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Arbroath and its Abbey
Chapter IV - Arbroath from 1440 to 1640


WE have to regret the scanty notices afforded for the history of Arbroath during the dominion of the Romish Church, when the little burgh was overlooked in consequence of the contiguity of its gorgeous neighbour the monastery. Boyce, the historian, who was born in Dundee about 1465, does not even so much as name Arbroath in his general description of Scotland.

The period which intervened from the reign of Robert Bruce till the Reformation may be fitly termed the dark ages of Scottish history, when, instead of the surplus wealth with which the country abounded before the death of Alexander III. (as shewn by the sumptuous abbeys and cathedrals erected previous to that melancholy event), the demon of war ravaged the land, followed by its never-failing attendants, famine and pestilence. During these unhappy times, the population decreased, trade became almost unknown, lands formerly cultivated were allowed to run waste, all improvement was arrested, and the central government became weak and contemptible through. the poverty of the royal estate, and the short reigns and comparatively long minorities of the kings of the Stuart line. And, as the royal power was diminished, the irregular and usurped powers of the great barons increased; and they, being generally wholly illiterate, unable to fill up their spare time by reading or other polite studies, and despising, through fashion, every peaceable occupation, were never pleased except when engaged in the prosecution of some feud or broil.

One of our historians, Lindsay of Pitscottie, in describing the state of matters about 1439, during the minority of James II.,--a melancholy period,—says, "Albeit thir three plagues and scourges reigned amongst us [dearth, pestilence, and war], yet nevertheless some men made them never to mend their lives, but rather daily became worse; diverse others that complained upon the enormities that they sustained got little or no redress; wherefore the people began to weary and curse that ever it chanced them to live in such wicked and dangerous times." That Arbroath did not want its full share of these calamities may be fairly concluded from the occurrence of the fierce and bloody skirmish which took place, on a Sabbath day in January 1445-6, at its gates, between the partizans of the Lindsays and Ogilvies, when contending for the Bailiery of the Abbey, of which an account, often quoted, is given by the same historian. It was occasioned by the Convent having removed Alexander Lindsay, eldest son of the Earl of Crawford, afterwards known as the "Tiger Earl," or "Earl Beardy," from the office of Bailiery, on account of his expensive habits, and the substitution of Alexander Ogilvy of Inverquharity in his room. Besides that given by Lindsay, there are several other original accounts of this barbarous specimen of Scottish party warfare. But perhaps none of these are more quaint or graphic than the following, which Mr Inner has transcribed from the Doric vernacular of the Auchinleck chronicle "The yer of God MCCCCXLV., the xxiii. day of Januar, the Erll of Huntlie and the Ogilbeis with him on the to part, and the Erll of Craufurd on the tother part, met at the yettis of Arbroth on ane Sonday laite, and faucht. And the Erll of Huntlie and Wat Ogilbie fled. And Char was slane on thair party, Schir Jhon Oliphant, laird of Aberdalghy, Schir William Forbes, Sehir Alexander Barclay, Alexander Ogilby, David of Aberkerdach, with uther syndry. And on the tother part, the Erll of Craufurd himself was hurt in the field, and deit within viij. dayis. Bot he and his son wan the feild and held it; and efter that, a gret tyme, held the Ogilbys at great subjeccioun, and tuke thair gudis, and destroyit thair placis." It has been said by some writers that upwards of five hundred men fell in this encounter. Sir James Balfour (Annals A.D. 1445) gives the number of soldiers slain as two hundred on Ogilvie's side, and one hundred on Lindsay's side. Their graves have been, from time to time, found below the surface of the ground on both sides of the Brothock. The skulls and other bones which were recently disinterred in the course of excavations made at Orchard Street, were probably the mutilated remains of some of these combatants.

