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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of James VI. 1603 - 1625 Part D

1611, Nov 4
The Privy Council was at this time obliged to renew former acts against Night-walkers of the city of Edinburgh—namely, idle and debauched persons who went about the streets during the night, in the indulgence of wild humours, and sometimes committing heinous crimes. If it be borne in mind that there was at that time no system of lighting for the streets of the city, but that after twilight all was sunk in Cimmerian darkness, saving for the occasional light of the moon and stars, the reader will be the better able to appreciate the state of things revealed by this public act.

Reference is made to ‘sundry idle and deboshit persons, partly strangers, who, debording in all kind of excess, riot, and drunkenness. . . . commit sundry enormities upon his majesty’s peaceable and guid subjects, not sparing the ordinar officers of the burgh, who are appointit to watch the streets of the same—of whom lately some has been cruelly and unmercifully slain, and others left for deid.’ The Council ordered that no persons of any estate whatsoever presume hereafter to remain on the streets ‘after the ringing of the ten-hour bell at night.’ The magistrates were also ordained to appoint some persons to guard the streets, and apprehend all whom they might find there after the hour stated.—P. C. R.

In this year there happened a strife between the Earl of Caithness on the one side, and Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonston and Donald Mackay on the other, highly illustrative of a state of things when law had only asserted a partial predominancy over barbarism.

One Arthur Smith, a native of Banff, had been in trouble for coining so long ago as 1599, when his man actually suffered death for that crime. He himself contrived to escape justice, by making a lock of peculiarly fine device, by which he gained favour with the king. Entering into the service of the Earl of Caithness, he lived for seven or eight years, working diligently, in a recess called the Gote, under Castle Sinclair, on the rocky coast of that northern district. If we are to believe Sir Robert Gordon, the enemy of the Earl of Caithness, there was a secret passage from his lordship’s bedroom into the Gote, where Smith was often heard working by night, and at last Caithness, Sutherland, and Orkney were found full of false coin, both silver and gold. On Sir Robert’s representation of the case, a commission was given to him by the Privy Council to apprehend Smith and bring him to Edinburgh.

While the execution of this was pending, one William MacAngus MacRorie, a noted freebooter, was committed to Castle Sinclair, and there bound in fetters. Contriving to shift off his irons, William got to the walls of the castle, and jumping from them down into the sea which dashes on the rocks at a great depth below, swam safely ashore, and escaped into Strathnaver. There an attempt was made by the Sinclairs to seize him; but he eluded them, and they only could lay hold of one Angus Herriach, whom they believed to have assisted the culprit in making his escape. This man being taken to Castle Sinclair without warrant, and there confined, Mackay was brought into the field to rescue his man—for so Angus was—and Caithness was forced to give him up.

The coiner Smith was living quietly in the town of Thurso, it under the protection of the Earl of Caithness, when a party of Gordons and Mackays came to execute the commission for apprehending him. They had seized the fellow, with a quantity of false money he had about him, and were making off, when a set of Sinclairs, headed by the earl’s nephew, John Sinclair of Stirkoke, came to the rescue with a backing of town’s-people, and a deadly conflict took place in the streets. Stirkoke was slain, his brother severely wounded, and the rescuing party beat back. During the tumult, Smith was coolly put to death, lest he should by any chance escape. The invading party were then allowed to retire without further molestation. ‘The Earl of Caithness was exceedingly grieved for the slaughter of his nephew, and was much more vexed that such a disgraceful contempt, as he thought, should have been offered to him in the heart of his own country, and in his chief town; the like whereof had not been enterprised against him or his predecessors.’

