Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bower, Walter

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BOWER or BOWMAKER, WALTER (d. 1449), abbot of Inchcolm, is the reputed continuator of Fordun's 'Chronica Gentis Scotorum,' as it appears in the volume generally known as the 'Scotichronicon.' The latter book, however, in its printed form does not contain the name of Walter Bower, nor does it include any passage ascribing its compilation to the abbot of Inchcolm, who is credited with having written the work on the testimony of his contemporary but anonymous abbreviator in the Carthusian monastery at Perth a theory which is also supported by the heading of the 'Black Book of Paisley.' The abbot of Inchcolm is also cited in 1526 by Boethius as one of the chief authorities for his 'Historiæ Scotorum' (præf. iii, 2nd ed., Paris, 1526). Other evidence points in the same direction, and the identity of the author of the 'Scotichronicon' with the abbot of Inchcolm may be considered as fairly certain. According to his own testimony (xiv. 50), the writer of the 'Scotichronicon' was born in the year when Richard II burnt Dryburgh and Edinburgh, i.e. in 1385. To this the Book of Cupar adds that his birthplace was Haddington, where we find that a certain John Bower or Bowmaker was deputy-custumar from 1395 to 1398 (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, iii. 364, 433). This officer Mr. Tytler considers to have been the abbot's father (Lives of Scottish Worthies, ii. 199; with which cf. Exch. Rolls, iv. pref. 88). Goodall makes Walter Bower become a monk at eighteen, after which, according to the same authority, he completed his philosophical and theological studies in Scotland, and was ordained priest before taking up his abode in Paris for the sake of perfecting himself in the law. But there seem to be no satisfactory proofs for these statements, and we are without any positive information as to Bower's life until in his thirty-third year he was consecrated abbot of Inchcolm on 17 April 1418 (Scotichronicon, xv. 30). It seems, however, very clear that the author of the 'Scotichronicon' had been a member of the Augustinian priory of St. Andrews and well acquainted with at least two of its priors James Biset (1393-1416) and James Haldenden (1418-1443). Under the former he appears to have received his education, and he may from his own words be inferred to have been a licentiate or bachelor in canon law, though perhaps not a master in theology (ib. vi. 55-7). There is, however, nothing to show with any certainty whether he took his degree at Paris or in the new university of St. Andrews, of which his patron James Biset was so prominent a founder (1410).

