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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of James VI. 1591 - 1603 Part C


1595, May 26
‘John Gilchrist, Henderson, and Hutton, all three [were] hangit for making of false writs and pressing to verify the same. Jun. 11. Ane callit Cuming the Monk [was] hangit for making of false writs.’ —Bir.

July
Two gentlemen of Stirlingshire, one named Bruce, the other Forester, happened to love one woman, about whom they and their respective friends consequently quarrelled. At a meeting held by the parties with a view to composing differences, Bruce was hurt. Then the ‘clannit men’ of the names of Livingstone and Bruce in the Carse of Faikirk banded themselves together for revenge. A bailie of Stirling, named Forester, who had had no concern in the dispute, was soon after about to journey from Edinburgh to Stirling, when the friends of the deceased ‘belaid all the hieways for his return.’ Before he had gone many miles, they set upon him, and with sword and gun slew him. The most remarkable part of the affair was what followed. Forester being a special servant of the Earl of Mar, it was resolved that he should be buried with solemnity in Stirling. The corpse was met at Linlithgow by the earl and a large party of friends, with displayed banner, and in ‘effeir of weir.’ On their journey to Stirling, they passed through the lands of Livingstone and Bruce, exhibiting ‘a picture of the defunct on a fair canvas, painted with the number of the shots and wounds, to appear the more horrible to the behalders, and this way they completed his burial.’ —
H. K. J.

Another curious circumstance followed. The parties involved in the homicide had a day of law appointed for them in Edinburgh, December 20th, and they, in customary style, summoned their respective friends to be present. A great attendance was expected; but the Privy Council, knowing there was deadly feid between a great number of them, ‘feirit that, upon the first occasion of their meeting, some great inconvenients sall fall out, to the break of his hieness’ peace, and troubling of the guid and quiet estate of the country[!], beside the hindering of justice,’ forbade the coming of such persons to Edinburgh under pain of ‘deid without favour.’—P. C. R.

Aug 1
Complaint was made to the Town Council of Edinburgh by the corporation of surgeons, against M. Awin, a French surgeon, for practising his art within the liberties of the city. He was ordered to desist, under a penalty, except for certain branches of surgery— namely, cutting for the stone, curing of ruptures, couching of cataracts, curing the pestilence, and diseases of women consequent on childbirth.’

Sep
The violences of the age extended even to school-boys. The ‘scholars and gentlemen’s sons’ of the High School of Edinburgh had at this time occasion to complain of some abridgment of their wonted period of vacation, and when they applied to the Town Council for an extension of what they called their ‘privilege,’ only three days in addition to the restricted number of fourteen were granted. It appears that the master was favourable to their suit, but he was ‘borne down and abused by the Council, who never understood well what privilege belonged to that charge. Some of the chief gentlemen’s sons resolved to make a mutiny, and one day, the master being on necessary business a mile or two off the town, they came in the evening with all necessary provision, and entered the school, manned the same, took in with them some fencible weapons, with powder and bullet, and renforcit the doors, refusing to let [any] man come there, either master or magistrate, until their privilege were fairly granted.’—Pa. And.

A night passed over. Next morning, ‘some men of the town came to these scholars, desiring them to give over, and to come forth upon composition; affirming that they should intercede to obtein them the license of other eight days’ playing. But the scholars replied that they were mocked of the first eight days’ privilege . . . . they wald either have the residue of the days granted for their pastime, or else they wald not give over. This answer was consulted upon by the magistrate; and notified to the ministers; and the ministers gave their counsel that they should be letten alone, and some men should be depute to attend about the house to keep them from vivres, sae that they should be compelled to render by extremity of hunger.’—H. K. J.

A day having passed in this manner, the Council lost patience, and determined to use strong measures. Headed by Bailie John Macmoran, and attended by a posse of officers, they came to the school, which was a long, low building standing on the site of the ancient Blackfriars’ monastery. The bailie at first called on the boys in a peaceable manner to open the doors. They refused, and asked for their master, protesting they would acknowledge him at his return, but no other person. ‘The bailies began to be angry, and called for a great jeist to prize up the back-door. The scholars bade them beware, and wished them to desist and leave off that violence, or else they vowed to God they should put a pair of bullets through the best of their cheeks. The bailies, believing they durst not shoot, continued still to prize the door, boasting with many threatening words. The scholars perceiving nothing but extremity, one Sinclair the chancellor of Caithness’ son, presented a gun from a window, direct opposite to the bailies’ faces, boasting them and calling them buttery carles. Off goeth the charged gun. [The bullet] pierced John Macmoran through his bead, and presently killed him, so that he fell backward straight to the ground, without speech at all.

