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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of James VI. 1591 - 1603 Part F

Aug 11
A few days later, the king returned from Perth to Edinburgh. ‘The town, with the haill suburbs, met him upon the sands of Leith in arms, with great joy and shooting of muskets, and shaking of pikes. He went to the kirk of Leith, to Mr David Lindsay’s orison. Thereafter, the town of Edinburgh having convenit, and standing at the Hie Gait [High Street], his majesty passed to the Cross, the Cross being hung with tapestry, and went up thereon with his nobles. Mr Patrick Galloway being there, made ane sermon upon the 124 psalm; he declared the haul circumstances of the treason proposed by the Earl of Gowrie and his brother, whilk the king testified by his awn mouth, sitting on the Cross all the time of the sermon.’—Bir.

Sep 11
‘For divers guid respects and considerations,’ the king in council ordered that thenceforth the Castle of Stirling, in which his son was kept, should not be accessible to the whole trains of the nobility and gentry at such times as the king himself was not present; but every earl should ‘have access with four persons only, every lord with twa persons, every baron with ane person, and every gentleman and other person single, and all, ane and all, without armour, saving their swords.’ All except the earls, lords, and barons, to ‘lay their swords fra them at the
yett.’—P. C. R

Soon after, there was an edict for restricting the number of persons brought to court by noblemen in their trains. An earl was enjoined to bring not ‘mony mae’ than twelve persons; a lord, eight; and a baron, four. The indefiniteness of the order amusingly marks the want of all stern will in King James.

Sep 14
This being the Rood Fair-day in Jedburgh, a party of rough borderers, Turnbulls, Davidsons, and others, to the number of twenty, came to the town, armed with hagbuts and pistols, and there presented themselves before the lodging of Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehirst, ‘foment the market-cross, and after divers brags, insolent behaviour, and menacings, in contempt of him and his servants,’ slew his brother, Thomas Kerr, and one of his servants. Eleven persons stood a trial for this act, when it appeared that they were only, more suo, executing a horning of the sheriff of Roxburgh against Thomas Kerr. Sir Andrew Kerr and others stood a counter-trial for resisting the execution of the horning. But the only practical result was, that one Andrew Turubull, brother of Turnbull of Bewly, was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh (Dec. 16) for the slaughter of Thomas

Oct 8
Francis Tennant, a wealthy merchant of Edinburgh, was hanged at the Cross of Edinburgh for uttering pasquils against the king and ‘his maist noble progenitors.’ Tennant had been an active friend of the Earl of Bothwell, and when that nobleman was at his last extremity, towards the end of 1594, this merchant-burgess had undertaken to get him delivered up to the king. ‘But by the contrair, howsoon he came to Bothwell, he revealit the cause of his coming to him, and shew[ed] what reward he had gotten, and offerit himself with all his guids in Bothwell’s will, affirming that he would not betray him for all the gold in the warld.’ It was in a ship furnished by Francis Tennant that the forlorn Bothwell escaped to France.

Francis appears to have consequently forfeited his position in his native country. Having now fallen into the king’s hands, he was arraigned for writing a calumnious letter against the king, dated at Newcastle, January 17, 1597, addressed to Mr Robert Brace, the minister, and another to Mr John Davidson, both being under fictitious signatures; and which letters ‘he had laid down in the kirk of Edinburgh, to the effect the same might have fallen in the hands of the people, thereby to bring his majesty in contempt, and steir up his people to sedition and disobedience.’ King James must have been stung to an unusual degree of wrath by these pasquils, for, after the trial, he sent a warrant to the justice-clerk, ordering for sentence, that Francis Tennant should ‘have his tongue cuttit out at the rate,’ and then be ‘hangit.’ Four days later, indeed, he departed from this cruel order, and sent a second warrant, stating that, ‘for certain causes moving us, we have thought good to mitigate that sentence, by dispensing with the torturing of the said Francis, other [either] in the boots, or by cutting out of his tongue, and are content that ye only pronounce doom agains him to be hangit’

Dec 23
The baptism of the young prince, subsequently Charles I., took place this day at Holyroodhouse. The manner in which the king obtained the means of holding any such ceremonial is illustrated by the following letter (printed literatim), which he addressed on the occasion to the Laird of Dundas:

‘Richt traist friend, we greet you heartily well. The baptism of our dearest son being appointit at Halyrudhouse upon the xxiii day of Decem instant, wherat some princes of France, strangers, with the specialis of our nobility, being invyted to be present, necessar it is that great provisions, gude cheir, and sic uther things necessary for decorations thairof be providit, whilks cannot be had without the help of sum of our loving subjects, quhairof accounting you one of the specialis, we have thought good to request you effectuously to propyne with vennysous, wyld meit, Brissel fowlis,’ caponis, with sic other provisions as are maist seasonable at that time and errand. To be sent into Halyrudhouse upon the 22 day of the said moneth of December instant, and herewithall to invyte you to be present at that solemnitie, to take part of your awin gude cheir, as you tender our honour, and the honour of the country; swa we committ you to God. From Lithgow, this 6th of Decem’ 1600—JAMES R’

At the close of the century, in the midst of the order of things arranged under the care of the reformed church, we may be said to have arrived at a point where it may be proper to take a general survey of the customs and manners of the people. We are enabled to do this with comparative ease by the copious extracts which have been published from the session-records of Perth, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, the burgh-records of these cities and other documents.