The strife is now transferred in partially legal form to Edinburgh, where the parties had counter-actions against each other before the Privy Council. Why the word partially is here used, will appear from Sir Robert Gordon’s account of the procedure. ‘Both parties did come to Edinburgh at the appointed day, where they did assemble all their friends. There were with the Earl of Caithness and his son Berriedale, the Lord Gray, the Laird of Roslin, the Laird of Cowdenknowes (the earl’s sister’s son), the Lairds of Murkle and Greenland (the earl's two brethren); these were the chief men of their company. There were with Sir Robert Gordon and Donald Mackay, the Earl of Winton and his brother the Earl of Eglintoun, with all their followers; the Earl of Linlithgow, with the Livingstones; the Lord Elphinstone, with his friends; the Lord Forbes, with his friends; Sir John Stewart, captain of Dumbarton (the Duke of Lennox’s bastard son); the Lord Balfour; the Laird of Lairg Mackay in Galloway; the Laird of Foulis, with the Monroes; the Laird of Duffus; divers of the surname of Gordon . . . . with sundry other gentlemen of name too long to set down. The Earl of Caithness was much grieved that neither the Earl of Sutherland in person, nor Hutcheon Mackay, were present. It galled him to the heart to be thus overmatched, as he said, by seconds and children; for so it pleased him to call his adversaries. Thus, both parties went weel accompanied to the council-house from their lodgings; but few were suffered to go in when the parties were called before the Council.’

All of these friends had, of course, come to see justice done to their respective principals—that is, to outbrave each other in forcing a favourable decision as far as possible. What followed is equally characteristic. While the Council was endeavouring to exact security from the several parties for their keeping the peace, both sent off private friends to the king to give him a favourable impression of their cases. ‘The king, in his wisdom, considering how much this controversy might hinder and endamage the peace and quietness of his realm in the parts where they did live, happening between persons powerful in their own countries, and strong in parties and alliances, did write thrice very effectually to the Privy Council, to take up this matter from the rigour of law and justice unto the decision and mediation of friends.’ The Council acted accordingly, but not without great difficulty. While the matter was pending, Lord Gordon, son of the Marquis of Huntly, happened to come to Edinburgh from court; and his friends, having access to him, were believed by the Earl of Caithness to have given him a favourable view of their case against himself ‘So, late in the evening, the Lord Gordon coming from his own lodging, accompanied with Sir Alexander Gordon and sundry others of the Sutherland men, met the Earl of Caithness and his company upon the High Street, between the Cross and the Tron. At the first sight, they fell to jostling and talking; then to drawing of swords. Friends assembled speedily on all hands. Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay, with the rest of the company, came presently to them; but the Earl of Caithness, after some blows, given and received, perceiving that he could not make his part good, left the street, and retired to his lodging; and if the darkness of the night had not favoured him, he had not escaped so. The Lord Gordon, taking this broil very highly, was not satisfied that the Earl of Caithness had given him place, and departed; but, moreover, he, with all his company, crossed thrice the Earl of Caithness his lodging, thereby to provoke him to come forth; but perceiving no appearance thereof, he retired himself to his own lodging. The next day, the Earl of Caithness and the Lord Gordon were called before the Lords of the Privy Council, and reconciled in their presence.’

It was not till several years later that these troubles came to an end.

Mar 28
Proceeding upon the principle that the smallest trait of industrial enterprise forms an interesting variety on the too ample details of barbarism here calling to be recorded, I remark with pleasure a letter of the king of this date, agreeing to the proposal lately brought before him by a Fleming—namely, to set up a work for the making of ‘brinston, vitreall, and allome,’ in Scotland, on condition that he received a privilege excluding rivalry for the space of thirteen years. About the same time, one Archibald Campbell obtained a privilege to induce him ‘to bring in strangers to make red herrings.’ In June 1613, he petitioned that the king would grant him, by way of pension for his further encouragement, the fourteen lasts of herrings yearly paid to his majesty by the Earl of Argyle, ‘as the duty of the tack of the assize of herrings of those parts set to him,’ being of the value of £38 yearly.—M. S. P.

Mar 29
Some of the principal Border gentlemen—Scott of Harden, Scott of Tushielaw, Scott of Stirkfield, Gladstones of Cocklaw, Elliot of Falnash, and others—had a meeting at Jedburgh, with a view to making a final and decisive effort for stopping that system of blood and robbery by which the land had been so long harassed, even to the causing of several valuable lands to be left altogether desolate. They entered into a sort of bond, declaring their abhorrence of all the ordinary violences, and agreeing thenceforth to shew no countenance to any lawless persons, but to stand firm with the government in putting them down. Even where the culprits were their own dependents or tenants, they were to take part in bringing them to justice, and, if they fled, were to deprive them of their ‘tacks and steedings,’ and ‘put in other persons to occupy the same.’ Should any fail to act in this way, or to pursue culprits to justice, they agreed that a share of guilt should lie with that person. This bond seems to have been executed with the concurrence of the state-officers, and more especially under encouragement from the king, who, they say, had shewn his anxiety every way ‘for the suppressing of that infamous byke of lawless limmers.’