Very shortly after Biset's death at least six of his pupils were appointed to high church dignities, and amongst them, on 17 April 1418, Walter was consecrated abbot of Inchcolm, a small island in the Firth of Forth. Every summer he had to leave his house for the mainland to avoid the attacks of the English pirates, though before his death he fortified Inchcolm. Besides attending to the affairs of his abbey whose documents he copied with his own hands the new abbot was a prominent figure in politics. When James I returned from captivity, Bower was one of the two commissioners appointed to collect that king's ransom-money in 1423 and 1424. Nine years later (1433), on the betrothal of James's daughter to the dauphin, the same two commissioners were again entrusted with the collecting of the tax for her dowry, but were soon bidden by the king himself to desist from exacting the imposition (ib. xvi. 9). A few years previously (December 1430), on the submission of Alexander of the Isles, this nobleman's mother, the Countess of Ross, was confined in Inchcolm probably under the charge of Abbot Walter till her release in February 1432 (ib. xvi. 16, 20). In October of the same year the abbot was present at the council held at Perth for the consideration of the English propositions for peace. On this occasion, in company with his old friend the abbot of Scone, he made a strenuous opposition to the English offers, on the ground that James had sworn to make no peace with the English except with the consent of the French. The prudence of the two abbots was confirmed by the discovery that the whole affair was an artifice on the part of the English. It was not till about the year 1440 that Bower commenced to write the 'Scotichronicon,' at the request of Sir David Stewart of Rossyth, who, according to Mr. Skene, died in 1444. This work seems to have occupied several years, and was not completed till 1447 (cf. the dates given in Scotichronicon, lib. i. 8, vi. 57, xvi. 8, 26). Shortly before his death, which took place in 1449, according to the statement of the Carthusian abbreviator (Skene, John of Fordun, lii), Bower seems to have condensed his larger work and divided it into forty books. The 'Scotichronicon' in its original form was divided into sixteen books, of which the first five and chapters 9-23 of the sixth are mainly the work of John Fordun, who also collected certain materials for continuing the history down to the year 1385. To the earlier books of Fordun Bower made large additions, carefully distinguishing them from the work of his predecessor (whom he speaks of as the author) by prefixing the word 'Scriptor' to his own insertions. The last eleven Bower claims as practically his own : 'Quinque libros Fordun, undenos scriptor arabat;' though even here he has made use of Fordun's 'Gesta Annalia,' down to the middle of David II's reign, and, to a very slight extent, beyond this date (Scotichronicon, prologue, pp. ii and iii, also i. 7 and 9, vi. 23). With the reign of Robert I, towards the end of the fourteenth book, Bower becomes a contemporary writer, and continues his narrative till the death of James I. Soon after the completion of the 'Scotichronicon' its immense length and verbosity induced its author shortly before his death to write the abridgment, generally known as the Book of Cupar, which still exists in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh (MS. 35, 1, 7); it has not yet been printed, though an edition has long been promised in the 'Historians of Scotland.' A year or so later (c. 1451) the 'Scotichronicon' was condensed once more for the newly founded Carthusian monastery at Perth, probably by the Patrick Russell 'spoken of below (MS. Adv. Lib. 35, 6, 7). Another abridgment of the 'Scotichronicon' (ib. 35, 5, 2) was drawn up in 1461 by a writer who had been in France in attendance on the Princess Margaret (Skene, preface, liv). This work, which, according to Mr. Skene, after the twenty-third chapter of book vi. differs greatly from the original 'Scotichronicon,' was copied several times, notably about the year 1489, by a writer who tells us that he had himself seen Joan of Arc (Skene, preface, liv; MS. Marchmont).

Besides these abbreviations the 'Scotichronicon' itself was copied several times during the fifteenth century, notably by one Master Magnus Makculloch in 1483-4 for the archbishop of Glasgow (Harl. MS. 712), and in the large volume in the royal library at the British Museum, known as the Black Book of Paisley (13 Ex.) Another transcript (Donibristle MS.) assigns the work to one Patrick Russell, a Carthusian of Perth. Each of these last transcribers has sometimes been considered as the author of the larger work; but, after careful consideration, Mr. Skene has rejected both their claims in favour of Walter Bower. Many other manuscripts of the original work (a) and the abbreviations (b) exist: notably of (a) in the Edinburgh College Library (from which Goodall's edition is published); in the British Museum Royal Library (the Black Book of Paisley); and at Corpus Christi, Cambridge.

The only complete printed edition of the 'Scotichronicon' as it left the hands of Walter Bower is that printed from the Edinburgh College Library MS. by Walter Goodall in the middle of the last century (Edinburgh, 1759). The edition of Fordun published by Hearne in 1722 (Oxford, 5 vols.), though apparently containing a good deal of Bower's work, notably the history of St. Andrews, appears to be mainly Fordun's production. The exact relationship, however, of this manuscript to Fordun and Bower has yet to be worked out. Some thirty years earlier (1691) Thomas Gale had printed a portion of the same manuscript belonging to Trinity College, Cambridge (Gale, i. 6, ix. 9) in the third volume of his 'Rerum Anglicarum Scriptores.'

[Scotichronicon (ed. Goodall), Edinburgh, 1759; John of Fordun, ed. Skene, ap. Historians of Scotland, preface and introductions); Tytler's Lives of Scottish Worthies, ii. 198-202; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, ed. George Burnett, iii. and iv.]

T. A. A.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.33
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
58 i 15 f.e. Bower, Walter: for Ex. read E. x.