Historical Notes on the Knights Hospitaller and Torphichen
Torphichen Preceptory, the former administrative headquarters, in
Scotland, of the Knights Hospitaller
of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, is situated below the
Torphichen Hills, in the village of
Torphichen, West Lothian, twenty miles
west of Edinburgh. All that remains of the church and monastery (that:
once owned vast swathes of land in Scotland; recruited knights and
men to fight; organised the care of ill and wounded
during their many military campaigns) is represented by a tall tower with
singularly high transepts on both sides.
1132, David I invited the Order to Scotland. By 1153, it had been granted a charter to build
its Preceptory at Torphichen. The
Preceptory became the Hospitallers' principal Scottish house,
dependent on the Clerkenwell-based Hospitallers' Priory, which oversaw the
Torphichen was significant not only as a sheltered, well-resourced
community on a long-distance travellersí route, but also for its site
where a wooden church is thought to have been established by St Ninian.
1168, King William IV decreed that the Chapel at Torphichen should rank as
Parish Church and that it should recognise St Michaelís, Linlithgow, as
its Mother Church. From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, the
was built, rebuilt and enlarged. A
cruciform church was built with an aisleless nave,
central tower, transepts, a choir, and, on the north side, around a
cloistered courtyard, domestic buildings
(housing the Preceptorís private quarters, a refectory and kitchen, as
well as a dormitory).
The Preceptory was dedicated to
John the Baptist and one of its side altars was dedicated to St Ninian.
By 1500, the transepts had been rebuilt with new
windows and vaulting, and a new stair-turret had been added to the tower.
tower and transepts remain today, but the nave was demolished in 1761 to
allow for the construction of Torphichen Kirk.
late twelfth century, the Order had accumulated many minor holdings and
Malcolm IV added to them by granting the Order one toft in all of his
burghs. This was particularly useful as, by 1300, the Order enjoyed a
special category of exemption from secular service in its burgh
properties. By 1226, the Hospitallers had continued expanding westward,
securing the rights of teinds in nearby Ogilface to add to those they
enjoyed in Torphichen.
Grand Master and the Pope were involved in the selection of the Preceptor,
but the King of Scotland appointed him formally. The Preceptor was
responsible for the administration of ecclesiastical and secular property,
as well as for giving spiritual guidance to the Order. He had to secure
the maximum returns from the Preceptoryís properties while paying for the
maintenance of buildings in various places, including an Edinburgh
townhouse, as well as meeting the cost of the administration of properties
scattered over a wide area. He was responsible for sending his
responsions (payment) to the convent in Rhodes via the English Priory at
and in 1296, Alexander de Welles, Master of Torphichen Preceptory, swore
fealty to Edward I and the Order supported the English side during the
Wars of Independence. During the period between the Battle of Stirling in
September 1297 and the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298, William Wallace and
his army camped at Torphichen, the Order probably removing itself to
another location during their occupancy. Before the Battle of Falkirk,
Wallace was entertained at Torphichen by the Preceptor Alexander de Welles.
The only surviving document signed by Wallace was prepared at the
Preceptory during that period. On 22 July 1298, during the battle,
Alexander de Welles was killed. Also at the battle were Adam de Welle(s)
of Lincolnshire, and later of Yester Castle, Lothian, and Philip de
Welle(s). After the battle, the victorious Edward I came to the
Preceptory for treatment to his horse-inflicted chest injury, which had happened
at his Polmont camp before the battle. After the success of the English
campaign, the Orderís relationship with its Scottish neighbours was more
strained, as shown by an English Priory petition to Edward I to allow
the Torphichen Hospitallers to be received in Linlithgow Palace when the need
arose. As in the case of the Templars, the Hospitallersí household was
mainly English knights, and their main English house, the Priory, was at
Clerkenwell, London. Such ties with England appear to have made them
unpopular in Scotland during subsequent centuries.
the arrival of the Knights Templar in Scotland in 1128, as a result of the
efforts of their first master, Hugh de Paiens of Champagne, the Order had impressed
David I greatly. It provided the fighting men to defend the Holy Land and
the Order was admirably rewarded for its Brother-Knightsí efforts. Most Templars appear to have been English and they administered their Scottish
lands as part of the English Priory. Also, they served in the royal
household from David Iís time and seem to have enjoyed a sound and
influential relationship with the Crown, providing the required military
presence in the Holy Land while also providing other services at home,
such as an almoner to the Scottish throne and a banking service to the
power of the Order of the Knights Templar through its immense wealth was
seen with increasing suspicion by many in Scotland, and so the accusations
against the Orderís members, at their Holyrood
trial in 1309, were not unexpected.
years after the trial, the Order of the Knights Templar was suppressed by
Pope Clement V. Its wealth in Scotland was half as much again as that of
the Knights Hospitaller. Its extensive lands in Scotland, (five baronies,
patronage of six kirks and sundry lands), which had been
administered from its Temple monastery, were granted to the Knights Hospitaller, thereby markedly increasing the property administered by the
Torphichen headquarters. However, there is evidence that the Hospitallers
struggled to gain possession of some Templar properties well into the
fourteenth century. The re-distribution of estates encouraged dishonest
practices, one of those accused of such conduct being Reginald More, a lay
administrator at Torphichen.