Mar / Apr
The Presbyterian historian of this period notes, that ‘in the months of March and April fell forth prodigious works and rare accidents. A cow brought forth fourteen great dog-whelps, instead of calves. Another, after the calving, became stark mad, so that the owner was forced to slay her. A dead bairn was found in her belly. A third brought forth a calf with two heads. One of the Earl of Argyle’s servants being sick, vomited two toads and a serpent, and so convalesced; but after[wards] vomited a number of little toads. A man beside Glasgow murdered both his father and mother. A young man going at the plough near Kirkliston, killeth his own son accidentally with the throwing of a stone, goeth home and hangeth himself. His wife, lately delivered of a child, running out of the house to seek her husband, a sow had eaten her child.’—Cal. It is curious thus to see what a former age was capable of believing. The circumstances here related regarding the first two cows are now known to be impossibilities; and no such relation, accordingly, could move one step beyond the mouths of the vulgar with whom it originated. Yet it found a place in the work of a learned church historian of the seventeenth century.

There was at this time an ‘extraordinary drowth, whilk is likely to burn up and destroy the corns and fruits of the ground.’ On this account, a fast was ordered at Aberdeen.—A. K. S. R. In September, and for some months after, there are notices of ‘great dearth of victual,’ doubtless the consequence of this drouth. ‘The victual at ten pound the boll.’—Chron. Perth.

July 28
Gregor Beg Macgregor, and nine others of his unhappy clan, were tried for sundry acts of robbery, oppression, and murder; and being all found guilty, were sentenced to be hanged on the Burgh-moor of Edinburgh.—Pit. The relics of the broken Clan Gregor lived at this time a wild predaceous life on the borders of the lowlands of Perthshire—a fearful problem to the authorities of the country, from the king downward. One called Robin Abroch, from the nativity of his father (Lochaber), stood prominently out as a clever chief of banditti, being reported, says Sir Thomas Hamilton, king’s advocate, as ‘the most bluidy murderer and oppressor of all that damned race, and most terrible to all the honest men of the country.' In a memoir of the contemporary Earl of Perth occurs an anecdote of Robin, which, though somewhat obscure, speaks precisely of the style of events which modern times have seen in the Abruzzi and the fastnesses of the Apennines. The incident seems to have occurred in 1611.

‘In the meantime, some dozen of the Clan Gregor came within the laigh of the country—Robin Abroch, Patrick M’Inchater, and Gregor Gair, being chiefs. This Abroch sent to my chamberlain, David Drummond, desiring to speak to him. After conference, Robin Abroch, for reasons known to himself:, alleging his comrades and followers were to betray him, was contented to take the advantage, and let them fall into the hands of justice. The plot was cunningly contrived, and six of that number were killed on the ground where, with certain friends, was present; three were taken, and one escaped, by Robin and his man. This execution raised great speeches in the country, and made many acknowledge that these troubles were put to ane end, wherewith King James himself was well pleased for the time.’ We nevertheless find the king’s advocate soon after desiring of the king that, for the sake of public peace, he would withdraw a certain measure of protection he had extended to Robin, and replace him under the same restrictions as had been prescribed to the rest of his clan.

In this year, a large body of troops was levied in Scotland in a clandestine manner for the service of the king of Sweden, in his unsuccessful war with Christian IV. of Denmark. As the king of Great Britain was brother-in-law of the latter monarch, this illegal levying of troops was an act of the greater presumption. The Privy Council fulminated edicts against the proceedings as most obnoxious to the king, but without effect. One George Sinclair—a natural brother of the Earl of Caithness, and who, if we are to believe Sir Robert Gordon (an enemy), had stained himself by a participation in the treacherous rendition of Lord Maxwell—sailed with nine hundred men, whom he had raised in the extreme north.

