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Scottish Charms and Amulets
The Lee-Penny


Of the Lee-Penny it may justly be said that, thanks to the Talisman of Sir Walter Scott, it is the most widely known of all the Scottish amulets. Although it has already been repeatedly described, it is necessary that it should be included in the present notice of Scottish charms, otherwise this paper would be incomplete. The amulet consists of a small, dark-red stone, of an irregular triangular or heart shape, set in the reverse of a groat of Edward IV., of the London Mint. According to tradition, the stone was brought in the fourteenth century by Sir Simon Lockhart of Lee from the Holy Land, where it had been used for the cure of fevers, etc. When used for healing purposes in Scotland, the Lee-Penny was drawn once round a vessel filled with water and then dipped three times into the liquid. In an "Account of the Penny in the Lee," written in 1702, it is stated that the amulet "being taken and put into the end of a cloven stick, and washen in a tub full of water, and given to cattell to drink, infallibly cures almost all manner of diseases," and that "the people come from all airts of the kingdom with their diseased beasts." About the year 1629 the "routting ewill, a strange and suddane diseas," prevailed in Scotland, "quhairthrow" an ox "was nevir able to ly down, bot routted continuallie till he deid." To cure this disease some persons travelled from East Lothian "to the laird of Leyis house and cravett the len" of "his cureing stane—quhilk was refuisit be the lady; but [she] gave thame ane certaine quantitie of water in flaccones quhairin the said stane was dippit, quhilk being gevin as drink to the bestiall haillit thame." For this conduct the parties were subjected to ecclesiastical censure and appointed to undergo penance in the church of Dunbar, although they urged in extenuation of their offence that such was the ordinary practice of "husbandmen of the best soirt." It is said that "in one of the epidemics of the plague which attacked Newcastle in the reign of Charles I., the inhabitants of that town obtained the loan of the Lee-Penny by granting a bond of £6000 for its safe return. Such, it is averred, was their belief in its virtues, and the good that it effected, that they offered to forfeit the money and keep the charm-stone." But "the most remarkable cure performed upon any person was that of a Lady Baird of Sauchtonhall, near Edinburgh, who, having been bit by a mad dog, was come the length of a hydrophobia; upon which, having sent to beg that the Lee-Penny might be sent to the house, she used it for some weeks, drinking and bathing in the water it was dipped in, and was quite recovered. This happened about eighty years ago [that is, about 1707], but it is very well attested, having been told by the Lady of the then Laird of Lee, and who died within these thirty years. She also told that her husband Mr Lockhart and she were entertained at Sauchtonhall by Sir Baird and his Lady for several days in the most sumptuous manner, on account of the lady’s recovery, and in gratitude for the loan of the Lee-Penny so long, as it was never allowed to be carried away from the house of Lee."

Towards the latter end of the seventeenth century the Lee-Penny formed the subject of a complaint by Gawen Hammiltoune of Raplocke to the Presbytery of Glasgow, the result of which was the following deliverance by the brethren :

"Apud Glasgow, the 25 Octobr. Synod Sess. 2.

"Quhilk daye, amongest the referries of the brethren of the ministrie of Lanerk, it was propondit to the Synode, that Gawen Hammiltoune of Raplocke had preferit an complaint before them against Sir James Lockart of Lie, anent the superstitious using of an stene set in selver for the curing of diseased cattell, qik, the said Gawen affirmit, coud not be lawfully used, and that they had differit to give ony decisioune therein, till the advice of the Assemblie might be had concerning the same. The Assemblie having inquirit of the muaner of using thereof, and particularlie vnderstoocle, by examinatioune of the said Laird of Lie, and otherwise, that the custome is onhie to cast the stene in sume water, and give the diseasit eattil thereof to drink, and yt the sam is dene wtout using onie words, such as charmers and sorcerers use in their unlawfull practicess; and considering that in nature they are mony thinges seen to work strange effects, qr of no humane witt can give a reason, it having pleasit God to give vnto stones and herbes special virtues for the healing of mony infirmities in man and beast,_-advises the bretheren to surcease thir proces, as q’rin they perceive no ground of offence; and admonishes the said Laird of Lie, in the using of the said stone, to tak heed that it be vsit heirafter wt the least scandal that possiblie inaye bie.—Extract out of the books of the Assemblie helden at Glasgow, and subscribed be thair Clerk, at thair comand.

"M. Robert Young,
"Clerk to the Assemblie at Glasgow."

Henderson mentions a piece of silver called the Lockerby Penny, which he states is still preserved at Lockerby, in Dumfriesshire. When used for the cure of madness in cattle "It is put in a cleft stick, and a well is stirred round with it, after which the water is bottled off and given to any animal so affected. A few years ago, in a Northumbrian farm, a dog bit an ass, and the ass bit a cow; the penny was sent for, and a deposit of 50l. actually left till it was restored. The dog was shot, the cuddy died, but the cow was saved through the miraculous virtue of the charm. On the death of the man who thus borrowed the penny, several bottles of water were found among his effects, stored in a cupboard, and labelled ‘Lockerby Water."


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