Itenery of Alexander Lesley the visitor to the mission of Scotland, [1681]


Itenery of Alexander Lesley the visitor to the mission of Scotland, [1681]


Scottish Catholics abroad


Itinerary of Alexander Lesley, the visitor to the mission of Scotland. In May 1677 he was elected visitor to the mission of Scotland by PF, and he received the instructions in October that same year. While he was staying in Strathbogie he received news from the prefect of the mission, Alessandro Winstero [Alexander Winster], that post for him had arrived from Rome. He had someone pick it up at the palace of the marquess of Huntley. Reading the letters he was surprised to be chosen as visitor, since he was the weakest of all the missionarie candidates. The winter of that year came earlier than usual, and on 15 October it was already snowing. Despite this, he went travelling around the sheriffdom of Aberdeen to visit the usual places, and to also gather the require information.. Several times his work was delayed by the bad weather, and he asked his superior for more money because he needed to travel through the provinces of Aberdeen and Banff, to find Alexander Winster. Eventually however, he did not really give him the answers he wanted. It seemed as if he made his answers agree with those of the Jesuits, while only saying general things and excluding any information about individuals. He begged Winster to answer him, but, as will become clear later, it took him very long to get a response. In the meantime he went to the south of Scotland, to find the superior of the Jesuits. Because of the bad weather it was impossible to travel any longer, and he was forced to stay at 'Monte Rosa.' In these times he met a Jesuit named Murray, but his actual name was Roberto Spreull, and he asked him to tell his superior that he really wanted to meet him. For the rest of January he stayed in Mernia [The Mearns?], and halfway through February he went up north to visit Banff to help the Catholics living there. At the house of the Barone di Balquain [Baron of Balquhain] he met another Jesuits, Giorgio Lesleo [George Lesley], and he also asked him to persuade the Jesuit superior to talk to him. Halfway through Lent he went to Moray, and there he wrote a letter to Roberto Monrho [Robert Monro], asking him to come down from the mountains to talk to him at Bogh [Gordon Castel] in 'Ainzia' [Enzie?] in April. While he was staying in Inverness he helped many Catholics that had not seen a priest for a long time. The Catholics there were very happy to see them, and he decided to stay there for a longer period. From here he returned to Muray and Angus, and at the end of April he eventually had to go to Gordon Castel (the palace of the marquess of Huntley, which was close to the river Spey). There he met Monro and together they travelled to Inverness. For their travel into the mountains they bought cloths made according to the custom of the Highlands. They travelled to Loch Ness over the river with the same name. There they met the missionary Francesco Bianchi [Francis White]. From there they went to The Aird, where they stayed in the house of Alessandro Frasero di Kinnaries, who whilst staying in Rome had met Lesley’s brother [William Lesley]. From there they went to Strathglass whose lord and almost all his vassals are devout Catholics. Because they had a mountainous road ahead of them, they had to leave their horses behind. From there they went to Invergarry, where they stayed at the residence of the Count Macdonel [MacDonell], who is also a Catholic. Here he fell sick and the wife of MacDonell advised him to return, but Lord MacDonell himself was convinced that he should continue. They arrived at Loch Lochy, almost everybody here was a heretic for which reason it was hard to find a place to sleep. They were forced to pay prices three times as high as the usual rate. The next day they went to Loch Eil by boat, and they walked to a town, were they were treated well by the Catholics. They continued their journey by boat to ‘Glenallandaill’ where the rain forced them to stay for eight days. This was the land of Moidart where almost everybody is Catholic. From here he sent a letter to Paris, which was received by Barclaio [Robert Barclay], reporting that there was one student who would be very suitable for his College. Afterwards they took another boat, and Monro had to climb a mountain to visit a very ill Catholic. In the evening they took a boat to Kyndloch [Kindlocheil?], where the lord of Moidart had a house. They stayed in a another house though on an island called ‘Zona’ [Shuna?]. They stayed there for five or six days in order to help all the Catholics. They travelled through ‘Glenwik’ and went to a place called Arasaika [Airsag?]