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Strathcona Hall Peasemeal Battle


A College is a combination of schools or classes working together for a common purpose under one head or directing body; but what is a University? Cicero used the Latin "universitas" with the meaning of the whole human race. In Medieval Latin the term "vestra universitas" was frequently used to indicate those to whom Bulls, Letters, and Charters were addressed. The Pope it might mean the whole world, over which he at one time claimed temporal power, or the whole Christian world, over which he still claims Ecclesiastical authority. Used by a Bishop, it meant all the Churches and congregations and Priests under his jurisdiction.  But used in connection with a College, "universitas" had quite a different meaning. It denoted a scheme of study which was in contrast with that in use in the only other schools of learning in the middle ages - the Cathedrals. By these the young Priests were taught Latin, perhaps Greek and Hebrew too, and Theology, and any other branches of learning desirable for a Priest to know, and nothing else. In contrast to this a University was a College where the whole circle of knowledge concerning everything that men took an interest in could be acquired:- religion, languages, law, medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, plants, and animals.  Anciently men had no scruple about undertaking to teach everything that was worth studying, and a University in the Middle Ages better deserved this name than its modern representative. Then it might have been said with some truth that every student learned everything studied at the time; now we specialise and try to learn much, not many things.

Marischal College
Broad Street, 1840, when it was being demolished for re-development.

Founded in 1593 by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal of Scotland, Marischal College was created as a Protestant alternative to King's College in Old Aberdeen. This resulted in Aberdeen having 2 Universities at a time when there were only 2 in the whole of England.


Prominent among  robbers of Church Land and Wealth was George Keith, the Earl Marischal, but in 1593 he made some signs of restitution by founding Marischal College on the site of a Franciscan Monastery.  Inscribed within the principal entrance is his defiant motto.  "They say - what say they? - let them say," which seems as if hurled at those who had frankly criticised his methods.

This inscription faces the entrant at the main door of Marischal College. The stone which bears it was originally in the 1st College, and may be taken as an admission on the part of the Founder of the University that there was undoubtedly room for making some reflections on the way in which he acquired the wealth that enabled him to establish it: but also as an assertion that, considering the use he had made of it, he was indifferent to what might be said. The Founder of Marischal College was educated at King's College, and he studied also at Geneva; and the inscription may be a Scotch version of a similar sentiment which he had met with in a Greek writer. To account for his adoption of this motto it is necessary to refer to what took place in Aberdeenshire at the Reformation,

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, was one of those working to reform King's, and it was Keith who decided to set up a 2nd College - Marischal College - in New Aberdeen in 1593. Again European influences are prominent, for Keith had completed his own education at the Calvinist Academy in Geneva. The exact status of Marischal College is not clear from its Charter, but that no overt threat to King's was intended is shown by the fact that the Principal of King's was one of those invited to select staff for Marischal. This he refused to do, thus inaugurating the rivalry which was to mark the relationship of the 2 Colleges for the next 250 years.

The Abbey of Deer was founded, according to tradition, in 1219, by William Comyn, Earl of Buchan. In the course of 300 years it had come into possession of a great extent of land and a great income in the shape of teinds; and when the Reformation was imminent William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal, in 1552 got his 2nd son, a youth of 15, appointed abbot "in conimendam," or in trust on behalf of the Abbey. If the expected Reformation had not come off the Abbey would have got back its property. When it did come the Monks got pensions and retired into private life ; and Robert Keith, the Commendator Abbot, held the Abbey lands for the Crown, with a fair prospect of being able to retain them as his own. In 1587 the King erected the Abbey lands into a lordship with a peerage called Altrie attached to it, to be held by the Commendator for life, with succession after his death to his nephew, George, 5th Earl Marischal and his heir or assigns. Though the Earl came into the possession of the Abbey property in a legitimate way the adherents of the old faith naturally grudged seeing the Church property in his hands, and the General Assembly complained that he was not paying the stipends due from the Abbey lands to the Ministers of the New Faith.

