A house of canons
Cambuskenneth Abbey was founded around 1140 by canons of the Arrouaisian order, but subsequently passed to the Augustinians. The founder was David I. Cambuskenneth served Stirling Castle, one of David’s favoured residences, which lay a short distance to the west. The abbey was the scene of Robert Bruce’s parliament in 1326, and the burial place of James III and his queen, Margaret of Denmark, in the 1480s.
The Abbey of St Mary the Virgin
The abbey ruins are situated in a loop of the meandering River Forth. They are bounded on three sides by water, and on the fourth (north) by a bank and ditch marking the termination of the precinct.
The abbey was founded in the mid-12th century, but the main period of building activity appears to have been in the 13th century and most of what survives is of this date. The abbey church, of which only the western doorway survives to any height, was cruciform on plan. It had an eight-bay nave with a north aisle, a choir and a square-ended presbytery flanked by two transepts, each with two chapels. The cloister was situated to the south of the church, but only scant remains survive.
By far the greatest attraction is the free-standing bell tower, or campanile, a detached structure for which there are no parallels anywhere else in Scotland. It is an excellent example of 13th-century architecture, with good lancet windows and ornamental arcades. Rising over 20m high, it eventually replaced the bell tower over the central crossing in the abbey church, which collapsed in 1378.
A royal mausoleum
In 1488, the Battle of Sauchie took place to the east of Cambuskenneth between the armies of James III and the supporters of his son, the future James IV. James III was actually murdered before battle commenced, and his body was brought to Cambuskenneth for burial. He was interred in front of the high altar alongside his queen, Margaret of Denmark, who had died two years earlier. Bones thought to be the remains of James and his queen were excavated in 1864 and re-interred, at Queen Victoria’s command, under a stone monument within the choir.
Ruination and re-use
In 1560 the abbey is said to have been ‘ruined and cast down’ and thereafter put to use as a quarry. The tower may have survived because it served as a useful lookout over the Carse of Stirling. In 1562 the site passed into the hands of John Erskine, Earl of Mar. It is said that he quarried the stones from the abbey to build Mar’s Wark, his town house on the approach to Stirling Castle. This remarkable building was never completed.