proverbs and aphorisms in Latin
8) Miscellaneous prose items in Latin and Scots: the size and divisions of Ireland; medicine and cures; religion and belief; commentary against women and inebriation.

The compiler(s) almost certainly belonged to a lineage of MacGregors who may have first settled beside the church of Fortingall around 1400, and who regularly served as clergy there. Dubhghall's father was Seumas (James), who died in 1551, and who during his lifetime was also vicar of Fortingall. He was also the dean of Lismore - that is dean of the diocese of Argyll - and was the owner of what is probably the single most previous surviving Gaelic manuscript of Scottish provenance, the Book of the Dean of Lismore, now held by the National Library of Scotland (NLS Advocates' MS.72.1.37).

On internal evidence, the Book of the Dean of Lismore was compiled between 1512 and 1542. There are numerous similarities and connections between the 'Chronicle of Fortirgall' and the Book of the Dean of Lismore, enough to bear out the likelihood that they were compiled on a successive but overlapping basis, by different generations of the same family of MacGregors between c. 1512 and 1579.

Physical Description and Identification - The manuscript consists of
(i) 2 vellum leaves, sequentially placed first and last, and both bearing on both sides Latin liturgical text, and
(ii) 36 paper pages, with writing either on both sides, or one one side only, or on neither side. When the item was rebound in the 19th century the manuscript was disaggregated, and its vellum leaves and paper pages placed individually between the paper pages of the volume.
On the basis of the contents of its paper pages, the manuscript can be identified with certainty as 'The Chronicle of Fortirgall', which was transcribed, edited and published in The Black Book of Taymouth: with other papers from the Breadalbane Charter Room (T. Constable: Edinburgh, 1855).

In 1855 when Cosmo Innes studied and published it in The Black Book of Taymouth it belonged with the private family papers of the earls of Breadalbane, held at Taymouth Castle by Kenmore, at the east end of Loch Tay in Highland Perthshire. When at various points during the twentieth century these papers were transferred to what is now the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh, where they are catalogued as the Breadalbane Munuments (NRS GD112), this manuscript was not amongst them. The editor, Cosmo Innes, discusses 'The Chronicle of Fortigall' in the preface (p. viii-xi) and the edition follows at pp.107-148. In the preface Innes states that the name has been assigned - presumably by himself - 'on presumptions afforded by the MS'. He adds that it is 'a small 4to book of paper, much decayed and imperfect, giving no name of the compiler or writer'. He makes no mention of a cover of vellum leaves, but the contents of that edition at pp.107-148 precisely match the contents of the paper pages of the manuscript under discussion, leaving no room for doubt that they are one and the same.

The paper pages are indeed 'decayed and imperfect', suggesting that they were already in this condition when Innes came to work on the manuscript. A consistent staining pattern affects many pages, perhaps caused by damp. But other pages bear darker staining whose location suggests the application of chemicals to enhance legibility where this was difficult. The may have happened in the course of preparing the edition of the text for publication in 1855, and the disaggregation and rebinding of the manuscript within the leather volume may have happened at this point also, and at the behest of Cosmo Innes, the better to preserve the manuscript.

Dating, Provenance and Authorship.
Analysis of the contents of the 'local' chronicle, and some of the diary-style entries, indicates that the manuscript was written between 1554 and 1579, although an earlier start date is possible. The place of compilation was Fortingall, at the mouth of Glen Lyon in Highland Perthshire, near the eastern end of Loch Tay. Historically, Fortingall was the name of both a nuclear settlement and a parish, and the settlement was and is the location of the parish church.

The manuscript is of composite authorship, written in several hands. The authorial perspective reveals a consistent Catholic allegiance, and hostility to the Scottish Reformation brought into law in 1560. One of the compilers records that he said his first mass in 1531, began to serve the church of Fortingall in 1532, and acknowledged the chief of the MacGregors. He may be the principle compiler, and further identified with Dubhghall (Dougall) MacGregor, on record of Fortingall in 1544. Dubhghall, and very likely the other compiler(s), belonged to a lineage of MacGregors, who may have first settled at Tulaich a' Mhuilinn, hard by the church of Fortingall, around 1400, and who regularly served as clergy there. Dubhghall's father was Seumas (James), whose detailed obituary in the 'local' chronicle records that he died in 1551, and during life was vicar of Fortingall and dean of the diocese of Lismore or Argyll.

Seumas was the owner of what is probably the single most precious surviving Gaelic manuscript of Scottish provenance, the Book of the Dean of Lismore. On internal evidence, the Book of the Dean of Lismore was compiled at Fortingall between 1512 and 1542. Its main contents are Gaelic poetry, of Scottish and Irish provenance. It is the unique source of survival for the great proportion of this poetry; without the Book of the Dean of Lismore very little poetry of Scottish provenance, composed in the middle and later middle ages, would now be known.

There are numerous similarities and connections between the 'Chronicle of Fortirgall' and Book of the Dean of Lismore:
1) Physical appearance: both the Book of the Dean of Lismore and the 'Chronicle of Fortirgall' can be categorised as 'commonplace books' of quarto size, with vellum covers taken from liturgical manuscripts, and paper pages
2) Composite authorship
3) Written in the style of writing known as secretary hand, in Latin, Scots and Gaelic: the Gaelic written not in 'classical ' orthography, but in an orthography based upon Middle Scots
4) Miscellaneous contents, with categories (1) to (7) as deduced for the 'Chronicle of Fortirgall' above, also valid for the Book of the Dean of Lismore.
5) Shared contents: 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 are essentially the same, perhaps copied from the Book of the Dean of Lismore to the 'Chronicle of Fortirgall'; 8, 'the size and divisions of Ireland' 4 (a) the 'local' chronicles in each manuscript share 69 entries, while 13 are unique to the chronicle in the Book of the Dean of Lismore and 50 are unique to the 'Chronicle of Fortirgall'. This would seem to imply that neither chronicle derives wholly from the other, and that both derive from a lost parent chronicle.

Significance.
The significance of this manuscript lies in:
1) its very close connection to the Book of the Dean of Lismore, and potential to add to our knowledge of the Book of the Dean of Lismore's genesis, contents and compilers
2) its importance as a source for the history of the Highlands - social, political, cultural, economic, religious - in the later middle ages.
3) its linguistic importance, embodying the interplay of Latin, Scots and Gaelic, as written languages in the Scottish Highlands/Gaelic-speaking Scotland in the later middle ages.

Lyon & Turnbull added a note: - We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Martin MacGregor, University of Glasgow, in the cataloguing of the manuscript.

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