Of some of the superstitions of the people, particularly that regarding the pretended power of witchcraft, abundant illustrations have been presented in the chronicle of the bypast forty years. It may now be remarked, that, besides the witches of malevolent character, who were objects of dread to the community, there were ‘wise women,’ who were understood to possess the power of curing diseases generally, and restoring the health of sickly children, by charms and other means. We hear, in 1623, of one Janet at Black Ruthven, near Perth, of whom ‘the bruit went that she could help bairns who had gotten ane dint of ill wind.’—P. K S. R. At Ruthven, or Huntingtower, there was a well the water of which was believed to have sanative qualities when used under certain circumstances. In May 1618, two women of humble rank were before the kirk-session of Perth, ‘who being asked if they were at the well in the bank of Huntingtower the last Sabbath, if they drank thereof:, and what they left at it, answered, that they drank thereof, and that each of them left a prin [pin] thereat; which was found to be a point of idolatry, in putting the well in God’s room.’—P. K. S. R. They were each fined six shillings, and compelled to make public avowal of their repentance. In August 1623, Janet Jackson was cited before the same court for following a witch’s advice in employing the deceased Isobel Haldane ‘to go silent to the well of Ruthven, and silent back again with water to wash her bairn.’ It was admitted that ‘Isobel brought the water and washed the bairn therewith, and put the bairn through a cake made of nine curns of meal gotten from women, married maidens,’ which was said to be ‘a common practice used for curing bairns of the cake-mark.’

At St Wollok’s Kirk, a ruin in the parish of Glass, Aberdeenshire, are two pools by the river’s side, amongst high rocks, and known far and wide by the name of St Wollok’s Baths, Wollok having been an anchoritic saint who dwelt here in the fifth century, and is reckoned as the first bishop of Aberdeen. These pools, always full of water even in times of the greatest drought, were resorted to so lately as the seventeenth century, if not later, for the bathing of sickly children. Near by was St Wollok’s Well, also believed to have a supernatural virtue for the healing of diseases.

It was customary for great numbers of persons to go on a pilgrimage barefooted, on the first of May, to Christie’s Well, in Menteith, and there perform certain superstitious ceremonies, ‘to the great offence of God and scandal of the true religion.’ In May 1624, the Privy Council issued a commission to a number of gentlemen of the district, enjoining them to post themselves at the well and apprehend all such superstitious persons and put them into the Castle of Doune.

At the Bay of Nigg, near Aberdeen, was a well dedicated to St Fiacre, and commonly called St Fittich’s Well, which was long held in the greatest veneration for its efficacy in disease. On the 28th of November 1630, Margaret Davidson, a married woman, residing in Aberdeen, was adjudged in an unlaw of five pounds by the kirk-session, ‘for directing her nurse with her bairn to St Fiack’s Well, and washing her bairn therein for recovery of her health. .. . and for leaving an offering in the well’ The prevalence of this custom is indicated by the decree of the session on the same day, threatening heavy censure and punishment to all who should be ‘found going to Sanct Fiack’s Well, for seeking health to themselves or bairns.’

This Fiack was a Scottish saint - believed to be a son of Eugenius IV., king of Scotland - and it is curious to be assured, as we are, that ‘the name fiacre was first given to hackney-coaches because hired carriages were first made use of for the convenience of pilgrims who went from Paris to visit the shrine of this saint’

When we consider that sanative effects are attributed in our own time, by a great number of practitiouers to pure water, we may be the more disposed to believe that there was some natural ground for the faith which the simple people of old entertained regarding saints’ wells, the saintly connection being assumed of course as indifferent in the ease. It is remarkable, moreover, how long this faith continued to be maintained even in its most superstitious form. We are told in the New Statistical Account of Scotland, that a well dedicated to the Virgin Mary, at Sigget in Aberdeenshire, continued, till within the memory of living persons, to be resorted to on Pasch Sunday, the votaries always taking care to leave money or some other article beside the venerated lymph on departing. In Easter Ross, there are wells which are still resorted to by some of the more ignorant portion of the rustic classes.

Charms for the healing of sores and gunshot wounds were in great vogue. In May 1631, Laurence Boak and his wife were before the kirk session of Perth, accused of using such charms, and they admitted that the following was the formula employed for sores:

‘Thir sairs are risen through God’s wark,
And must be laid through God’s help;
The mother Mary, and her dear son,
Lay thir sairs that are begun.’

