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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of Charles II.: 1673 - 1685 Part F


1684, Apr 8
We have already seen several instances of a considerable town burnt down by accidental fire, with the inevitable consequence to the inhabitants, of their being driven into the shelterless fields, in a state of utter desolation; all reminding us of a time when as yet no mechanical arrangements had been made for checking such conflagrations, and no process of assurance had been instituted for providing against the loss and penury following. We have now another and highly characteristic example, in the almost entire destruction of the town of Kelso. It will be observed that the town, being probably composed of thatched houses, in few instances exceeding two stories in height, was extremely inflammable, and therefore the fire was rapid.

The fire began, between three and four in the afternoon, in a malt-kiln, and quickly caused the destruction of several stacks of corn. Thence, under the influence of a violent wind, it spread over the whole town, and so quickly, ‘that these who were helping their neighbours did not know when their own houses were burning. Before nine o’clock at night, not only all the houses, but the most part of all the goods therein, and several merchants’ shops of considerable value, and above four thousand bolls of victual lying in girnels, and all the corn-stacks in the town, were laid in ashes. The fury of the flame and rage of the smoke were so great in all places of the town, that with great difficulty sick and infirm persons and infant children could be carried away from the danger to the open fields. Three hundred and six families had their houses utterly burnt down, and of these not twenty will ever be able to rebuild upon their own means. The loss of merchants is so great that it cannot weel be known, the particular loss of some of them being valued above twenty thousand pounds Scots, and of others, above ane thousand pounds sterling. The more indigent sort of people have lost the whole sustenance of their livelihood.’ If we are to understand that the three hundred and six burnt-out families composed the whole population, we may estimate that this town, now so remarkable for its beauty, and which contains a population of 5000, was then a comparatively poor village of about 1400 inhabitants. It is remarkable, however, to find that it contained merchants’ shops so well stocked with goods.

The usual and only resource of that age for such cases of public calamity was taken advantage of by the Privy Council, to whom the inhabitants appealed for succour; namely, a collection at the parish churches on one Sunday throughout the kingdom. And till this collection could take place, it was ordered that some of the money now in the course of being raised for the relief of prisoners in the hands of the Turks, should be given to the distressed people of Kelso, to be afterwards replaced from the money collected on account of the fire. Some time afterwards, we find a petition from the magistrates of Glasgow, setting forth that a sum of money had been collected there for the unfortunate people at Kelso, but in the meantime Glasgow had had a conflagration of its own, resulting in the destitution of a number of people; so they had thought proper to ask for permission to apply the money for the relief of the distress in their own community—which was granted.

Apr
Cornelius a-Tilbourne, a German mountebank, craved from the Privy Council licence to erect a stage in Edinburgh. It was granted, notwithstanding opposition from the College of Physicians. He had made a successful experiment on himself, in London, in presence of the king, for counteracting some poisons which the physicians there had prescribed to him, the secret consisting in drinking a considerable quantity of oil. But it appears that he expressly excluded mercury, aqua-fortis, and other corrosives from the trial. The king, who had a curiosity about chemical experiments, had granted Cornelius
a medal and chain. He repeated the experiment in Edinburgh, on his man or servant, who died under it.

Men of this class appear to have also practised surgery. In March 1683, the Town Council of Glasgow disbursed five pounds to John Maxwell, to replace a like sum ‘whilk he payit to the mountebank for cutting off umwhile Archibald Bishop’s leg.’— M. of G.

Apr 22
A petition from the Earl of Errol to the Privy Council set forth that it was the custom of the north country for ‘the seamen of fish-boats’ to be ‘tied and obliged to the same servitude and service that coal-hewers and salters are here in the south,’ and ‘it is not lawful for any man whatsomever to resett, harbour, or entertein the fishers and boatmen who belong to another.’ His lordship complained of Alexander Brodie and Andrew Buchlay, who were fishermen in his service, having ‘fled away from him without leave, to his damage and prejudice;’ and he demanded warrants for reclaiming them. The petition was complied with.—P.
C. R.

