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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016901

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The Abbey of Arbroath was founded by King William the Lion in 1178 and dedicated to St Thomas Becket of Canterbury. It was a Tironensian house established by monks from Kelso but independent of the parent monastery from the outset William heaped endowments on the new foundation: the tithes and patronage of twenty-four parish churches; a toft of land in each of the Scottish Royal burghs; lands, fisheries, ferries and salt-pans in various parts of Scotland; Arbroath and the whole region about it with the right to establish a burgh, the burgesses to be toll-free in any part of Scotland, to hold a market every Saturday, to build a harbour and to exact customs. This was augmented by gifts of lands, fisheries, ferries and churches from other Scottish nobles, particularly the Earl of Angus. Even King John of England granted a charter allowing the monks of Arbroath to trade, toll-free, in any part of England except the City of London. The new abbey buildings reflected this wealth and William obviously intended it to become the principal monastery in Scotland. On his death at Stirling on 4 December 1214, King William's body was carried to Arbroath to be buried at the high altar of the then incomplete church. Royal patronage continued and it was at Arbroath that the Scottish nobles met on 6 April 1320 to sign the Scottish Declaration of Independence which was sent to Pope John XXII in Avignon.

After the reformation the abbey suffered from neglect and vandalism, being used as a quarry to obtain stones for the building of much of the older parts of Arbroath. The most interesting portions to have survived are: the south transept with its bold but simple fenestration; the west front, massively proportioned and containing an arcaded gallery over the deeply recessed west doorway (a similar arrangement formerly existed at St Andrews Cathedral (no. 64)); the Abbot's House (no. 41), now containing a small museum; and the Gatehouse range.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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