The chief of fallen spirits was the subject of a strange superstition, which dictated that a piece of every farm should be left untilled for his especial honour. It went by the respectful appellation of the Goodman’s Croft. In May 1594, the General Assembly had under their attention that such a weird custom was rife in Garioch, Aberdeenshire and it called for an act of the Estates ‘ordaining all persons possessors of the said lands, to cause labour the same, betwixt and a certain day to be appointed thereto; otherwise, in case of disobedience, the said lands to fall into the king’s hands, to be disponed to such persons as please his majesty, who will labour the same.’— Cal.

So lately as 1651, at a visitation of the kirk of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, it was admitted by Sir William Gordon of Lesmore, that a part of his mains or home-farm was given away to the Goodman, and used not to be laboured; ‘but he had a mind, by the assistance of God, to cause labour the same.’

Some religious practices of the Romish Church continued to be in vogue for many years after the Reformation, notwithstanding all that the Presbyterian kirk could do for their suppression. There had been a custom of pilgrimising, for penitential purposes, to certain holy places, precisely as there still is in the more Catholic districts of Ireland. We may presume that, as in the sister-island, people went barefooted to the sacred spot, walked on bare knees repeatedly round it, repeating prayers, and afterwards formally confessed their sins to the priests who superintended the ceremonial. In these reformed times, the affair would be of course shorn of many of its rites; but certainly the habit of going on pilgrimage was still such as to give great concern to presbyteries and general assemblies. One of the chief places still in vogue was the Chapel of Grace, on the western bank of the Spey, near Fochabers—a mere ruin, but held in great veneration, and resorted to by devout people from all parts of the north of Scotland. Another was the Chapel of the Virgin, at Ordiquhill in Banffshire, where also there was a well believed to possess miraculous virtue. We find the General Assembly which met at Linlithgow in 1608, recommending that, for remedy of the growth of papistry, ‘order be taken with the pilgrimages ‘—specifying these two, and a well in the district of Enzie. Of course Catholics were most disposed to making the pilgrimages. In 1592 Robert Wauchope of Caikmuir, suspected papist, was accused before his presbytery of going yearly barefooted in pilgrimage to the Cross of Peebles, and he admitted having been guilty of such proceedings a few years back, but now he had given it up as a ‘rite unprofitable and ungodly.’ We hear of Lady Aboyne going to the Chapel of Grace every year, being a journey of thirty Scotch miles, the two last of which she always performed on her bare feet. About the time of the National Covenant (1638), what remained of the Chapel of Grace was thrown down, with a view to putting a stop to the practice; but this seems to have been far from an effectual measure. In a work written in 1775, the author says: ‘In the north end of the parish [of Dundurcus] stood the Chapel of Grace, and near to it the well of that name, to which multitudes from the Western Isles do still resort, and nothing short of violence can restrain their superstition.’

There were even practices of an obviously heathen origin still flourishing in the country. That of kindling fires at Midsummer and on St Peter’s Eve seems to have been among the most difficult to eradicate. In July 1608, several inhabitants of Aberdeen were accused before the kirk-session, of having had fires kindled in front of their houses on one of these evenings. Gilbert Keith of Achiries, ‘a common banner and swearer,’ confessed the fault. Mr Thomas Menzies, bailie, gave an equivocating answer. Others alleged that the fires had been kindled by their servants and children.— A. K. S. R.


The observance of Yule (Christmas), Pasch (Easter), and the various saints’ days, had been sternly repressed at the Reformation. So were the May-games and other holiday amusements in vogue under the ancient faith. Nevertheless, we still find all of these matters enjoying a sort of twilight life. They assert their vitality by the very efforts made from time to time to extinguish them. Passing over the Robin Hood play and other Edinburgh May-sports, to which repeated reference has been made in the chronicle, we may advert to the corresponding doings at the Fair City of the Tay.

The people of Perth had been in the habit, before the Reformation, of observing Corpus Christi Day (second Thursday after Whitsunday) and St Obert’s Day. On the former, it was customary to have a play. After the change of religion, there was a great inclination to keep up these old practices, which the church, however, condemned as ‘idolatrous, superstitious, and slanderous.’ In 1577, the kirk-session of Perth prosecuted several persons for taking part in the Corpus Christi play. Thomas Thorsails, who had borne the ensenyie or flag, had to submit himself to the discipline of the kirk, and promise ‘never to meddle with such things again,’ in order that he might have his bairn baptised. A considerable number of persons had to make the like submission that they might be at peace with the session. Nevertheless, on the ensuing 10th of December, being St Obert’s Eve, there was a procession as usual; and several citizens were brought to submission, ‘in that they superstitiously passed about the town, disguised, in piping and dancing, and torches bearing.’ John Fyvie afterwards confessed that on this occasion ‘he passed through the town striking the drum, which was one of the common drums of the town, accompanied with certain others—such as John Macbeth, William Jack riding upon ane horse going in men’s shoes.’—P. K. S. R.

