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


In the Council Register of Aberdeen, we obtain many notices of the customs of the burgh, most of which were probably common to other towns.

It seems to have been the practice of the whole people to assemble, but only at command of the council, in order to deliberate together upon any matter of importance, and make such arrangements as were required for the general weal. For this purpose, they were summoned by the bellman, who went through ‘the haill rews of the town’ ringing his bell, of which he had to make oath in order to render legal what was ordained by the meeting.

In 1574, it was ordained at such a meeting that John Cowpar should ‘pass every day in the morning at four hours, and every nicht at eight hours, through all the rews of the town, playing upon the Almany whistle [German flute?], with ane servant with him playing on the tabroun, whereby the craftsmen their servants and all others laborious folks, being warnit and excitat, may pass to their labours and frae their labours in due and convenient time.’

In 1576, it is ‘statute with consent of the haill town, that every brother of guild, merchant, and craftsman, shall have in all time coming ane halbert, Danish axe, and javelin within his booth.’ The wearing of plaids by the citizens was at the same time strictly forbidden, also the use of blue bonnets—for what reason does not clearly appear. The town’s landmarks were ridden every year. The keeping of swine within the town is (1578) forbidden, on penalty of having the animals taken and slain.

December 5, 1582, the town-council of Aberdeen ratified a contract with John Kay, lorimer, ‘anent the mending of the town’s three knocks [clocks], and buying fra him of the new knock, for payment to the said John of twa hundred merks.’ December 17, 1595, the council, considering that ‘the twa common knocks of this burgh—namely, the kirk knock and the tolbooth knock—sin Martinmass last, has been evil handlit and rulit, and has not gane induring the said space, feed Thomas Gordon, gunmaker, to rule the said twa knocks, and to cause them gang and strike the hours richtly baith night and day.’ The employment of a lorimer and a gunmaker in this business seems to imply, that a clockmaker or watchmaker was not yet one of the trades of Aberdeen.

By an old custom, the boys of the grammar-school of Aberdeen Had at Christmas taken possession of the school, to the exclusion of their masters and all authority, and a vacation of about a fortnight took place. In 1580 and 1581, the magistrates are found exerting themselves to enforce certain statutes by which this assumed privilege of the boys had been abrogated and discharged; and they agreed that to make up for the vacation, there should be three holidays at the beginning of each quarter, making twelve in all for the year. From this and other facts, it appears that the long vacation now customary in summer or autumn in Scottish schools, was then unknown.

The school disorder at Yule is again spoken of in 1604 as very violent, the boys ‘keeping and halding the same against their masters with swords, guns, pistols, and other weapons, spulying and taking of puir folks’ geir, sic as geese, fowls, peats, and other vivres, during the halding thereof.’ It is ordered that, to avoid sUch disorders in future, no boy from without the town shall be admitted without a caution for his good-behaviour.

The Aberdeen magistrates, on hearing (February 22, 1593—4) how the burghs of Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, and Montrose had celebrated the birth of a son and heir to the king ‘by bigging of fires, praising and thanking God for the benefit, by singing of psalms through the haill streets and rews of the towns, drinking of wine at the crosses thereof, and otherwise liberally bestowing of spiceries,’ ordained that it should be similarly observed in their burgh on Sunday next, the 24th instant, immediately after the afternoon sermon. It was ordered that there should be ‘ane table covered at the Cross, for the magistrates and baith the councils, with twa boyns’ of English beer . . . . the wine to be drunken in sic a reasonable quantity as the dean of guild sail devise, four dozen buistS of scorchets, confeits, and confections, to be casten among the people, with glasses to be broken.’

June 7, 1596, a number of persons are cited as contravening the ancient statutes ordaining that ‘all burgesses of guild and freemen of free regal burghs sall dwell, mak their residence and remaining, with their wives, bairns, servants, households, and family, hauld stob and stake, fire and flet, within the burgh where they are free, scot, lot, watch, walk, and ward.’ In the event of their not conforming to the rule by an appointed day, they are assured that they shall lose their privileges.

A prayer appointed (1598) to be said before the election of the magistrates of Aberdeen is not unworthy of preservation, as a trait of the feelings of such communities in that age: ‘Eternal and ever-hearing God, who has created mankind to society, in the whilk thou that is the God of order and hates confusion, has appointed some to rule and govern, and others to be governed, and for this cause has set down in thy word the notes and marks of sic as thou hast appointed to bear government; likeas of thy great mercy thou has gathered us to be ane of the famous and honourable burghs of this kingdom, and has reservit to us this liberty, yearly to cheise our council and magistrates; we beseech thee, for thy Christ’s sake, seeing we are presently assembled for that purpose, be present in the midst of us, furnish us with spiritual wisdom, and direct our hearts in sic sort, that, all corrupt affections being removed, we may cheise baith to be council and magistrates, for the year to come, of our brethren fearing God, men of knawledge, haters of avarice, and men of courage and action, that all our proceedings herein may tend to thy glory, to the weel of the hail inhabitants of this burgh, and we may have a good testimony of conscience before thee......'