The following account of the Battle of Arbroath, extracted from a ISIS. account of the family of Hamilton, in Panmure House, contains some particulars not given elsewhere:—"About this tyme that great difference fell out between the Earle of Crawfoord and the Ogilbies: for the Earle his eldest son, Alexander Lyndsay, purchased from the Abbott and Convent of Abberbrothock ane right to the Bailliary of that Abbacy, but was keept out of the possessione thereof by Alexander Ogilbie, whose tytle theirto was said to be equall if not better than his. This enmity kendled to such a flame, that upon aither side they assembled their friends in armes. The Ogilbies calleth the Lord Huntley to their assistance and the Lyndsays called the Hamiltons to theirs. Frequent meetings having been made to calm and reconcile maters betwixt them, and nothing being aggreid upon, it was resolved at last to decyde the cause by ther swords. The Earle of Crawfoord, being then at Dundee, posted in all haste to Aberbrothock, and came there just as both parties are ready to begine the fight; and he, designing by calmness to take up the quarrell, went too forwardly to demand a parlie with Alexander Ogilbie for his Bone. But before he could either be known or heard, lie was encountered by a commone soulder, who thrust him in the mouth with a spier, which laid him dead upon the ground. This sudden accident did excite both parties, the one for victory and the other for revenge, which occasioned a most cruel and bloody fight. The victorie fell to the Lindsayes. Alexander Ogilbie, being sore wounded, was taken and brought to the Castle of Fenheaven, where he dyed. The lord Huntley escaped by the swiftness of his horse. Ther wer slaine on the Ogilbies syde John Forbes of Pitsligoe, Alex. Barclay of Gartlay, Robert Maxwell of Tilling, William Gordoune of Borrowfield, and Sir John Oliphant of Aberdagie, of the better sort. Ther wer few of qualitie lost on the other syde, besyde the Earle himselfe, whose loss wes extreemly regreatted."

Referring to the same period, Lindsay adds:—"After this there followed nothing but slaughter in this realm, every party ilk one lying in wait for another, as they had been setting tinchills for the slaughter of wild beasts." A later historian (Tytler) justly asks, "What must have been the state of the government, and how miserable the consequences of those feudal manners and customs which have been admired by superficial enquirers, when the pacific attempt of a few Monks to exercise their undoubted privilege in choosing their own protector, could involve a whole province in bloodshed, and kindle the flames of civil war in the heart of the country?"

In such a period it were vain to expect much prosperity in a place like Arbroath, which at that time did not exceed the size of one of our ordinary villages, although enjoying the rank of a burgh of regality, with commercial privileges equal to those of royal burghs. From its singular position in these respects, it is not easy to ascertain whether or not it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Chamberlain of Scotland, and was subject to his periodical visitations, like the proper royal burghs. As these burghs were considered in a special manner under the king's superintendence, the actual exercise of that superintendence was committed by him to his chamberlain, one of the great officers of State, whose office has been long since abolished. He had power to investigate into and redress all known grievances and corruptions within the royal burghs. For this purpose he made regular circuits, or journeys, which were termed the Chamberlain Aires, most probably from the corruption of the Latin word iter, signifying a journey.

In those times, previous to the invention of printing, there was no publication of blue-boolcs—these ponderous, voluminous, and expensive reports, in which are detailed at great length the results of Parliamentary Committees and Royal Commissioners on almost every department of enquiry in our own days. But we have fortunately a singular document still preserved; believed to have been compiled about the end of the thirteenth century, detailing the manner in which the Chamberlain was to conduct his investigations; with an account of the points to which his attention was to be directed, and the faults and delinquencies of all classes (from the bailies down to the beadles) which he was to enquire into. The records of the Chamberlain Aire are valuable, chiefly on account of the views they afford to us of the manners and customs of our fathers. It has been said that the Chamberlain Aire was not well liked by the burghs, and we are not surprised at their dislike.

