Painting of Dryburgh Abbey in 1860
Dryburgh was built away from any township, in the bend of the river Tweed, in the Scottish Borders and the first sight of the ruins of the abbey is through a curtain of trees. While more of the abbeys at Melrose and Jedburgh have survived, Dryburgh has much to offer and some unique historic links. And its tranquil, serene setting makes it a most attractive place to visit.
Dryburgh was founded in 1150 by Hugh de Moreville, one of the many Anglo-Normans who came north with King David I in the first half of the 12th century. As High Constable of Scotland, de Moreville was one of the most powerful men in Scotland and had estates throughout the Borders, Ayrshire and in England. Despite his obvious piety (he enrolled as a novice in his old age) his son was one of the murderers of Archbishop Thomas à Becket at Canterbury in 1170.
The abbey was set up by "Premonstratensian" priests from Alnwick in England. They were an austere sect who believed in a hard, penitent life. The construction of the abbey would have been spread over at least 100 years. Visitors today can see the nave, the canon's own choir area, the north and south transepts or arms, cloisters buildings, the dormitory for the resident clerics, a processional door into the south aisle, a chapter house where the canons met and a "warming house" with a large fireplace.
During the Wars of Independence, the bells ringing out in celebration of the withdrawal of King Edward's army after an unsuccessful invasion in 1322, attracted the attention of the retreating army and they promptly set fire to the abbey. This was to be the first of a number of devastations. In 1385 King Richard II did a great deal of damage and although rebuilding work was commenced soon after, it was apparently still ongoing in 1425.
In 1541 the Erskine family took over the lands around the Abbey. While they were living in the area, the Abbey itself was severely damaged in 1544 by an English raiding party led by the earl of Hereford during the "Rough Wooing" as King Henry VIII of England tried to bring about the marriage of his son to Mary Queen of Scots. The Reformation followed soon after that, bringing monastic life to an end.
In the 19th century, the 11th earl of Buchan, a descendant of the Erskines, a senior cleric at Dryburgh and a founder of the Society of Antiquities in Edinburgh, created a magnificent garden within the cloisters and erected a strange obelisk to Kings James I and II. He was buried in the former sacristy of the abbey - which he purloined as a family vault. But it is due to his efforts that the abbey was preserved.
In the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, from nearby Abbotsford, arranged for himself to be buried in Dryburgh Abbey in an imposing family tomb. He was laid to rest there on 26 September 1832.
Nearly a hundred years later, Field Marshall Earl Haig, commander in chief of the British army in the Frst World War and created first earl of Bemersyde by a grateful nation, was also buried at Dryburgh, in 1928. Unlike the ostentatious Scott memorial, his grave is the simple marble gravestone of the type which marks the graves of so many of those who died in the battlefields of France during the 1914-18 war.