In the Aberdeen council records, frequent allusions are made to ‘a custom observit in this burgh heretofore in all ages,’ of giving an entertainment to strangers of distinction on their arriving in the town. Being informed, December 13, 1598, that the Duke of Lennox and the Earl of Huntly are to be in the town this night, the council ‘ordains the said twa noblemen, in signification of the town’s guid will and favour, to be remembered with the wine and spicery at their here-coming.’ The articles ordered are, ‘ane dozen buists of scorchets, confeits, and confections, together with six quarts of wine, thereof three quarts of the best wine, to wit, Hullock and wine tent, and three quarts of other wine’ The Earl of Huntly got another similar entertainment, March 28, 1599, on coming to Aberdeen, ‘for halding of justice-courts on shooters and havers of pistols.’

A comical regulation regarding public worship occurs in the Perth kirk-session record under 1616. The session ordained ‘John Tenender, session-officer, to have his red staff in the kirk on the Sabbath-days, therewith to wauken sleepers, and to remove greeting bairns furth of the kirk.’ Acts of session referring to the practice of the bringing of dogs into church, by which worship was much disturbed, are also frequent.

The hours for meals were in those days of a primitive description. King Henry, Lord Darnley, dined at two o’clock This was, however, comparatively a late hour. In 1589, King James, then living in William Fowler’s house in Edinburgh, went out to the hunting in the morning, ‘trysting to come in to his dinner about ane afternoon.’—Moy. In 1607, the wooden bridge of Perth was carried away by a flood ‘betwixt twelve and ane, on ane Sunday, in time of dinner.’ Queen Mary was sitting at supper between five and six in the afternoon, when Riccio was reft from her side and slaughtered. And Agnes Sampson, the noted witch, appointed certain persons to meet her in the garden at Edmondstone, ‘after supper, betwixt five and sax at even.’ The reader will remember that it was after supper, and probably some conviviality following upon it, that King James (May 1587) led forth his nobility in procession to the Cross of Edinburgh, and delighted the citizens with the spectacle of so many reconciled enemies.


The Aberdeen council, in 1592, ‘considering the wicked and ungodly use croppen in and ower frequently usit amang all sorts of people, in blaspheming of God’s holy name, and swearing of horrible and execrable aiths,’ ordained the same to be punished by fine. To make this the more effectual, masters were ordained to exact the fines from their servants, and deduct them from wages; husbands to do the same from their wives, keeping a box in which to put the money, and punish their children for the like offence with ‘palmers’ [an instrument for inflicting lashes on the open hand]—’ according to the custom of other weel-reformed towns and congregations.’ In 1604, the presbytery of Aberdeen enforced this effort of the magistracy by an edict, ordering that, for the repression of oaths and blasphemous language, the master of every house should keep a ‘palmer,’ and therewith punish all offenders who have no money to pay fines.—A. P. R.

In February 1592—3, the Aberdeen council, when expecting a visit of the king, ordained that ‘there sall be propynit to his majesty’s house . . . . ane puncheon of auld Bourdeaux wine, gif it may be had for money, and, gif not, ane last of the best and finest ale that may be gotten within this burgh, together with . . . four pund wecht of pepper, half pund of maces, four unces of saffron, haif pund of cannel, fourteen pund of sucker, twa dozen buists of confeits, ane dozen buists of sucker-almonds, twa dozen buists of confections, and ane chalder of coals.’

The king informed the council of Aberdeen in a letter, June 1596, that he understood ‘that the inhabitants and others resorting to this burgh, cease not openly to wear forbidden weapons, to the great contempt of his hieness’ authority and laws.’ He demands, and the council agrees, that strict order shall be taken to put down this custom, agreeably to acts of parliament.

The council records of Aberdeen do not bear traces of such frequent street-conflicts as prevailed in Edinburgh during this period. Such troubles were not, however, unknown. We find, for example, one citizen now and then drawing his whinger upon another, and either commencing a fight, or frightening away his adversary. In November 1598, a quarrel having taken place between a gentleman named Gordon, brother of Gordon of Cairnbarrow, and one Caldwell, a dependent and servant of Keith of Benholm, the magistrates immediately feared a disturbance in which Keith’s chief, the Earl Marischal, would as a matter of course be involved, and hearing that the parties were ‘convocating their friends on either side to come to the cawsey and trouble the town, and to invade others,’ they ordered that ‘the haill neighbours of this burgh, merchants and craftsmen, should . . . . compear in their arms, and specially in lang weapons . . . . for staying of trouble to be betwixt the said parties . . . . and that the town be warnit to that effect by the officers in particular, bell or drum, as sall be thought expedient in general’

Popery, not infidelity, was the bugbear of those days; but heterodox opinions were not altogether unknown. The public notice taken of them was of a kind which might be expected in an age of sincere faith, unacquainted with reactions or with refined policy. At Aberdeen, one Mr William Murdo was apprehended by the magistrates, 6th January 1592, as ‘a maintainer of errors, and blasphemer against the ancient prophets and Christ’s apostles, ane wha damns the haill Auld Testament except the ten commandments, and the New Testament except the Lord’s Prayer; an open railer against the ministry and truth preached ‘—who ‘can not be sufferit in ane republic.’ He was ordained to be banished from the burgh, with a threat of having his cheeks branded and ears cropped if he should come back.— Ab. C. R.