‘When the scholars heard of this mischance, they were ill moved to clamour, and gave over. Certain of them escaped, and the rest were carried to prison by the magistrates in great fury, and escaped weel unslain at that instant. Upon the morn, the said Sinclair was brought to the bar, and was there accused of that slaughter; but be denied the same constantly. Divers honest friends convenit, and assisted him.The relatives of Macmoran being rich, money-offers were of no avail in the case: life for life was what they sought for. ‘Friends threatened death to all the people of Edinburgh (!) if they did the child any harm, saying they were not wise that meddled with the scholars, especially the gentlemen’s sons. They should have committed that charge to the master, who knew best the truest remedy without any harm at all.’

Bailie Macmoran's House

Lord Sinclair, as head of the family to which the young culprit belonged, now came forward in his behalf, and, by his intercession, the king wrote to the magistrates, desiring them to delay proceedings. Afterwards, the process was transferred to the Privy Council. Meanwhile, the other youths, seven in number, the chief of whom were a son of Murray of Spainyiedale and a son of Pringle of Whitebank, were kept in confinement upwards of two months, while a debate took place between the magistrates and the friends of the culprits as to a fair assize; it being alleged that one composed of citizens would be partial against the boys. The king commanded that an assize of gentlemen should be chosen, and, in the end, they, as well as Sinclair, got clear off.

The culprit became Sir William Sinclair of Mey. He married Catherine Ross of Balnagowan, whom we have seen unpleasantly mixed up in the charges against Lady Foulis, under July 22, 1590.

‘Macmoran; says Calderwood, ‘was the richest merchant in his time, but not gracious to the common people, because he carried victual to Spain, notwithstanding he was often admonished by the ministers to refrain.’ It would appear that he had been a servant of the Regent Morton, and afterwards was what is called a messenger, or sheriff’s officer. We have also seen that, after the fall of Morton, he was reported to have been concerned in secreting the treasures which had been accumulated by his former master.’ His house, still standing in Riddell’s Close in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, gives the idea that the style of living of a rich Scottish merchant of that day was far from being mean or despicable.

Sep 22
‘Among the constancies of the court this year, one was remarkable, that at Glasgow, in September, the king received the Countess of Bothwell into his favour, the 22d day, at night; and on the 3d of December, again proscribed and exiled her, under the pain of death; yet gave her a letter of protection, under his awn hand, within six days thereafter.’—Bal.

This inconstancy is partly explained away in the Privy Council Record, where it is stated that the countess abused the privilege of the letter granted to her by going about where she pleased and vaunting of her credit with the king, while in reality it was designed only to serve ‘for remaining of herself and her bairns within the place of Mostour, that her friends might sometime have resorted to her without danger to his hieness’s laws.’

Oct
James Lord Hay of Yester, brother and successor of the turbulent Master of Yester already introduced to the reader, kept state in Neidpath Castle, with his wife, but as yet unblessed with progeny. His presumptive heir was his second-cousin, Hay of Smithfield, ancestor of the present Sir Adam Hay of Haystoun. In these circumstances, occasion was given for a curious series of proceedings, involving the fighting of a regular passage of arms on a neighbouring plain beside the Tweed—a simple pastoral scene, where few could now dream that any such incident had ever taken place.

Lord Yester had for his page one George Hepburn, brother of the parson of Oldhamstocks in East Lothian. His master-of-the-horse—for such officers were then retained in houses of this rank—was John Brown of Hartree. One day, Brown, in conversation with Hepburn, remarked: ‘Your father had good knowledge of physic: I think you should have some also.’ ‘What mean ye by that?’ said Hepburn. ‘You might have great advantage by something,’ answered Brown. On being further questioned, the latter stated that, seeing Lord Yester had no children, and Hay of Smithfield came next in the entail, it was only necessary to give the former a suitable dose in order to make the latter Lord Yester. ‘If you,!’ continued Brown, ‘could give him some poison, you should be nobly rewarded, you and yours.’ ‘Methinks that were no good physic,’ quoth Hepburn drily, and soon after revealed the project to his lord. Brown, on being taxed with it, stood stoutly on his denial. Hepburn as strongly insisted that the proposal had been made to him. For such a case, there was no solution but the duellium.

Due authority being obtained, a regular and public combat was arranged to take place on Edston-haugh, near Neidpath. The two combatants were to fight in their doublets, mounted, with spears and swords. Some of the greatest men of the country took part in the affair, and honoured it with their presence. The Laird of Buccleuch appeared as judge for Brown; Hepburn had, on his part, the Laird of Cessford. The Lords Yester and Newbottle were amongst those officiating. When all was ready, the two combatants rode full tilt against each other with their spears; when Brown missed Hepburn, and was thrown from his horse with his adversary’s weapon through his body. Having grazed his thigh in the charge, Hepburn did not immediately follow up his advantage, but suffered Brown to lie unharmed on the ground. ‘Fy!’ cried one of the judges, ‘alight and take amends of thy enemy!’ He then advanced on foot with his sword in his hand to Brown, and commanded him to confess the truth. ‘Stay,’ cried Brown, ‘till I draw the broken spear out of my body.’ This being done, Brown suddenly drew his sword, and struck at Hepburn, who for some time was content to ward off his strokes, but at last dealt him a backward wipe across the face, when the wretched man, blinded with blood, fell to the ground. The judges then interfered to prevent him from being further punished by Hepburn; but he resolutely refused to make any confession.