In 1592 George, 5th Earl Marischal, resigned Altrie into the hands of King James VI. and got a new investment of the lands and Barony of Altrie, which had originally belonged to the Abbey of Deer, and also of other lands in Kincardine, and properties belonging to the Blackfriars and the Whitefriars in Aberdeen, which had passed through other hands before coming into the Earl's possession. Next year he founded the Marischal College and University and endowed it with all that had belonged to the Blackfriars and the Whitefriars. The Foundation Charter represents the Earl as giving the New College all the properties which formerly belonged to the Greyfrairs; but though he might have got the promise of them from the Town Council they had not at the date of the Charter been made over to him.  In the course of the same year they were given to the Earl to be the Seat of the New College, and the Buildings, which had not been destroyed by the Lairds of the Mearns, served for a time all the wants of the New College. The only part of the Convent that survived to modern times was the Church, a building originally of great length, but curtailed afterwards to give access to the College. Not long after the granting of the foundation charter the General Assembly ratified the Institution of the University. The Earl had been thwarted in his wish to see King's College remodelled and made better adapted for providing the Protestant Church of Scotland with suitable Ministers. This led him to put the New University into intimate connection with the General Assembly of the Church. On July 21, 1593, the Scots Parliament also ratified the foundation of the University, and this completed the erection of the Institution.

The Original Buildings

In 1633 William Guild, who had long been minister of King Edward but had been called to Aberdeen in 1631 to be 1 of the Town Ministers, gave over by Charter to the Town Council a house which he had bought in front of Greyfriars Church and an arched gateway at the end of it to be an entrance to the College. A few years afterwards the Town Council put up the Burgh Arms above the gate, but these were afterwards replaced by those of the founder of the University.  About the same time Greyfriars Church was shortened by 20 feet to improve the entrance to the College, and an aisle was added to the east side for the accommodation of the Professors and Students. In the Charter of the House and Gate Mr Guild is styled Magister - that is Master of Arts, which degree he received from King's College.  Soon after the date of the Charter he is called Doctor of Divinity.  There is no record of his having got this degree from King's College, but he may have got it from St Andrews University, as he built St Leonard's College there and bequeathed his library to the University of St Andrews. In 1633 the Town Council gave the College a backhouse to be chambers for students on condition that the College gave up to the Town all claim to the Greyfriars Church, which thereafter became one of the Town Churches.

In 1639 part of the Convent Buildings were destroyed by fire during the night, but by the munificence of Dr Patrick Dun (the Principal 1621), Mr William Moir, and a gift from the Town Council, the damage was repaired before the end of 1642 Dr Dun had an outstanding reputation as a practising doctor.   He was a man of substance, and when Marischal College was burnt down  he contributed handsomely towards the cost of the new buildings.

As the result of a report by Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of the Aberdeen Colleges in 1641 Charles I united the 2 Universities and gave them a Grant from the Scots Parliament of £500 sterling, besides confirming to them the Revenues of the abolished Bishopric of Aberdeen.

This was confirmed by the Scots Parliament and also by Cromwell, but no change was made in the staffs or teaching of the Colleges, and the Act of Parliament was held to have been revoked by the General Act Rescission of 1661



Marischal College 1740~1840

A movement was begun in 1682 for rebuilding part of the College, and this was accomplished about 1700. The stones had come by sea from Morayshire, and the lime doubtless came from the Firth of Forth.

In 1715 the 10th Earl Marischal, then Chancellor of the University, joined the Jacobite Rebels and was forfeited the following year. The Rebellion had a disastrous effect on the College.  The doors were closed for 2 sessions, and when Teaching was resumed it was with a new Staff of Professors.