In Aberdeen, December 30, 1574, certain persons were charged before the kirk-session of Aberdeen ‘for playing, dancing, and singing of filthy carols on Yule Day [Christmas Day] at even, and on Sunday at even thereafter.’—P. K S. R. January 10, 1575—6, ‘the haill deacons of crafts within this burgh are ordained to take trial of their crafts for sitting idle on Yule Day last was.’—Ibid. In Perth, January 10, 1596—7, ‘William Williamson, baxter, is accused of baking and selling great loaves at Yule, which was slanderous, and cherishing a superstition in the hearts of the ignorant.’—P. K. S. R.


The sessions appear to have everywhere had great battlings with old-accustomed habits of festival-keeping and merry-making, in which the people indulged, probably without any idea of committing a sin. Some of their habits were connected with superstition, and thus gave double offence.

There was a cave called the Dragon-hole, on the face of the Kinnoul Hill near Perth. It was of difficult access, and old tradition had her stories about it. The common sort of people were accustomed to make a merry procession to the Dragon-hole once a year in May; perhaps they had continued to do so since the days of heathenrie. May 2, 1580, ‘because that the assembly of minister and elders understand that the resort to the Dragon-hole, as well by young men as women, with their piping and drums striking before them through this town, had raised no small slander to this congregation,’ they therefore ordain that each person guilty of this practice shall pay twenty shillings to the poor, and make public repentance.

Notwithstanding all efforts at repression, eases of excessive conviviality and of questionable frolics are not infrequent in these moral registers. It seems to have been a favourite prank to interchange the dresses of the sexes, and make a parade through the town by night, singing merry songs. At Aberdeen, February 9, 1575—6, Madge Morison is ‘decreit to pay 6s 8d. to the magistrate, and Andrew Caithness is become caution for her repentance-making when she is required, and that for the abusing of herself in claithing of her with men’s claiths at the lyke [wake] of George Elmsly’s wife.’ A month after, in the same place, a group of women, ‘tryit presently as dancers in men’s claiths, under silence of night, in house and through the town,’ are assured that if found hereafter in the same fault, ‘they sall be debarrit fra all benefit of the kirk, and openly proclaimit in pulpit.’

At some blithesome bridal which took place in Aberdeen in August 1605, a number of young men and women danced through the town together, ‘the young men being clad in women’s apparel, whilk is accounted ane abomination (Deut. xxii. 5), and the young women with masks on their faces, thereby passing the bounds of modesty and shamefacedness, whilk aught to be in young women, namely [especially] in a reformed city.’ The matter was referred to the provincial assembly, and severe penalties threatened for future instances of the offence.—A. K. S. R.

At Perth, in 1609, we find the kirk-session dealing with an ultra-merry company, composed of Andrew Johnston, James Jackson, and David Dickson, and three women, two of whom were the wives of the first two men. They were accused of having gone about the town on the evening of the preceding Tuesday, disguised, and with swords and staves, molesting their neighbours. They stated that they had been supping, and after supper, from mere merriness, had gone about the town, but without molesting anybody. ‘It was certainly found that they were disguised; namely, Andrew Johnston’s wife having her hair hanging down, and a black hat upon her head; her husband with a sword into his hand; James Jackson having a mutch [woman’s cap] upon his head, and a woman’s gown; and that they hurt and molested several persons.’ The matter was aggravated by the consideration that it was a time of plague, and the offenders were convalescents new come in from the fields, with ‘the blotch and boil’ still on their persons. A public repentance was decreed to them.—P. K. S. R.

The chief clement of conviviality among the common people, at this time, and for several generations later, was a light ale which the keepers of taverns made at home; hence browster-wife came to be a synonym for a woman keeping a public-house. The fierier and more fatal whisky was, however, not unknown. In the Aberdeen Kirk-session Register, under March 1606, we have two men brought up for ‘abusing themselves last week by extraordinar drinking of aqua-vitie.’


The Protestant Church took the observance of Sunday as a Sabbath from the ancient church; and the Presbyterians of Scotland adopted it fully, while rejecting all the other festivals—a fact with which Ninian Winzet did not fail to taunt them as an inconsistency in his Tractates, published immediately after the Reformation. [Winzet, remarking how John Knox had put down festival-days as unsanctioned in Scripture, says: ‘I misknow not some of you to object the command, charging sex days to labour, and the sevint to sanctify the Lord; therefore I desire the doubtsome man to cause his doctor and prophet aforesaid [John Knox], with all the assistance of his best learned scholars, to answer in writ, what Scripture has he, or other authority, by [besides] the consent of the haly kirk universal, to sanctity the Sunday to be the sevint day. And gif he abolishes with us the Saturday, as ceremonial and not requirit in the law of the evangel, what has he by [besides] the consent of God’s kirk to sanctify ony day of the seven, and not to labour all the seven days..... Why abolishes he not the Sunday, as he does Yule, Pasch, and the rest, &c.?‘—Tractates, 1568, reprinted for Maitland Club, 1835.] Not merely ecclesiastical acts, but several statutes of the realm, were put in effect for the purpose of enforcing the observance of the day as a day of rest and of religious exercises. From the terms of these, however, and from the accounts we have of frequent punishments for their neglect or infraction, it is evident that many years elapsed before the people of Scotland attained to that placid acquiescence in the order for the day which we now see.