About this time and for some time onward, Scotland underwent the pangs of a dearth of extraordinary severity, in consequence of the destruction of the crops by heavy rains in autumn. Birrel speaks of it as a famine, ‘the like whereof was never heard tell of in any age before, nor ever read of since the world was made.’ ‘In this month of October and November,’ he adds, ‘the wheat and malt at £10 the boll; in March thereafter [1596], the ait meal £10 the boll, the humble corn £7 the boll. In the month of May, the ait meal £20 the boll in Galloway. At this time there came victual out of other parts in sic abundance, that, betwixt the 1st of July and the 10th of August, there came into Leith three score and six ships laden with victual; nevertheless, the rye gave £10, 10s. and £11 the boll. The 2 of September, the rye came down and was sold for £7 the boll, and new ait meal for 7s. and 7s. 6d. the peck. The 29 of October, the ait meal came up again at 10s. the peck. The 15 of July, the ait meal at 13s. 4d. the peck; the pease meal at 11s. the peck.

‘In this year, Clement Orr and Robert Lumsden, his grandson, bought before hand from the Earl Marischal, the bear meal overhead for 33s. 4d. the boll.’ ‘The ministers pronounced the curse of God against them, as grinders of the faces of the poor; which curse too manifestly lighted on them before their deaths.’—Bal.

As usual, the buying up and withholding of grain with the prospect of increased prices, was viewed with indignation by all classes of people. The king issued a proclamation in December 1595, attributing much of the misery of his people to ‘the avaritious greediness of a great number of persons that has bought and buys victual afore it come off the grund, and that forestalls and keeps the same to a dearth,’ and to ‘the shameless and indiscreet behaviour of the owners of the same victual, wha refuses to thresh out and bring the same to open markets.’ He threatened to put the laws in force against these guilty persons, and have the grain escheat to his majesty’s use.

Dec 23
The king professed to be at this time scandalised at the state of the commonweal, ‘altogether disorderit and shaken louss by reason of the deidly feids and controversies standing amangs his subjects of all degrees.’ Seeing how murder had consequently become a daily occurrence, he resolved upon a new and vigorous effort to bring the hostile parties to a reconciliation ‘by his awn pains and travel to that effect,’ so that the country might be the better fitted to resist the common enemy, now threatening invasion. The Privy Council, therefore, ordained letters to be sent charging the various parties to make their appearance before the king on certain days, wherever he might be for the time, each accompanied by a certain number of friends who might assist with their advice, but the whole party in each case ‘to keep their lodgings after their coming, while [till] they be specially sent for by his majesty.’

The groups of persons summoned were, Robert Master of Eglintoun, and Patrick Houston of that Ilk; James Earl of Glencairn, and Cunningham of Glengarnock; John Earl of Montrose, and French of Thorniedykes; Hugh Campbell of Loudon, sheriff of Ayr, Sandielands of Calder, Sir James Sandielands of Slamannan, Crawford of Kerse, and Spottiswoode of that Ilk; David Earl of Crawford and Guthrie of that Ilk; Sir Thomas Lyon of Auldbar, knight, and Garden of that Ilk; Alexander Lord Livingston, Sir Alexander Bruce, elder, of Airth, and Archibald Colquhoun of Luss; John Earl of Mar, Alexander Forester of Garden, and Andro M’Farlane of Arrochar; James Lord Borthwick, Preston of Craigmiller, Mr George Lauder of Bass, and Charles Lauder son of umwhile Andro Lauder in Wyndpark; Sir John Edmonston of that Ilk, Maister William Cranston, younger, of that Ilk; George Earl Marischal and Seyton of Meldrum; James Cheyne of Straloch and William King of Barrach; James Tweedie of Drumelzier and Charles Geddes of Rachan. The nobles in every instance were allowed to have sixty, and the commoners twenty-four persons to accompany them to the place of agreement, and all, while attending, to have protection from any process of horning or excommunication which might have been previously passed upon them. Fire and sword was threatened against all neglecting to comply with the summons.

Earnest as the king seems now to have been, and influential as a royal tongue proverbially is, we know for certain that several of the parties now summoned continued afterwards at enmity.

1596, Mar 15
‘The king made ane orison before the General Assembly, with many guid promises and conditions. I pray God he may keep them, be content to receive admonitions [from the clergy], and be collected himself and his haill household, and to lay aside his authority royal and be as ane brother to them, and to see all the kirks in this country weel planted with ministers. There are in Scotland 900 kirks, of the whilk there are 400 without ministers or readers ‘—Bir

The admonitions which it was so desirable that the king should receive, were embodied in a paper called Offences in the King’s House, under the following heads: ‘1. The reading of the Word, and thanksgiving’ before and after meat, oft omitted. 2. Week-sermons oft neglected, and he would be admonished not to talk with any in time of divine service. 3. To recommend to him private meditation with God in spirit and in his awn conscience. 4. Banning and swearing is too common in the king’s house and court, occasioned by his example. 5. He would have good company about him: Robertland, papists, murderers, profane persons, would be removed from him. 6. The queen’s ministry would be reformed. She herself neglects Word and sacrament, is to be admonished for night-waking, balling, &c., also touching her company—and so of her gentlewomen.’—Row.

