Riches and Reform: Ecclesiastical Wealth in St Andrews, c.1520–1580, by Bess Rhodes

Allan Kennedy (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review


The Scottish Reformation is often presented primarily as a political story—as a noble-led revolt against the unpopular Francophile regime of the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise—and secondarily as a religious story, focused on the triumph of the supposedly thrusting forces of Protestantism against the allegedly sclerotic ranks of Roman Catholicism. Both these narratives have in common a distinct whiff of teleology, since both of them imply that Catholicism had by 1560 become weak, alien and outmoded, positively inviting its own obliteration at the hands of the reformers. In this book, Bess Rhodes seeks to nuance that picture through a detailed study of Church finances in St Andrews, the primatial see and thus the beating heart of Scottish Catholicism. The results are surprising and stimulating in equal measure.

The book opens with a sketch of St Andrews prior to the Reformation, painting a picture of a small, wealthy town unusually thickly provided with ecclesiastical institutions, upon which it was heavily dependent for its prosperity. This serves as the foundation-stone for the next four chapters, which delve into the Church’s pre-Reformation finances. Chapter Two offers a detailed reconstruction of ecclesiastical income, demonstrating that it comprised a complex mix of ‘spiritual’ and ‘temporal’ revenue streams originating from all over Scotland. More importantly, the chapter shows convincingly that ecclesiastical revenues remained very robust throughout the early sixteenth century. Chapter Three looks at the administration of these revenues, and suggests that the systems in place, though complex, remained effective. Rhodes here is particularly keen to push back on the phenomenon of revenue secularisation, of which she finds very little pre-Reformation evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberceac189
Number of pages2
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Sept 2022


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