From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

George Balfour, Prior of Charterhouse - 4th February 1588

 

WHICH DAY GEORGE BALFOUR, PRIOR OF THE CHARTERHOUSE AT PERTH, IS ADDED TO THE NUMBER OF THE CITIZENS OF DUNDEE, FOR HIS COUNSEL AND HELP IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS; ACCIDENTS GRATIS, IN ABSENCE.

GEORGE BALFOUR was the fifth son of ANDREW BALFOUR of Monquhany, whose entry as a Burgess is recorded under date 29th March, 1565. He may have obtained the valuable post of Prior of the Charterhouse, Perth, through the influence of his elder brother, SIR JAMES BALFOUR of Pittendreich, and he was the first secular holder of this office after the Reformation. The Carthusian Monastery, or Charterhouse, at Perth, was founded by JAMES 1. in 1429, that Monarch having obtained authority from the Superior of the Order three years before. This Monastic Order had been founded circa 1080, by BRUNO, a Canon of the Cathedral of Rheims, who had settled with some companions at La Chartreuse in the Alps; and from this first colony sprang the widely spread sect of the Carthusians, whose places of residence in various lands took the name of Chartreuse corrupted into Charterhouse from their original seat. "It was the custom," writes R. SCOTT FITTIS (Ecclesiastical Annals of Perth, p. 217), "to denominate the branch establishments of the Carthusians by distinctive titles: thus, the Charterhouse of London was 'The House of the Salutation of the Mother of God; that at Ingilby, in Yorkshire, was 'The Mount of Grace;' and the one at Perth was 'The House of the Valley of Virtue,' evidently because it was placed in the great valley of the Tay." Between the date of the foundation of this Priory and the time of the Reformation the names of thirteen Priors are found recorded, the last of these being ADAM FORMAN, who entered upon that office in 1546. It was his fate to witness the violent abolition of his Order, and the destruction of the magnificent building which KING JAMES I. had founded, and within which his mutilated body had been buried after his assassina¬tion. The fabric has been described in extravagant terms, as being an adaptation of the perfections of all similar structures:

"For greatness, beauty, stateliness so fair, In Britain's isle, was said, none might compare."

PRIOR ADAM FORMAN, however, had not the art of conciliation; and when the storm of the Reformation burst upon Scotland, the Priory of the Charterhouse was demolished on 11th May, 1559, by that "raskail multitude" which, inflamed by the eloquence of JOHN KNOX, had already destroyed the Church of the Black Friars, and the Monasteries of the Franciscans and Carmelites at Perth. The PRIOR was forced to flee, and found refuge for a time at Errol; but the rent rolls of the Priory were too tempting to be allowed to remain in his possession after the Reformation. He made several attempts to retain them during the reign of QUEEN MARY; but they passed entirely beyond his control in 1570, at which time GEORGE BALFOUR was appointed Prior of the Charterhouse.


From the fragments of his history which are preserved in authentic documents of the time, he appears to have been of a very turbulent character. His brother, SIR JAMES BALFOUR, had gained a high place amongst the Lords of the Congregation by many dubious practices, and it seems probable that GEORGE BALFOUR had obtained his position as Prior of the Charterhouse by his aid.

The very first appearance of GEORGE BALFOUR'S name as PRIOR, on 1st March, 1572, is as conjoint security with his brother, GILBERT BALFOUR of Westray, for another brother, ROBERT BALFOUR, Burgess of Dundee, who was then imprisoned for some undescribed misdemeanour. In 1580 GEORGE BALFOUR himself was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, and brought to trial for treason, but was afterwards liberated on bail. When the Privy Council sat in Dundee, on 9th June, 1580, under the presidency of the EARL of ATHOL, GEORGE BALFOUR. tendered his father, his brother GILBERT, and other three Barons, as security that he would appear to underlie the law, 'I for making, forging, and countarfuting of certane fals and adulterat money, and outputting and exchanging of the same amangis our Soverane Lordis liegis at divers and sindrie tymes.' But no trace of the result of this charge has been found, and it is probable that it was abandoned, as the PRIOR retained his office, and appears on the Burgess Roll of Dundee eight years afterwards with that designation.

That he was on intimate terms with several of the Burgesses of Dundee at this time is proved by the fact that some of them became security for him in a dispute which he had with a few neighbouring proprietors, some months after his own admission as Burgess. About this time he demitted his charge, and it seems then to have been bestowed upon his brother, SIR JAMES BALFOUR. of Pittendreich, who had been Prior Commendator of Pittenweem. His name appears in several documents after this period as "late Prior of the Charterhouse, Perth;" but no trace of him is found after 1599.

The office was afterwards filled by another and more eminent Burgess of Dundee, GEORGE HAY of Nether Liff, first EARL OF KINNOUL, whose name was entered on the Burgess Roll on 12th October, 1600.