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The History of Glasgow
Volume 2 - Chapter I - Economic Effects of the Reformation


WHEN, on a winter day in 1559, the burgesses of Glasgow saw Archbishop Beaton ride away from the city with the French troops whom the Queen-Regent had lent him for the rescue of the charters and other valuables in his castle, [Keith's Hist. (Spottiswood Society), i. 245, 246.] probably few of them realized that the event marked the greatest crisis and turning-point in the civic history. Much has been made of the fact that, with the departure of the Archbishop, the ancient burgh acquired a new measure of independence, that from that time, with some temporary interruptions from the Protestant archbishops of the following century, the town council would be free to elect its own bailies and transact other business without the interference of an ecclesiastical superior. But the yoke of the archbishops seems never to have pressed very heavily on the burgesses. As a matter of fact, under the rule of a long line of great churchmen, the city and other possessions of the bishopric had enjoyed almost complete immunity from the ravagings and burnings and calls to arms which were the common lot of the vassals of secular barons. It was only during the previous sixteen years, since the death of King James V., and the rise to power of the principles of the Reformation, that the burgesses had seen red war within their gates. At the same time, they had enjoyed the very ample and substantial benefits arising from the residence in their midst of a great church dignitary with his court of wealthy prebendaries. The Archbishop's castle and the thirty-two manses of the canons, each with its considerable household of officers and domestics, must have afforded constant employment to a large number of craftsmen, and trade to a host of merchants. The ecclesiastical revenues of Glasgow at the Reformation have been moderately computed in the value of money in 1874, as follows: [Walsh's History of the Catholic Church in Scotland, 329-331• See also Lawson's Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.]

[The free rent in money and victual of the Archbishopric of Glasgow, with its several baronies, as given at the general assumption of Thirds in 1561, will be found in the Diocesan Registers, i. 23. The amount received in cash was £987 8s. 7d., besides 32 chalders, 8 bolls meal, 28 chalders, 6 bolls malt, 8 bolls bear (barley), 12 chalders, 13 bolls, 3 firlots horse corn, and 24 dozen salmon. The temporal lands were "the baronies of Glasgow, Carstairs, Ancrum, Lilliesleaf, Eskirk, Stobo and Ediston, with the Bishop's Forest, and other little things in Carrick, Lothian, and elsewhere."]

The expenditure of such a sum, or even a considerable part of it, among a population so small as that of Glasgow at the time of the Reformation was a very important matter. In 1581, when the Confession of Faith was carried from house to house by the elders, and it seems likely that the greater part of the adult population was induced to sign, the number of names adhibited was only 2250. [MacGeorge's Old Glasgow, p. 144; Stephens' Hist. of the Church of Scotland, i. 300.]

Hitherto the city had subsisted as a metropolis subsists, upon the custom brought to it by the presence of the great, and of suitors flocking to the court of the metropolitan. By the Reformation this means of living was at once very seriously diminished, and the inhabitants of Glasgow, especially those in the upper part of the city near the cathedral, immediately felt the pinch. It is true that by an order of the Lords of Council in 1562 the Roman clergy were allowed to retain two-thirds of the rents of their benefices for life—an order which greatly enraged John Knox ; but they were no longer called upon to reside in their cathedral manses. It is true also that the Earl of Lennox retained a town mansion at the Stablegreen Port, near the Bishop's Castle; [Diocesan Registers, preface, p. i8; Marwick's Early Glasgow, p. 61 MacGeorge's Old Glasgow, p. 117.] but since his forfeiture in 1545, after the Battle of the Butts, and his supersession by the Earl of Arran in the office of bailie of the barony and regality, he had had small occasion to reside there. By the abolition of the Pope's jurisdiction on 24th August, i56o, the consistorial courts of the old Church were closed, or only opened on very rare occasions. Two of these occasions may be noted.

In July, 1561, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, as Primate of All Scotland and Legate a latere, granted two commissions to the Abbots of Sweetheart and Crossraguel and two canons of Glasgow, to confirm charters by the Abbot of Glenluce to the Earl of Cassillis, [Orig. at Culzean, quoted in Consiliar Scolice, clxxiv. note.] and on 1st April, 1562, he commissioned the sub-chantor and other two canons of Glasgow to hear and determine the action of divorce raised by Hugh, Earl of Eglinton, against his reputed wife, Lady Jane Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Chatelherault. This trial proceeded publicly and formally, and, on the ground that the parties were related within the fourth degree of consanguinity, sentence of divorce was pronounced in the High Church of Glasgow on 30th May, 1563. [Fraser's Mem. of Montgomeries, ii. 163-181.]

But the recourse of the public to Glasgow for such trials was now very rare indeed, and was likely soon to cease altogether. On 8th February, 1564, the Queen appointed four Commissaries, sitting at Edinburgh, to exercise the jurisdiction formerly exercised by the Officials and Commissaries of the archbishops and bishops in their consistory courts. [Sir J. Balfour's Practicks, pp. 670-673; Act. Parl., iii. 33, 41.] Glasgow, in fact, ceased to be the spiritual and legal metropolis of the West of Scotland, and the consequences were for a considerable period calamitous.

Nearly a generation later, in 1587, a petition was presented to Parliament by the freemen and other inhabitants of Glasgow above the Greyfriars Wynd, setting forth that, whereas that part of the city had, before the Reformation, been "intertenyt and uphalden" by the resort of the Bishop and clergy, it had now become ruinous and decayed, and the residents greatly impoverished and without means to keep their property in repair. The petitioners suggested as a remedy that "the grite confusion and multitude of mercattis togedder in ane place about the croce" should be taken in hand, and some of these markets removed to the upper part of the city. As an argument they pointed out that they were equally subject with the people in the lower part of the town to be "taxt, stent, watcheing, warding, and all uther precable charges," and should therefore equally enjoy the benefits; and they concluded by pointing out that "that part of the said cietie abone the said gray frier wynde is the onlie ornament and decoratioun thereof, be ressone of the grite and sumptuous buildingis of grite antiquitie, vane proper and meit for the ressait of his heines and nobilitie at sic tymes as thai sall repair thereto, and that it wer to be lamentit to sie sic gorgeous policie to decay."

In response to this bitter cry, on 29th July, 1587, Robert, Lord Boyd, Walter, prior of Blantyre, the provost, bailies, and certain others, were commissioned to take action. First the salt market was removed to a place above the Wynd head; but this was so inconvenient to the fish curers that it was returned to its old position nearer the river, and the bear and malt market was established above the Wynd head in its stead. [Glasgow Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. P. 213; P. 243, No. 82.]

This petition indicates not only the straits to which the inhabitants of a large part of the city had been reduced, but also that the burgesses had at last realized the change which had taken place, and had become aware that they must no longer depend for their subsistence upon the patronage of the Church, but must rely upon their own exertions. This change was the greatest that has ever taken place in the history and character of Glasgow. The ancient feudal and ecclesiastical regime established by the far-seeing David, Prince of Strathclyde, in the twelfth century, had served its purpose and was dead. The city was now to enter upon a new era of greatness as a place of trade, manufacture, and foreign enterprise.

The old order did not pass away, however, without serious physical disturbance, and in the throes which accompanied the birth of a new era Glasgow experienced its full share.


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