The successful course of the king of Denmark’s arms had at this time closed up the ordinary and most ready access to Sweden at Gottenburg, and along the adjacent coast. A Colonel Munckhaven, in bringing a large levy of mercenaries from the Netherlands in the spring of 1612, had consequently been obliged to take the riskful step of passing through Norway, then a portion of the dominions of the Danish monarch. The greater part of his soldiery entered the Trondiem Fiord, landed at Stordalen, and proceeded through the mountainous regions of Jempteland towards Stockholm, where they arrived in time to save it from the threats of the Danish fleet.

Colonel Sinclair resolved to take a similar course; but he was less fortunate. Landing in Romsdalen, he was proceeding across Gulbrandsdalen, and had entered a narrow pass at Kringelen, utterly unsuspicious of the presence of an enemy, when he fell into a dire ambuscade formed by the peasantry. Even when aware that a hostile party had assembled, he was craftily beguiled on by the appearance of a handful of rustic marksmen on the opposite side of the river, whose irregular firing he despised, till his column had arrived at the most difficult part of the pass. The boors then appeared amongst the rocks above him, in front and in rear, closing up every channel of egress. Sinclair fell early in the conflict. The most of his party were either cut off by the marksmen, or dashed to pieces by huge rocks tumbled down from above. Of the nine hundred, but sixty were spared. These were taken as prisoners to the houses of various boors, who, however, soon tired of keeping them. It is stated that the wretched Scots were brought together one day in a large meadow, and there murdered in cold blood. Only one escaped.

The Norwegians celebrated this affair in a vaunting ballad, and, strange to say, still look back upon the destruction of Sinclair’s party as a glorious achievement. In the pass of Kringelen, there is a tablet bearing an inscription to the following purport: ‘Here lies Colonel Sinclair, who, with nine hundred Scotsmen, was dashed to pieces like clay-pots by three hundred boon of Lessöe, Vaage, and Froen. Berdon Segelstadt of Ringeböe was the leader of the boors.’ In a peasant’s house near by were shewn to me, in 1849, a few relies of the poor Caithness-men—a matchlock or two, a broadsword, a couple of powder-flasks, and the wooden part of a drum.

After the treacherous slaughter of the Laird of Johnston in 1608, Lord Maxwell was so hotly prosecuted by the state-officers, as to be compelled to leave his country. His Good-night, a pathetic ballad, in which he takes leave of his lady and friends, is printed in the Border Minstrelsy: afterwards, he returned to Scotland, but could not shew himself in public. A succession of skulking adventures ended in his being treacherously given up to justice by his relative, the Earl of Caithness; and he was, without loss of time, beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh—the sole noble victim to justice out of many of his order who, during the preceding thirty years, had deserved such a fate.

When informed by the magistrates of the city that they had got orders for his execution, he professed submission to the will of God and the king, but declined the attendance of any ministers, as he adhered to the ancient religion. ‘It being foreseen by the bailies and others that gif he sould at his death enter in any discourse of that subject before the people, it might breed offence and selander, he was desirit, and yielded to bind himself by promise, to forbear at his death all mention of his particular opinion of religion, except the profession of Christianity; which he sinsyne repented, as he declared to the bailies, when they were bringing him to the scaffold.’ On the scaffold, the unfortunate noble expressed his hope that the king would restore the family inheritance to his brother. He likewise ‘asked forgiveness of the Laird of Johnston, his mother, grandmother, and friends, acknowledging the wrong and harm done to them, with protestation that it was without dishonour for the worldly part of it. Then he retired himself near the block, and made his prayers to God; which being ended, he took leave of his friends and of the bailies of the town, and, suffering his eyes to be covered with ane handkerchief, offered his head to the axe.’

Thus at length ended the feud between the Johnstons and Maxwells, after, as has been remarked, causing the deaths of two chiefs of each house.

