This page was last updated on 11 August 2021

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Melrose Abbey









Melrose Abbey

St Mary's Abbey, Melrose is a part ruined monastery of the Cistercian order in Melrose, Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Borders.

It was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks on the request of King David I of Scotland, and was the chief house of that order in the country, until the Reformation. It was headed by the Abbot or Commendator of Melrose. Today the abbey is maintained by Historic Scotland.


Melrose Abbey, like the other three Borders Abbeys of Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh, was badly damaged during the "Rough Wooing" of 1544-45, during which the English, at the instigation of Henry VIII led a series of punitive expeditions against the Scots for refusing to agree to the marriage of the infant Queen Mary Stuart to Henry's son. During the raid against Melrose Abbey, the Douglas tombs were desecrated

The belief that the physical remains retain a connection with the person to whom they belonged is a very ancient one. Although the practice of dismembering parts of the body to use as talismans or objects of worship was banned by the Church in 1299, it was not a custom which would die out easily. The earliest instance comes from France and there is evidence that it was very common for the French and English royal families to bury the hearts of their dead separately.


In Scotland, there are fewer examples, but one of the most famous is the burial of the heart of Robert the Bruce. The other two are the heart burial of John Balliol by his devoted wife Dervorgilla, Lady of Galloway, and the heart burial of Sir James Douglas, companion to Robert I.  Douglas died fighting in Spain carrying his king's heart to the Holy Land, but both hearts were allegedly rapatriated to Scotland by Sir William Keith. The casket believed to contain Robert the Bruce's heart was originally excavated in 1921 in the Chapter House and subsequently re-buried. The casket was once again brought up during the 1997 excavations to be re-buried once more.

In the chancel are the tombs of Sir William Douglas, the Knight of Liddesdale (1300-1353) and James 2nd earl of Douglas (1358-1388), the victor of Otterburn.

In 1545, as a result of the destruction of the Douglas tomb at Melrose, the Earl of Angus with Scott of Buccleugh(1) and Lesley of Rothes defeated and slaughtered the English at Ancrum Moor near Jedburgh.


There were 100 monks, without including the abbot and dignitaries. The last abbot was James Stewart, natural son of James V, who died in 1559. The privileges and possessions of the abbey were very extensive, and it was endowed by its founder, David, with the lands of Melrose, Eildon, and other places; the right of fishery on the Tweed; and succeeding monarchs increased its property. In 1542, the revenue of the abbey was, "£1758 in money, 14 chalders nine bolls of wheat, 56 chal. 5 bolls of barley, 78 chal. 13 bolls of meal, 44 chal. 10 bolls of oats, 84 capons, 620 poultry, 105 stone of butter, 8 chal. of salt, 340 loads of peats, and 500 carriages;" besides 60 bolls of corn, 300 barrels (48 m3) of ale, and 18 hogsheads of wine, for the service of the mass: a large quantity for the entertainment of strangers; £4,000 for the care of the sick; and £400 to the barber. These were given up at the commencement of the reformation in 1561. The lands were either seized by the crown, or divided amongst the nobles. A large portion fell into the hands of the Scotts of Buccleuch.


James Douglas of Lochleven was Commendator 1569-1620


See also:

  • Abbot Douglas (of Melrose)
  • Flemish manuscript of Sir James burial in Melrose
  • The Castles of the Black Douglases, by Callum Watson

    1. Possibly Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch, 3rd of Buccleuch (d. 1552), a predecessor of the current Duke of Buccleugh, Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott, 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke of Queensberry KBE DL (born 14 February 1954).

    Further reading:
    • Melrose Abbey and St Mary of Melrose and William De Douglas, 1st Lord of Douglas; a discussion paper by Sally Douglas [pdf 710kb]


    Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



    Errors and Omissions

    The Forum

    What's new?

    We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

    If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


    Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


    You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


    If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

    You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

    Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


    2 Minute Survey

    To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


    We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

    We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

    Help with costs

    Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



    If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!



    Back to top


    The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

    The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

    As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

    Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

    Contact Us

    Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024