1312, the Hospitallers acquired most of their appropriated parish
churches. The Preceptor of the Order owned six baronies including
Torphichen, each of which contributed towards the maintenance of the Order
and his household, but problems arose as each of the baronies was isolated
from the others, and so they had to be overseen remotely. Although the
work of the Hospitallers, as well as that of other crusading orders, was widely
appreciated, many of the gifts were only small parts of the holdings of
the benefactors, and so the geographically scattered gifts were often
difficult to administer and unprofitable as assets, unless leased, or even
sold. As a result, Preceptors had to possess sound business skills to
ensure the efficient administration of the Orderís holdings.
fifteenth century, many of the properties had been let as a lease or feuferm, initially disapproved of, but
accepted, eventually, by the Church.
donations were given generously, especially by the King and his nobles, so
that, by the early 1500s, the Order owned over 700 properties in Scotland,
particularly in the Borders, Central Belt and along the east coast, but
not in Argyll, Bute or Orkney.
1314, after the Scotsí victory at Bannockburn, the Knights Hospitaller
left Scotland, only returning after a reconciliation with Robert the
Bruce. In 1356, the Pope recommended the appointment of David de Mar,
Procurator to the Hospital of St John of Rhodes, as Preceptor, but the
subsequent appointment caused further controversy, and even his successor
was unsuccessful in resolving the issue. Eventually, it was agreed that
all money should be funnelled through the London Priory and that Robert
Grant should be appointed to exercise his singular administrative skills.
Recruited novices were supposed to receive religious training, but this
did not happen while their services were needed in the military campaigns
of the Middle East. Priest brothers received training at the
monastery while elderly or infirm brothers lived their final years there,
receiving care from the hospice. However, there appears to have been no
provision for the physical care of the population who lived outside the Preceptory in Torphichen.
1430s and 1440s, Andrew Meldrum, principal officer of the Hospitallers, carried out considerable building
works. The Preceptory was extended, the nave rebuilt, the transepts
raised significantly, while a cloister on the north side, with surrounding
ranges, was completed. Meldrumís name even appears on one of the ribs in
the vault of the north transept. Meanwhile, Preceptors and their recruits
were involved in sea-battles involving Hospitallers at Rhodes.
Grand Master awarded
William Knollis a grant of the Preceptory, which was confirmed by the Pope a few months later. Knollis was
one of the longest serving Preceptors. For six years, in the 1470s, he
collected alms from visitors (who were then rewarded by indulgences),
claiming that James III favoured the church whose ruinous state was
clearly in need of help. After the Kingís downfall, Knollis benefited
from an illustrious career as a diplomat as well as a public servant,
overseeing Torphichen more as a secular barony while being careful to pay the
Priory its dues.
In 1504, on a visit to Rhodes, George Dundas obtained to right to succeed
as Preceptor. In 1508, there was a dispute over the right of the London
Priory to appoint a Preceptor in Scotland. James IV, a frequent visitor to Torphichen, believed that the Order in Scotland should be independent.
He did not
believe Hospitallers born and living in Scotland should have to seek
protection from the English Priory, a view he expressed by letters to the
Grand Master in Rhodes in 1513. English - Scottish relations were only
improved when the Order moved to Malta.
succeeded Knollis and was firmly in position from 1518 until his death
fourteen years later. Sir Walter Lindsay secured the right of succession
after Dundas and he proved to be an effective administrator,
as well as a well respected leader of the Scottish army.
compiled a Rental of the Orderís ownership in Scotland, and, as shown by
his Charter of 7 March 1542, he feued the Orderís remote lands, where revenue collection was
difficult, to avoid further bloodshed.
On the 29 June 1550,
Sir James Sandilands, second son of James Sandilands, Baron
Calder, gained possession of the Preceptory, which he held for four years. He was descended from a family that had
owned extensive estates in the area since 1348. In April 1540, the
Order in England was closed by an Act of Parliament. The Reformation
brought an end to the
Hospitallers' Order in Scotland as it was of the Roman Catholic faith, and
it was suppressed in 1554.
