Jedburgh Abbey

Picture with the permission of Allan Goodall. (See Below)



A story based on the remains found at Jedburgh Abbey in 1984

Candlelight glinted on the old Burgundy wine in the glass. It was the colour of arterial blood, the colour of murder. The visitor had come alone and by night, the hood of his monastic gown was pulled far forward. No man saw his face.

He had asked for audience with the king and had enough authority or gold, which is one and the same thing, to get the captain of the guard to send a servant to ask if I would grant him audience.

I am Edgar Canmore, Edgar I of Scotland. It was spring 1100, I had been king for three uneasy years. The note the servant had passed to me bore just one word 'Anslem'. It had been enough to gain the fellow admission to my private solar. I set a guard of my most trusted men outside the door to ensure that we were not disturbed.

"You are a Benedictine?" I asked.

"Yes, of Canterbury."

"You are far from home."

"Not as far as my Archbishop."

I knew Anselm had been in exile in the monastery of Bec in Normandy since he had quarrelled with William Rufus of England three years before.

"England is ruled by an abomination." The monk stated flatly.

"Not every man who chooses not to marry is unnatural." I was offended. I myself had no wife.

"Just so" My visitor was calm. "The Rufus may well be persuaded to marry eventually, but there will be no issue."

"Your point, if you have one to make?"

"If heaven struck down this obsentity amongst monarchs, then there would be an heir free to marry and more than capable of begetting heirs."

"Robert of Normandy is already married." I protested.

"Robert of Normandy is half the world away fighting in the Holy Crusade. Is there no other candidate for the crown?"

There was of course, Henry the youngest brother of the old Conqueror. By all accounts he was as unlike his older siblings as it is possible to be without giving rise to unprofitable speculation. He was small, dark and crafty. Enough to say the others were not.

"Your sister Matilda is beautiful, pious and bidable. Think what influence you could have with the English king with a brother-in-law's rights or even those of an uncle?"

"Do you have personal revelation of Heaven's plans for the Rufus?"

"Heaven sometimes needs a little help."

"Henry plans fratricide?"

"Henry will be far away when the deed is done, neither will any finger of suspicion be pointed at him."

"And your master?"

"He will return from exile to crown the new king and conduct his wedding."

"What do you do here in Dunfermline?" I asked sharply.

"I am with a group of my brothers to pray at the shrine of Margaret of Scotland, your late mother."

"Then go, say your prayers and return in two days. I will have an answer for you." The monk bowed and departed as silently as he had come.

I did not sleep that night. It was not the thought of killing the English king that disturbed me. The Scots and English had been at one another's throats for long enough for that not to be an issue. It was how to gain and retain an advantage from that eel, Henry. Especially a Henry backed and advised by Anselm one of the cleverest men of the century.

Clever yes, but not so wise. There he was in Bec, now just an ordinary priest in the foundation where once he had been prior. No wonder he wanted an excuse to come out of exile.

So William II had to die, and by a hand that had no known connection to his loving youngest brother. Who could I trust both to do the deed and most importantly to keep silent? I walked the walls of my palace for the best part of the night. In the end the answer was obvious, my Uncle Douglas Canmore. He was a skilled warrior, still vigorous and in these shifting times loyal. I sent a message to his hunting lodge requesting him to attend me without delay.

Peace bored Douglas and he was ready for mischief. When the anonymous monk returned, I was able to tell him that we were prepared to play. When the betrothal deeds for my sister were signed, then and only then, I had an able man ready to shall we say co-operate. Betrothal negotiations take time. It was July before the lawyers on both sides were satisfied. There was of course no mention of any hidden clauses.

Douglas set off on 12th July. He was to ride alone. There could be neither attendants nor servants with him for they could be possible witnesses. Douglas was a seasoned warrior, it was no hardship for him to make his own porridge or light his own lamp. He was instructed to avoid large towns. If he got into trouble he had both gold and his seal with him. He could throw himself on the mercy of one of the religious houses. It was 450 miles from Edinburgh to the New Forest. Douglas would make himself known to the abbot of Winchester and wait in the abbey guesthouse for an opportunity.

