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Cistercian Abbeys: NEWBATTLE

Name: NEWBATTLE Location: nr Edinburgh County: Midlothian
Foundation: 1140 Mother house: Melrose
Relocation: None Founder: King David I & Prince Henry
Secularised: 1587 Prominent members:
Access: Private property

Newbattle was founded in 1140 by King David I (1124-1153) and his son, Prince Henry (d. 1153). The first monks arrived from King David's earlier foundation at Melrose. Although provision for the temporary buildings must have begun immediately, it seems that construction of the abbey church and the permanent buildings did not commence until almost half a century later. The church was finally dedicated on 13 March 1233/4. Despite the fact that Newbattle was at the centre of a thriving commercial enterprise, which included coal mining, salt production (at Prestonpans) and sheep farming, the abbey was never particularly wealthy. In 1561 the annual income of the abbey was valued at £1500, making Newbattle one of the poorer Cistercian abbeys in Scotland. The proximity of the abbey to Edinburgh meant that Newbattle suffered greatly in the Scottish wars with England. The abbey was severely burned by the English during the campaign of Richard II in 1385 and was attacked during the invasion of the earl of Hertford in 1544 and again in 1548. It was said that during the latter attack six monks were carried off to England as prisoners. There were twenty-four monks and an abbot in the community in 1528 but the numbers had decreased to about fifteen by the time of the Reformation.

In 1547 the last abbot, James Haswell, resigned in favour of Mark Kerr, who was provided as first commendator of Newbattle abbey. However, it seems that Haswell continued to administer the abbey for some years following his resignation. Mark's son and namesake was awarded the commendatorship in 1567, and,twenty years later the abbey was erected into a temporal lordship for him. By 1606 he had been created earl of Lothian. Mark Kerr, earl of Lothian, constructed a house over the east claustral range which was successively modified by John Mylne (1650), William Burn (1836), and David Bryce (1858). Everything that lay outside this area was slowly destroyed. A domestic chapel which was created within what had probably been the warming-house suggests that there may have been a parochial presence in the abbey from the early sixteenth century. Newbattle Abbey remained the home of the marquis of Lothian until 1937, when he donated it to the state to serve as a college of adult education. The college, named after the abbey, is still in use today. Parts of the east claustral range can still be indentified within the body of the house while the plan of the church is partly marked by beds within the lawns. Newbattle Abbey College is not generally accessible to the public.