The main demands of the new church were for a complete abstinence from work and market-holding, as well as from public amusements, and a regular attendance on the sermons. We have seen some instances of the struggles of the church to induce mercantile people to abandon Sunday-marketing. So lath as 1596, it is evident that their wishes were not fully attained, as we find the presbytery of Meigle then complaining to the Privy Council of the obstinate refusal of the people in their district to abandon a Sunday-market. Two years later, the Town Council of Aberdeen was content to ordain that ‘nae mercat, either of fish or flesh, shall be on the sabbath-day in time of sermon ‘—a clear proof that they did not look for a complete suppression of marketing on that day, but only its cessation in time of church-service. There are many similar indications that at this early period taverns were allowed to be open, and public amusements permitted, at times of the day apart from ‘the sermons.’ It is somewhat startling to find the General Assembly itself, in 1579, expressing indifference to marriages being solemnised on Sunday (B. U. K.), and only so late as January 1586, discharging ‘all marriages to be made on Sundays in the morning in time coming.’ Nor is it less surprising to find a kirk-session, so late as 1607, requiring that ‘the mill be stayit from grinding on the Sabbath-day, at least by eight in the morning.’ It clearly appears to have been common in 1609 for tailors, shoemakers, and bakers in Aberdeen, to work till eight or nine every Sunday morning, ‘as gif it were ane ouk day.’—A. K. S. R.

Breach of the Sunday arrangements was usually punished by fines. In Aberdeen, in 1562, for an elder or deacon of the church to be absent from the preachings, inferred a penalty of ‘twa shillings;’ for ‘others honest persons of the town,’ sixpence. November 24, 1575, it is statute that ‘all persons being absent fra the preachings on the Sunday, without lawful business, and all persons ganging in the gait or playing in the links [downs], or other places, the times of preaching or prayers on the Sunday, and all persons making mercat merchandise on Sunday within the town sall be secluded fra all benefit of the kirk unto the time they satisfy the kirk in their repentance, and [the] magistrate by ane pecunial fine.’ Notwithstanding this statute, we find the Town Council in 1588 referring to the fact, that a great number of the inhabitants of the burgh keep away from church both on Sundays and week-days, and give themselves to ‘gaming and playing, passing to taverns and ale-houses, using the trade of merchandise and handy labour in time of sermon on the week-day;’ for which reason it is ordained that all shall attend the sermons on Sunday, ‘afore and after noon;’ as also every Tuesday and Thursday ‘afore noon,’ under certain penalties—a householder or his wife, 13s. 4d.; a craftsman, 6s. 8d.; ‘and in case ony merchand or burgess of guild be found within his merchand booth after the ringing of the third bell to the sermon on the week-day, to pay 6s. 8d.’ These ordinances were acted upon. November 28, 1602, ‘the wife of James Bannerman, for working on the Sabbath-day, [is] unlawit in 6s 8d.’ ‘The same day, the session ordains that nae baxters within this burgh work, nor bake any baken meat, in time coming, on the Sabbath-day.’ Four Aberdeen citizens were, January 16, 1603, ‘unlawit, ilk ane of them, in 3s. 4d., for their absence fra the sermons on Sunday last, confessit by themselves.’—Ab. C. R. Soon after we find a bailie and two elders appointed to go through the town in time of sermon, and searching any house they pleased, note the names of all they found at home; likewise to watch the ferry-boat, and note the names of ‘sic as gangs to Downie, that they may be punishit.’—A. K. S. R.

At Perth, January 8, 1582—3, ‘it was ordained that an elder of every quarter shall pass through the same every Sunday in time of preaching before noon, their time about, and note them that are found in taverns, baxters’ booths, or on the gaits, and delate them to the Assembly, that every one of them that is absent from the kirk may be poinded for twenty shillings, according to the act of parliament.’ Soon after, a married woman named Hunter was fined three pounds for her absence from church during the bygone year, and other three pounds for her absence during the time of fasting. In September 1585, tavern-keepers were subjected to a heavy fine for selling wine and ale in time of sermon. In 1587, the Sunday penalties were extended to the Thursday sermon. February 21, 1591—2, John Pitscottie, younger of Luncarty, and several other persons, ‘confessed that on the Sunday of the fast, in the time of preaching in the afternoon, they were playing at foot-ball in the Meadow Inch of the Muirton, and that the same was an offence; therefore they were ordained on Sunday next to make their repentance.’

