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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter II. The "King's New Haven" and Burgh


James Speed, one time Provost of Burntisland, who died 1S6T, states in his unpublished notes relating to the Royal Burgh of Burntisland, chiefly compiled from the Burgh Records, that during the 12th century the inhabitants of certain towns were endowed by the Kings of Scotland with important municipal privileges, constituting these places Free Royal Burghs. The number of such towns at the end of that century was about eighteen; at the Union sixty-six . . . On the introduction of the feudal system into Scotland, each Royal Burgh came to be considered a vassal of the Crown. The community was authorised to administer justice, and to manage the common property. The permanent inhabitants were all freemen. These Burghs were the only places in Scotland where the lower classes of the people had anything approaching civil liberty, or where trade or the industrial arts could be prosecuted without being subject to the capricious interference of the higher nobles. Deriving their immunities from the Sovereign, the Burgesses were generally disposed to protect him from the aggressions of the nobles or the Church. The Magistrates were judges in all civil causes, and in criminal causes except the four pleas of the Crown.” These were murder, robbery, rape, and wilful fire-raising-; all punishable by death. I would like to know how local authorities came to try for witchcraft, and on conviction to carry out the death sentence.

There were other classes of burghs, Baron Burghs and Burghs of Regality. The latter were instituted with permission of the Crown by monasteries 011 lands belonging to them, and the Abbot had the power of life and death in his Court of Regality, a power, as we have seen, not given to Burgh Courts. Burntisland existed as a Burgli of Regality in the name, as we have seen, of Bertiland or Byrtiland as early as 1506 under Dunfermline Abbey and probably long before, and after it had been proclaimed a Royal Burgh it reverted to a Burgh of Regality in 1574.

Though the name of the parish in which Burntisland lay was in the 12th century Ivingorn, and gave to the Kirkton church the name of the “kirk of Kinghorne Wester,” and to the Castle the “Tower of Kinghorne Wester”—names which stuck to them for centuries—it is clear from the defensive tower being at the harbour, the town there being a Burgh of Regality with the distinctive name of Bertiland; and that James V. gave his charter as a reward to the inhabitants for “gratuitous services rendered to him and his predecessors, Kings of Scotland” ; that the town was important compared with the kirkton. The most of the early history we have we owe to church documents, and naturally these are strongly flavvoured with purely ecclesiastical nomenclature. Mr D. J. Balfour Kirke, Greemnount, in a recent lecture—“Burntisland in 1511”—rich in historical details and imagery, showed that on the testing of the Great Michael, King James IV. came from Falkland to meet his Admiral, “Schir Andrew Wood,” who had a house at Burntisland, believed to he 34 High Street, and boarded the “greato schip” in the loadstead of Burntisland (Portus. Gratiae).

The first mention of the name Burntisland in ancient documents, which I have seen with my own ej'es, appears in the Exchequer Bolls, when, under date 1540 and the significant heading “The New Haven,” there is a long list of monies paid to “Robert Orrock, maister of the work of the Brint Eland . . . for tymmer, inn, and making the stane boil (boat or butt)—Dry Dock—“of the said Iland.” In this year King James V. made a tour of the Isles with 12 ships from the Firth of Forth. It is evident from this extract that the work must have been going on for some time, and that it was of a national character, of which additional proof is found in a petition from the Town Council in IGG4 in which they specify the “peirs and bulwarks of the harbour which were erceted be King James the Fyft of blessed memory.” In 1541 occurs the item “the xxx day of April gevin for ane bote’s fraucht frae the Brintelind to Leith with twa gunnis Ns.” In 1542 the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer show the expenses of the “wark at the Brintilund and the King’s grace schippis”; the materials and prices for building these; and on one occasion, as an example of many, the money “gevin to Robert Orrock for paying of the werkmen’s wageis wirkand at the Brint Hand, and for irne bocht be him thairto frae the first day of September last bipast to the xxix day of Julie instant as his buke of compt beris ijc xlv lh. xix.v”—245 19s. From other entries the ships appear to have had the finishing touches put on them at Leith.

Thus in 1540 there were being built at Burntisland for King James V. piers, bulwarks, a graving dock, and ships. Many other entries show that from this time for many years Burntisland was used as a naval base : the enemy would (all it a pirate stronghold. Shipowners were encouraged to arm their vessels, and on returning witli booty received a goodly share of the spoils. One or two extracts from the Exchequer Rolls to show this:— In 1545, “item. To James Lindsay, masor, qulm at commands of the Lords of Counsal past to Brint Eland and thair arreistit (for valuation purposes) the lnglisehe scliip fane in Flanders x.s.” In the .same year “ item, to ane boy that cam frae the Capitane of the Lyon advertising that the marin-aris and tymmar wrychtis wuld be gotten in the Brunt Eland.’' In 1549 send to the Brynt Yland to arrest the prysis broucht in be Hannis Fairlankis schip laidint wit lit leid and tyn.” Some time previous other two prizes (French) had been brought in. In educating its citizens in this privateering, Burntisland could expect nothing but a “looking for of judgement.” Habit becomes second nature. In 1573 “ Capitane Halkerstone . . . Mathew Sinclair and tliair complices tuke ane schip furth of the bavin of Brint Hand . . . and spullyeit the greittast part of our Soveraine Lordis Isles.” Although the originator of this activity was dead withing two short years after granting his charter, it continued, though in fits and starts, and frequent opposition. Speed gives the date of the first Royal Charter as 1541, following perhaps the note on a flyleaf of one of the old minute-books, which runs as follows:—“Charter granted be K. James the 5tli beares no yther da it bot that it is given at Linlithgow the 28 year of K. J. his regne.” That is 1541. I find, however, that the year was 1549, as th? following entry in the Exchequer Rolls fcr that year shows:—“ item, the vii j day of Februar (leliverit to the Laird of Sillebawbe” (Robert Orrock) “to give to the convent of Dunferniling for seling of the charter of Brint Eland xxxiij .”