There are many entries in the Council Record of Aberdeen, shewing that the burgal authorities took upon them to inquire into cases of reckless and disorderly life, and cases where regular communicating at the Lord’s table was neglected. In 1599, one John Hutcheon, a flesher, was threatened with banishment on these accounts.

The kirk-sessions were rigorous in punishing slander and scolding. That of Aberdeen made a statute, in 1562, ordaining a fine for slander, ‘and gif the injurious person be simple and of puir degree, he sall ask forgiveness before the congregation of God and the party, and say: "Tongue, ye lied," for the first fault, for the second sall be put in the cockstool, and for the third fault sall be banished the town.’ The same body ordained at the same time that ‘all common scolds, flyters, and bards be banished the town, and not to be suffered to remain therein for nae request;’ bards being strolling rhymers, who were felt in those days as an oppression much the same as sturdy beggars.

At the Perth kirk-session, August 4, 1578, ‘Catherine Yester and John Denite were poinded each in half a merk for flyting, while John Tod, for slandering, was ordained to pay a like sum, and stand in the irons two hours, besides asking Margaret Cunningham forgiveness.’ In May 1579, Thomas Malcolm was fined and imprisoned for ‘having called Thomas Brown loon carle.’ In August of the same year, it was ordained that such as were convicted of flyting, and not willing ‘to pass to the Cross-head [that is, to be exposed on the Cross], according to the act passed before, should pay half a merk moneys to the poor, besides that other half-merk mentioned in the act of before.’ Subsequently the session gave up this leniency, and finally returned to it again. ‘Money,’ it has been remarked, ‘must have been of great value at that time, when so small a sum was proposed as the price of exemption from a most shameful punishment.’

April 25, 1586, the kirk-session of Perth has this minute: ‘Forasmeikle as John Macwalter and Alison Brice his spouse have been sundry and divers times called before the assembly for troubling their neighbours, and especially for backbiting and slandering of Robert Dun and his wife, and of Malcolm Ferguson and his wife, and presently are convicted of the crimes laid to their charge by Robert Dun and Malcolm Ferguson; therefore it is ordained, first, that the said John Macwalter and his wife be put in ward until the time repentance be found in them for their slanderous life; secondly, they shall come to the place where they made the offence, and there on their knees crave pardon of the offence committed, at the persons whom they have offended; thirdly, they shall pay a sufficient penalty to the poor, according to the act made against flyters; lastly, if they ever be found in word or deed hereafter to offend any neighbour, the bare accusation shall be a sufficient plea of conviction, that so the act made against flyters be extended against them, and finally to be banished the town for ever.’

November 2, 1589, the act against slandering was put in force at Perth, on an occasion where we should have little expected it. ‘Forasmeikle as this day was assigned to certain honest neighbours of Tirsappie to be present, and of their conscience to declare if it was true that Guddal, spouse to Richard Watson, was ane witch, as John Watson then alleged, or what evil likelihood they saw in her—Walter Watson, John Cowing, George Scott, James Scott, being inquired severally, as they would answer to God, what they knew, altogether agreed in one without contradiction, that they saw never such things into her whereby they might suspect her of the same, but that she was ane honest poor woman, who wrought honestly for her living, without whose help her husband, Richard Watson, would have been dead, who was ane old aged man: therefore the minister and elders ordain the act of slander to be put in execution against the said John Watson and Helen Watson his daughter.’


At Aberdeen, in a time of scarcity in 1579, the transportation of victual by sea to other parts of the realm was forbidden. In 1583, it was forbidden to take any sums of money from merchants in other towns ‘to buy wares and salmon, against the common weal.’ The exportation of sheep-skins to Flanders was at this time prohibited, Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee having done the like. In 1584, a severe fine is imposed on all who should buy grain on its way to market, ‘whilk is the occasion of great dearth, and the cause that the poor commons of this burgh are misservit’ A statute aiming at the same object was passed in 1598, because such enormities could no longer be sustained ‘without the imminent peril and wrack of this commonwealth.’

In September 1584, when the pest raged in divers parts of the realm, the Aberdeen authorities ordered a port to be built on the bridge of Dee, and other ports to be built at entrances to the town, in order to check the entrance of persons who might bring the infection. In May of the ensuing year, the danger becoming more extreme, the magistrates erected gibbets, ‘ane at the mercat-cross, ane other at the brig of Dee, and the third at the haven mouth, that in case ony infectit person arrive or repair by sea or land to this burgh, or in case ony indweller of this burgh receive, house, or harbour, or give meat or drink to the infectit person or persons, the man to be hangit, and the woman to be drownit.’ Frequent notices occur in the Aberdeen Council Records of precautions adopted on similar occasions: yet it is remarkable, that in an act of council on the subject in 1603, it is mentioned that ‘it has pleasit the guidness of God of his infinite mercy to withhald the said plague frae this burgh thir fifty-five years bygane.’

October 8, 1593, the magistrates of Aberdeen found it necessary to take order with. ‘a great number of idle persons, not having land nor masters, neither yet using ony lawful merchandise, craft, nor occupation, fleeing as appears frae their awn dwelling, by reason of some unlawful causes and odious crimes whereof they are culpable, whilk are very contagious enemies to the common weal of this burgh.’ The town was ordered to be cleared of them, and their future harbourage by the inhabitants was forbidden.

