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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part II. Chapter VII - The Craftsmen as Citizen Soldiers


THE obligations imposed upon craftsmen under their burgess oath, "to watch and ward the town," was no empty meaningless phrase—at least in Aberdeen. Few towns in Scotland passed through so many troublous epochs, and none suffered more from the ravages of war than this very town which boasts for its motto the peaceful sentiment of "Bon-Accord." From the days of King William the Lion, when he established his palace in the Green, to the Rebellion of '45, Aberdeen was an important centre of action during the many troublous periods of Scotland's history. In 1179 it was a town of such size as to be considered worthy of being pillaged by Esteyn, one of the kings of Norway; its castle was seized by the English in 1292; when Sir William Wallace marched his army of relief from Dunnottar to Aberdeen in 1297, the enemy plundered and set fire to the town, and at a later stage Aberdeen had to suffer at the hands of the English for the support and shelter it gave to the Scottish champion. In the days of Robert Bruce, Aberdeen was the scene of many a bloody conflict; the castle was retaken from the English, and King Robert rewarded the citizens by bestowing on them a number of charters. Then came the historic battle of Harlaw, in which the citizens of Aberdeen, under Sir Robert Davidson, offered a determined resistance to Donald, Lord of the Isles; but it would take us out of our way to recount even the leading disturbances that occurred in Aberdeen during several centuries. It was favoured with many a royal visit, from the Jameses, Queen Mary, Charles II., and the leading notables in the country, and these marks of royal favour brought the town into a prominence that was not without its disadvantages. Then again, during the Covenanting days, and the rebellious periods of 1715 and 1745, Aberdeen bore the brunt of many a sanguinary conflict.

At all these eventful epochs the craftsmen, in their capacity of citizen soldiers, had to play their part. Down to the time of the second rebellion it was imperative that every free craftsman should be fully equipped with the weapons of war. On being admitted a free burgess he had to appear before the Magistrates clad "sufficentlie in armour, with an hagbute, bandaleire [wooden powder case], and sword," as a guarantee that he was able to "watch and ward;" besides having to contribute arms money towards the maintenance of the town's magazine. In token of their prowess at the battle of Harlaw in 1411, tradition says that each of the deacons brought back as a trophy a sword taken from the enemy. Three of the crafts—the Hammermen, the Tailors, and the Weavers—have still in their possession swords which are said to be the veritable weapons brought back from Harlaw, and their make and appearance do not belie the tradition.

The following Act of Parliament, passed on 6th March, 1457, and copies of which are to be found carefully preserved among the papers of several of the Trades, will give an indication of how the citizens were trained to the arts of war at this period Item.—It is decrtyt and ordainyt that wapin-shaving be halden be the lords and baronys spirituaIl and temporall four tymis in the year, and that the fut ball and golf be utterly cryed down and not to be used, and that bow marks be maide at ilk paroch kirk, a pair of butts and schuting be used ilk Saturday, and that ilk man shoot sex shotts att the least under the pain to be raised upon them that come not, att the least two pennies to be given to them that comes to the bow marks to drink. And this to be used frae pasch to alhowmass efter, and be the next mydsummer to be reddy with all their greath without faizie. And that there be a bower and fleg in every head town of the shire, and that the town furnish him of stuff and gaithe aftor as needs him thereto that they may serve the country with. And as toichande the fut ball and the golf to be punished by the barrons unlaw. And if the pariochine be meikle that there be three or four or five bow marks in such places as ganys therefor, and that all men that is within fifty and past twelve years shall use shooting. And that men that is outwith and past three scoir yeirs sal use honest gamys as eft'ers.—Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vol. ii.

Occasionally the craftsmen made use of their arms for other than defensive purposes. In 1638, the deacon-convener and deacons were accused of "convocating the haill frieman of thair saidis craftis with all thair servantis and prentissis vpon Monday last, the twenty-ane day of Maii instant, be fyve houris in the morning at the craftis hospital, and thairefter convening thaiin all at the mercat croce in armes be eight houris, and in the meintyme when as a number of seckis of meill, to the number of fourescoir seckis or thairby, that wer brocht in that day frome Skeine to hawe beine embarked in Martin Schankis schips, eves stayed and laid doune at the mercat place, the saidis craftis, with thair servantis and prentisses, being convenit at the mercat croce in armes, as said is, with swords, pistollis, and lang wapynnes, thay rnellit and intromittit with the said victuall violentlie and at thair awn handis compellit the men that brocht in the same to carie it on thair awin horssis fra the mercat placo to the said hospitall, and conveyit the same the haill way in arines, as said is, notwithstanding that thay wer commandit and chairgit be the Magistrattes." For this offence the Magistrates fined the convener £80 and the deacons £40, and committed them to prison until the fines were paid. They were also ordered to pay the owners of the meal for the skaith done them, and to afterwards appear in the tolbooth " in ane fencit court, and thair in presens of the Magistrats and Counsal hmnblie to crawe God and thame pardone for the said riott and disobedience, and promisis openlie newir to commit the lyk in tyin coming."—Council Register, vol. lii., p. 380.

