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The History of Old Dundee
Privileges and Duties of Burgesses


The privileges of the burgesses formed the basis upon which the commonwealth of a burgh was established. Such rights as had pertained to Roman citizens, became developed among traders and craftsmen, and bound them by mutual interests into enterprizing communities, which were coherent and strong at a time when the country itself was disunited and weak, and growing with the national growth into civilizing centres, they helped to forward its progress, and to nurture the spirit of liberty out of which free institutions sprang. In Dundee, as elsewhere, the burgess degree was highly valued and much desired. Admission to it was obtained by the sons of freemen in right of birth, and by strangers through the gift of the burgh or by purchase, the price having been usually reduced to those "who had faithfully served as prentices" to traders or craftsmen. The freemen were received into the privilege by having their names written in the "lokkit bulk," which was "nocht to be openit, nor na burgess put in it, but in the tolbuith before the Provost, Baillies, and Council;" whose duty it was to maintain the rights and strengthen the liberties of the town, by requiring that the burgesses approve themselves worthy of their immunities, and skew diligence in doing faithful service to the commonweal.

At one time there was found to be "grite misorder be persons resorting to the burgh and pretending to be freemen, burgesses, and brother of guild thereof, they neither being qualifeit to use the trod of merchant, nor yet able to save their aith even at the time of their receiving to freedom;" and it was resolved "that na person be admittit efter the present date, without their honest conversation and manners be notorlie knawn," and unless "they pay the sum of ten pounds, with accidents use and wont."

There were also "sindrie persons pretending to be burgesses and brother of guild, dwelling without the burgh, and open proclamation" was made "at the Mercat Croce to warn them to compeir, dwell, inhabit, and bear chairge sic as ony other neighbour does; and if they fail, the lokkit buik to be openit and their names to be debit furth of the sarnyn, and nane of their posterity to bruik or use oily freedom theirefter." These unworthy freemen did not, however, obey the call, and shortly after they were again charged "to come, remain, and mak residence within the burgh, to joyce and bruikl the privileges thereof, and to detoir in the samyn efter their guidly power with their counsel, help, and supply in taxations, watching and warding, and all other duties conform to the maintainer of privilege, likeas they have sworn be their aithes quhen they were made burgesses." At a later time it was found that there were still "out burgesses that pretendit to be freemen and insert in the lokkit buik," and they were peremptorily ordered to come and mak residence, inhabit and dwell, hald flyr and flett, watch and ward, and pay taxation with the remanent neighbours according to the privileges and laws of burrows, within forty days next efter this date; certifying them that fail, that they sail tyne their freedom simpli citer."

Some abuses had taken place in the manner of admitting burgesses. The treasurer had been "giving cuckits" [certificates] to persons for occupying of the freedom and libertie of the burgh," without having the sanction of the magistrates; but lie was now prohibited from doing this, as all must "come in the presence of the Bailies and Dean of Guild, and give their aithes for true obedience to time King's Majesty, the Magistrates, and the commnon weill, and for observation of the laws and privileges of the guildry conform to use and wont, and so obtene their names insert in the iokkit buik, and pay therefore; otherways their cukkets saill serve for na others had received libertie and freedom be request" of those having influence; and it was declared that this "sall endure na langer nor the life" of him "quha has obtened it, and his bairns sall never be enterit in the buik for his cause, but as unfree persons, to buy their libertie as others does;" and again, "that na burgesship nor guildrie quhilk is given gratis, sall last ony langer nor the lifetime of him that obtenes the sarnyn, so that his bairns nor his heir quhatsumever sall pretend na privilege thereto;" for none shall be entered "without the payment of twenty pounds." Afterwards, it was found that the common weill sustained "grite hurt be the rash and unadvised receiving of persons to the hbertie of the burgh upon the solicitation of gentlemen," and the Council "cofleludit that none sail be receivit burgess heirefter except he pay the ordinary sum and aCCi(IentS; and in case ony be receivit upon other consideration, that the treasurer and Dean of Guild shall be chairgit with the payment upofl their awn guids; and siclike, that na person " shall be entered upon his father's right " without he show ane testimonial of his father's libertie." rll\wO maltmen were received "in the number of free burgesses, at the desire of William Gray, She rift' )epute," because of "his friendship and kindness bestowit to the common weill;" but it was provided " that this sall be native to any other Sheriff-Depute to crave the like benefit heirefter." It was, however, subsequently found, "that the common weill still susteaned great skayth through the frequent admission of burgesses at the request of noblemen and men of credit; and it was statute that the benefit to redound to all persons so received, shall only last during the space of three years after their admission."