We cannot resist the temptation of giving a few notices of the points into which the Chamberlain enquired, leaving it to modern burgesses to decide for themselves how they could stand the ordeal of a Chamberlain Aire at the present time. Although some of the following excerpts have been printed in a popular form, they are in general unknown except to antiquarian lawyers; and it is hoped that those to whom they are familiar, will excuse their repetition for the sake of the many to whom they are new. Thus—"Of the manner to challenge the bailies" —the Chamberlain was to examine whether they stood chargeable with such delinquencies as—"That they do nocht richt evenly to puir and rich: That they let them to do richt (they prevent themselves from doing justice), through favour, hatrent, or love of persons: That they tak gifts for the riclit and law to be done, or left undone: That they seek (search) nocht the burgh lauchfully for Lipper folk to be furth put: That they gar nocht walk the burgh on the nicht be sufficient walkers: That they gar puir folk walk and nocht rich." The two last points refer to the old "watch and ward," the tenure or service which burgesses were bound to render for their possessions; and which are highly indicative of the insecurity of life and property during the early history of our burghs. In explanation of this waking or watching, one of the old burgh laws provides, "that of ilk house within the burgh, in the which there wons ony that in the time of waking aught be reason to come furth, there sail ane wachman be halden to come furth, when that the wakstaff gais frae door to door, wha sall be of eild (of age), and sall gang till his wach with two wappons, at the ringing of the curfew; and sae sall wach wisely and busily till the dawning of the day. And gif ony hereof failzie, he sail pay four pennies — out-tane widows ;" meaning that widows shall be exempted from this duty.

There were no excise laws in Scotland for a long time after this period. But as the brewing of ale was largely carried on, a set of officers named "aill tasters" were appointed to taste the ale of every brewing; and thus, having put it to assize or trial, were to pronounce whether or not it was fit to be sold at the standard price. The Chamberlain was to enquire into their conduct on the following points:—"That they are nocht ready at the forthputting of the token for to taste aill; That they are nocht ready to taste as oft as the brewster tuns: That they firs (fill) their wames in drinking within the house, whereas they should stand in the middle of the street, before the door, and send ane of their fallows in with the beddel, that sall choose of what pot he will taste, the which he sall present till his fallows, and they sail discern thereupon after the assize put to them: That they mak nocht the assize of aill, but say, simply, it is gude or it is evil." These officers were also called " gusters," from the old word gust, signifying taste. It was likewise a fault attributed to them, "That, whereas they suld but ante taste the aill, they drink our meikle, through the whilk they tine their gust and are drunken." Then follow some of the faults of brewsters. "They gar nocht the aill be tasted or it be sauld: They put nocht furth their aill wand to certify the tunners of the aill as they sauld: That after the aill be tasted by the tunners they tun new again: That the pots that they have contains not sac meikle clear aill withoutyn berme."

The gentle craft of shoemaking was also to be enquired into. But it is necessary to bear in mind that in these primitive times the shoemaker purchased his hides in a raw state, and tanned and curried them for himself. The points of enquiry regarding "soutars" were:—"That they buy bark and make schone other-ways than the law has ordained, that is to say, that the horn and the ear should be like lang: That they mak schone, boots, and other graith. of the lether or it be barked (i.e., before it be tanned): That they sew with false and rotten thread, through the whilk the schone are tint before they be half worn: Whereas they should give their lether guid oil and taulch, they give it but water and salt: They work it or it be curryed in Breit hindering and skaith of the king's lieges."

If the sutar was addicted to the above five faults it appears that the tailor stood chargeable with the following seven sins:---"That they mak our meikle refuse and shreds of mens claiths, sometimes for haste and sometimes for ignorance : That they tak pieces and shreds to sieves or other small things: That they mak men's garments otherways than men bids them: That they sew with false graith: They brek men their days, or (as it is sometimes written), They keep nocht their day to ilk man: They mak them maisters before they ken the craft in great skaithing of the king and the people: They work on haly days, against the law of God."

Of the challenge of wobsters (weavers), it is found: "That they mak our lang thrums: Whereas they tak in with weights, when they give it out they mak it donk and weet with water, casting things thereon to gar it weigh, and there-through balding out of it to themselves a grit quantity: That they tak ae man's yarn and puts in another man's web for haste." In some old burghs almost every third or fourth tenement is described as having been at one time a malt work. Malt was made to a very large extent, both for home-brewing and for exportation. The malt-makers were to be challenged among other points, that "they steep nocht their bear enough for grit haste in the makin of it: That they reik it on the kill." Saddlery was an important branch of business in former times, when there existed no mode of travelling except on foot or on horseback. The Charnberlain was to enquire as to saddlers as follows:---"That they mak saddles of green timmer, whereas they aught to be made of withered and dry: That they fasten them nocht fast, nor binds them with leather and glue, as they aught to, be: That they knit to their saddles evil harnessing, false bridle-bits and stirrups, through the whilk mony men are hurt or slain: That they bald nocht their days that they mak to men."