Apr 24
A proclamation proceeding upon the recent sumptuary act, makes us aware that it had comparatively failed to accomplish its object. ‘Several women, even [!]
in our capital city of Edinburgh and elsewhere, have presumed to go abroad with clothes made of the prohibited stuffs, upon pretext that they are only night-gowns, undresses, or manteaux, whereas all manner of wearing of the said stuffs was discharged.’ In like manner, to elude that part of the law forbidding mourning cloaks, or ‘in downright mockery’ of the same, ‘several persons have presumed to wear mantle-cloaks (albeit more expensive than the cloaks formerly worn) at burials and other occasions upon the death of their relations.’ ‘Also several persons have lately run to that height of extravagancy, as to cause cover the coffins of persons to be buried with fine black cloth and fringes.’ Others, since the passing of the act, ‘have presumed to make penny-weddings, where great confluence of our subjects have resorted, which is a most extravagant expense to our lieges.’

The public was now therefore forbidden by regular proclamation to wear the prohibited stuffs in any manner of way. Tailors were discharged from making or setting out, and gentlemen from wearing, the long black mantle-coats. All were prohibited from ‘making use of any coffin covered with silk cloth or fringes,’ or which bore any ornamental metal-work. Penny-weddings were denounced in the strongest terms. And all these prohibitions were enforced by the threat of a full exaction of the fines specified in the act.—P. C. R.

July 22
A strong representation was made to the Privy Council against the Messrs Fountain, who have ‘gone almost through all Scotland and charged every person both in town and country who keeps a change, who has in their house a pair of tables, cards, or kylles, and others of that nature for gentlemen’s divertisement, upon pretence that they ought not to have any such plays in their house without licence from them as Masters of the Revels.’ It was reckoned that they had forced six thousand people to compound with them, and had thus realised about £16,000 sterling, ‘which is a most gross and manifest oppression.’ The lords forbade the Fountains to take any further legal steps.P.C.R.

Aug
An instrument of torture, called the Thumbikens, was introduced into practice by the Privy Council, as a means of extorting confessions. This was done at the recommendation of Generals Dalyell and Drummond, who had seen the thumbikens used in Russia. One of the first persons, if not the first, subjected to this torture, was Mr William Spence, a servant of the Earl of Argyle, who for some weeks had been tortured in various less compulsory ways to make him confess what he knew of the rebellious designs of his master. He had maintained firmness under the
boots, and contrived to endure without flinching the torture of being kept awake for five nights, though driven by it ‘half distracted.’ But after his thumbs had been crushed by the thumbikens, on the boots being again presented to him, his firmness gave way.

The thumbikens consists of a bar of iron, moving loose upon a vertical screw, and under which, by the use of a nut moving on the screw, provided with a handle, the thumbs of the victim can be squeezed so as to produce the most exquisite pain.

In September of this year, Mr William Carstairs, who had been concerned in some of the plots of the day, was tortured by the thumbikens before the Privy Council. He bore the pain with firmness, though not without giving vent to his agony by cries, until the Dukes of Hamilton and Queensberry left the room, unable any longer to witness the revolting spectacle. He was at length induced by these means, to give some information regarding Baillie of Jerviswood and others.

After the Revolution, this remarkable man became, as is well known, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, and the confidential adviser of King William regarding the affairs of Scotland; he was familiarly recognised as Cardinal Carstairs. The identical thumbikens by which he had been tortured, was presented to him by the Privy Council, and it was long preserved by his family. An anecdote was handed down by his descendants respecting the horrible little instrument. ‘I have heard, Principal,’ said King William to him, ‘that you were tortured with something they call thumbikens; pray, what sort of instrument of torture is it?’ ‘I will shew it you,’ answered Carstairs, ‘the next time I have the honour to wait upon your majesty.’ Soon after, accordingly, the Principal brought the thumbikens to be shewn to the king. ‘I must try it,’ said the king; ‘I must put in my thumbs here—now, Principal, turn the screw. O not so gently—another turn—another. Stop, stop! no more! Another turn, I am afraid, would make me confess anything.’

Aug 15
Monro, the Edinburgh executioner, having beaten a beggar with
undue severity, was deprived of his post, and moreover punished by being thrown into the Thieves’ Hole. One hears with surprise of such an interference for humanity, amidst the atrocious cruelties to which political and religious exasperations were provoking the government. The vacant post was conferred on one George Ormiston, whom Fountainhall describes as ‘a well-favoured discreet fellow.’ If we are to believe Milne’s Account of the Parish of Melrose, 1743, this man was a member, if not the representative, of the Ormistons of Westhouse, a family once of some account, possessing a tower on the Tweed, near Melrose, and having the custom of a bridge across the river at that place; ‘a memorandum to old families not to be puffed up with pride, on account of their antiquity, for they know not what mean offices they or theirs may be obliged to stoop to.’