Edward Lord Bruce of Kinloss lost his life in a duel fought near Bergen-op-zoom with Sir Edward Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset. They were gay young men, living a life of pleasure in London, and in good friendship with each other, when some occurrence, arising out of their pleasures, divided them in an irremediable quarrel. Clarendon states that on Sackville’s part the cause was ‘unwarrantable.’ Lord Kinloss, in his challenge, reveals to us that they had shaken hands after the first offence, but with this remarkable expression on his own part, that he reserved the heart for a truer reconciliation. Afterwards, in France, Kinloss learned that Sackville spoke injuriously of him, and immediately wrote to propose a hostile meeting. ‘Be master,’ he said, ‘of your own weapons and time; the place wheresoever I will wait on you. By doing this, you will shorten revenge, and clear the idle opinion the world hath of both our worths.’

Sackville received this letter at his father-in-law’s house, in Derbyshire, and he lost no time in establishing himself, with his friend, Sir John Heidon, at Tergoso, in Zealand, where he wrote to Lord Kinloss, that he would wait for his arrival. The other immediately proceeded thither, accompanied by an English gentleman named Crawford, who was to act as his second; also by a surgeon and a servant. They met, accompanied by their respective friends, at a spot near Bergen-op-Zoom, ‘where but a village divides the States’ territories from the archduke’s.... to the end that, having ended, he that could, might presently exempt himself from the justice of the country by retiring into the dominion not offended.’

In the preliminary arrangements, some humane articles were agreed upon, probably by the influence of the seconds; but, if we are to believe Sir Edward Sackville, Lord Kinloss, in choosing his adversary’s weapon, expressed some blood-thirsty sentiments, that gave him reason to hope for little mercy if he should be the vanquished party. Being on his part incensed by these unworthy expressions, he, though heavy with a recent dinner, hurried on the combat. To follow his remarkable narrative: ‘I being verily mad with anger [that] the Lord Bruce should thirst after my life with a kind of assuredness, seeing I had come so far and heedlessly to give him leave to regain his lost reputation, bade him alight, which with all willingness he quickly granted; and there, in a meadow ankle-deep in water at the least, bidding farewell to our doublets, in our shirts began to charge each other; having afore commanded our surgeons to withdraw themselves a pretty distance from us, conjuring them besides, as they respected our favours or their own safeties, not to stir, but suffer us to execute our pleasures; we being fully resolved (God forgive us!) to despatch each other by what means we could. I made a thrust at my enemy, but was short, and in drawing back my arm, I received a great wound thereon, which I interpreted as a reward for my short-shooting; but, in revenge, I pressed in to him, though I then missed him also, and then received a wound in my right pap, which passed level through my body, and almost to my back. And there we wrestled for the two greatest and dearest prizes we could ever expect trial for—honour and life; in which struggling, my hand, having but an ordinary glove on it, lost one of her servants, though the meanest, which hung by a skin At last, breathless, yet keeping our holds, there passed on both sides propositions of quitting each other’s swords; but when amity was dead, confidence could not live, and who should quit first, was the question; which on neither part either would perform, and restriving again afresh, with a kick and a wrench together, I freed my long captivated weapon; which incontinently levying at his throat, being master still of his, I demanded if he would ask his life, or yield his sword; both which, though in that imminent danger, he bravely denied to do. Myself being wounded, and feeling loss of blood, having three conduits running on me, which began to make me faint, and he courageously persisting not to accord to either of my propositions, through remembrance of his former bloody desire, and feeling of my present state, I struck at his heart, but with his avoiding missed my aim, yet passed through the body, and drawing out my sword, repassed it again through another place, when he cried: "O, I am slain!" seconding his speech with all the force he had to cast me; but being too weak, after I had defended his assault, I easily became master of him, laying him on his back, when, being upon him, I redemanded if he would request his life; but it seemed he prized it not at so dear a rate to be beholden for it, bravely replying, "he scorned it." Which answer of his was so noble and worthy, as I protest I could not find in my heart to offer him any more violence; only keeping him down, until at length his surgeon, afar off, cried out, "he would immediately die if his wounds were not stopped." Whereupon, I asked if he desired his surgeon should come, which he accepted of; and so being drawn away, I never offered to take his sword, accounting it inhuman to rob a dead man, for so I held him to be. This thus ended, I retired to my surgeon, in whose arms, after I had remained a while for want of blood, I lost my sight, and withal, as I then thought, my life also. But strong water and his diligence quickly recovered me, when I escaped a great danger. For my lord’s surgeon, when nobody dreamt of it, came full at me with his lord’s sword; and had not mine, with my sword, interposed himself, I had been slain by those base hands; although my Lord Bruce, weltering in his blood, and past all expectation of life, comformable to all his former carriage, which was undoubtedly noble, cried out: "Rascal, hold thy hand!"