In the same town, January 29, 1592—3, ‘the Lady Innernytie being called, and accused for absenting herself and the rest of her family from the hearing of the word on Sabbath, compears and confesses that she does it not, neither in contempt of the word nor of the minister, but only by reason of her sickness, and promises when she shall be well in health, to repair more frequently to the kirk and hearing of the word.’ This lady was the wife of Elphinstone of Innernytie, a judge of the Court of Session, and a Catholic. It is therefore probable that her submission was hypocritical. July 31, 1598, ‘Andrew Robertson, chirurgeon, being accused of breaking the Sabbath-day by polling and razing of the Laird of.... , declared he did it quietly at the request of the gentleman, without outgoing.’ He was ordained to make repentance, and warned for the future. It will be understood that under the designation of chirurgeon both surgery and the functions of the barber were embraced.

The Perth kirk-session also exerted itself to prevent Highland reapers from sauntering on the streets on Sunday, waiting to be hired (August 1593); and they took strong measures to put an end to the practice of cadgers departing from the Saturday market on Sunday morning (March 1599). Four persons were rebuked in November of this last year for ‘playing at golf on the North Inch in the time of the preaching after noon on the Sabbath ‘—a sport which would not now be indulged in on Sunday in any part of Scotland. April 13, 1601, ‘George Murray [was] accused for suffering of ale to be sold in time of preaching on the Sabbath in his house. [He] answered that he was in the kirk himself:, and his wife also; but his servant came, and brought his wife out of the kirk to ane daughter of Tullibardine’s [Murray of Tullibardine—the family since become Dukes of Athole], to give her some clothes which she had of hers in custody, and in the mean time caused fill drink to the said gentlewoman and her servants with her.’ Murray was dismissed with an admonition.

By a stern act of the Aberdeen town-council, passed in 1598, a severe tariff of fines was ordained for various ranks of people on their staying away from Sunday and week-day Services in the churches, every husband to be answerable for his wife, and every master for his servants. A burgess of guild or his wife was to pay 13s. 4d. for absence from church on Sunday. ‘Likewise, following the example of other weel-reformit congregations of this realm, [the council] statutes and ordains that the wives of all burgesses of guild, and of the maist honest and substantious craftsmen of this burgh, sall sit in the midst and body of the kirk in time of sermon, and not in the side-tiles, nor behind pillars, to the effect that they may mair easily see and hear the deliverer and preacher of the word; and siclike ordains, that the women of the ranks aforesaid sall repair to the kirk, every ane of them having a cloak, as the maist comely and decent outer garment, and not with plaids, as has been frequently used; and that every ane of them likewise sall have stules, sae mony as may commodiously have the same, according to the decent form observed in all reformit burghs and congregations of this realm.’—Ab. C. R.

While it is thus apparent that observance during time of sermon and attendance thereupon were the principal objects held in view, it clearly appears that the day, in its totality, was then a different thing from what it now is. It was, as in Norway still, held to commence at sunset of Saturday, and to terminate on Sunday at sunset, or at six o’clock. As illustrations of this fact, two curious notices may be cited. In May 1594, the presbytery of Glasgow is found forbidding a piper to play his pipes on Sunday ‘frae the sun rising till the sun going-to." When a fast was ordained in Edinburgh, in December 1574, on account of impending pestilence, it was to commence ‘on Saturday next at aucht hours at even, and sae to continue while [until] Sunday at six hours at even.' An act of the presbytery of Glasgow, January 1, 1635, ordered that the Sabbath be from 12 on Saturday night to 12 on Sunday night;’ a clear proof that there was previously a different arrangement.

Another curious fact, indicative of a progress in the ideas of the reformed kirk as to Sabbath-keeping, is that there were ‘play-Sundays’ till the end of the sixteenth century. The presbytery of Aberdeen ordered in 1599 that ‘there be nae play-Sundays hereafter, under all hiest pain.’—A. P. R.

In April 1600, in obedience to an ordinance of the General Assembly, it was arranged at Aberdeen—and of course a similar arrangement would be made in other places—that ‘on Thursday, ilk ouk [every week], the masters of households, their wives, bairns, and servants should compeir, ilk ane within their awn parish kirk, to their awn minister, to be instructit by them in the grunds of religion and heads of catechism, and to give, as they should be demanded, ane proof and trial of their profiting in the said heads.’

After this arrangement had been made, the religious observances of the citizen occupied a considerable share of his time. He was bound under penalties to be twice in church on Sunday, to make Monday a ‘pastime-day, for eschewing of the profanation of the Sabbath-day,’ to give Tuesday forenoon to a service in the parish church, to do the same on Thursday forenoon, and on that day also to attend a catechetical meeting with his family. Three fore-noons each week remained for his business and ordinary affairs. Notwithstanding this liberal amount of external observance, the General Assembly appointed, in 1601, ‘a general humiliation for the sins of the land and contempt of the gospel, to be kept the two last Sabbaths of June and all the week intervening.’


Licentious conduct was from the first an object of severe observation to the reformed church, and many sharp measures were taken and harsh punishments inflicted for its repression.

