The contemporary society in which we live is
many faceted and even the most acquiescent of us must question why
things are the way they are and how matters came about. Our country and
culture is steeped in history. Many of our place names have ancient
derivations to say nothing of the evolution of our language with all its
local dialects, words and phrases
When we switch on the television, pick up
a newspaper or walk through urban streets we see the evidence of crime
and its effects all around us. Many of us may even have been the victim
of criminal activity, if not directly, indirectly through the need to
purchase insurance cover or to maintain expensive security devices for
our property or possessions.
Crime is all around us. If rules are made
by a community or an individual then by default they exist because
someone deviated from the accepted norm. It is effectively a social
activity, albeit one from which the majority of society appears to
refrain. The causes of crime, initiatives and punishments to deter crime
are the subject of endless debate by all facets of society, each with a
strong sense of conviction and a unique perception on the matter.
If we accept that crime and punishment is
part of our social make up then it is not surprising that throughout
Scottish history attitudes towards criminals and deviant behaviour has
altered through time. What is open to debate is the question of whether
we as a civilisation have progressed or have we merely changed with the
Politicians of all persuasions, the
church, the legal profession, the business community, welfare
organisations and the healthcare industry all have a vested interest in
combating crime. Sadly, in short, no one has the answer, nor as we
explore the subject, has anyone in history had the answer. Solutions
have come and gone as have epidemics and crime waves, but it is
speculation as to whether these were the result of some initiative or
simply the side effects of a larger social engineering programme.
Winston Churchill declared that "You
can tell the state of a civilisation by the state of its prisons".
In Scotland attitudes towards justice and crime or an emphasis on one
particular aspect of deviant behaviour has never remained consistent. It
has by and large been an evolutionary process which has taken place in
tandem with social, political and economic changes within the Scottish
Our impression of early medieval Scotland
is of a highly fragmented series of kingdoms, separated not just by
territorial barriers but by natural geographical obstacles. A. D. M.
Barrell in Medieval Scotland talks of, "The eleventh century
kingdom of the Scots as a somewhat uneasy amalgam of several different
peoples, languages and cultures drawn together by a combination of
circumstances. It was to prove remarkably resilient as a political
entity, despite its internal diversity".
Clearly such a mix of cultures and
traditions did not create an easy environment for law making or more
importantly revenue raising. Territorial disputes could be long and
bitter, often resulting in death but seldom producing stable solutions.
Such bickering and warmongering increased vulnerability throughout the
noble houses of Scotland who constantly had to be alert to invasion from
not only England but continental Europe as well. Strangely, social
change did not come as a result of physical prowess but as a by-product
of peaceful immigration by settlers from England and France and also
from the growing influence of ecclesiastical networks throughout
Scotland. They brought with them the concept of Feudalism and its
pyramid of social structure and order.
History generally recognises King David I
(1125-53) as the great feudal reformer. Although its introduction was a
gradual one, mainly confined to southern Scotland, the effect of its
patronage and privilege created a structure for tax raising and social
control. Inevitably disputes and defaults would arise, also feudalism,
to function effectively, demanded order and compliance across the whole
of the population. There was a need to dispense justice openly and
fairly across the country which could no longer be satisfied.