Some had been "admittit to be upon the Council that were not burgess and brother of guild;" but it was declared that in time coming none shall bear such office that do not "agree with the order of guildry, and specially those persons quhla are nocht under deaconry."

The monyfauld abuses and slanders daily kythingl be the frequent entry of persons, but respect of their qualities, in the number of the freemen, against the tenor of the auld acts," caused much disorder, and the Council concludit that none sail be receivit efter this hour except he be worthy, and of sufficient quality meet to be in that number ;" and who, "gif he be merchant not under deaconry, shall produce ane testimonial made be the Dean of Guild, and gif he be ane craftsman, ane testimonial made be the deacon of the craft, declaring him to be worthy to be receivit; and forder, that all persons quha have paid ten pounds for " being [only] brother of Guild, son the making of the act anent twenty pounds for burgesship, shall be eallit, and sic as may pay, decernit to pay ten pounds ; but simple burgess to be admitted "if he pay ten pounds." And because of the "grite skayth which redounds to the common weill be the receiving of burgess sons upon the liberties of their fathers, without ony respect to the conditions quhairupon their said parents wes entered, it was ordainit that na burgess son be receivit hereafter without ane testimonial, bearing the conditions quhairupon the father held the privilege."

An increase was made on the payment for entry. It was agreed that " na burgess and biither of guild sail be adniittit in time coming, without he first pay forty pounds, by the ordinary accidents ;" although the representatives of the crafts "disassentit to the said conclusion, because they had nocht the deacons' advice thereto—as they declarit." But notwithstanding their objections, the price was afterwards raised to one hundred merks ; with the provision " that a lawful prentice sail be received for papnent of forty pounds, on producing ane testimonial subscryved be his master and the Dean of Guild, gif lie" has been "prentice to ane merchant or mariner, and subscryved be his master and deacon of craft, gif he" has been "prentice to ane craftsman, testi- fying him to be buikit pm'eiitice, and that lie has served his master truly during the space of five years, and that he is of honest life, and able to leive by his calling and industry without burden to the common weill." It was, however, found that this provision had been abused by strangers resorting to the burgh, who not having served as prentices to free merchants or craftsmen, lies been received to freedom upon as easy conditions as those who lies faithfully served as prentices;" and it was enacted "that all such persons as are not freemen's sons, or that lies not served duly and lawfully the space of four years at the least, shall pay at their admission, and for inserting their names within the locked guild book," the full amount of "ane hundred merks, togidder with the accustomat accidents payed of old to those that lies right thereto." A careless treasurer violated the law, and entered a burgess without having first received payment, but the Council "concluded that he shall be charged for no less than the soum of ane hundred merks, to be compted for every ane of the burgesses wima are booked;" and this probably caused the defective account to be balanced, for next month," Walter Watson was ordained to repair in ward until he satisfy the treasurer for his burgesship."

There still were difficulties in verifying that prentices had served "the space of four complete years, and lest the town sustean any prejudice, and that it may be known who are pm'entices and who are not," it was ordained "that all who shall heirefter claim the benefit of being admitted burgess for forty 1)0U1ui5, shall, immediately after their entry to serve as prentices, cause register their indentures in the town's books, and only the extract thereof to be accepted for instructing of the same." The full price of entry was further advanced "for relief of ane pairt of the great burdens of the town, to ane hundred pounds, with the provision that all who shall serve as apprentice to any merchant or any of the nine deacons, shall be admitted for forty pounds intimation of which was ordered "to be made be tuck of drum."

Those who had not been received into the privileged class, were restricted in their beneficial occupation of the town. They were not at liberty to trade or to buy and sell at profit, and if they imported goods, were required to sell them in bulk to the Council or to freemen at a reasonable price, so that the community and not they should have the benefit. Sometimes they tried to evade this by trading in partner- ship with burgesses, or under colour of their names, but it was ordained that no burgess shall "be factor to ony unfreeman to buy merchandise within the realm, or to carry the same outwart, or to topi or sell within the burgh;" and that no one shall "be partner with unfreemen in buying or selling ony manner of guids, or blokis of victual, in defraud of the liberties of the burgh." And how soon any unfreeman's "guids come to the burgh, either be sea. or land, gif ony burgess" has been made "factor either be word or wreit, then incontinent he sail enter them in the town's buiks, and the guids and the prices thereof shall be given up to the Provost and Bailies as if the awner were present; and gif they can nocht agree on the prices, in that case the factor sail sell the guids in grite to freemen, as use is of strangers guids."