Sep 10
Colonel Graham of Claverhouse, as constable of Dundee, represented to the Privy Council that he found several persons in prison there for petty thefts, ‘which will be fitter to be punished arbitrarily than by death.’ In compliance with his humane suggestion, he was empowered to restrict the treatment of these persons and any others that might hereafter commit the like offences, ‘to ane arbitrary punishment, such as whipping or banishment, as he shall find cause.’—P. C. R.

It will excite surprise to find the Bloody Claverse interposing for a gentler justice in behalf of ordinary criminals—he who coolly ordered the summary death of so many people in Clydesdale and Galloway, for merely sentimental offences. But, while the nil admirari is nowhere more applicable than in matters concerning human inconsistency, it were perhaps no more than justice to one who was at least a gallant soldier and a steadfast friend in adversity to the sovereign who had employed him, if we remembered how amiable in private life have been many modern statesmen noted for severity in public action. Claverhouse was a political enthusiast, who had made up his mind to the particular course—rather a rough one—by which the interests of his country were to be protected and advanced; and with the help of a strong will, and under the call of what came to him as duty, he scrupled not to walk in that path, though by no means inhumane or harsh in the matters of ordinary life. In a letter to the Earl of Aberdeen, written in June 1683, he reveals to us his principle of action in a sentence: ‘I am,’ says he, ‘as sorry to see a man die, even a Whig, as any of themselves; but when one dies justly for his own faults, and may save a hundred to fall in the like, I have no scruple.’

Oct
One Marion Purdie, dwelling at the West Port of Edinburgh, once a milk-wife, and now a beggar, was apprehended and imprisoned as a witch. She was accused of laying diseases and frenzies upon her neighbours. The king’s advocate was now giving little heed to such cases, and so poor Marion ‘dies of cold and poverty in prison about the Christmas.’—Foun.

It is remarked at this time that Colonel Douglas was training and exercising his regiment with extreme diligence. He studied to get his men all of one height, and would allow none to keep their beards long or have had cravats or cravat-strings, being anxious that they should all look young and brisk. When they were deficient in these articles, he bought them new ones with their pay. He also ‘caused them all tie their hair back with a ribbon, so it cannot blow in their eyes when they visy at their firing.’ (Can this have been the origin of tied hair?) A more important regulation still of this commander—’ He discharges any of their officers to keep cellars, whereby they made their soldiers waste their pay in drinking.’—Foun.

A tempest which took place at the end of this month, accompanied both by snow and thunder, caused the throwing ashore of ‘a new kind of fish like a mackerel or herring, but with a long snout like a snipe’s beak. Dr Sibbald says it is the Acus marinus, the Sea Needle, described by him in his Naturalis Historia. They have been seen before, but are not frequent, and therefore are looked upon by the vulgar as ominous.’ —Foun.

When Charles II. died three months after, Fountainhall remarked there having been few or no prognostics of the event, ‘unless we recur to the comet, which is remote, or to the strange fishes mentioned above, or the vision of blue bonnets . . . . in none of which is there anything for a rational man to fix his belief upon.’

By an act of the second parliament of Charles II., fines were appointed for all who withdrew themselves from the regular parish churches; but as, because of the law which gives the husband exclusive power over the goods held by him and his wife in communion, it was impossible to exact any fine for the delinquency of a married woman, it had become necessary to make the husband answerable when his wife offended. Under this arrangement, some ladies of rank, addicted to attending conventicles, had brought no small trouble upon their partners. The Council, at length feeling it was a hard law where the husband was a conformist, requested power from the king to remit the fines in such cases. Soon after the following case occurred.

Dec 4
David Balcanquel of that Ilk, having been, in virtue of the act, amerced in three years of his valued rent or fifteen hundred pounds, ‘upon the account of his wife not keeping the church,’ represented the matter very pathetically to the Privy Council, setting forth how he himself had always kept his parish church, and, ‘notwithstanding the distractions and disorders that have been in the country where he lives [Fife], has always demeaned himself as ane dutiful and loyal subject.’ The Council took the case into favourable consideration, and, ‘seeing it never was the intention of his majesty that his weel-affected subjects should be ruined by the mad and wilful opinions of phanatick wives, without any fault of their own ‘—seeing, moreover, that Balcanquel protested ‘it is not in his power to persuade his wife to go to church, notwithstanding of all the endeavours he has used for that effect, and he is willing to deliver her up to the Council to be disposed of at their pleasure ‘—they agreed to discharge his fine, taking him only bound ‘to deliver up his wife to justice whenever required.’—P. C. R.