Thus miserably, a victim of passion, died a young nobleman who might otherwise have lived a long and useful life. Being childless, his title and estates went to his next brother, Thomas. Through what means it came about, we cannot tell, but possibly it might be in consequence of some recollection of a well-known circumstance in the history of a former great man of his family, King Robert Bruce, the heirt of Edward Lord Kinloss was enclosed in a silver case, brought to Scotland, and deposited in the abbey-church of Culross, near the family seat. The tale of the Silver Heart had faded into a family tradition of a very obscure character, when, in 1808, this sad relic was discovered, bearing on the exterior the name of the unfortunate duellist, and containing what was believed to be the remains of a human heart. It was again deposited in its original place, with an inscription calculated to make the matter clear to posterity. The Bruce motto, FUIMUS, is also seen on the wall, conveying to the visitor an indescribable feeling of melancholy, as he reflects on the stormy passion which once swelled the organ now resting within, and the wild details of that deadly quarrel of days long gone by.

Silver Heart

‘The unfortunate Lord Bruce saw distinctly the figure or impression of a mort-head, on the looking-glass in his chamber, that very morning he set out for the fatal place of rendezvous, where he lost his life in a duel; and asked of some that stood by him if they observed that strange appearance: which they answered in the negative. His remains were interred at Bergen-op-Zoom, over which a monument was erected, with the emblem of a looking-glass impressed with a mort-head, to perpetuate the surprising representation which seemed to indicate his approaching untimely end. I had this narration from a field-officer, whose honour and candour is beyond suspicion, as he had it from General Stuart in the Dutch service. The monument stood entire for a long time, until it was partly defaced when that strong place was reduced by the weakness or treachery of Cronstrom, the governor. ‘—Theophilus Insulanus's Treatise on the Second-Sight 1763.

Sep 14
Robert Philip, a priest, returned from Rome in the summer of this year, and performed mass in sundry places in a clandestine manner, but with the proper dresses, utensils, and observances. One James Stewart, living at the Nether Bow Port in Edinburgh, commonly called James of Jerusalem—a noted papist and resetter of seminary priests—was accustomed to have this condemned ceremonial performed in his house, in presence of a small company. Both men were now tried for these offences; and two days after, a third, John Logan, portioner of Restalrig, was also put to an assize, for being one of the audience at Stewart’s house. One cannot, in these days of tolerance, read without a strange sense of uncouthness, the solemn expressions of horror employed in the dittays of the king’s advocate against the offenders, being precisely the same expressions which were used against heinous offences of a more tangible nature. Philip and Stewart were condemned to banishment, and Logan, in as far as he expressed penitence and shewed that he had since conformed to the kirk, and even borne office in the session, was let off with a fine of one thousand pounds!

Dec 1
Robert Erskine, brother of the lately deceased Laird of Dun, in Forfarshire, was put upon trial for an offence that recalls the tale of the Babes in the Wood. To open the succession to himself, be formed the resolution to put away his two nephews, John and Alexander Erskine, minors, and for this purpose consulted with his three sisters, Isobel, Annas, and Helen. These women, readily entering into his views, attempted to bribe a servant to engage a witch for the purpose of destroying the two boys; but the man’s virtue was proof to the temptation. Annas and Helen then made a journey across the Cairnamount to a place called the Muir-alehouse, where dwelt a noted witch called Janet Irving. From her they came back, bearing certain deadly herbs fitted for their purpose, and gave these to their brother. He, doubtful of the efficacy of the herbs, went himself to the witch, to get full assurance on that point; and, finding reason to believe that they could destroy the two boys, lost no time in making an infusion of them in ale, which he administered to his victims in the house of their mother at Montrose. The effect was not immediate; but it inflicted the most horrible torments upon the poor youths, one of whom, after dwining for three years, died, uttering, just before death, these affecting words: ‘Wo is me! that ever I had right of succession to ony lands or living, for, gif I had been born some poor cotter’s son, I had not been sae demeaned [treated], nor sic wicked practices had been plotted against me for my lands!’ The other remained without hope of recovery at the time of the trial.