But unfreemen continued to "use the libertie and profit of the burgh, and freemen against their idthes and consciences, made traffic with unfreenien's gear under colour of it being their awn." So in order that knowledge might be had of this, the Council directed "that all masters of ships coming to the port, sall howsoon they arrive, give up their interest of all guids being in their ship, before the Provost and Bailies; and that na ship be frauchtit without ane Bailie or the Dean of Guild be present, so that trial may be had quha is freeman and quha is noclit ; and quha and quhat skipper disobeys, sail pay for ilk time the souin of five pounds." The following week "a Dutchman's ship having come in with the first bear, and scho lying in the road," George (lardin, along with George Roliok, a merchant of Perth, " past and coftl fra the Dutchman certain lasts of bear," and then "they causit put the samin in John Caye's boat furth of the ship," expressly against the acts of the burgh. So the officers "arrestit the boat," in which they "verified that there wes four lasts of bear," and also a quantity of "byg." But notwithstanding the arrest, the victual was carried off, "and the boat past away to Sanct Johnstoun." Gardin having been interrogated, "confessit"to the transaction, but the stranger was away with the bear.

To avoid debate quhilk commonly is usit between awners and merchants daily in the tolbuith, the act made for frauchting of ships in presence of the Dean of Guild," was ordered "to be publishit, and put in execution ; and the Dean to subscryve the charter party." And forsameikie as diverse freemen, in conti'air their aith, continually deal with "unfreedorn's guids, quhairby the estate of the burgh is grytlie hurt, and the common customs grytumnlie defraudit, therefor it was ordanit, that gif ony burgess carries with him ony geir pertening to unfreemen" as if it were his own, " that the ofiendei' tyne his right for ever; and it sail nocht be lesurn to him to redeem his freedom, because he has been perjurit."

It was devisit that na unfreemnan Pretend to buy ony staple guids within the libertie of the burgh, and specially to buy ony bull skins or hides;" (these would probably be wanted for the neighbouring highlands, where large quantities were used in covering targets;) and that no one "shall be sufired to buy ony quantity of wool, except in ane free mercat, attour3 that quhmilk may conveniently serve for the claithming and abuliinont of himself, his bairns, and family, under the pain of confiscation thereof."

The dress then worn by burgesses and others, was required by law to be suited to the degree of the wearer. In the fifteenth century, Parliament ordained "anent the commons, that na lauborars nor husbandmen wear on the week day," any clothes "but gray, and quhite, and on haliday, but lycht blue, and green or red; and their wifls rychtsa, witli curches of their awin making," the stuff " nocht to exceed the price of forty pennies the ell. And that na men within burgh that live be merchandise, unless they be in clignitie as Bailze, or gude worthie man of the Council, shall wear clathis of silks, nor costly scarlet gowns, nor furrings ; and that they make their wifis and dochters in like manner be abulzeit ganeand, and corresponding to their estate; on their heads, short curches, with little hudis, as are usit in England and as to their gowns, that na women wear" costly furs, "nor have tails of unsuiting length, nor furryt under, but on the haliday. And that na woman come to the kirk or mercat with hir face must lyt or covert that scho may not be kend, under the pain of the escheat of the curch." In 1567 it was enacted "that it be lawful to na women to weir dress abone their estait, except hownis." When Acts were at that time finally disposed of in Parliament, "Apprevit," or" Apprevit nocht," was written upon the margin of the record, as proof of ratification or rejection. In the case of this short statute, the marginal note by the legislators is, "This Act is very giide;" as if they were chuckling over a grand device for putting an end to the extravagance of womankind. In 1621, another Act ordained that "husbandmen and laborers wear na clothing but grays, quhyit, blue, and self black made in Scotland, and that their wyifi and children wear the like. That no servants, men or women, wear any clothing except canvas stuffs made in the country, and that they sail have no silk upon their clothes, except silk buttons and button-holes, and silk garters without pearling or roses;" but it was "lawful for them to wear their masters', or mistresses', old clothes." In burghis, only Provosts, or those that had been Provosts, were to be entitled "to have any apparel of velvet, satin, or other stuffs of silk," but it must be without "embroidering, or ony lace or pasmcimts, except only a plain waiting lace upon the seams; and their wyiffs, their eldest sons, and eldest dauchters, to wear apparel in like manner." The wondrous inventive arts of the tailor and the milliner were discouraged, for it was enacted "that the fashion of the clothes now p'esoiit1ie usit by men and women be not changit, under the pain of forfeiture of the clothes."


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