Paisley Abbey was founded around 1163 by Walter FitzAlan, a knight of Breton origin, who had been brought to Scotland by King David 1 and made the first High Steward of Scotland. This was a senior position at court and was hereditary. A charter was signed at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire for the founding of a Cluniac monastery on land he owned in Renfrewshire.
Thirteen monks came from Much Wenlock in Shropshire to set up the priory on the site of an old Celtic church founded by St. Mirin in the 6th century. In 1245, the priory was raised to the status of an Abbey, answerable only to the pope in Rome. The Abbey was dedicated to St. Mary, St. James, St. Mirin (the ‘local’ saint who had first brought Christianity to this part of Scotland in the sixth century) and St. Milburga (the ‘local’ saint of Wenlock).
Under royal patronage, the Abbey became wealthy and influential and evidence exists of extensive trade between Paisley Abbey and commercial centres throughout Europe. The Abbey was also a centre of learning and it is believed that William Wallace, who played a prominent part in the Wars of Independence in the 13th century, was educated by the monks of Paisley Abbey.
Cradle of the Royal House of Stewart
Much of the original building was destroyed by fire in 1307 and restored during the fourteenth Century. The sixth High Steward, Walter, married Marjory Bruce, the daughter of the famous Scottish king Robert the Bruce (who had defeated an English army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314) in 1315. In the following year, Marjory died at the Abbey following a tragic riding accident nearby, but the baby in her womb was saved and he became King Robert II of Scotland, the first of the Stewart monarchs. For that reason, the Abbey claims to be the ‘cradle of the Royal House of Stewart.’ Our present Queen is descended from him. The Abbey is the final resting place of six High Stewards of Scotland, Princess Marjory Bruce, the wives of King Robert II, along with King Robert III, for whose tomb Queen Victoria provided a memorial stone in 1888.
The collapse of the central tower in the mid-16th century destroyed the transepts and choir and a wall was built across the east end of the nave. At the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the monastery was disbanded, the monastic buildings handed over to the Hamilton family and the walled-off nave became the parish church of Paisley. The transepts and choir were to remain in ruins until the late 19th and early 20th centuries when they were restored to create one of the finest churches in Scotland.