On the other hand, the king demanded of this assembly sundry concessions as to his power over the kirk, and that ministers should not be allowed to meddle with civil affairs or ‘to name any man in the pulpit, or so vively to describe him as it shall be equivalent to the very naming of him, except upon the notoriety of a public crime.’

On this occasion the clergy denounced the common corruption of all estates within this realm; namely, ‘an universal coldness, want of zeal, ignorance, contempt of the Word, ministry, and sacraments, and where knowledge is, yet no sense nor feeling, evidenced by the want of family exercises, prayer, and the Word, and singing of psalms; and if they be, they are profaned and abused, by calling on the cook, steward, or jackman to perform that religious duty . . . . superstition and idolatry entertained, evidenced in keeping of festival-days, fires, pilgrimages, singing of carols at Yule, &c swearing, banning, and cursing: profanation of the Sabbath, especially by working in seed-time and harvest, journeying, trysting, gaming, dancing, drinking, fishing, killing, and milling: inferiors not doing duty to superiors, children having pleas of law against their parents, marrying without their consent; superiors not doing duty to inferiors, as not training up their children at schools in virtue and godliness; great and frequent breaches of duty between married persons: great bloodshed, deadly feuds arising thence, and assisting of bloodshedders for eluding of the laws: fornications, adulteries, incests, unlawful marriages and divorcements, allowed by laws and judges . . . . excessive drinking and waughting, gluttony (no doubt the cause of this dearth and famine), gorgeous and vain apparel, filthy speeches and songs: cruel oppressions of poor tenants . . . idle persons having no lawful callings—as pipers, fiddlers, songsters, sorners, pleasants, strong and sturdy beggars living in harlotry.... Lying, finally, is a rife and common sin.’

1596, Apr 12
Sir Walter Scott of Branxholm, Laird of Buccleuch, performed an exploit which has been celebrated both in prose and rhyme.

About the end of January, a ‘day of truce’ was held at a spot called Dayholm of Kershope in Liddesdale, by the deputies of the English warden, Lord Scrope, and the Laird of Buccleuch, keeper of Liddesdale. The Scotch deputy, Scott of Goldielands, had but a small party—not above twenty—among whom, however, was a noted border reiver, William Armstrong of Kinmont, commonly known as Kinmont Willie. The English deputy was attended by several hundred followers. It happened that, before the end of the meeting, a report came to the English deputy of some outrages at that moment in the course of being committed by Scottish borderers within the English line. He entered a complaint on the subject, and received assurance that the guilty parties should be as soon as possible rendered up to the vengeance of Lord Scrope.

The day of truce ended peaceably; but, as the English party was retiring along their side of the Liddel, they caught sight of the Scottish reivers, and gave chase. Kinmont Willie was now riding quietly along the Scottish side of the Liddel. Mistaking him for one of the guilty troop, the English pursued him for three or four miles, and taking him prisoner, bore him off to Carlisle Castle.

Probably the Liddesdale thief had incurred more guilt in England than ten lives would have expiated. Yet what was this to Buccleuch? To him the case was simply that of a retainer betrayed while on his master’s business and assurance. If the affair had a public or national aspect, it was that of a Scottishman mistreated, to the dishonour of his sovereign and country. Having in vain used remonstrances with Lord Scrope, both by himself and through the king’s representations to the English ambassador, he resolved at last, as himself has expressed it, ‘to attempt the simple recovery of the prisoner in sae moderate ane fashion as was possible to him.’