It was not always as in this case in regard to conventicle troubles. Wodrow had heard the following converse case ‘very wee! attested:' About the time of the Circuit Court in 1685, there was an honest man in the parish of Baldernock, who was sore bested with a graceless and imperious wife, a hater of alk seriousness. When he performed family worship, she interrupted him; when he went to a conventicle, she cursed him; and when he came home, she threw stools at him. Scarce durst the poor man return from these meetings without a few neighbours to protect him from his wife’s violence. Being denounced and cited to the court at Glasgow, he failed to appear; but she came forward, and, on his name being called, cried out: ‘My lords, it’s all true—he is a rebel; there is not a conventicle in all the country but he is at it. He deserves to be hanged. Hang him, my lords!’ The lords asked who she was, and on being told, and hearing her go on further in the same strain, they ordered the man to be scored out of the roll, saying: ‘That poor fellow suffers enough already from such a wife!’

Dec
Amongst those now suffering under the severities of government, there was no one more remarkable than Sir Patrick Hume of Polwarth, a Berwickshire gentleman of large fortune, of vigorous character, and great zeal as a Presbyterian and Whig. Though only recognised by the government as ‘a factious person,’ he had been several times rather severely handled. Being now under suspicion of a concern in the Rye-house plot, he was denounced on the 13th of November as guilty of treason, and obliged to go out of the way. The harshness with which his friend Robert Baillie of Jerviswood was treated, was sufficient to shew that the more closely he concealed himself the better.

Polwarth, ‘who was a man of forty-three years of age, had a wife and ten children, all young, residing at his house of Redbraes in the Merse. Patrick, the eldest son, was taken up and put in prison; and on the 26th of December, there was a petition from him to the Privy Council, setting forth the piteous condition of the family now deprived of their father and threatened with the loss of their estate. He was but ‘a poor afflicted young boy,’ he said, who could do no harm to the state; he, moreover, cherished loyal principles and a hatred of plots. All he craved was liberty, that he might ‘see to some livelihood for himself,’ and ‘be in some condition to help and serve his disconsolate mother and the rest of his father’s ten starving children.’ The boon was granted grudgingly, the young man being obliged first to obtain security for his good-behaviour to the extent of two thousand pounds sterling.—P. C. R.