. The priest who used to stay here, Giorgio Fannero, an Irish Dominican, had died. The population was very happy to see Monro, but when they heard that the priests were planning to leave for the islands within three days, their happiness turned into resentment. The next day they left from Cape Keapach [Keppoch?] and they went to the island of Eigg and from there to another island, Rùm. There are not many inhabitants but they are all very pious Catholics, even though they are living without any priests. From there they went to the island of Canna, all inhabitants were Catholics and received them with great enthusiasm. The inhabitants wanted them to baptize their children. Sometime before a few heretic priests had visited the island as well, and tried to do the same. From there they left for the island of Barra and ended up lost in a fog which caused an argument among the sailors. It would have been very dangerous if they would get past the last of the islands, in that case the currents could lead them all the way to America or Nova Zembla. When the fog cleared up they saw the island of Uist, and from there they went to Eriskay, where they stayed with the old widow of the lord of Moidart. From Eriskay they went to Barra, where they stayed for most of the time at the castle, also known as Kisimul Castle. As in all the places they visited, the inhabitants were very frustrated when Monro left. Lesley believes that if he had not been with him they would have forced Monro to stay. They only let him go when he promised to bring their problems to the Holy See. They travelled further, first back to Eriskay, then to the southern part of Uist. They stayed there for three weeks, which still was not enough to help everybody; Lesley could only talk to people with the help of an interpreter. He visited many other islands, which he does not describe. When he had all the information he needed, Lesley returned to the mainland. Also it was safer to return before August. A lord from the islands, of the house of MacDonell, helped them find a boat. Lord MacDonell said that Lesley’s mission to bring the notion of their misery to the pope was more important than anything else. First they had to wait till the sea became a bit calmer, then they went to Canna. The more they helped the people there, the harder it got to escape from them. Many times Lesley wished he could stay there to serve their religious needs. From Canna they went to Loch Morar and further to Loch Nevis, where they wanted to visit the island of Skye and help the Catholics in Knoydart. In Skye they found a discord between two MacDonell families. Afterwards they returned to Loch Nevis. Because of the heavy rain they were forced to stay there and Lesley had the time to see more of the region of Lochaber. Later, they entered a part of this region named ‘Locherkik.’ Because of his illness and the continuous rain, he really believed he would die there. Because the people there were heretics, they did not want to sell them anything. Sometimes though the heretics asked them to baptize their children. It still hurts Lesley to think about how many souls are lost because of a shortage of priests. Because he was ill he was forced to retreat in the house of the count of MacDonell. Later he continued to visit the rest of the region, where the possible harvest is great, but the priests few. It was moving to see how good the people were in absence of priests. After Lochaber they went to Invergarry, Loch Ness, Glenmoriston, Stratherrick and many other places. Everywhere they asked Lesley for priests to help them. He went back to Strathglass, the Aird and eventually Inverness. After this, Monro went back to the mountains, Lesley prepared himself to go back to the Lowlands. He returned to Moray and to Gordon Castle. Through Banff, Aberdeen and ‘Mervia’ he arrived in Angus. Here he had to visit his doctor and friend Dieson, and because of his illness stayed for eight weeks. In these times, a rumor of an alleged conspiracy, resulted in a persecution of Catholics not only in England but also in Scotland. With Gods help he was not arrested. While he was staying at ‘Monte Rosa’ he received a letter from Francesco Irvino [Francis Irvin] after which he immediately left the city; if he had not done so he would have fallen in their hands. A Jesuit priest had already been arrested and they had searched the houses of Catholics. All the Catholics gathered around them crying because he had to leave. His biggest concern were his notes, which he did not want to destroy. The doctor gave him a horse to flee to the countryside on, through the cold winter. He stayed at the house of a Catholic named Bridgeford. Here, close to the mountains, he was safe, because priests could always travel easily there. Many Catholics told Lelsey that the heretics were looking for him. At the same time the Jesuits had written to his superior that he was a Jansenist, and had done the Jesuit order wrong. Other Jesuits tried to set the Catholics up against him, and were told that he only obtained the position of visitor because of his brother, [William Lesley], who was the procurator of the mission in Rome. Many of