Maxton Scotland
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Duns Scotus

Arguments have raged throughout the years as to the birthplace of this eminent scholar and they will no doubt continue. He was born in Maxton, or Embleton or Duns. The only certainty is that he was born somewhere.

'In or about 1265 Littledean was the birthplace of Duns Scotus.'

Duns Scotus was born in 1265 and died in 1308. It has long been argued that he was born at Dunstan Hall, now named Procter Stead. He belonged to the order of Franciscan Friars, and afterwards became Doctor of Theology in Merton College, Oxford. He was educated at Merton, and

'so proficient was he in logic and school divinity, and so great was his fame, that, when professor in Oxford University, incredible numbers attended his lectures. He was the founder of the sect of Scotists. Few men have been more extravagantly lauded; he could, it is said, have invented philosophy, if it had not existed before; his knowledge of the mysteries of religion was rather intuitive certainty than belief; and he was the most ingenious, acute, and subtle of the sons of men.'

One of the main reasons for accepting his birth as being Dunstan Hall, has been the fact that at the end of one of his manuscripts is the subscription:

'Here endeth the lecture of John Duns, called the subtile Doctor in the university of Paris, who was born in a certain hamlet of the parish of Emylton, called Dunstan in the county of Northumberland, belonging to the house of the scholars of Merton Hall in Oxford.'

Grave doubt has been cast upon the genuineness of this addition; in fact, a former fellow of Merton College, Bishop Creighton, considered the addition to be very suspect, as did the College authorities.

It has also been stated with similarly dubious authority that he was born into the family of Dunse which lived in Duns, as late as the middle of the 16th century. The site of his birth is reputed to be on the south-west slope of Duns Law, a few yards from the lodge leading to the Castle.

In an attempt to solve the question, or at least to throw more light on the subject, Mr Cowper, Minister of Maxton Kirk, and preparer of the response of the parish to the Third Statistical Account, eventually updated and published in 1992 , wrote, in 1953, to the National Library of Scotland and received the following reply:

National Library of Scotland
Department of Printed Books
21st October, 1953.

Dear Sir
The most notable research of recent years into the question of Duns Scotus's birthplace has been conducted by Ephrem Longpré, a Franciscan. He is definitely of the opinion that Scotus was born in Maxton. He has written on the subject under the title "Nouveaux documents d'Écosse" in "Archivium Franciscanum Historicum" tome XX11 (1929) pp 188-9. Longpré's findings are accepted by Etienne Gibson in his important book "Jean Duns Scotus" (Paris: Vrin 1952) pp 670-1. Gibson also supplies in a footnote, a number of references to other contributions on the subject, mainly by Longpré and by Callebâut. Effrem Bettoni, in his "Vent'anni di Studi Scotists, 1920 - 1940" (Milan, 1943) pp 4-5 also discusses the question of Scotus's birthplace, and accepts Longpré's findings.

Yours faithfully
Signed D. M. Lloyd

This reply, obviously, strongly supports Maxton as Scotus' birthplace, but on what evidence I do not know, as I have not been able to access the documents quoted in Mr Lloyd's letter.

Since the time of the above letter, further research has cast serious doubts about the sources used by previous writers on the subject. In 1965, the validity of the source mainly used by Longpré, the writings of Marianus Brockie, was challenged in an article called 'The Brockie Forgeries' by Henry Docherty.

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