Descriptive and Historical Part I: Chapter 4
The ancient Jurisdiction
of ZetlandThe Great FoudeDistrict FoudesRanselmen, their Duties LawrightmanStewartrv
erectedSteward-DeputeBailiesBook of the Law destroyed Country
Acts The Ting.
A HISTORICAL sketch of
these islands would scarcely be complete without some account of the
ancient mode of jurisdiction. In the Scandinavian times Shetland formed
a Foudrie under the jurisdiction of the Great Foude, Lagman, or
Governor. He presided at meetings of the Ting or open-air Parliament,
guided its judicial functions, expounded the ancient Book of the Law,
and took a general superintendence of the administration of justice
throughout the islands. The country was at this period divided into five
large districts, each of which was presided over by an inferior Foude,
who, when holding a local court or ting, was assisted, in the execution
of hiŁ duties, by the udallers of the district. Before him were decided
local causes, subject to appeal to the Great Foude.
Under the District Foude
were ten or twelve honest men termed Ranselmen, in whom were vested
the most extensive inquisitorial powers. On their election by the
assembled householders of the parish, under the chairmanship of the
District Foude, they solemnly swore to observe a code of twelve somewhat
lengthy instructions, which was then read over to them. Let us endeavour
to summarise their instructions :
1st The Ranselmen were
guardians of the domestic peace and morality of the community; they were
to inquire into the lives and conversations of families, to prevent
discord between man and wife, parent and child, master and servant,
between one neighbour and another, administering suitable rebukes and
exhortations. In each case of cursing or swearing they were to impose a
fine of twenty shillings Scots.
2d. They were to take
particular notice anent keeping the Sabbath-day, and to fine any one
who sits home from the kirk and from diets of catechising without
3d. They were to take a
general superintendence of the agricultural interests of the
neighbourhood, seeing that none injure others in their grass and corn,
that tenants do not abuse their lands nor demolish their houses, that
the country acts for regulating the pastures be strictly observed.
4th. To suppress vagrancy
by acquainting idle vagabond persons that they must take themselves to
some honest employ.
5th. To see that the poor
be taken care of in their respective quarters, and that beggars and
tiggers from a distance return to their own parishes.
6th. You are to inquire
in your quarters anent all persons using any manner of witchcraft,
charms, or any abominable or devilish superstitions, and faithfully
inform against such, so that they may be brought to condign punishment.
7th. You are to examine
all tradesmen in your bounds, and see that they make sufficient work,
and do not impose on any in their prices; and if you find any such
transgressors, inform against them, so as they may be punished as law
8th. In any case of
theft, either in their own or the neighbouring parish, to search or
ranael, if necessary force locks and use every means.of detecting the
Should in any case
resistance be offered or their exhortations pass unheeded, they were to
report to the Foude of the district.
Conjoined with each set
of Ranselmen was a Lawrightman, whose business it was to weigh and
measure the rent butter and oil: he was sworn to do justice, and to keep
just weights and measures. The Ranselman, uniting in his person the
functions of policeman, detective, elder, inspector of poor, inspector
of agriculture, and other offices not readily expressed in modern
phraseology, appears to have exerted a very favourable influence on
Under the Scottish
regime, a resident magistrate was appointed to each of the ten parishes
into which the islands were then divided, and the old Scandinavian word
Foude gave place to the more homely title Bailie. On the re-annexation
of the islands to the British crown, in 1669, Shetland was erected into
a stewartry. The Earl of Morton became hereditary Steward, but exercised
his functions through a Steward-Depute, who at first performed the same
duties as the Grand Foude, only he soon transferred his court from an
islet in the Loch of Tingwall to a hall in the Castle of Scalloway.
Early in the seventeenth century the ancient Book of the Law, derived
originally from Norway, was destroyed. This deficiency was supplied by
the enactment of numerous laws by the Ting of Zetland, which were known
as the country acts, and together formed for a long period the
statute-book according to which justice was administered.
Legislation by means of
Law-tings continued so late as 1670. At the law-ting, every udaller,
whether king, earl, or peasant, had an equal voice and vote. The
senators assembling at this curious parliament came on horseback, and
compensation was allowed to the owners of lands near the Loch of
Tingwall for the damage done to their pastures by the large number of
ponies thus brought together.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.