Until the defeat of the 1715 rising, the 10th Earl Marischal was Chancellor of Marischal College with the power to appoint a number of staff.  In 1765, he sent his former Baton of Office as Earl Marischal to the College 'hoping that they will receive the useless present as still a mark of regard and affection' In the 1710s, George Keith, Earl Marischal of Scotland, represented the family that had founded Marischal College. He was also a prominent Jacobite. After the failure of the 1715 rising, Keith fled into exile and entered Prussian service.  In 1715 the last and 10th Earl Marischal, George Keith, was convicted of treason for his part in the Jacobite rising. His estates, including Dunnottar Castle, were seized by the Government.

Some additions to the buildings were made between 1737 and 1741 under the direction of William Adam, an Edinburgh Architect, at a cost amounting to £700. Soon after 1747 the residence of students within the College ceased to be insisted on by the University and was given up.

Marischal College, Broad Street, as it was between 1740 and 1840, when it was later demolished for re-development. It had been designed by William Adam, Architect with Baronial Staircase Towers and grand Entrances.  It was situated on Broad Street with a large area before it.  It consisted of a large Principle Building with 2 wings at right angles.  On the ground floor it had the private schools for several classes except the Greek Class which met in the west wing.  The 2 upper storeys were occupied as Residences by the 2 Senior Professors.  The ground floor of the centre part of the building is the public school  and on the 1st floor is the Common Hall 79ft long 22ft broad and 14ft high.  Above this Hall is the Public Library which contained a great selection of books arranged according to the subjects that they treat.  In the west end of the building are the common staircase, the lobby to the Hall, the apartment where the Theological Classes are taught, and lodgings for 1 of the Professors.

New Marischal College Buildings  1836~1906

The College was united with King's College in 1858 to form the University of AberdeenMarischal College is an extremely important building.

Its category A-listing indicates its national significance but it is above all an iconic monument for the City of Aberdeen. A. Marshall McKenzie's Broad Street frontage is not that old, it is a 20th century building completed in 1906. This period, however, was the heyday of the City's granite industry and Marischal College, reputedly the second largest granite building in the world, can be seen as the high point of the use of granite as a building material. 

The monumental yet intricately detailed Broad Street facade inspired the poet John Betjeman to describe it as being "bigger than any Cathedral, tower on tower, forests of pinnacles, a group of palatial buildings rivalled only by the Houses of Parliament". It remains arguably the most striking landmark in the city. 

Aberdeen University formerly continues to use the Marischal Museum, the Mitchell Hall and other accommodation to the rear of the Quadrangle.

New buildings having become necessary the Treasury gave a grant of £15,000, and the work was begun in 1836 and ended in 1844.

Within a year a Fire broke out in the new building, and the books of the library were carried out and heaped up in the quadrangle; but the fire was got out before much damage was done to the building.




by James William Giles 1801-1870 - He conveniently omits the obstructive Greyfriar's Church

An addition made on the north side of the original building was carried out westward to Broad Street, and it was completed in 1896. Soon after, the north tower at the end of the North Wing was finished. The south side addition was likewise extended to the west, matching that on the north side. Shipbuilder Mr Charles Mitchell had subscribed £1000 for the 1st south side extension, but he afterwards took upon himself the cost of extending and altering the East Wing to provide a Graduation Hall and a Students Union, and to elevate the Central Tower.  These, which cost him £20,000 more, were completed in 1895. Ornamental additions to the Hall and Tower and further subscriptions to the buildings brought up his munificence to Marischal College to £30,594.

In 1860 King's College and Marischal College were fused into 1 University; but the 2 colleges were continued as separate buildings, some classes being held in the one and some in the other, but no subject was to be taught in both colleges.  The old names, King's and Marischal, are still in use for the Colleges; but the union of the governing, degree-conferring bodies produced the University of Aberdeen. The united University prospered, and in 20 years a need was felt for more accommodation. The space in front of the building completed in 1844 was too small to allow more buildings there, so an addition was made along the south side of the College. The new building began in 1889, and the addition was completed the following year, at the cost of nearly £11,000.  However, before it was finished, the University Act of 1889 had passed, and it was seen that more building would be required. Additions on a large scale were planned, for which it was estimated that £100,000 would be required. The Town Council promised £10,000, and afterwards more than doubled this. The Government promised £40,000, provided a like sum were raised locally. This was done, chief among the subscriptions being £6000 from Charles W. Mitchell, of Newcastle, the son of Charles Mitchell (1820-1895), by then of of the firm of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell, and Co., Newcastle, who was a former native of Aberdeen.


