Grants, Deeds, Rights, Dues and Exemptions

It is thought that there are three different types of grant made to the early community of Deer and recorded in the Gaelic Notes (which probably acted as deeds). The first type of grant is a gift of land or an estate, defined by fixed boundaries, for which the community would render fixed dues to the owner, probably in food-rent. Occasionally, the grant is made by more than one person. There could be two possible reasons for this, if it is assumed that there were parallels between the structure of Gaelic society in the North-East and the information concerning land transactions contained in the Old Gaelic law-tracts from Ireland. Firstly, the grant made to the community may have been of kin-land and the grantor would have needed the permission of his kin to make the donation. Secondly, one of the named grantors could have been standing as surety for the transaction.

The second type of grant is a gift of the grantor’s cuit (share or cut) of the dues liable to be rendered by the tenants of a named estate. This cuit could belong either to a king, mormaer or toísech . If the community of Deer already owned the land from which the cuit had been renounced, it meant that they no longer had to pay dues to the grantor. For example, the gift from Máel Coluim mac Cináeda (Malcolm II) of the king’s dues in Biffie (Biffie had already been granted to the community by two other people) may have been the royal cuit of cain (regular tribute on territory acknowledging the king’s superiority) and conveth (obligation of hospitality owed to the crown from royal estates, which could include dues of cattle, pigs, poultry, cheese and malt).

The third type of grant mentioned in the Gaelic Notes is one where the grantor ‘quenches’ (extinguishes) particular things. These examples seem to imply that in return for doing something on behalf of the community, the grantor expects some sort of benefit or right. One possibility is that the grantor undertook to pay in future all the dues from a particular estate or piece of land which he had granted to the community to toísech , mormaer and king, thereby exempting the monks from the responsibility. Unfortunately, only one of these ‘rights’ is mentioned by name and we are left to speculate on what the rest might have been. However, at least two ‘quenchings’ seem to have been made so that the grantors might earn the goodwill of St Drostán. Presumably, one interpretation may be that they had previously done something which had angered the monastic community and earned themselves the disfavour of the Saint.

The ‘benefit’ or ‘right’ that is specified occurs in a grant by Colbán, mormaer of Buchan, probably dateable to the late twelfth century. In this grant, Colbán, his wife, and the toísech of Clann Morgainn, ‘quench’ all the grants from all imposts in return for the dues on four davochs which should devolve on the chief religious houses of Scotland and on its chief churches. The ‘dues’ mentioned in this instance may be a reference to teinds (taxes). When David mac Máel Coluim (David I) initiated a series of reforms in the Scottish church he introduced teinds as a method of providing financial support for the new parishes and their churches. Basically, this was a tenth part of the annual production of animals, animal products and crops. If this suggestion is correct, Colbán may have been asking for tax-relief (exemption) for some of the land he possessed from this system of taxation.