Buccleuch’s moderate proceeding consisted in the assembling of two hundred armed and mounted retainers at the tower of Morton, an hour before sunset of the 12th of April. He had arranged that no head of any house should be of the number, but all younger brothers, that the consequences might be the less likely to damage his following; but, nevertheless, three lairds had insisted on taking part in the enterprise. Passing silently across the border, they came to Carlisle about the middle of the night. A select party of eighty then made an attempt to scale the walls of the castle; but their ladders proving too short, it was found necessary to break in by force through a postern on the west side. Two dozen men having got in, six were left to guard the passage, while the remaining eighteen passed on to Willie’s chamber, broke it up, and released the prisoner. All this was done without encountering any resistance except from a few watchmen, who were easily ‘dung on their backs.' As a signal of their success, the party within the castle sounded their trumpet ‘mightily.’ Hearing this, Buccleuch raised a loud clamour amongst his horsemen on the green. At the same time, the bell of the castle began to sound, a beacon-fire was kindled on the top of the house, the great bell of the cathedral was rung in correspondence, the watch-bell of the Moot-hall joined the throng of sounds, and, to crown all, the drum began to rattle through the streets of the city. ‘The people were perturbit from their nocturnal sleep, then undigestit at that untimeous hour, with some cloudy weather and saft rain, whilk are noisome to the delicate persons of England, whaise bodies are given to quietness, rest, and delicate feeding, and consequently desirous of more sleep and repose in bed.’ Amidst the uproar, ‘the assaulters brought forth their countryman, and convoyit him to the court, where the Lord Scrope’s chalmer has a prospect unto, to whom he cried with a loud voice a familiar guid-nicht! and another guid-nicht to his constable Mr Saughell.’ The twenty-four men returned with Kinmont Willie to the main body, and the whole party retired without molestation, and re-entered Scotland with the morning light. ‘The like of sic ane vassalage,’ says the diarist Birrel, with unwonted enthusiasm, ‘was never done since the memory of man, no, not in Wallace’ days!’ Buccleuch himself, with true heroism, treated the matter calmly and even reasoningly. The simple recovery of the prisoner, he said, ‘maun necessarily be esteimit lawful, gif the taking and deteining of him be unlawful, as without all question it was.’

The matter was brought before the king in council (May 25) by the English ambassador, who pleaded that Sir Walter Scott should be given up to the queen for punishment. It was on this occasion that the border knight defended himself in the terms above quoted. Of course his own countrymen sympathised with him in a deed so gallant, and performed from such a motive, and the king could not readily act in a contrary strain. Elizabeth never obtained any satisfaction for the taking of Kinmont Willie.—Spot. Moy. H.K.J. C.K.S. P.C.R. Bir.

1596, Apr
'.....there came an Englishman to Edinburgh, with a chestain-coloured naig, which he called Marroco... he made him to do many rare and uncouth tricks, such as never horse was observed to do the like before in this land. This man would borrow from twenty or thirty of the spectators a piece of gold or silver, put all in a purse, and shuffle them together; thereafter he would bid the horse give every gentleman his own piece of money again. He would cause him tell by so many pats with his foot how many shillings the piece of money was worth. He would cause him lie down as dead. He would say to him: "I will sell you to a carter:" then he would seem to die. Then he would say: "Marroco, a gentleman hath borrowed you, and you must ride with a lady of court." Then would he most daintily hackney, amble, and ride a pace, and trot, and play the jade at his command when his master pleased. He would make him take a great draught of water as oft as he liked to command him. By a sign given him, he would beck for the King of Scots and for Queen Elizabeth, and when ye spoke of the King of Spain, would both bite and strike at you—and many other wonderful things. I was a spectator myself in those days. But the report went afterwards that he devoured his master, because he was thought to be a spirit and nought else.’
—Pa. And.

This was ‘the dancing horse’ to which Moth alludes in Shakspeare (Love’s Labour Lost, act I., sc. 2). The actual fate of Banks, the keeper of the animal, was not better than that which vulgar rumour assigned to him. It is almost an incredible, yet apparently well-authenticated fact, that horse and man, after wandering through various countries, were burnt together as magicians at Rome.

May
At this time, while the country was suffering from famine, there was a renewing of the Covenant with fasting and humiliation in St Andrews presbytery. ‘After this exercise,’ says James Melville, one of those chiefly concerned in ordering it, ‘we wanted not a remarkable effect.’ ‘God extraordinarily provided victuals out of all other countries, in sic store and abundance as was never seen in this land before;’ without which ‘thousands had died for hunger,’ ‘for,’ he goes on to say, ‘notwithstanding of the infinite number of bolls of victual that cam hame from other parts, all the harvest quarter of that year, the meal gave aucht, nine, and ten pounds the boll, and the malt eleven and twal, and in the south and west parts many died’

June 7
Napier, still brooding over the dangers from popery, devised at this time certain inventions which he thought would be useful for defending the country in case of invasion. One was a mirror like that of Archimedes, which should collect the beams of the sun, and reflect them concentratedly in one ‘mathematical point,’ for the purpose of burning the enemy’s ships. Another was a similar mirror to reflect artificial fire. A third was a kind of shot for artillery, not to pass lineally through an enemy’s host, destroying only those that stand in its way, but which should ‘range abroad within the whole appointed place, and not departing furth of the place till it had executed his [its] whole strength, by destroying those that be within the bounds of the said place.’ A fourth, the last, was a closed and fortified carriage to bring harquebussiers into the midst of an enemy—a superfluity, one would think, if there was any hopefulness in the third of the series. ‘These inventions, besides devices of sailing under the water, with divers other stratagems for harming of the enemies, by the grace of God and work of expert craftsmen, I hope to perform." So wrote Napier at the date noted in the margin. Sir Thomas Urquhart describes the third of the devices as calculated to clear a field of four miles’ circumference of all living things above a foot in height: by it, he said, the inventor could destroy 30,000 Turks, without the hazard of a single Christian. He adds that proof of its powers was given on a large plain in Scotland, to the destruction of a great many cattle and sheep—a particular that may be doubted. ‘When he was desired by a friend in his last illness to reveal the contrivance, his answer was that, for the ruin and overthrow of man, there were too many devices already framed, which if he could make to be fewer, he would, with his might, endeavour to do; and that therefore, seeing the malice and rancour rooted in the heart of mankind will not suffer them to diminish, the number of them, by any concert of his, should never be increased.’