College Quadrangle from the interior

Left - "Marischal College (prior to the Mitchell Tower addition) from the roof of 75 King Street". It is signed "J. Small, 93" (1893).  Right - from the North East

The West Front

Still there remained undone the contemplated West Front of the college, and by all it was admitted that the erection of this part must be put off indefinitely; but at the close of his Rectorial Address in 1900 Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal (Quebec), with quiet composure, said he was ready to give £25,000 if the University and its friends furnished a like sum. Mr Charles W. Mitchell on the same day announced that he would clear off the debt on the buildings already erected if £20,000 or so would do it.  This left new subscriptions free to meet Lord Strathcona's generous offer, and the funds being thus secured, preparation for the West Wing was begun with the removal of Greyfriars Church, the site of which was required for the new building.

[Marischal College, Aberdeen, Scotland]A new church had to be built by the University for the displaced congregation of Greyfriars, and it was erected at the south end of the West Front of the College BuildingsThe New College of 1844 and the additions which had been made to it were built of stone from a local Quarry, but for the new West Front a whiter granite from Kemnay, sparkling with mica, was selected. This, however, would not have harmonised with the duller tone of the buildings facing the Quadrangle, and for the east side of the new part a stone of similar colour was used. By a great effort the new building was completed in time to be declared open by the King on September 27, 1906. King Edward Vll and Queen Alexandra open the new extension to Marischal College, during Aberdeen University's 4th Centenary celebrations. Lord Provost Lyon was knighted.

The then existing buildings of Marischal College were, in respect of their surroundings, front aspect, and general appearance, precisely as erected by Simpson some 50 years before. The recent expenditure of ;£6,000 of Government money had merely doubled, by an addition at the back, the South Wing, which, with the central block and north wing, formed 3 sides of a square. There was thereby in part enclosed an ample area known as "the Quad.," the scene of many a fierce Peasemeal Battle during the Rectorial Contest. This area was completely enclosed in front by a line of buildings, some of them of great age, forming the east side of the street, which sorely belied its name of Broad Street, or "the Broadgate." The unsightly backs of these buildings faced  the Quadrangle, the only entry to which through the line of buildings was by a gateway, dangerously narrow. Immediately behind these enclosing buildings, and at the West or South-west comer of the Quadrangle, but in a position unsymmetrical thereto, stood the ancient edifice, the Parish Church of Greyfriars, or "The College Kirk," with entry solely from the Quadrangle.  Here surely was a situation which, in respect of vested rights and ownership, bristled with difficulties. It is to be feared that certain of the Parties interested did not always adequately recognize and respect the powers, rights, and responsibilities of others. The parties were -


(1) the Owners of the Properties along the line of Broad Street, who could be dealt with only through compulsory powers obtained under an Act of Parliament;
(2) the Town Council, who were not only the "heritors" of the church, but, as the Civic Authority, were entitled to a voice in the demolition of any buildings, or, at least, in the erection of any new ones;
(3) the University Court, whose difficulties - cribbed, cabined, and confined as it was in respect of its buildings - occasioned all the trouble;
(4) the Presbytery of Aberdeen, as the Ecclesiastical Authority of the City;
(5) the Congregation of Greyfriar’s, represented by the Minister and Kirk Session thereof. The University Court, however, it ought to be stated, had, happily, in its own hands the settlement of the question of a satisfactory carriage entrance. It had already acquired, or had within its offer, the 2 houses right and left of the existing "gateway."

