Methven Castle and Collegiate Church.
Professor Richard Oram.
In the third week of February 1437, ‘that old serpent and ancient of evil days’, Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl, James’s last surviving uncle, was probably deep in council with his fellow conspirators in his castle at Methven, just 10km west of Perth. It was likely here that he met with Sir Robert Graham and his son, Thomas, his own grandson Robert Stewart, Master of Atholl, who was a prominent figure within the royal household, and a small group of Perth burgesses, to finalise the details of the attack on the king and queen.
Methven had been a Stewart property since the Wars of Independence, when it had been granted to Earl Walter’s grandfather and namesake by King Robert I, and had been the powerbase from which Robert the Steward had built up his domination of the Perth area in the years before he became king. The youngest of Robert II’s sons, Walter had acquired Methven as one of several properties scattered from Cortachy in Angus through central Scotland to the Stewart homelands in the west. It seems to have been his favourite property, even after he acquired greater and more prestigious titles, such as Earl of Atholl, but nothing remains at the castle today to show how he may have added to it to reflect his status and power. The present building on the site, which can be seen clearly from the A85 road between Perth and the village of Methven, dates from the late seventeenth century.
One fragment that remains to show how important Methven was to Earl Walter is the north transept chapel of the collegiate church that he founded at Methven’s parish church in 1433. Reused after the Reformation as the burial-place of the later Smythe owners of Methven Castle, it and the church to which it was attached were intended to be the dynastic burial-place of Walter and his heirs. Organised like a mini cathedral chapter, the collegiate church was to be served by a provost, five chaplain-prebendaries, and four choirboys. The chaplain-prebendaries whom he provided richly from his estates to support in the church were there to say masses perpetually for the welfare of his soul and to protect his tomb. Since he and his grandson were executed as traitors and their dismembered corpses dispersed around the kingdom, it never served that purpose. Walter’s violent end ensured that the collegiate church never developed beyond its 1433 endowment and its building may never have been completed to the scale that he had planned. Today, its one surviving portion survives roofed but closed up in the graveyard of the eighteenth-century parish church and can be viewed from the outside.