An Analysis of Kirkwall's Royal Charters

  • Spencer John Rosie

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Research (awarded by UHI)


In 1486, King James III of Scotland gave Kirkwall the status of a royal burgh along with a grant of lands and special privileges consistent with this status. While Kirkwall would eventually operate as a typical Scottish burgh, there are some unique features associated with its charters making it worthy of study. Apart from being the most northerly royal burgh and the only one in the three archipelagos of Scotland, Kirkwall was the only royal burgh creation to have had similar status under a foreign power. In addition, the town was given St Magnus Cathedral, the gift of such a prestigious ecclesiastical building to a civil authority being unique in Scotland and rarely, if at all, replicated elsewhere. Among the aims of this thesis is to examine in detail the contents of James III’s charter, interpret the information it provides and answer some pertinent questions. Why was it needed? What status did Kirkwall previously enjoy? Why did it take James III so long to grant the charter? How does Kirkwall’s charter compare with other charters? Perhaps most intriguingly of all, why did the Church tolerate a situation where such an important building and its endowments were handed over to burgh authorities, and how was the king able to make such a gift?
Date of Award31 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SupervisorOisín Plumb (Supervisor) & Donna Heddle (Supervisor)

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