In those days, and for a long time subsequently, there was no regular post for the transmission of letters in Scotland. When there was pressing or important business calling for a transmission of letters to a distance, a special messenger had to be despatched with them at a considerable expense. The city of Aberdeen seems to have kept a particular officer, called the Common Post, for this duty; and in September 1595, this individual, named ‘Alexander Taylor, alias Checkurn,’ was ordered by the magistrates a livery of blue, with the town’s arms on his left arm. Other persons were occasionally employed, and the town’s disbursements on this ground continue to occupy a prominent place in its accounts down to 1650, if not later.

In 1574, a general assembly of the inhabitants agreed to weekly collections for the native poor, according to a roll formerly made with their own consents, ‘except they wha pleases to augment their promise.’ It was at the same time decreed that beggars not native should be removed, while those born in the town should wear ‘the town’s taiken on their outer garment, whereby they may be known.’ In 1587, the council, ‘having consideration of the misorder and tumult of the puir folks sitting at the kirk-door begging almous, plucking and pulling honest men’s gowns, cloaks, and abulyment,’ ordained the repression of the nuisance. Eight years thereafter, January 23, 1595—6, there was another public meeting, at which it was agreed to arrange the poor in four classes—‘ babes, decayed persons householders, lame and impotent persons, and sic as were auld and decrepit.’ Individuals agreed to take each man ‘ane babe’ into his own house, and a quarterly collection for the rest was agreed to; begging to be suppressed.

September 2, 1596, the council took into consideration a petition of ‘Maister Quentin Prestoun, professor of physic, craving at them the liberty and benefit, in respect of his debility, being somewhat stricken in age, and sae not able to accomplish the duty without ane coadjutor, to entertain ane apothecar and his apothecary-shop, for the better furnishing of this burgh and of the country, of all sorts of physical and chirurgical medicaments.’ The request was granted during the will of the council.

April 6, 1599, four fleshers in Aberdeen were fined for contravening the acts of parliament which forbade that ‘ony flesh should be slain or eaten frae the first day of March inclusive to the first day of May exclusive.’

1601, Feb
Among the violences of the age, what would now be called agrarian outrages were very common. Sometimes it was a pretender to proprietorship who came in to trouble the tenants of the landlord in possession; sometimes a tenant was the object of wrathful jealousy among persons of his own class. Of the former order of troubles we have an example at this time, in a charge brought before the Privy Council (February 19, 1601) against David Hamilton, younger, of Bothwell-haugh, ‘servant to the Laird of Innerwick.’ It was for the turning out of his wife from Woodhouselee, that Hamilton of Bothwell-haugh murdered the Good Regent We now see his representative breaking other laws on account of the same lands. Sir James Bellenden of Broughton, who was landlord de facto, complains against David Hamilton, that, with a company ‘bodin and furnist in feir of weir,’ he had come, on the 10th of February instant, to the tenants of the lands of Woodhouselee, ‘where they were in peaceable and quiet maner at their plews,’ and there assailed them with furious speeches, ‘threatening to have their lives gif they insistit in manuring and lawboring of the said lands,’ and actually compelled them through fear to give up their work. As David failed to appear and answer this charge, letters were ordered to denounce him as a rebel.

Before a month elapsed, the Council had under its attention a still more violent affair, forming a specimen of the second class of outrages. The complainer here is Patrick Monypenny of Pilrig— an estate with an old manor-house situated between Edinburgh and Leith. Patrick states that he was of mind to have set that part of his lands of Pilrig, called the Round-haugh, to Harry Robertson and Andrew Alis, to his utility and profit. But on a certain day not specified, David Duff; indweller in Leith, came to these persons, and uttered furious menaces against them in the event of their occupying these lands, so that they had departed from their purpose of occupying them. Duff; accompanied with two men named Matheson, had also, on the 2d March instant, attacked the servants of Monypenny, as they were labouring the lands in question, with similar speeches, threatening their lives if they persisted in working there; and at night, they, or some persons hounded out by them, had come and broken their plough, and thrown it into the river. ‘John Matheson, after the breaking of the complenar’s plew, come to John Porteous’s house, his tenant, and had him gang now betwix the plew stilts, and see how she wald gang while [till] the morn.’ To this was added a threat to break his head if he should ever say that Duff had broken his plough. ‘Likeas the said David sinsyne come to the complenar’s lands, being tilled, and trampit and cast the tilled furs down, thus committing manifest oppression upon the complainant.’ In this case, the accused persons were assoilzied, but only, it would appear, by hard swearing in their own cause.

Apr 15
‘The king’s majesty came to Perth, and was made burgess at the mercat-cross. There was ane puncheon of wine set there, and all drucken out. He receivit the banquet frae the town, and subscribit the guild book with his awn hand—" JACOBUS REX: PARCERE SUBJECTIS, ET DEBELLARE SUPERBOS."
‘—Chron. Perth.