June 24
John, Master of Orkney, was tried for the alleged crime of attempting to destroy the life of his brother the Earl of Orkney, first by witchcraft, and secondly by more direct means. The case broke down, and would not be worthy of attention in this place, but for the nature of the means taken to inculpate the accused. It appeared that the alleged witchcraft stood upon the evidence of a confession wrung from a woman called Alison Balfour, residing at Ireland, a village in Orkney, who had been executed for that imaginary crime in December 1594. The counsel for the Master shewed that, when this poor woman made her ‘pretended confession,’ as it might well be called, she had been kept forty-eight hours in the cashielaws—an instrument of torture supposed to have consisted of an iron case for the leg, to which fire was gradually applied, till it became insupportably painful. At the same time, her husband, a man of ninety-one years of age, her eldest son and daughter, were kept likewise under torture, ‘the father being in the lang irons of fifty stane wecht,’ the son fixed in the boots with fifty-seven strokes, and the daughter in the pilniewinks, that they, ‘being sae tormented beside her, might move her to make any confession for their relief.’ A like confession had been extorted from Thomas Palpla, to the effect that he had conspired with the Master to poison his brother, ‘he being kept in the cashielaws eleven days and eleven nights, twice in the day by the space of fourteen days callit [driven] in the boots, he being naked in the meantime, and scourgit with tows [ropes] in sic sort that they left neither flesh nor hide upon him; in the extremity of whilk torture the said pretended confession had been drawn out of him.’ Both of these witnesses had revoked their confessions, Alison Balfour doing so solemnly on the Heading Hill of Kirkwall, when about to submit to death for her own alleged crime, of which she at the same time protested herself to be innocent. These are among the most painful examples we anywhere find of the barbarous legal procedure of our ancestors.—Pit.

Aug 3
One John Dickson, an Englishman, was tried for uttering slanderous speeches against the king, calling him ‘ane bastard king,’ and saying ‘he was not worthy to be obeyed.’ This it appeared he had done in a drunken anger, when asked to veer his boat out of the way of the king’s ordnance. He was adjudged to be hanged.—Pit. It is curious on this and some other occasions to find that, while the king got so little practical obedience, and the laws in general were so feebly enforced, such a severe penalty was inflicted on acts of mere disrespect towards majesty.

Aug 17
The court was at this time unable to keep silence under the pelt of pasquils which it had brought upon itself. We have now a furious edict of Privy Council against the writers and promulgators of ‘infamous libels, buiks, ballats, pasquils, and cantels in prose and rhyme,’ which have lately been set out, and especially against ‘ane maist treasonable letter in form of a coclcalane, craftily divulgat by certain malicious, seditious, and unquiet spirits, uttering mony shameful and contumelious speeches, full of hatrent and dispite, not only against God, his servants and ministers, but maist ‘unnaturally to the prejudice of the honour, guid fame, and reputation of the king and queen’s majesties, not sparing the prince their dearest son, besides their nobility, council, and guid subjects.’ The only active redress, however, was to proclaim a reward for the discovery of the offenders.—P.
C. R.

Nov 3
Since November 1585, when he was driven from the king’s councils, James Stewart of Newton (sometime Earl of Arran) had lived in obscurity in the north. Now that the Chancellor Maitland was dead, he formed a hope that possibly some use might be found for him at court; he therefore came to Edinburgh privately, and had an interview with the king at Holyroodhouse. He received some encouragement; but as nothing could be done for him immediately, and there were many enemies to reconcile, he bethought him of going to live for a while amongst his friends in Ayrshire, trusting erelong to be sent for.

The ex-favourite was travelling by Symington, in the upper ward of Lanarkshire, when some one who knew him gave him warning that he was come into a dangerous neighbourhood, for not far from the way he was about to pass dwelt a leading man of that house of Douglas which he had mortally offended by his prosecution of the Regent Morton. This was Sir James Douglas of Parkhead, whose father was a natural brother of the regent: he was now the husband of the heiress of the house of Carlyle of Torthorald, and a man of consideration. Stewart replied disdainfully that he was travelling where he had a right to be, and he would not go out of his way for Parkhead nor any other of the house of Douglas. A mean person who overheard this speech made off and reported it to Douglas, who, on hearing it, rose from table, where he had been dining, and vowed he would have the life of Stewart at all hazards. He immediately mounted, and with three servants rode after his enemy through a valley called the Catslack. When Stewart saw himself pursued, he asked the name of the place, and being told, desired his people to come on with all possible speed, for he had got a response from some soothsayer to beware of that spot. Parkhead speedily overtook him, struck him from his horse, and then mercilessly killed him. Cutting off the head, he caused it to be carried by a servant on the point of a spear, thus verifying another weird saying regarding Stewart, that he should have the highest head in Scotland. His body was left on the spot, to become the prey of dogs and swine.’