During the troublous covenanting times, the craftsmen suffered severely both in person and property. At the battle of Justice Mills on 13th September, 1644, when Montrose with his three Irish regiments played such fearful havoc in the town, a number of leading craftsmen were slain, including Thomas Robertsone, deacon of the cordiners. In the same encounter Matthew Lumsden, baillie; Thomas Buck, master of kirk works; Robert Leslie, master of hospital (town's hospital) ; Alexander and Robert Reid, advocates; and about a hundred and sixty other citizens were killed.

When the Rebellion of 1715 broke out most of the craftsmen joined with the Magistrates, but they were not by any means all of one mind. The records of the different Trades tell a curious tale of divided feeling. With the view, apparently, of ascertaining which side each craftsman favoured, all the Trades passed a resolution to the effect that the whole members should again take the oath of allegiance, and those who refused to undergo this shibboleth process, were for the time debarred from the meetings of the craft. Judging from the numbers in the Shoemaker's Trade who subscribed the oath a considerable time after the rebellion had died down, it is evident that a considerable proportion of them were in sympathy with the Pretender; while the Hammermen, a number of whom were armourers and gunsmiths, were almost to a man sturdy Loyalists. Joseph Robertson's "Short Memorandum of quhat heath occurred in Aberdeen since xx. September, MMDCCXV.," which, he says, was written by a gentleman in Aberdeen, contains the following interesting account of the part which the Trades in Aberdeen took in the proceedings:-

20th September, 1715.—Said day the Earl Iliarchall entered the toun with severall gentelmen and inhabitants with ther swords drawn, and went to the Cross, where he, with severall others, went up, and the Chireff deput read, and Jo. Duff proclaimed the pretender and then dranck his health. The names of some of them ye have herewith on the other syde. At night the bells was rung and illuminations ordered, and those that waild not obey, rabbled.

21st.—Patrick Gray, conviner, with all his diacons and boxmasters, entertened Earl hlarchall with severall of his company in their Treads hall, and drunck King James' health, and suckses to his armes, &c. In the afternoon the Earl went towards Inverugie, and was attended out of toun by most of thos who came in with him, besides the Couvinner and his treads in a seperate body, and as they went threw the old toun they proclaimed the pretender there.

22d.—The Magistrates having mett in the Counsel houss about the toune's affaires, they were insulted by a mobb, who first mett in Mistres Hebbrun's and then came to the counsel house and requyered the armes and amunitions belonging to the toun with the Keys of the Block house, seeing they wer not to regard the majestrates any longer as majestrates: for Earl Marchall had given the command of the toun to Capt. Jo. Bennarman. Accordingly they seazed all, and ever since keep the command of the toun : the neams of most of them you have herewith.

26th.—The Earl Marchal returned, and there haveing been severall metteing amongst the Rebells ffor the chosing a new majestrace, upon the 28th they maid intimatione by beat of drum, that all the Burgers should mett at the new church nixt day in order to chose new Magistrates and Counsell—Notta.—This 28th was the Legall day that the Magistrates and Counsell should be chosen, but the Treads, who are a pairt of the Electors, being in rebelione, there could no Legall Election be.

29th.—The Earl Marchal, attended by some few besides the members of the Colledge and Treads, went to the new church, where the Earl caused Alexr Charles calle the neams, and then give him a list of those he designed for Magistrats and Counsel], quhilk being read was approven : the names of the Magistrats and Counsell, with a few Electors, you have herewith.

Pro Octr.—The Earl Marchal went out of toun towards the camp, and was conveyed by the new Magistrates and Convener, with his treads, having all their swords drawn. . . .