In 1562, the kirk-session of Aberdeen ordained as its punishment, for the first offence, exposure before the congregation; for the second, carting and ducking; for the third, banishment from the town. A subsequent act of parliament imposed still severer punishment—’That is to say, for the first fault, as weel the man as the woman sall pay the sowm of forty pounds, or than [else] he and she sall be imprisoned for the space of aucht days, their food to be breid and small drink, and thereafter present[ed] to the mercat-place of the town or parochin, barehead [ed}, and there stand fastened, that they may not remove, for the space of twa hours.’ To this punishment some additions were made for a second offence, as cold water for food, and a shaving of the head. A third inferred ducking and banishment.

At Aberdeen, in 1591, in a case where a marriage relationship existed, the punishment inferred the depth of horror with which the offence was on that account regarded, the man being ordained to be banished from the town, but first to be set up at the cross on three several market-days, bound to the pillar by a pair of branks, and having a paper-crown on his head inscribed with his crime; also to stand on three several Sundays at the kirk-door, in haircloth, barelegged and barefooted, while the people are assembling; after which to be exposed in like guise at the pillar of repentance during the whole time of worship.

November 20, 1582, the kirk-session of Perth ordains John Ronaldson, having offenders of this class in his custody, ‘to put every one of them in a sundry house in time coming, to give them bread and small drink, to let none of them come to the nether window [probably a window where they could see or converse with the people passing on the street]; and when they come to the cross-head, that they shall be fast locked in the irons two hours, their kurchies [caps] off their heads, and their faces bare, without ane plaid or any other covering.’

A stool or seat was raised in a conspicuous situation in each church, where penitents under this as well as other offences had to sit during service, and afterwards bear the rebuke of the minister. Many entries in the session records shew the difficulty there had always been in getting penitents, while in this situation, to remain unmuffled or uncovered. The only correction that seems to have been available was to ordain that such a sitting went for nothing. The Aberdeen session, August 1608, ordain that, ‘because, in times past, most part of women that come to the pillar to make their public repentance, sat thereon with their plaids about their head, coming down over their faces the hail time of their sitting on the stool, so that almaist nane of the congregation could see their faces, or knaw what they were, whereby they made nae account of their coming to the stool, but misregarded the same altogether ‘—the officer should thenceforth take the plaid away from each penitent ‘before her upganging to the pillar.’ The Perth session, in August 1599, had to take sharp measures with Margaret Marr, because being exalted to the seat of repentance, ‘she sat in the back side with her face covered, and being desired by John Jack, officiar, to sit on the fore side, and uncover her face that she might be seen, she uttered words against him in a bitter manner, and extended her voice in such sort that she was heard through all the kirk in time of sermon, and so behaved herself uncomely in the presence of strangers, to the great slander of this congregation.’ In very gross cases, a paper-crown was added to the external marks of infamy inflicted on delinquents.

As a specimen of the interference with private life to which the clergy were led in their anxiety to suppress licentiousness—the kirk-session of Perth (1586—7) would not suffer two unmarried sisters to continue to live together in one house, but ordained them to go to service, ‘or where they may be best entertained without slander,’ under pain of imprisonment and banishment from the town.

A custom obtained in those days of entering into conjugal life on the strength simply of a contract of marriage. It was called hand-fasting. The ceremony of marriage might take place afterwards or not, as the parties pleased. This the reformed clergy denounced as immoral, and they set themselves to correct it. The Aberdeen session, December 10, 1562, ordained, ‘Because sundry and many within this town are hand-fast, as they call it, and made promise of marriage a long space bygane, some seven year, some sax year, some langer, some shorter, and as yet will not marry and complete that honourable band, nother for fear of God nor love of their party ‘—that ‘all sic persons as has promised marriage faithfully complete the samen betwixt this and Fasteren’s Even next to come;’ penalty left blank. Such parties are also ordained in the meantime to live as single persons. April 12, 1568, the same session ordained that ‘neither the minister nor reader be present at contracts of marriage-making, as they call their hand-fastings, nor make nae sic band.’

The kirk-session records of the period must be held as revealing on the whole a very low state of morals, particularly among the humbler classes of the people.


Ecclesiastical discipline took upon it in those days to interfere with many matters in which it would be set at defiance in our day. It was part of the earnestness of the general religious feeling, while as yet no one had ventured to think that there are points which may best be left to the private consciousness, or which, at least, it can serve no good end to make matter of public regulation.

Of the sharp dealing of the Presbyterian preachers and their courts with avowed Catholics, we have already seen abundant illustrations, and more will yet be presented. Having become satisfied that the Catholic religion was a system of damnable error, our ancestors acted logically on the conviction, and thought no measure, however forcible or severe, misapplied, if it could save the people of that persuasion from the unavoidable consequences, and prevent the evil from spreading. To purge the land of papists and idolaters was therefore an object held constantly in view by the church-courts.