Apr 24
John Watt, Deacon of the deacons in Edinburgh, or he would have latterly been called Convener of the Trades, was shot dead on the Burgh-moor. This was the same gallant official who raised the trades for the protection of the king at the celebrated tumult of the 17th December 1596. One Alexander Slummon, a bystander, was tried for the murder, but found innocent. We are told by Calderwood that Watt, having offered to invade the person of the minister, Robert Bruce, was well liked by the king, who accordingly was exact in regard to Slummon’s trial. The historian also relates that ‘the judgment threatened against this man by Mr Robert Bruce came to pass.’ Such threatenings or prognostications of judgments are of course very likely to bring their own fulfilment.

Apr 24
‘Sundry Jesuits, seminary priests, and trafficking papists, enemies to God’s truth and all Christian government,’ were stated to be at this time ‘daily creeping within the country,’ with the design, ‘by their godless practices, not only to disturb the estate of the true religion, but also his hieness’ awn estate, and the common quietness of the realm.’—P.
C. R.

William Barclay, a new-made advocate, brother of Sir Patrick Barclay of Tollie, was tried in Edinburgh for the crime of being present at ‘twa messes whilk were said by Mr Alex. M’Wbirrie, ane Jesuit priest, within Andro Napier’s dwelling-house in Edinburgh,’ aggravated by perjury, he having some time before sworn and subscribed before the presbytery of Edinburgh, that he was of the religion presently professed within the realm. The culprit was declared infamous, and banished from the country, ‘never to return to the same, unless, by satisfaction of the kirk, he obtain our special licence to that effect.’—Pit. Cal.

A. week later, Malcolm Laing and Henry Gibson, servants of the Marquis of Huntly, confessing their having been present ‘at the late mass within the burgh of Edinburgh,’ were adjudged by the Council to banishment for life. At the same time, two female servants of the marchioness having made similar confession, the Council, ‘seeing their remaining with the said marguesse may procure a forder sclander to the kirk,’ ordained that her ladyship should remove them from her company, and no more receive them, under pain of rebellion.

Apr 27
Archibald Cornwall, town-officer, hangit at the Cross, and hung on the gibbet twenty-four hours; and the cause wherefore he was hangit—.He being an unmerciful greedy creature, he poindit ane honest man’s house, and among the rest, he poindit the king and queen’s pictures; and when he came to the Cross to comprise the same, he hung them up upon twa nails on the same gallows to be comprisit; and they being seen, word gaed to the king and queen, whereupon he was apprehendit and hangit.’—Bir.

Cornwall sustained a regular trial before a jury, eight of whom were tailors. The dittay bears that ‘in treasonable contempt and disdain of his majesty, he stood up upon ane furm or buird, beside the gibbet, and called [drove] ane nail therein, as heich as he could reach it, and lifted up his hieness’ portraitor foresaid, and held the same upon the gibbet, pressing to have hung the same thereon, and to have left it there, as an ignominious spectacle to the haill world, gif he had not been stayed by the just indignation of the haill people, menacing to stane him dead, and pulling him perforce frae the gibbet.’

The punishment goes so monstrously beyond the apparent offence, that one is led to suspect something which does not appear. The ‘honest man’ whose goods were taken might be a known friend of the king, while Cornwall was known to be the reverse. It was perhaps inferred that the ‘unmerciful greedy creature’ was only too ready to embrace the opportunity of holding up the king to contempt These remarks are only meant to suggest motives, not to justify the severity of the punishment.

The gibbet on which the portrait had been hung—as something rendered horrible by that profanity—was ‘taken down and burnt with fire.’

James Wood, fiar—that is, heir—of Bonnington, in Forfarshire, was. a Catholic, and received excommunication on that account a few years before. He had at the same time had quarrels with his father regarding questions of property. In March of the present year, he again drew observation upon himself by coming to Edinburgh and attending the mass in Andrew Napier’s house. It was further alleged of him that he had harboured a seminary priest. On the 16th of March, accompanied by his brother-in-law, William Wood of Latoun, by two blacksmiths named Daw, and some other persons, he broke into his father’s house, and took therefrom certain legal papers belonging to the Lady Usen, besides a quantity of clothes, napery, and blankets. The circumstances connected with. this act, did we know them, would probably extenuate the criminality. The father made no movement to prosecute his son. He was, however, tried along with Wood of Latoun before an assize in Edinburgh; when both were found guilty, and condemned to be hanged. Wood of Latoun obtained a remission, and great interest was made for the principal culprit by the Catholic nobles, Huntly, Errol, and Home. James might have listened favourably, and been content, as in Kincaid’s case, with a good fine payable ‘to us and our treasurer;’ but ‘the ministers were instant with the king, to have a proof of his sincerity:’ so says Calderwood, without telling us whether it was his sincerity against papists or his sincerity against malefactors in general that was meant. The young man regarded himself, by admission of the same author, as suffering for the Catholic religion—though, perhaps, he only meant that, but for his being a papist, his actual guilt would not have been punished so severely. He was beheaded at the Cross at six o’clock in the morning, ‘ever looking for pardon to the last gasp.’—Pit. Cal. Bir.

The General Assembly arranged that certain ministers should
go to the Catholic nobles, Huntly, Errol, Angus, Home, and Herries, and plant themselves in their families for the purpose of converting them from their errors. These ministers were to labour at all times for this object by preaching, reading, and expounding, and by purging the said houses of profane and scandalous persons. They were also to catechise their families twice a day, ‘till they attain some good reasonable measure of knowledge.’—Row.