3to.—This day the Marques of Iiuutly came here with abut 70 horsemen, who was taken to the Counsel house with my Lord Pitsligo, and intertened by the Majestrats. In the mean tym, Capt. Mideltoune brought ffrom a French Veshell in the Road the Laird of Boyn, who was in disguise: he had the Earl of Marchal's Commission, &c, which occasioned great rejoicing, and amongst the rest of the Royall healths, they drunck the D. Orleans, &c.

4to.—Lord Pitsligo and severall others went for the camp at Pearth as did the Laird of Boyne.

5to.—The Marques of Huntly being interteaned by the convener and his treads in there hall, where all the loyall healths wer drunck,—he mounted at the crosse with all his retinue, and was waited upon by the Magistra.ts and treads, as also by my Lord Frasser and my Lord Aboyn the Standard carried by Sir Robert Gordon, the whole about 230.

Owing to the commotion in the town, no elections took place among the Trades for that year, and after order had been restored each of the Trades made a special application to the Magistrates for power to hold an election.

The annual elections were again interrupted in 1745, when the second attempt was made to restore the Stuart dynasty, and several pages of the Trades' records for this period are quite blank, no business of any kind having apparently been transacted for several months. In the month of July, 1746, the Magistrates granted special warrants to hold meetings for the election of office-bearers, and, as was the case in 1715, the members had again to take the oath of allegiance. Some of the members protested against taking the oath a second time, and only did so after the Convener Court had passed the following enactment :—

17th December, 1748.—The Convener Court having heard and considered ane act of the Hammermen Trade, dated 30th September, 1748, they approve of the same, and statute and ordain the same to be here insert, of which the tenor follows :—" The Hammermen Trade taking to their serious consideration that when the rebellion in August and September, 1745, broke out, they were then interrupted in their then usual election by the violence of the rebels, but were in 1746 rejoined to the privileges of electing the annual officers for the Corporation by His Majesty's most gracious order in Privy Council, whereas it is undeniable nottour that many in this town and neighbouring county did join the said rebels, and many more were known to be secret abettors of this cause, who yet did not take arms in rebellion, which brought our country under the imputation of disaffection, therefore (and notwithstanding of ane interlocutor of the Lords of Session finding that any tradesman who should take the oaths by law directed once in a reign was not obliged to repeat them previous to any election thereafter during that reign, nor to be debarred from being aue elector for not repeating the said oath) it was advised and fand reasonable to avoid the imputation of disaffection, and to show as much as possible that we were entirely free of any accession to the rebellion, that every member should take the usual oaths as in the case of the commencement of a new reign, and which all the members of this trade who voted at the two preceding elections have done. But some of the corporations, for reasons best known to themselves, have not required any vote in the two preceding elections, and for what is known have not taken the usual oaths to His Majesty since the rebellion in seventeen forty-five broke out. Therefore the trade hereby statute and ordain that no member of this corporation who has not been qualified to His Majesty since the first of March, 1745, shall be allowed to vote in any election of deacon, boxmaster, or masters of this corporation until he first show an attestation of his having taken the oath to His Majesty before two or more of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace since the said first of March, 1746. And the trade further statute and ordain that the deacon of the trade shall be hereby warranted by this corporation in refusing to receive such member's vote until he show attestation as aforesaid. And if any deacon shall receive the vote of any member who refuses to produce such attestation, any two or more members of this corporation are hereby empowered to prosecute such deacon, and the unqualified member so voting before any competent court, on the expense of this corporation, the boxmaster whereof is hereby empowered to issue forth the necessary money for that effect. And the trade hereby further statute that in respect the names of those in the corporation who have since the rebellion in 1745 qualified to His Majesty are recorded previous to this being allowed to vote, that every member who shall hereafter produce ane attestation of his having taken the oaths to His Majesty as law directs shall be recorded as qualified, so that he be not obliged to produce his attestation anew, and that a roll of such as are qualified and have produced attestations thereof, or shall hereafter produce attestation, be annually made out, and be the election roll, and all such as are not so recorded be debarred voting, and held as not qualified and incapable of electing or being elected into any office in this corporation whatever." And the Convener Court appoint and empower the convener for the time being to see this act put in due execution among the several corporations.

At various other periods the Trades manifested their readiness to perform their duties as citizen soldiers. In 1797 a volunteer corps was formed in connection with the Trades, "for internal defence and opposing invasion," the Trinity Gardens being set apart as a drilling ground, and a stand of colours supplied by the Convener Court. During the American war the Craftsmen subscribed £400 "to assist in subduing the rebellion in the colonies," and again, in 1798, a sum of £50 was subscribed to the Government on account of the crisis then existing in the country.


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