Mitchell Hall organ


The University’s coat of arms display the founders and locations of the previous two colleges. Top left is the arms of the burgh of Old Aberdeen. Top right is that of George Keith, the 5th Earl Marischal. Bottom left belongs to Bishop William Elphinstone. The bottom right quarter is a simplified version of the usual symbol (of three castles) representing the burgh and now City of Aberdeen.  So the shield is essentially all four combined inro one.

Above the West Entrance there are 7 Shields bearing coats-of-arms illustrating the history of the University.

They are arranged according to their importance in this history, the Arms of the University itself occupying the centre, the place of honour; but we shall take them in the order of their probable age, because some of the older coats have entered into the composition of newer. In all arts and sciences technical terms are used for the sake of precision and brevity.  In Heraldry technicality is carried to an extreme degree, and the description of a shield in heraldic language is often unintelligible to common people. The French language was originally used in this country in describing shields, and many Heraldic Terms are of French origin. Some terms even retain a French form, and more information regarding the meaning of heraldic terms may be obtained from an old French dictionary than from a modern English.  Straining after brevity often results in obscurity, and we have in the City of Aberdeen Arms an example of this. When the Lyon King of Arms grants a Coat-of-arms it is given in writing. By paying a sum of money a representation of the coat in colours may also be obtained, but this is of no force, even though done by the Lyon himself.  The written description is the only rule of direction for finding what the coat-of-arms really is.

1. THE ARMS OF ABERDEEN (2nd from the right).
The verbal description of the arms of the City of Aberdeen says : - " Three towers triple-towered, within the royal treasure of Scotland. Motto, Bon-Accord." The usual representation of this in drawings is : - Three towers, each with three small turrets on the summit. This answers to triple-turreted, not triple-towered. Probably the first assumption of arms by Aberdeen was soon after it) was made a burgh and from what is carved on an old seal of the town the device appears to have been a tower with a walk and a battlement round the top and another tower, also with a walk and a battlement, rising from the summit of the first. This device had been adopted after the erection of the castle at the command of the King. The double tower with two battlements indicates that the castle was well defended. The King did not for a long time interfere with the heraldic badges of his subjects unless they disagreed among themselves, when, in his capacity of judge, he settled disputes. At the Coronation of Robert II. in 1371 the ceremonies were regulated by an official representing the King and styled Lyon because he bore the same arms as the King, a lion. If Aberdeen was in any way represented at the Coronation its delegate had no doubt borne the arms of the city on his dress. It was not till 1674 that the arms of the city had been registered by the Lyon King in his book. The motto is " Bon-Accord," " Good agreement ; " and it had probably been assumed early. In 1440 the one double tower of the old seal had been expanded into three, merely for heraldic reasons and not to indicate that Aberdeen had three castles. For the same reason the double tower in 1674 got on another storey. Notwithstanding the length of time that the three towers have been shown with three pepper-boxes on their summits they ought yet to be made three-storey high, if that is the meaning of triple-towered.

2, OLD ABERDEEN (2nd from the left)
A two-lugged flower vase, with three salmon on the side arranged in a triangle, their scales being represented by diagonal trellis work. In the vase are three white lilies - one full-blown in the centre, one half-blown on the right, and one in bud on the left. The lily is the emblem of purity and represents the Virgin, the patron saint of the Cathedral and of Aberdon. The salmon show proximity to the Don. The motto, " Concordia res parvae crescunt," " By concord a small community increases," recommends harmony in the town.

EARL MARISCHAL (3rd from the left)
The shield is divided vertically. On the left side there are at the top three raised pales or vertical bars alternating with three Flat bars.  The raised bars represent yellow bars, and the flat represent red bars. On the right side there is a lion standing on his hind legs. Above the shield there is an earl's crown. The motto, " Veritas vincit," means "Truth conquers."