It fully appears that this arrangement was carried into effect. We find in 1604 that Lord Gordon, the eldest son of the Marquis of Huntly, and the Master of Caithness, eldest son of the Earl of Caithness, were being brought up together, under the care of two pedagogues, Thomas Gordon and John Sinclair, who were compelled to declare themselves adherents of the reformed faith, and examined as to the nature of the religious instructions which they imparted. John Sinclair admitted that, in France, he had gone to mass, but only for the purpose of seeing the king there. The mass itself he professed to ‘abhor and detest frae his heart.’ The two pedagogues stated that they instructed the two young nobles in grammar and oratory, and on Sunday trained them by a little catechism, besides reading and expounding of the New Testament.—A. P. R.

In 1609, to insure that the sons of noblemen sent abroad under preceptors, should not be liable to have their religious convictions perverted, it was enacted by parliament that no preceptor could lawfully undertake such a duty without a licence from the bishop of his diocese.

An effort was made at this time by the burghs to introduce a cloth-manufacture into Scotland. Seven Flemings were engaged to settle in the country, in order to set the work agoing, six of them being for says, and the seventh for broadcloth. When the men came, expecting to be immediately set to work in Edinburgh, a delay arose while it was debated whether they should not be dispersed among the principal towns, in order to diffuse their instructions as widely as possible. We find the strangers on the 28th of July, complaining to the Privy Council that they were neither entertained nor set to work, and that it was proposed to sunder them, ‘whilk wald be a grit hinder to the perfection of the wark.’

The Council decreed that ‘the haill strangers brought hame for this errand sall be halden together within the burgh of Edinburgh, and put to work conform to the conditions past betwix the said strangers and the commissioners wha dealt with them.’ Meanwhile, till they should begin their work, the Council ordained ‘the bailies of Edinburgh to entertene them in meat and drink,’ though this should be paid back to them by the other burghs, and the strangers were at the same time to be allowed to undertake any other work for their own benefit.—P. C. R.

On the 11th of September, the burghs had done nothing to ‘effectuat the claith working,’ and the Council declared that unless they should have made a beginning by Michaelmas, the royal privilege would be withdrawn.

The bare, half-moorish uplands of Buchan, in Aberdeenshire, are varied, on the course of the river Ythan, by a deep woody dell, on the edge of which is perched an ancient baronial castle, named Gight. Here dwelt a branch of the noble house of Huntly—the Gordons of Gight—noted in modem literary history by reason of the heiress, in whom the line ended, having thrown herself and her family property into the arms of a certain spendthrift named Byron, by whom she became the mother of one who flourished as the most noted poet of his day. [Miss Gordon having married Mr Byron without any ‘settlement,’ her property was seized by his creditors, and sold for £18,500, while she and her son, the future poet, were left to penury.] The old castellated house in which these lairds lived, and the moderate estate which gave them subsistence, have for seventy years been part of the possessions of the Earl of Aberdeen, for whose visitors the ruined walls and the wildering dell are now merely matters of holiday interest. At the time of which we are speaking, the Laird of Gight was a personage of some local importance, a baron of the house of Gordon, a noted supporter of the marquis in all his enterprises; above all, a man deeply offensive to the government of his day, on account of his obstinate adherence to popery.

The kirk had levelled its artillery at George Gordon, the young laird, for a long time in vain; he had always hitherto contrived to put them off with fair promises. Now at length the presbytery of Aberdeen met in a stern mood, and appeared as if it would be trifled with no longer. Gordon, feeling that his means of resistance were failing, wrote a pleading letter to the reverend court, telling how he was deadly diseased, and unable to leave the country, but was willing, if agreeable to them, to confine himself within a mile of his own house, ‘and receipt nane wha is excommunicat (my bedfellow excepted);’ or he would go into confinement anywhere else, and confer with Protestant clergymen as soon as his sickness would permit. ‘I persuade myself;’ he adds, ‘you will nocht be hasty in pronouncing the sentence of excommunication against me, for I knaw undoubtedly that sentence will prejudge my warldly estate, and will be ane great motive to you in the kirk of Scotland to crave my blude.’ He concludes: ‘If it shall please his majesty and your wisdoms of the Kirk of Scotland sae to tak my blude for my profession, whilk is Catholic Roman, I will maist willingly offer it; and, gif sae be, God grant me constancy to abide the same.’ This letter proved unsatisfactory to the court, seeing it ‘made nae offer that micht move them to stay from the excommunication.’ Therefore, the court in one voice concluded that, unless Gordon came forward in eight days with sufficient surety for either subscribing or departing, he should be excommunicated without further delay.

While thus appearing as willing to be martyrs for religious principle, the Gight Gordons were no better in secular morality than many of the Presbyterian leaders of the past age. Indeed, they appear to have been men of fully as wild and passionate temper as their descendant, the mother of the poet. Having, for some reason which does not appear, a spite at Magnus Mowat of Baiquhollie, the laird and two of his younger sons had, in June this year, gone with a large armed and mounted company to his lands, and destroyed all the growing crops. Following upon this, they conceived mortal wrath against Alexander Copeland and Ralph Ainslie, inhabitants of the village of Turriff, probably in consequence of some circumstances in connection with the above outrage. On the 18th of July, John Gordon, the second son, came to Turriff with a friend and a servant, and, attacking these men with deadly weapons, wounded the latter past hope of his life. The minister came out and interfered in behalf of peace, promising that the whole inhabitants should be answerable for any injury the men had done. But though the Gordons left the village for the time, they returned in greater strength at midnight—and on this occasion both the laird and his eldest son were present—broke into the house of William Duffus, and bringing him forth to the street ‘sark-allane,’ there had nearly taken his life by firing at him a charge of small-shot.