Thus perished an ex-chancellor of Scotland, one who had been permitted for a time to treat the world as if it had only been made for his own aggrandisement, who had governed a king, struck down a regent, and made the greatest of the old nobility of the country tremble. Violence, insolence, and cruelty had been the ruling principles of his life, and, as Spottiswoode says, ‘he was paid home in the end.’ No decided effort was made to execute justice upon his slayer, but it will be afterwards found that the Ochiltree Stewarts did not forget his death. (See under July 1608.)

Dec 17
An edict of the king against what he called unlawful convocations of the clergy, had raised a general uneasiness and excitement, many believing that all independent action of the clergy was struck at. The prosecution of a minister named David Black, who had slandered the king and queen in the pulpit, and refused to submit to a secular tribunal, added to the turmoil. James had further raised a great distrust regarding his fidelity to the Protestant religion by his allowing the exiled papist lords to return to their own country. It was at this crisis that the tumult long known in French fashion as the Seventeenth of December took place.

‘. . . . being Friday, his majesty being in the Tolbooth sitting in session, and ane convention of ministers being in the New Kirk [a contiguous section of St Giles’s Church], and some noblemen being convenit with them, as in special Blantyre and Lindsay, there came in some devilish officious person, and said that the ministers were coming to take his life. Upon the whilk, the Tolbooth doors were steekit, and there arase sic ane crying, "God and the king !" other some crying, "God and the kirk !" that the haill commons of Edinburgh raise in arms, and knew not wherefore always. There was ane honest man, wha was deacon of deacons; his name was John Watt, smith. This John Watt raisit the haill crafts in arms, and came to the Tolbooth, where the entry is to the Chequer-house, and there cried for a sight of his majesty, or else he sould ding up the yett with forehammers, sae that never ane within the Tolbooth sould come out with their life. At length his majesty lookit ower the window, and spake to the commons, wha offerit to die and live with him. Sae his majesty came down after the townsmen were commandit off the gait, and was convoyit by the craftsmen to the abbey of Holyroodhouse.’—Bir.

The king either was really exasperated or pretended to be so. Retiring to Linlithgow next day, he sent orders to Edinburgh, discharging the courts of justice from sitting there, commanding one minister to be imprisoned and others to be put to the horn, and citing the magistrates to come and answer for the seditious conduct of their people. Great was the consternation thus produced, insomuch that one Sunday passed without public worship—’ the like of which had not been seen before.’ On the last day of the year, James returned, to all appearance charged with the most alarming intentions against the city. A proclamation was issued, commanding certain lords and Border chiefs of noted loyalty to occupy certain ports and streets. There consequently arose a rumour ‘that the king’s majesty should send in Will Kinmont, the common thief, as should spulyie the town of Edinburgh. Upon the whilk, the haill merchants took their haill geir out of their booths and shops, and transportit the same to the strongest house that was in the town, and remainit in the said house with themselves, their servants, and looking for nothing but that they should have all been spulyit. Siclike, the haill craftsmen and commons convenit themselves, their best goods, as it were ten or twelve households in ane, whilk was the strongest house, and might be best keepit from spulying and burning, with hagbut, pistolet, and other sic armour, as might best defend themselves. Judge, gentle reader, gif this be playing! Thir noblemen and gentlemen, keepers of the ports and Hie Gait, being set at the places foresaid, with pike and spear, and other armour, stood keeping the foresaid places appointit, till his majesty came to St Giles’s Kirk, Mr David Lindsay making the sermon. His majesty made ane oration or harangue, concerning the sedition of the seditious ministers, as it pleased him to term them.’ —Bir.

The affair ended three months after, in a way that supports the opinion of the Laird of Dumbiedykes, that ‘it’s sad work, but siller will help it.’ March 22d, ‘the town of Edinburgh was relaxed frae the horn, and received into the king’s favour again, and the session ordained to sit down in Edinburgh the 25th of May thereafter.’ Next day, ‘the king drank in the council-house with the bailies, council, and deacons. The said bailies and council convoyit his majesty to the West Port thereafter. In the meantime of this drinking in the council-house, the bells rang for joy of their agreement; the trumpets sounded, the drums and whistles played, with [as] many other instruments of music as might be played on; and the town of Edinburgh, for the tumult-raising the 17 of December before, was ordained to pay to his majesty thretty thousand merks Scottish.’—Bir.