On 22 January 1564,
Sir James Sandilands, Lord St John, surrendered the Preceptory lands to Mary Queen of Scots, to
whom he was related. However, two days later, at the cost of 10,000 crowns
of the sun, (gold coins minted in France weighing 50Ĺ
and an annual
feu duty of 500 merks, he obtained a Royal Charter re-granting them to him as a hereditary barony, as
well as the Lord Torphichen title, and these were added to his Barony of
Calder, the Sandilands seat being at Calder House (originally Caldour
Castle), a few miles from Torphichen. He sold seven of the eight
baronies, including most of Torphichen Barony, to pay his debts, but he
retained the Preceptory and Torphichen Mains, thereby retaining his title.
Reformation, the Preceptoryís nave was used as Torphichen Parish Kirk, while the
remainder of the buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair. In 1756, Torphichen Parish Kirk was demolished and the remains were
restyled to form the foundations of the new T-plan Parish Kirk on the west
side of the Preceptory. The domestic buildings on the north side of the
church were demolished, their stone being used elsewhere in Torphichen.
The transepts and the tower became a courthouse of the Regality of
Torphichen, but the tower fell into disuse and was only refurbished with a
new roof in 1947, twenty years after restoration work was carried out on the Preceptory by the Ministry
of Public Building and Works.
Torphichen has always been seen as a place of sanctuary. In the
stands a sanctuary stone.
Four others are believed to be located in the surrounding countryside and
to be originally positioned one Scots mile away, north, south, east and
It is likely that they
were linked to the main approach routes to the village. In times past, if a
fugitive could reach the safety of the Great Sanctuary area around the Preceptory,
he or she would be guaranteed protection from revenge and a fair trial by
In 1831, the Order was revived
by the Captulary Commission. However, the successor of the original
Roman Catholic Order, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta with its
headquarters in Rome, declined to admit anyone who was not a Roman
Catholic, and, in 1858, it was decided that the 'Tongue' had not been
In 1888, Queen Victoria
decreed that, in the British Isles, the Most Venerable Order of the
Knights of St John of Jerusalem was established as a Royal Order of
Chivalry with the Sovereign at its head. The Order in Scotland
received special status within the Venerable Order, existing as an
independent establishment within the Grand Priory of the British Realm,
under the Sovereign Head.
On 26 June 1947, at the Palace
of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, the Earl of Lindsay was installed as the first
Prior of Scotland of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of
Jerusalem. A special service was held at Torphichen Preceptory with the
Grand Prior, HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in attendance.
The aims of the Order in
Scotland continue to be related to the relief of suffering by charitable
works, including the maintenance of establishments such as rest homes and
sheltered housing, and the development of the Seagull Trust, which
provides cruising and sailing for the disabled. Research connected
with the Order in Scotland is encouraged and a Library is maintained in
Edinburgh. The Priory is assisted in its work by the St John
Association in Scotland, but it does not run an ambulance service because
of a 1908 agreement with the St Andrew's Ambulance Service.
The Preceptory buildings are
now in the care of Historic Scotland. The St John Association
committee runs a custodian service at Torphichen Preceptory every weekend
during summer months so that this splendid historical site can be visited.
The informative displays and the fifteenth century stonework collection in
the thirteenth century bell chamber involve a climb of about 46 steps up
the turnpike stairs. However, there are interesting sights at ground
level and the neighbouring Kirkyard and its splendid Kirk, as well as the
tiny village of Torphichen and its neighbouring countryside, full of
historical gems such as Cairnpapple and Linlithgow Palace, are well worth visiting and exploring.
by Jack Smith, 1997
Torphichen Kirk: a church with a sure
by Jack Smith, 2006
The Knights of St John of
Jerusalem in Scotland, ed.
Cowan, Ian Borthwick, Mackay, P. H. R., Macquarrie, Alan,
printed for the Scottish History Society by C. Constable, Edinburgh, 1983.