There is reason to believe that at this period the little town of Arbroath was honoured with the presence of much more aristocratical society than it now possesses in these. days of its bustling commercial activity and increasing population and wealth. The high rank of its abbots, and the constant visits which it received from kings, ecclesiastical dignitaries, and nobles made it a fashionable winter residence for many of the more opulent neighbouring landed proprietors, whose "lodgings" are often incidentally referred to in the Abbey records, and may be yet identified on consulting the titles of properties situated near the middle of the town. Some of these mansions were enlarged or reconstructed subsequently to the fall of the Abbey, which was largely used in the furnishing of materials.

About the time of the Reformation the municipal affairs of Arbroath were managed by two Bailies and a Common Council, which varied from nine to fifteen members, elected every year at Michaelmas. At the same time various other sets of officers were elected or appointed, and filled by members of the Council and other burgesses. These were called Lyners, Dykprisers, Flesh-prisers, Tunners of Ale, Punders, Depositors or Treasurers, and "Kepars of the kees of the cocoon kest." The Burgh Court of Arbroath was at that time regularly held every fortnight, and in which a great amount of business was transacted. In these courts the Magistrates, sometimes by themselves, at other times with concurrence of the Council, and on important occasions with advice of the "haill neighbours," enacted laws and regulations regarding the burgh lands and grass, the state of the streets, the prices of provisions, measures to prevent pestilence, and other matters concerning the welfare of the burgesses. They tried offences against these laws, matters of debt, and disputes of all kinds, for which they impanneled juries consisting of nine, eleven, thirteen, or fifteen members; and visited offenders by injunctions to ask forgiveness of the injured party at the market cross, and sometimes by fines, banishment from the town, or loss of burghal freedom and share of the common lands. These proceedings are very distinctly detailed in a Court Register Book, extending from 1563 to 1576, which affords an interesting picture of the state of the burgesses at that time. This record gives a favourable view of the moral condition of the inhabitants of Arbroath at the period in question. The criminal charges tried before the Magistrates consist chiefly of calling names and menacing one another, or disturbing the town or the neighbours, with numerous instances of that old-fashioned specimen of ill nature, lawburrows, and a few instances where the quarrel had come to blows. About forty years afterwards, however, a considerable number of fines (unlaws) were exacted from persons convicted of drawing swords or dirks in their quarrels, and sometimes for shedding blood. But we have found no instance of an offender being tried for theft or drunkenness, or any of the more serious crimes.

After Arbroath was made a royal burgh it was during many years governed by two Bailies and other twelve Councillors, assisted by Lyners, Dykprisers, Flesh and Skinprisers, Overseers of the flesh and meal markets, Shoremasters, Constables, and Officers, while the lord of Arbroath was represented by his resident chamberlain. These burgh officials were elected annually at Michaelmas, when the bailies had "laid down the wand of justice and removed themselves furth of judgment." The Burgh Court became a court of record for the registering of deeds, but ceased to contain entries of those petty trials of offences which render the earlier records interesting. The Convention of Royal Burghs met at Arbroath in the year 1611; and, besides other expenses, cost the town 6 Scots for wine, 4 Scots for ale, fourteen shillings Scots for a peck of flour bakes into bread, and five shillings Scots "for ane pund of butter to the bread." The clock. (knok) and bell seem to have been placed in the church steeple about the same period. When the town was visited by noblemen, ladies of rank, or provosts of other burghs, they were treated with wine and boxes of confections; and the burgesses were entertained by minstrels on St Thomas' Day and other festivals, at the public expense. The Town Records at this time are chiefly filled with entries of the admission of burgesses. These entries shew that all the neighbouring landed proprietors, as well as many in Fifeshire and Kincardineshire, with the ministers in the vicinity, and numerous freemen of Edinburgh, Cupar, Dundee, Forfar, Montrose, and Aberdeen, became burgesses of Arbroath during the period after it attained the rank of a royal burgh till about 1639, when the civil commotions commenced. After 1647 a long blank of nearly seventy years ensues, during which the Town Records seem to have been lost. The existing Council Minutes are believed not to extend continuously farther back than the early part of last century.


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