The town was proclaimed as a Royal Burgh with the customary solemnities in 1558, but the charter had never been submitted to Parliament, and this gave the convent at Dunfermline grounds for interference. James V. liad given them lands elsewhere in exchange for the port and six acres of land, the boundaries of which began at the half-1110011 eastwards across the ridges of East and West Broomliill and Craigkennochie to the Baths. This was more than six acres, and it is thought that “ it was on account of this excess that the Earls of Tweedale, as succeeding to the rights of the Abbey claimed the right to exact a tax called Burgh Mail.” In 1688 the Earl tried to obtain from the town ‘550. The commendator of Dunfermline when the town was proclaimed a Royal Burgh was Lord Robert Pitcairn, an able man and full of wiles. In 15T0 he was Secretary of State to James VI., yet was one of those who arrested him at Ruthven Castle in 1582, and was banished for this. In 1574 with an admirable audacity he re-erected the town into a Burgh of Regality at the instigation of Sir Robert Melville, who is supposed to have been trying to improve his position at tlie Castle, or make clear his existing rights there. However, a new Royal Charter was obtained, and confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1585, which set forth that King James the VI. having found that his ancestor King James the fifth as a reward for the gratuitous services rendered to him and his predecessors Kings of Scotland by the inhabitants of Byrtiland ” since its erection into a great civil community, and to encourage them to go forward in prosecuting trade and navigation, had at great expense constructed the port called the Port of Grace,1 and disposed it and the lands adjoining- thereto, acquired from the monks and abbots of Dunfermline, to the Provost, Baillies, Council and community thereof . . . renews and confirms the said charter. The dispute, nevertheless, continued between the Burgh and the Abbey, on Sir Robert Melville, whose aim was to obtain possession of the ground between his Castle wall and the harbour, so as to block up the Burgh’s access to the Island and West Head, and to force the inhabitants to have their meal ground and their wood sawn at the Sea Mills. The meal mill is still standing1. The saw mill appears on a map in my possession dated 1843. These mills were driven by water wheels moved by the exit of the tide which was collected in a dam at one time extending to the road crossing to the Ivirk-ton. What the exact legal merits of the Mills dispute were cannot now he determined.

In 1599 Sir George Home, afterwards Earl of Berwick, “was asked to accept the office of Provost so that his influence at Court might protect the town from the pretensions of the Melvilles.” He was elected and remained Provost till 1610, with the exception of one year, 1604-5, when Sir Robert Melville, younger, who had been Provost before J599, managed to get re-elected. But the battle of the Castle or that of the Mills had “ none end at all.” After every desperate bout, nothing near fatal, the opponents, like the wife “ of the same opinion still,” took a rest and went at it again. In 1632 the Town made a new move. The Council applied to the “Viscount Stirling” to procure a new “ Royal Charter, all swearing by the extension of the right hand” to keep the matter secret. In 1633 the new charter was sent down from London to be sealed, but it was then discovered that Sir Robert was entitled to see it before the sealing. He of course raised objections to its terms, but it was confirmed by Act of Parliament 2nd July, J633. Acts of Parliament are only made to be broken : the dispute went on as before. A solution hove in sight for a moment in 1655 when the “Sea Millies” were to be sold. The Council met hurriedly and decided to buy them, bat no bargain was struck. In 1670 Peter Walker proposes to build the town “a mine driven by horses.” The Countess of Wemyss hears of this, and reasserts the Castle’s rights to saw the wood and grind the town’s meal. In 1683, after a gap of 13 years—unlucky number—the Council gives much favour to what seems a brilliant idea—a corn milne driven by wind on the Lammerlaws. After an unprecedented spate of law, tliis too blows over, when it is once again decided (1692) that “the inhabitants are adstricted to the Sea Milnes of the Countess of Wemyss. But the Burntislanders would not take it lying down. The blood of the inveterate and obdurate Celt flowed in their veins (though curiously enough you will read the Council Records of the first 270 years and find barely a single clan name). To us it seems a mere hopeless habit, like the fluttering of a bird on the wires of its cage. In 1712 an act of Parliament was procured thirling the maltnien and brewers, 23 in number, to the town’s “new steel milnes” built in 1711, situated in the gardens behind 72 or 74 High Street. Up pops again that hated -Tack in the Box, the proprietor of the Sea Mills, then the Earl of Wemyss, who restates his right of thirlage. After more torrents of law it was determined to try arbitration, with the result that the inhabitants are ordained to return to the Sea Mills. Even in 1849, in spite of the passing of the Burgh Reform Act, the claims of the Castle appeared to be still maintained, as I have seen a letter from a James Morrison strongly advising the Council to drop some mill scheme they had in hand on account of its history and their having 110 legal justification.

Along with this dispute went that of the boundary of the Castle. The friction was constant with Sir Robert Melville, but unlike the case of the Mills, the town was always successful in preventing the persistent efforts #to encroach on their march. It is pleasing to record that after one of these attempts of Sir Robert’s, the Council sent asking him to allow them to meet him at the Castle gate to accompany him to the kirk. This he agreed to; and after many another tussle when Lord Melville—for he succeeded his fnther in this title—died, the Council attended his funeral to Monimail in a body, and expressed in a minute their feeling- that they had lost a true friend. But the halchet was unburied. One case in 1705 was serious. The tenant of the Castle, Colin Mackenzie (we were having an anterin Highlander by then) clandestinely managed to have a wall partly built before the Council observed him. Even till 1873, when the Council purchased the Castle, and re-sold it with new titles to the late James Shepherd, Esq., did this controversy of 300 years continue.


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