Barony of Urquhart (Moray)
Lands Formed From Two Monasteries

Although the present village of Urquhart is but 225 years old, a settlement has been there since King David I, at the beginning of his reign, sent Freskin's Flemings north to vanquish the Vikings ravaging Moray's coastal plain. To symbolize the intended pacification, David, that "sair sanct for the croun", in 1124 founded Urquhart Priory as a cell of the great Abbey of Dunfermline.

The wealth accumulated by Scottish monasteries during the next three hundred years led to lax discipline and a decline in morals, and in 1456, the Pope, wishing to combat this, united the Benedictine Priory of Urquhart which had been reduced to two brethren, with the neighboring Valliscaulian Priory of Pluscarden, a younger foundation established in 1230 by King Alexander II. The black-robed Urquhart monks moved westwards into the beautiful glen of the Black Burn, and with the power of Dunfermline to support them, recruited the larger number of white-robed Valliscaulians into the Benedictine Order.

Pluscarden Priory lies six miles south west of Elgin, and was one of the most important ecclesiastical foundations in Moray. Pluscarden reflects the preference of King Alexander II for the Valliscaulians, a somewhat recondite French order which also had houses in the Highlands at Beauly, Ross-shire, and Ardchattan, Argyllshire. These represented the only houses of that order to be found in Great Britain. The Valliscaulian order had been founded in the Val des Choux (Valley of the Cabbages) around 1200, and shared the strictness of the Carthusians and the fellowship of the Benedictines.

Pluscarden Abbey During the Wars of Independence, the army of Edward I of England caused damage to Pluscarden, but worse followed in 1390 when the Priory was burned by the Wolf of Badenoch who also burned Elgin Cathedral around the same period. The Wolf of Badenoch was Alexander Stewart, son of King Robert II, who had been excommunicated by the Bishop of Moray and his destruction of the cathedral and the priory were the consequence.

Although Elgin Cathedral was reconstructed; the Pluscarden Priory remained in a sorry state of disrepair. It wasn't until 1948 that a group of Benedictines from Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire returned to restore the Priory of Pluscarden.


The last Prior of Pluscarden before the Reformation was Alexander Dunbar (1533-1560). During the troubles of the Reformation religious life suffered, but at Pluscarden the monks escaped much of the pressure, in part owing to the political skills of Alexander Dunbar, a scion of the Dunbars of Westfield, Hereditary Sheriffs of Moray. He kept the Urquhart and Pluscarden properties together successfully until his death intending that they should be appropriated by the Dunbar family.

But in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation of the mid sixteenth century, the crown claimed most of the former church lands. In Morayshire, new lordships were created out of the former ecclesiastical estates and granted, in part, to individuals who had rendered service to the king, a notable example being Alexander Seton (1555-1622) who became Commendator of Pluscarden, Lord President of the Court of Session from 1593-1605, thereafter Lord Chancellor, and latterly, Earl of Dunfermline.

Alexander Seton, a secret Catholic, was fourth son of George, Lord Seton, and his wife Isobel, daughter of William Hamilton of Sorn, High Treasurer of Scotland. He received "ane god-bairne gift" from his god-mother, Mary Queen of Scots, the lands of Pluscarden. In 1587 the lands of Pluscarden and Urquhart were combined and erected for him into the Barony of Urquhart, which was confirmed on 28 February, 1596 by King JamesVI . When he became a Lord of Session, Seton took that name for his title as Lord Urquhart. He later became Lord Fyvie, and finally the Earl of Dunfermline.