The slightest suspicion of being papistically inclined was sure to bring any one to trouble. One David Calderwood in Glasgow being found in possession of a copy of Archbishop Hamilton’s popish catechism, the presbytery sent a minister ‘to try and find of the said David’s religion.’ Another citizen of Glasgow was taken to task, on a charge of having, in the way of his profession as a painter, painted crucifixes in sundry houses. A Lady Livingston being suspected of unsoundness in the faith, in order ‘that she may be won to God,’ a deputation was sent by the presbytery to confers with her, ‘anent the heads of religion,’ and she was summoned under pain of excommunication. The same reverend body, hearing of one James Fleming, an Irishman, sent ‘to inquire of him his religion.’ On the 5th of June 1599, they are found taking measures for discovering Irishmen in their bounds, and ascertaining ‘wha are papists and pernicious to others they haunt amang.’

That to receive a Catholic priest into one’s house was a serious matter in those days, there is abundant evidence, some of which will be found in the sequel. But even to receive or keep company with an excommunicated papist, inferred severe pains; and in the Perth kirk-session register there are several instances of these being inflicted. For example, Gabriel Mercer was, in 1595, ordered to make public declaration from his seat in church of his offence in entertaining for three days Elphinstone of Innernytie, an excommunicated papist. The same order was given in 1610 in the case of Alexander Crichton of Perth, ‘who was convicted on his own confession of haunting and frequenting the company of Robert Crichton, excommunicate papist, eating and drinking with him in taverns, and walking on the street.’—P. K. S. R.

In 1598, we find the presbytery of Glasgow concerning itself about a young man who had passed his father without lifting his bonnet. He was judged ‘a stubborn and disobedient son to his father.’ About 1574, the kirk-session of Edinburgh was occupied for some days in considering the case of Niel Laing, accused of making a pompous convoy and superfluous banqueting at the marriage of Margaret Danielston, ‘to the great slander of the kirk,’ which had forbid such doings.

The absence of external appearances of joy in Scotland, in contrast with the frequent holidayings and merry-makings of the coutinent, has been much remarked upon. We find in the records of ecclesiastical discipline clear traces of the process by which this distinction was brought about. To the puritan kirk of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries every outward demonstration of natural good spirits was a sort of sin, to be as far as possible repressed. To make marriages sober and quiet was one special object. It was customary in humble life for a young couple, on being wedded, to receive miscellaneous company, and hold a kind of ball, each person contributing towards the expenses, with something over for the benefit of the young pair. Such a custom has been kept up almost to our own time, but much shorn of its original spirit. In the latter years of the sixteenth century, it was customary for the party to go to the Market-cross, and dance round it. At Stirling, October 30, 1600, the kirk-session, finding ‘there has been great dancing and vanity publicly at the Cross usit by married persons and their company on their marriage-day,’ took measures to put a stop to the practice. It ordained ‘that nane be married till ten pounds be consigned, for the better security that there be nae mair ta’en for ane bridal lawing than five shillings according to order,’ ‘with certification, gif the order of the bridal lawing be broken, the said ten pounds sail be confiscat.’

In like manner the kirk-session of Cambusnethan, in September 1649, ordained ‘that there suld be no pipers at bridais, and who ever suld have a piper playing at their bridal, sall lose their consigned money.’ And in June next year the same reverend body decreed that men and women ‘guilty of promiscuous dancing,’ should stand in a public place and confess their fault.

The power of the kirk to enforce its discipline and maintain conformity, was a formidable one, resting ultimately on their sentence of excommunication, of which the following contemporary description may be given: ‘. . . . whasoever incurs the danger thereof is given over in thir days by the ministers, in presence of the haill people assembled’ at the kirk, in the hands of Satan, as not worthy of Christian society, and therefore made odious to all men, that they should eschew his company, and refuse him all kind of hospitality; and the person thus continuing in refusal by the space of a haill year, his goods are decerned to appertain to the king, sae lang as the disobedient lives.’—H. K. J. [' . . . in that church excommunication is so terrible, that few will have any manner of conversation with one excommunicated and the generality of the people, when they see a man whom their ministers declare to be excluded from heaven, are easily induced to think him unworthy to live on earth.’—Ed. Phillips’s Cont. of Baker’s Chronicle, 1670, p. 617.]

No unprejudiced person can doubt that the Presbyterian clergy of this age were in general correct in their own deportment, and sincerely anxious to promote virtue among the people; but it is also evident to us, under our superior lights, that they carried their discipline to a pitch at once irreconcilable with the natural rights of mankind, and calculated to have effects different from what were intended. It dived too much into the details of private life, was too inconsiderate of human infirmity, was extremely cruel, and altogether erred in trusting too much to force and too little to moral suasion. Even the innocent playfulness of the human heart seems to have been viewed by these stern moralists as an evil thing, or at least a thing leaning to the side of vice. On the injurious tendency of any system which equally makes a crime out of some peculiarity of opinion, or indifferent action, and of an actual infraction of the rights of our fellow-creatures, it were needless to insist.

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