When Douglas finally rode for the south I felt a great heaviness in my heart, death would beget death. Eventually I made my confession to Brother Columba one of the best of the Benedictines of Dunfermline. I was given penance and absolution but continued to worry.

On the 9th of August Brother Columba woke me from my sleep. William Rufus of England was dead. He had been killed by an arrow fired whilst he was out hunting in the New Forest. The Norman knight, Walter Tirel was being blamed for the murder.

Douglas must be on his way home but even he, strong rider that he was, could not keep up with the relays of messengers that rode day and night on constantly renewed horses supplied by the net work of monasteries and religious houses.

Then my priest said one more thing that made my blood run cold. "Anselm will want no witnesses." The man crossed himself and left. Now was the time to think, but no clever plan came to mind. I had condemned a loyal subject and a man of my own blood to die.

I called for my brother Alexander, who will be my heir. I told him everything. I would have needed to do so anyway if not quite so soon.

"Who do you have in your dungeons?" He asked

I gaped at him.

"Who do you have under sentence of death who has wife or family for whom he still cares? Family who will be destitute when the fellow is hanged."

There was one and about the right age. We went down to the cells and I swore a solemn oath on an open bible that if the man would do as I asked, his family would prosper. He agreed, what else could he do? His life was forfeit anyway. I do not give his name, not even in this secret history. We will call him Adam after the first man. I relate the next part of the story as Alexander told it to me.

Adam and I rode for the border. We waited on the road just south of Jedburgh. We were only just in time. Douglas was riding late and hard, the scent of home in his nostrils. When he saw two cloaked figures waiting on the road he drew his sword.

"Peace Uncle" I called, "We come to save your life not take it."

The horse reared, and came to a stand, sweating and steaming in the night.

I approached my kinsman, letting the moonlight shine full on my face. "You are betrayed, We fear the Canons of Jedbrugh have had instructions from Canterbury that all witnesses to certain recent events should not live to tell the tale."

Douglas, weary from nearly 500 miles of hard riding drooped in the saddle as if the death sentence had already been carried out.

"Quick man take off your clothes and all give all you carry to this man here. He will finish the journey for you.

"No, I cannot."

"You can and you will, for all is arranged, now strip."

Adam put on the princely garments with their ivory buckles, took the finely carved seal and comb Douglas carried together with his lamp, whetstone and cooking pot.

With a final exhortation for us to remember our oaths of support for his family Adam took Douglas' horse and rode towards the priory of St Mary the Virgin at Jedburgh. He was never seen again, at least not as a living man.

"What is to become of me?" Douglas asked. "If I just turn up at court then I am a dead man walking."

"Edgar has thought of that. You will go with Laggan of Man to join the third Crusade. Make the best of your life out there or come back with another Knight's name. Douglas Canmore will not be seen in Scotland again."

So went Alexander's tale. Anselm came back to England. He officiated at the ceremony when Matilda of Scotland married Henry I of England in Winchester Cathedral in the first year of the new century. They stood alongside the newly built tomb of the murdered William Rufus. In time there was a daughter Matilda, named after her mother and grandmother, then a son William, named after whom, I wonder, William the Bastard or William Rufus? It seemed as if our plans would prosper. I had sacrificed a knight but gained a queen. Still I worried. Could plans with so foul a foundation prosper long?


By 1103 Anselm was back in exile, he had found Henry no more easy to deal with than The Rufus.

William the only surviving son of Henry I was drowned on the White Ship in 1120. On Henry's death in 1135 there followed 18 years of civil war in England between the followers of Henry's daughter Matilda and her cousin Stephen.

In 1285 Alexander III of Scotland married Yolande de Dreux at Jedburgh. During the ceremony a ghostly figure appeared foretelling the king's death. Alexander died the following year.

In 1984 excavations uncovered the torso of a man in a sewage ditch just eastward of the Chapter house together with a magnificent ivory comb and other objets. The archaeologists state that the man had almost certainly been murdered.


Link on Rampant Scotland page to JEDBURGH ABBEY

Link to Allan Goodall's web site about Jedburgh Abbey and castles in Scotland.



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