The Order of St John in
by Charles J Burnett KStJ and Henry Tilling KStJ, Edinburgh 1997
Knights Hospitaller by Helen Nicholson, Boydell Press, 2001
Hospitallers, The History of the Order of St John by Jonathan
Riley-Smith, Hambledon Press, London, 1999
of Jerusalem, The Crusading Order of Hospitallers 1100 - 1565 by
David Nicolle, Osprey publishing, Oxford, 2008
Title: Agreement between the abbot W.
and convent of Holyrood on the one hand, and Walter "Magistrum" [master]
and the brethren of "Torphean" [Torphichen,
West Lothian] on the other, with regard to the dispute sent before the
ecclesiastical judges about the teinds and obventions of Ogilfas [Ogilface,
West Lothian]. By the authority of the judges, in presence of "W. de
Bosch" [William del Bois (Wood)], the king's chancellor, and other
knowledgeable men, the abbot and convent of Holyrood agree to concede to
the brethren all the teinds and ecclesiastical incomes that they used to
receive on the land of Ogilface. The brethren will hold it freely
but will give back to Holyrood Abbey every year 4 marks of silver, 2 at
the day of Pentecost and 2 at the day of St Martin. In order for this
agreement to remain unchanged and not revoked, the ecclesiastical judges,
the convent of the chapter of St Andrews and the chapter of the Hospital
of Lundon [London] signed [no names].
June 1211 - November 1224.
National Archives of Scotland
Falkirk, Alexander de Welles, Master of Torphichen Preceptory, was
on the heraldic evidence* there is
little doubt that Alexander de Welles was a member of the
Also at Falkirk were
Adam de Welle(s) of Lincolnshire (and later of the
Castle of Yester
in Lothian to whom King Edward gave various properties - Ref No:
GD45/27/141) and Philip de Welle(s)**
said to have been replaced as Master by Ranulph de Lindsay. It is
interesting to note that in 1390, in Edinburgh,
Baron John de Welles, of the same family, challenged David Lindsay
(later 1st Earl of
(2) ) to a duel, a joust on London Bridge in which Welles was unhorsed
at the third pass. The last of this Welles line was
Lord Welles (2)
who died in 1499.
link between Alexander de Welles, Brother
Richard of Welles (House of the Temple***, Perth), Walter de Welles
(Aberdeen) and chaplain Galfridus (Geoffrey) de Wellys (Aberdeen)
has yet to be established. However, it is probable that they too were
English or of English descent.
More details are included
Torphichen and the Knights Hospitaller.
J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2003;33(Suppl 12):64-71.
Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot, 129, 663-752, (1999) and Scotland's
Historic Heraldry (2006), Boydell and Brewer Ltd: 'The
seal probably has a crusilly background, to differentiate Alexander
from the head of his house'.
George F. Black also cites references to
Alexander's seal (A shield, lion rampant, S' F' ris - Bain, II, p. 202,
558), Richard de Welles (1240), Walter de Welles (1277) and Galfridus
(Geoffrey) de Wellys (1317) in The Surnames of Scotland 1946,
**Probably of Essex as
Philip de Welles of Lincolnshire was dead by 1282/3 (J.
L. Knapp, pers. comm.).
(NB John, son of Adam
Welles held the manor of Theydon Garnon,
Essex Record Office: Note of Final Concord 1345/46, by service of 7s.
with inter alia, land at Epping and claimed ten. at Sutton, Lincolnshire.
John, Lord de Welles died in 1361, holding jointly with his wife the
manor, a messuage, and lands in Theydon Garnon, Epping and Theydon Bois
From: 'Theydon Garnon: Manors',
History of the County of Essex: Volume 4: Ongar Hundred (1956), pp.
Lionel Lord Welles, Methley, Yorkshire.
On the 29th March 1461 at the
Battle of Towton,
near Tadcaster in Yorkshire,
Lionel Lord Welles
of the Lincolnshire line was killed and his body conveyed in secret to his
near Leeds (home of his second
*** The House of the Temple could refer to the
ancient site of the Temple of Mars which was situated on the site of the
present corner of High Street and Watergate in Perth. Later, it was the
site of the town house of the Mercer family. We would like to acknowledge
the information provided by Steve Connelly (Archivist, Perth & Kinross
Council Archive) relating to this property and to land owned by the
Templars in Perthshire.
**** Professor Emeritus of Geriatric Medicine, The
University of Edinburgh and member of the EAFS survey team at
Castle, West Lothian).
We (John and Rosie) have a research interest in the
Well(e)s families of the UK, especially
the parish of Kirkby Malzeard,
which was the lower half of the Peculiar of
Yorkshire), who leased a substantial property there for 45 years
from Fountains Abbey
in 1538 (shortly before its dissolution) paying 5 marks per
annum (1 mark = 13 shillings and 4 pence = 66p). Lands in the Kirkby
Malzeard area were once the property of the
(Moubray / Moubrai) family, who had a castle
there just over 2km from Galphay
(which was besieged in 20 Henry II [ie 1174] by Henry, the elect Bishop of
Lincoln and soon after pulled down along with his other castle at