his friends warned him against these accusations. He understood very well that his enemies just wanted him to make a mistake, so that they would have something to base their allegations on. Near Christmas 1678 he arrived in ‘Balvenia’ [Balvenie?] where he would hide until the persecutions would be over. He stayed at the house of his brother Giovanni in "Tullocalma" [Tullochalum?] where he celebrated Christmas. The priest of ‘Balvenia’ (who Lesley thought was a friend), told the authorities of Banff about him staying there. Lesley already had been afraid of this, and made sure he never stayed at the same place too long in the provinces of ‘Glentinetta,’ ‘Stradaunia’ [Stratdon?] and other places. He left his notes in a secret place in the mountains to protect them. From the beginning of May he travelled through Banff and Aberdeen, in the latter he was almost captured. He was staying there to rest and the old lady of Pesfodels [Pitfodels?] visited him often. One day when a heretic saw Lesley entering the house of this lady, he told the authorities. At the discussion of the magistrate, ‘lo Spione’ (a friend of this lady), went to her house to warn her. Lesley fled the house and stayed in the countryside till sunrise. After dawn he went to the house of a Catholic friend, Ricardo Irvino. From there he went to the mountains. While walking around in ‘Mervia’ he was forced to stay for three months with the aforementioned Bridgeford, because his legs were swollen. He had to spend a lot of money, in order to get the right medicine from Deison. In the fall of 1679 he went to Angus were he wrote to his superior, asking him to respond to some questions of his instruction; he already asked these questions a year earlier, and luckily he answered them shortly afterwards. At the end of fall he went to Gordon Castle. In December 1679 he arrived in Edinburgh to visit the southern parts of Scotland. Because the duke of York or Albany was staying there, everything was very expensive. He talked with him and with the duchess. In the meantime he was still waiting for the response of his superior. Eventually he came to Edinburgh, but only for a small amount of time, for which he could not answer all the questions. The superior told Lesley that he could answer his questions after returning from the north, after Easter 1680. Eventually Lelsey received the information he needed himself from the Catholics of ‘Laudonia’ [Lothian?], Galloway and Clydesdale and others and went to the north himself. In May 1680 he arrived at Gordon Castle, here he met his superior who told Lesley that he could not answer his questions, because he lost the paper containing them. For this reason Lesly was forced to travel to the place where he left his notes (at ‘Drummaica’), 60 miles from the Castle. By then he only wanted to answer after Lesley had let him read the response written by the Jesuits. When he had collected all the things he needed, Lelsey said that he wanted to go to Rome. When they saw that he was serious they started to write him letters and give him recommendations. In the meantime his superior met the superior of the Jesuits in Edinburgh to talk about the visitation. At the end he received a letter from his superior saying that he should not damage the relation between the Jesuits and the secular priests. Lesley told him that he could only tell the truth. Many have tried to support his visitation, almost everyone in fact, except the superior of the Jesuits. The great disposition of the Catholics has always given him great support. He did not want to leave his spiritual children behind, but for the good of the mission he had to do it. Eventually on 6 July 1680, he took a boat from Germoch [Garmouth] leaving for Rotterdam. The wind though blew them off course. After they passed ‘Sarmouth’ [Yarmouth?] they were struck by a tempest. There was nothing to eat and they did not have any fresh water. The wind blew them in the direction of the north of Holland. At Texel they took a pilot to lead them to port. He was forced to travel through the northern part of Holland to Amsterdam, and from there Lesley went to Rotterdam by boat. Eventually he arrived in Brussels, from where he went to Paris by coach. Because the plague ravaged Germany it was better to go through France. He had to stay a month in Paris to buy clothes and to arrange his notes. On 6 October 1680 Lesley begun his travel to Rome, until Auxerre he went by river, and from Auxerre until Chalon by road, and from Chalon to Lyon he went by water again. In Lyon he waited a while until there were horses to cross the Alps. By Turin and Piacenza he reached Loreto, and he reached Rome on 4 December 1680.
Additional comments


Alexander Lesley


APF CP 26, 302r-327r




original; unsigned










Alexander Lesley, “Itenery of Alexander Lesley the visitor to the mission of Scotland, [1681],” Early Modern Documents: Sources and Resources for Historical Research, accessed July 14, 2024,