Riches and Reform

Ecclesiastical Wealth in St Andrews, c.1520-1580


The Scottish Reformation is often presumed to have had little economic impact. Traditionally, scholars maintained that Scotland’s late medieval church gradually secularised its estates, and that the religious changes of 1560 barely disrupted an ongoing trend. In Riches and Reform Bess Rhodes challenges this assumption with a study of church finance in Scotland’s religious capital of St Andrews, a place once regarded as the ‘cheif and mother citie of the Realme’. Drawing on largely unpublished charters, rentals, and account books, Riches and Reform argues that in St Andrews the Reformation triggered a rapid, large-scale, and ultimately ruinous redistribution of ecclesiastical wealth. Communal assets built up over generations were suddenly dispersed through a combination of official policies, individual opportunism, and a crisis in local administration, leading the post-Reformation churches and city of St Andrews into ‘poverte and decay’.

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Biographical Note

Bess Rhodes, Ph.D. (2013), University of St Andrews, is Head of Historical Research for the digital heritage team Smart History and teaches at the University of St Andrews.

Table of contents

Plan of St Andrews in the Sixteenth Century


1 Pre-Reformation St Andrews
2 Income and Estates
3 Administration
4 Donations and Expansion
5 Feuing
6 The Reformation Crisis
7 Settlement of the 1560s
8 Conflict and Disintegration
9 Legacy



All interested in sixteenth-century religious, economic or urban history. Of particular relevance to scholars and students of late medieval and early modern Scotland.

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