1596-7
John Mure, of Auchindrain, in Ayrshire, was a gentleman of good means and connection; who acted at one time in a judicial capacity as bailie of Carrick, and gave general satisfaction by his judgments. He was son-in-law to the Laird of Bargeny, one of the three chief men of the all-powerful Ayrshire family of Kennedy. Sir Thomas Kennedy of Colzean, another of these great men, was on bad terms with Bargeny. Mure, who might naturally be expected to take his father-in-law’s side, was for a time restrained by some practical benefit; in the shape of land; offered to him by Sir Thomas; but the titles to the lands not being ultimately made good, the Laird of Auchindrain conceived only the more furious hatred against the knight of Colzean. This happened about 1595, and it appears at the same time that Sir Thomas had excited a deadly rage in the bosom of the Earl of Cassius’s next brother, usually called the Master of Cassillis The Master and Auchindrain, with another called the Laird of Dunduff, easily came to an understanding with each other, and agreed to slay Sir Thomas Kennedy the first opportunity. Such was the manner of conducting a quarrel about land-rights and despiteful words amongst "gentlemen in Ayrshire in those days.

Jan 1
On the evening of the 1st of January, Sir Thomas Kennedy supped with Sir Thomas Nisbet in the house of the latter at Maybole. The Lairds of Auchindrain and Dunduff, with a few servants, lay in wait for him in the yard, and when he came forth to go to his own house to bed, they fired their pistols at him. ‘He being safe of any hurt therewith, and perceiving them with their swords most cruelly to pursue his life was forced for his safety to fly; in which chase they did approach him so near, as he had undoubtedly been overta’en and killed, if he had not adventured to run aside and cover himself with the ruins of ane decayed house; whilk, in respect of the darkness of the night, they did not perceive; but still followed to his lodging, and searched all the corners thereof, till the confluence of the people . . . . forced them to retire.’

For this assault, Sir Thomas Kennedy pursued at law the Lairds of Auchindrain aud Dunduff, and was so far successful that Dunduff had to retire into England, while ‘Colzean gat the house of Auchindrain, and destroyit the . . . . plenishing, and wrackit all the garden. And also they made mony sets [snares] to have gotten [Auchindrain] himself; but God preservit him from their tyranny.' Auchindrain, however, was forced ‘to cover malice by show of repentance, and for satisfaction of his by-past offence, and gage of his future duty, to offer his eldest son in marriage to Sir Thomas Kennedy’s dochter; whilk, by intercession of friends, [was] accepted.’

We shall hear more of this feud hereafter (see under December 11, 1601).

Feb 17
Under a commission from the king, the provost and bailies of Aberdeen commenced a series of witch-trials of a remarkable kind. The first delinquent, Janet Wishart, spouse of John Lees, stabler— a woman considerably advanced in life—was accused of a great number of mal
éfices perpetrated, during upwards of thirty years, against neighbours, chiefly under a spirit of petty revenge. In the greater number of cases, the victim was described as being seized with an ailment under which he passed through the extremes of heat and cold, and was afflicted with an insatiable drouth. In several cases the illness had a fatal conclusion. For instance, James Low, stabler, having refused Janet the loan of his kiln and barn, took a dwining illness in consequence, ‘melting away like ane burning candle,’ till he died. John, in his last moments, declared his belief that, if be had lent Janet his kiln and barn, he would still have been a living man. ‘By the whilk witchcraft casten upon him, and upon his house, his wife died, his only son [fell] in the same kind of sickness, and his haill geir, surmounting three thousand pounds, are altogether wrackit and away.’ It was considered sufficient proof on this point, that sundry persons testified to having heard James lay on Janet the blame of his misfortunes. Another person had been mined in his means, in consequence of his wife obeying a direction of Janet for the insurance of constant prosperity—namely, taking nine pickles of wheat and a piece of rowan-tree, and putting them in the four nooks of the house. Janet had also caused a dozen fowls belonging to a neighbour to fall from a roost dead at her feet. She raised wind for winnowing some malt in her own house, at a moment of perfect calm, by putting a piece of live coal at each of two doors. She caused a neighbour’s cow to give something like venom instead of milk. A Mart ox which she wished to buy, became furious; wherefore she got it at her own price, and on her laying her hands on it, the animal became quiet. There is also a terrible recital of her causing a neighbour to accompany her to the gallows in the Links, where she cut pieces from the various members of a dead culprit, to be used for effecting some of her devilish purposes. This story was only reported by one who had received it from the woman herself, now deceased; but it passed as equally good evidence with the rest. It was alleged that, twenty-two years ago, she had been found sitting in a field of green corn before sun-rising, when, being asked what she was doing, she said: ‘I have been peeling the blades of the corn: I find it will be ane dear year; the blade of the corn grows withershins [contrary to the course of the sun]: when it grows sungates about [in the direction of the sun’s course], it will be ane cheap year.’ One of the last points in the dittay was that, for eight days before her apprehension, ‘continually there was sic ane fearful rumbling in thy house, that William Murray, cordiner, believit the house he was into, next to thy house, should have fallen and smoorit him and his haill bairns.’ This poor woman appears to have been taken to the stake immediately after her trial.


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