4. BISHOP ELPHINSTONE (3rd from the left)
Three boars' heads, ragged at the neck, as if 'torn off', two above and one below, with a figure like the couple of the roof of a house striding over the lowest. Boars' head indicate ownership of a wild, extensive hunting-ground. The chevron, or couple, is generally taken to represent the setting up of a new house or branch of an old family. Above the shield is a bishop's mitre. The motto, " Non confundar," " I shall not be overwhelmed," indicates confidence in the day of judgment.

The shield is composed of two parts, the left representing King's College - the older University - and the right, Marischal College - the younger. In the upper part of the King's side there is issuing from the rays of the sun a hand holding an open book, indicating that the college diffused intellectual light by means of books. Below the book is the flower vase of Old Aberdeen. In the lower part of the left side are the arms of William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, the founder of the College. The upper part of the right side contains six pales from the arms of George Keith, Earl Marischal, the founder of Marischal College. The lower contains one tower from the arms of the City of Aberdeen. The motto, " Initium sapientiae timor Domini," means "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

6. MITCHELL (1st On the right)
Four meshes of a fishing net, with a wavy band crossing the shield diagonally supporting the net. This coat indicates the possession of land bordering on the sea, or having salmon fishing in a river, and it represents wealth. The shield is surmounted by a helmet with 4 bars, the mark of an esquire. The motto, " Spernit humum," " He leaves the ground," is applicable to a man of lowly origin, like Dr Charles Mitchell, who raised himself to wealth and distributed it liberally. His gifts to Marischal College amounted in value to more than £30,000. He died in 1895.

Dr. Charles Mitchell (1820 - 22 August 1895) was an Aberdonian who founded major Shipbuilding Yards on the River Tyne. He became a public benefactor who funded notable buildings

7. LORD STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL (1st on the left)
The upper part of the shield contains the fore part of the body of a lion on his hind legs, a memento of  Lord Strathcona's native country, Scotland; below it are a heavy hammer and a long spike-nail, crossed, mementoes of his laying the last rail of the Canadian Pacific Railway, at Craigellachie, B.C., Nov. 7, 1885; and in the lower part is a canoe driven by four men with paddles, and having a flag in the bow with the letters NW, a memento of the Hudson Bay Company's service, in which Donald Smith began working life. Above the shield is a baron's coronet. The motto, " Agmina ducens," " Bringing troops of people," refers to the railway as a means of bringing immigrants to the Canadian prairies.

Donald Smith - Lord Strathcona was born at Forres in Scotland on 6 August 1820, a son of Alexander Smith and his wife Barbara. In 1838 he emigrated to Canada to work for the Hudson's Bay Company. He married Isabella Hardisty in 1853 and they had a daughter Margaret. Now Chief trader in the Company he moved to Labrador and then to Montreal.  He played a prominent part in the pacification of the Red River uprising and became a politician.  By now he was a rich man and became Governor of the Company in 1889 and had many business interests including the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1886 he was Knighted and created Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal of Glencoe & Colonsay in 1897. The Regiment he funded and which was named after him fought in the South African War. He died in London on 21 January 1914. His funeral was held at the Westminster Abbey and he is buried in Highgate cemetery.

Arms - gules on a fesse argent between a demi-lion rampant in chief or and a canoe of the host with 4men paddling proper. In the bow a flag of the second, flowing to the dexter, inserted with the letters N.W. Sable in base. A hammer surmounted by a nail in saltire of the last. Crest on a mount vert, a beaver eating into a maple tree proper. Then follows the motto, "Perseverance."

Credit must be given to the designer of this striking heraldic device, which is really a brief record of the life of Strathcona. Here we see the Sable and Beaver typifying the Hudson Bay Co.; the Paddlers in the canoe represent the mode of travel on the great water ways of the new world in the early days; 4 or 2 for me . stands for North-West, the scene of his adventurous career; the Hammer & Nail signify the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the new Peer having with his own hand driven in the last spike.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013