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Aberdeen In The Middle Ages

The name Aberdeen probably comes from the word aber (meaning mouth of the river) Don. Aberdeen was probably founded by the 8th century AD as a fishing settlement. However by the early 12th century Aberdeen had grown into a town. One sign of this came in 1136 when the burgesses (merchants and craftsmen) of Aberdeen were given the right to charge a tithe (a tax of one 10th of all goods) on ships entering or leaving the harbour and by then it was a busy little port. Exports from Aberdeen included salted fish, hides and wool.

Then in 1137 Aberdeen was given a bishop, another sign of its growing importance. Finally in 1179 Aberdeen was given a charter. (A document granting the townspeople certain rights). Aberdeen continued to grow and by 1264 it had a castle. The first mention of a provost of Aberdeen was in 1272.

In the early Middle Ages there were actually two settlements, Old and New Aberdeen. In the late Middle Ages they merged together physically but they remained legally separate.

By the year 1200 Aberdeen may have had a population of around 3,000. That might seem very small to us but by the standards of the time it was quite a large town. There were 4 main streets forming a cross. The market was held by the Denburn.

However in the 12th century some of Aberdeen's inhabitants were immigrants from Flanders (roughly modern day Belgium). They would have spoken French.

During the Middle Ages the people of Aberdeen lived by fishing or by weaving and dying wool or by working leather (some of them were skinners, tanners, glovers and saddlers).

The church was very powerful in the Middle Ages and its presence was everywhere. St Machar's Cathedral was built in stages in the 14th and 15th centuries.

During the Middle Ages there were friars in Aberdeen. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach). The Trinitarian friars (known as red friars because of the colour of their costumes) arrived about 1211. The Dominican friars (known as black friars) arrived about 1221. The Carmelite or white friars arrived in Aberdeen in the late 15th century.

Furthermore in the Middle Ages the church ran the only 'hospitals'. In 1363 a leper hospital was founded outside the town on Spital Hill. In it monks looked after the lepers as best they could. This dreaded disease slowly died out as the centuries past. The last recorded leper was in the early 17th century. In 1168 another 'hospital' was founded where old priests and poor people were given food and shelter.

The 14th century was a troubled time for Scotland. However, according to tradition, in 1306, the people of Aberdeen helped Robert the Bruce by entering the castle and killing the defenders. Later the town's motto became Bon Accord, which was the password on the night the castle was taken.

Robert the Bruce rewarded the people for their loyalty to him by granting them one of his hunting forests. The revenue from the forest went into a common fund.

However in 1336 Aberdeen was burned by an English army. Worse in 1350 the Black Death came to Aberdeen. It may have killed half the population of the town. In 1401 a disease called the 'pest' came to Aberdeen. It is not certain what this disease was, it may have been typhoid, but it killed many people.

Despite these setbacks Aberdeen grew into a large town by the end of the Middle Ages (at least by the standards of the time). The population of Aberdeen was about 4,000.

Brig O Balgownie was started about 1285. It was finished about 1320.

Kings College was founded in 1495.

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