Alexander Chalmer, messenger, went on the 27th of September to deliver letters to the Laird of Gight. and others, commanding them to appear and answer for these frightful outrages. He was returning quietly from the house, ‘lippening for nae harm or pursuit,’ when he found himself followed by a number of armed servants, and was presently seized and dragged before the laird. The ferocious baron clapped a pistol to the man’s breast, and seemed of intent to shoot him, when some one mercifully put aside the weapon. ‘He then harlit him within his hall, took the copy of the said letters, whilk he supposed to have been the principal letters, and cast them in a dish of broe [broth], and forcit the officer to sup and swallow them,’ holding a dagger at the heart all the time. Afterwards, the laird, being informed that the principal letters were yet extant, ‘came to the officer in a new rage and fury, rave the principal letters out of his sleeve, rave them in pieces, and cast them in the fire.’

When King James was at Brechin in the latter part of October, the Laird of Gight failing to appear to answer for these outrages, a horning was launched against him. At the same time, the young laird was accused of having reset John Hamilton, a notorious trafficking Jesuit, and was commanded to enter himself in ward in Montrose on that account. Surety was given that he would do so. A few days later, the Privy Council took into consideration the Turriff outrages, and commissioned the Earl of Errol to raise a body of men in arms to proceed against the Gordons and their abettors, but not till the 15th of November. How the matter ended, does not appear; but for further matters concerning the Gight Gordons, see under date 20th January 1607.

Sep or Oct
Among the many men of name pursuing lawless and violent courses, one of the most noted was George Meldrum, younger, of Dumbreck. In 1599, he set upon his brother Andrew at the Mill-town of Dumbreck, and wounded him grievously, after which he carried him away, and detained him as a prisoner for several weeks. In the ensuing year, he had committed a similar attack upon Andrew Meldrum of Anchquharties, conveying him as a malefactor from Aberdeenshire to the house of one Fyfe, on the Burgh-moor of Edinburgh, where he was kept several days, and till he contrived to make his escape. Law and private vengeance were alike devoid of terror to this young bravo, who seems never to have had any difficulty in procuring associates to assist him in his outrageous proceedings.

About the time here noted, he entered upon an enterprise partaking of the romantic, and which has actually been the subject of ballad celebration, though under a mistake as to his name and condition in life. Mr Alexander Gibson, one of the clerks of Session, and who subsequently was eminent as a judge under the designation of Lord Durie, was, for some reason which does not appear, honoured with the malice of young Dumbreck. Possibly, there was some legal case pending or concluded in which Gibson stood opposed to the interests of the brigand. However it was, Gibson was living quietly at St Andrews - he being a landed gentleman of Fife—when Meldrum, tracking him by a spy, learned one day that he was riding with a friend and a servant on the water-side opposite Dundee. Accompanied by a suitable party, consisting of two Jardines, a Johnston—border thieves, probably - one called John Kerr, son to the Tutor of Graden, and Alexander Bartilmo, with two foot-boys, all armed with sword, hagbuts, and pistols, he set upon Mr Gibson and his friend in a furious manner, compelling them to surrender to him as prisoners; after which he robbed them of their purses, containing about three hundred merks in gold and silver, and hurried them southward to the ferry of Kinghorn. There, having liberated the friend and servant, he conducted Mr Gibson across the Firth of Forth, probably using some means, such as muffling of the face, to prevent his prisoner from being recognised. At least, we can scarcely suppose that, even in that turbulent age, it would have been possible otherwise to conduct so important and well-known a man as an involuntary prisoner to the house of William Kay in Leith, and thence past the palace of Holyroodhouse through the whole county of Edinburgh, and thence again to Melrose, for such was the course they took. Before entering Melrose, Meldrum divided the money they had taken between himself and his accomplices, each getting about twenty merks. He then conducted Mr Gibson across the Border, landing him in the castle of Harbottle, which appears to have then been the residence of one George Ratcliff; and here the stolen lawyer was kept in strict durance for eight days.’ We may here adopt something of the traditionary story, as preserved by Sir Walter Scott: ‘He was imprisoned and solitary; receiving his food through an aperture in the wall, and never hearing the sound of a human voice save when a shepherd called his dog by the name of Batty, and when a female domestic called upon Madge, the cat. These, he concluded, were invocations of spirits, for he held himself to be in the dungeon of a sorcerer.’

How Mr Gibson was liberated, we do not learn. During his absence, his wife and children mourned him as dead. George Meldrum contrived, in November 1603, to gain forcible possession of his brother Andrew’s house of Dumbreck; and there he hoped to set law at defiance. The case, however, was too clamant to allow of his escaping in this manner. A party of his majesty’s guard being sent to Aberdeen for his capture, the citizens added a force of sixteen men, with a commander, and then a regular siege was established round the den of the outlaw. Being compelled to submit, he was carried to Edinburgh; and subjected to a trial, which ended in his having the head struck from his body at the Cross, January 12, 1604.