The first concealment of Sir Patrick was the family burial vault, under the east end of the parish church of Polwarth, a place where he had no fire, and only during the day light from an open slit in the wall. With the comfort of a bed and bedclothes, he endured life in this singular Patmos for a whole winter month, supplied nightly with food by his daughter Grizzel, and having no sort of entertainment to beguile the tedium of the day but his own reflections, and the repetition of Buchanan’s Psalms, which had long been charged on his memory. Each night, the young Grizzel came with a packet of provisions, and stayed with him as long as she could, so as to get home before day. According to an interesting family memoir, written by her daughter, Lady Murray of Stanhope: ‘In all this time, my grandfather shewed the same constant composure and cheerfulness of mind, that he continued to possess to his death, which was at the age of eighty-four; all which good qualities she inherited from him in a high degree. Often did they laugh heartily in that doleful habitation, at different accidents that happened. She at that time had a terror for a church-yard, especially in the dark, as is not uncommon at her age, by idle nursery stories; but when engaged by concern for her father, she stumbled over the graves every night alone, without fear of any kind entering her thoughts, but for soldiers and parties in search of him, which the least noise or motion of a leaf put her in terror for. The minister’s house was near the church; the first night she went, his dogs kept such a barking, as put her in the utmost fear of a discovery; my grandmother sent for the minister the next day, and, under pretence of a mad dog, got him to hang all his dogs. There was also difficulty of getting victuals to carry him without the servants suspecting; the only way it was done, was by stealing it off her plate at dinner into her lap. Many a diverting story she has told about this, and other things of a like nature. Her father liked sheep’s head, and while the children were eating their broth, she had conveyed most of one into her lap; when her brother Sandy (the late Lord Marchmont) had done, he looked up with astonishment, and said: "Mother, will ye look at Grizzel; while we have been eating our broth, she has ate up the whole sheep’s head." This occasioned so much mirth among them, that her father at night was greatly entertained by it, and desired Sandy might have a share in the next. As the gloomy habitation my grandfather was in, was not to be long endured but from necessity, they were contriving other places of safety for him; amongst others, particularly one under a bed which drew out, in a ground-floor, in a room of which my mother kept the key. She and the same man worked in the night, making a hole in the earth, after lifting the boards, which they did by scratching it up with their hands, not to make any noise till she had left not a nail upon her fingers; she helping the man to carry the earth as they dug it, in a sheet on his back out at the window into the garden; he then made a box at his own house, large enough for her father to lie in, with bed and bed-clothes, and bored holes in the boards for air. When all this was finished, for it was long about, she thought herself the most secure happy creature alive. When it had stood the trial for a month of no water coming into it, which was feared from being so low, and every day examined by my mother, and the holes for air made clear, and kept clean picked, her father ventured home, having that to trust to. After being at home a week or two, the bed daily examined as usual, one day, in lifting the boards, the bed bounced to the top, the box being full of water; in her life she was never so struck, and had near dropt down, it, being at that time their only refuge. Her father, with great composure, said to his wife and her, he saw they must tempt providence no longer, and that it was now fit and necessary for him to go off, and leave them; in which he was confirmed, by the carrier telling for news he had brought from Edinburgh, that the day before, Mr Baillie of Jerviswood had his life taken from him at the Cross, and that everybody was sorry, though they durat not shew it. As all intercourse by letters was dangerous, it was the first notice they had of it, and the more shocking, that it was not expected. They immediately set about preparing for my grandfather’s going away. My mother worked night and day in making some alterations in his clothes for disguise; they were then obliged to trust John Allan, their grieve, who fainted away when he was told his master was in the house, and that he was to set out with him on horseback before day, and, pretend to the rest of the servants that he had orders to sell some horses at Morpeth fair. Accordingly, my grandfather getting out at a window to the stables, they set out in the dark. Though, with good reason, it was a sorrowful parting, yet after he was fairly gone, they rejoiced, and thought themselves happy that he was in a way of being safe, though they were deprived of him, and little knew what was to be either his fate or their own.

‘My grandfather, whose thoughts were much employed, and went on as his horse carried him, without thinking of his way, found himself at Tweedside, out of his road, and at a place not fordable, and no servant. After pausing, and stopping a good while, he found means to get over, and get into the road on the other side, where, after some time, he met his servant, who shewed inexpressible joy at meeting him, and told him, as he rode first, he thought he was always following him, till upon a great noise of the galloping of horses, he looked about and missed him; this was a party sent to his house to take him up, where they searched very narrowly, and possibly hearing horses were gone from the house, suspected the truth and followed. They examined this man, who, to his great joy and astonishment, missed his master, and was too cunning for them, that they were gone back before my grandfather came up with him. He immediately quitted the high road, after a warning by so miraculous an escape, and in two days sent back his servant, which was the first notice they had at home of his not having fallen into their hands.’

Sir Patrick escaped to Holland, whence he returned with the Prince of Orange to take a high place in the councils of his country under a happier régime.

We have seen many instances of Catholics deprived, under acts of parliament, of the privilege of educating their own children. This statutory power was now applied by the government to gentlefolk of what were called fanatical principles. The Lady Colville was imprisoned in the Edinburgh Tolbooth for her irregularities of religious practice, and particularly for ‘breeding up her son Lord Colville in fanaticism and other disloyal principles’—Foun. Dec.

1685, Jan
‘One James Cathcart, a pretended mathematician and astrologer, emitted a printed paper at Edinburgh, inviting any to come to him, and get resolutions of any difficult questions they had to ask, such as anent their death, their marriage, what husbands or wives they would get, and if they would prosper and succeed in such projects of love, or journeys, &c.; as also professed skill to cure diseases. This was a great impudence in a Christian commonwealth to avow such an art; for if he had it by magic, then he was a sorcerer; if not, he was an impostor and abuser of the people, which even is death.... In his paper, he cited some texts of Scripture, allowing an influence to the stars.’-—-Foun.

Mons Meg
Mons Meg


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