At this time, Aberdeen was visited by a company of players, who bore the title of the ‘king’s servants,’ and had come ‘recommended by his majesty’s special letter.’ They performed ‘comedies and stage-plays,’ according to the somewhat awkward report of the town-council record, where it is stated that the provost, bailies, and council ordained a present to them of thirty-two merks, equal to about 35s. 6d. sterling. On the 22d of October, thirteen days after the ordinance for this gift, the council conferred the freedom of the burgh—the highest mark of honour they had it in their power to bestow—upon a batch of strangers, among whom were Sir Francis Hospital, a French nobleman, and several Scottish gentlemen of rank and importance; among whom, also, was ‘Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his majesty,’ being apparently the chief of the histrionic company then performing in the city.

This fact has an extrinsic interest, on account of Fletcher being known to have belonged to the company of players in London which included the immortal Shakspeare. About eighteen months after this time, May 1603, immediately after James VI. arrived in London to take possession of the English throne, he granted a patent in favour of the players acting at the Globe Theatre, ‘Pro Laurentio Fletcher, Gulielmo Shakspeare, et allis,’ and which licenses the performances of ‘Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakspeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillips, John Hemings, Henry Condel, William Sly, Robert Armin, Richard Cowley, and the rest of their associates.’ It has therefore been judged as not unlikely that Shakspeare was present on this occasion in Aberdeen, as one of the company of ‘the king’s servants’ headed by Fletcher—a probability which Mr Charles Knight has shewn to be not inconsistent with other facts known regarding Shakspeare’s movements and proceedings about the time, and to be favoured by many passages in the subsequently written tragedy of Macbeth, which argue a more correct and intimate knowledge of Scotland than is usually possessed by individuals who have not visited it.’

1601, Nov 20
The presbytery of Aberdeen was occupied with the case of Walter Ronaldson of Kirktown of Dyce, a man who was ‘a diligent hearer of the word, and communicat with the sacrament of the Lord’s Table.’ Walter was brought before the reverend court for ‘familiarity with a spirit.’ He confessed that, twenty-seven years before, ‘there came to his door a spirit, and called upon him, "Wattie, Wattie!" and therefrae removed, and thereafter came to him every year twa times sin-syne, but [he] saw naething.’ At Michaelmas in the by-past year, ‘it came where the deponer was in his bed sleeping, and it sat down anent the bed upon a kist, and callit upon him, saying "Wattie, Wattie!" and then he wakened and saw the form of it, whilk was like ane little body, having a shaven beard, clad in white linen like a sark, and it said to Walter: "Thou art under wrack—gang to the weachman’s house in Stanivoid, and there thou shall find baith silver and gold with vessel."’ Walter proceeded to say that, in compliance with this direction, he went with some friends and spades to Stanivoid in order to search. He himself was ‘poustless’ [unable to act]; but his friends searched, and found nothing. He expressed his belief, nevertheless, that ‘there is gold there, gif it was weel sought’ Walter was remitted to his parish minister, ‘to try forder of him.’—A. P. R.

Nov 24
The pest was declared to have at this time broken out in the town of Crail in Fife, and in the parishes of Eglesham, Eastwood, and Pollock in Renfrewshire. Orders for secluding the population of those places were, as usual, issued.—P.
C. R.

On the 21st of December, the pest was understood to have entered Glasgow. The inhabitants of that city were therefore forbidden to visit Edinburgh.

On the 26th of January 1602, it is stated that the infected families of Crail, being put forth upon the neighbouring moor, and there being no provision for ‘the entertening of the puir and indigent creatures,’ they had wandered throughout the country in quest of food, and thus endangered the spread of the disease. The sheriff of Fife was ordered to see provision made for these people, and to take measures for punishing those who had wandered.

On the 4th of February, the pestilence was in Edinburgh, and the Court of Session was obliged in consequence to rise. Birrel notes: ‘The 19 of February, John Archibald with his family were taken out to the Burrow-muir, being infectit with the pest.’ Probably others immediately followed. This circumstance brings before us the celebrated John Napier, younger of Merchiston, who, on the 11th of March, complained to the Privy Council that the magistrates having ploughed up and turned to profitable service the place where they used formerly to lodge people infected with the pest, had on this occasion planted the sick in certain yards or parks of his at the Scheens, without any permission being asked. The magistrates did not come forward to defend themselves; nevertheless, the Council, considering the urgency of the demands of the public service, ordained that the lands in question should be left in the hands of the magistrates till next Candlemas, on terms to be agreed upon.

On the 16th of March, the pest still increasing in Edinburgh, the king took thought of Dunfermline, ‘being the ordinar residence of the queen, his dearest spouse, and of their majesties’ bairns,’ and ordained that, for its preservation from the contagion, the passage by the Queensferry should be stopped. He himself seems to have at the same time gone north to Brechin, where we find the Privy Council held for some weeks.

The 20th of May was ‘ane solemn day of fasting and thanksgiving for his merciful deliverance of the pest.’—Bir.

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