Robert Erskine was found guilty and condemned to be beheaded. His sisters were tried June 22, 1614, for their share of the guilt, and also condemned to death, which two of them suffered. Helen alone, as being less guilty and more penitent than the rest, had her sentence commuted to banishment. The case must have been felt as deeply afflicting by the friends of the Presbyterian cause, as these wretched victims of the mean passion of avarice were the great-grandchildren of the venerated reformer, John Erskine of Dun .—Pit.

One John Stercovius, a Pole, had come into Scotland in the dress of his country, which exciting much vulgar attention, he was hooted at on the streets, and treated altogether so ill, that he was forced to make an abrupt retreat. The poor man, returning full of wounded feelings to his own country, published a Legend of Reproaches against the Scottish nation—’ane infamous book against all estates of persons in this kingdom.’—P. C. R. It will now be scarcely believed, in Scotland or elsewhere, that King James, hearing of this libel, employed Patrick Gordon, a foreign agent—himself a man of letters—to raise a prosecution against Stercovius in his own country, and had the power to cause the unhappy libeller to be beheaded for his offence! The affair cost six thousand merks, and a convention of burghs was called (December 3, 1613), to consider means of raising this sum by taxation. This mode of raising the money having failed, the king made an effort to obtain aid for the payment of the money from the English resident in the town of Danzig—with what result does not appear. It is a notable circumstance, that while James was on the whole a mild administrator of justice, he was unrelenting towards satirists, and the grossest judicial cruelties of his reign are against men who had been in one way or another contumelious towards himself.

1613, Dec 10
One of the king’s large ships-of-war, which had lain in the Roads of Leith for six weeks, and was about to set sail on her return to England, met her destruction ‘about the twelfth hour of the day,’ through the mad humour of an Englishman, who, while the captain and some of his officers were on shore, laid trains of powder throughout the vessel, notwithstanding that his own son was on board, along with about sixty other men. ‘The ship and her whole provision were burnt; only the bottom and some of the munition were safe. Twenty-four of the men were burnt or perished in the sea; the rest ‘were mutilated and lamed, notwithstanding of all the help that could be made. The fire made the ordnance to shoot, so that none durst come near to help.’—Cal.

‘The sixty-three men that escaped were shipped and transported to London.’—Bal.

Dec 16
The Privy Council of Scotland had this day under their consideration a subject which must have sent their minds back to the associations of an earlier and more romantic age. That custom among the people of the Scottish Border, of going into Cheviot to hunt, which had led to the dismal tragedy narrated in the well-known ballad of Chevy Chase, was, it seems, still kept up. What was once the border of either country being now the middle of both in their so far united condition, the king felt the propriety of putting down a custom so apt to lead to bad blood between his English and Scottish subjects; and accordingly, his council now ordered that the inhabitants of Roxburgh and Selkirk shires, of Liddesdale and Annandale, should cease their ancient practice of going into Tynedale, Redesdale, the fells of Cheviot and Kidland, for hunting and the cutting of wood, under pain of confiscation of their worldly goods.—P. C. R.

1614, Jan 18
Hugh Weir of Cloburn, a boy of fourteen years, had been taken out of the town of Edinburgh from his mother’s friends, and carried over to Ireland, and there married to the daughter of the Laird of Corehouse. He ‘was, by Sir James Hamilton’s means, apprehended in Ireland, and sent back to Scotland, and presented to the Council. He was imprisoned in the Tolbooth, in a room next the Laird of Blackwood, by whose means the boy was taken away and sent into Ireland.’—Bal.

Mar 3
(Tuesday) at ‘half an hour to sax in the morning, ane earthquake had in divers places.’ ‘On Thursday thereafter, ane other earthquake at 12 hours in the night, had baith in land and burgh.’—Chron. Perth.

Aug 12
Theophilus Howard, Lord Walden (afterwards Earl of Suffolk), made a short journey of pleasure in Scotland; and as the details give some idea of the means there were in the country of entertaining a stranger of distinction, they may be worth noting. His lordship was received by the Earl of Home into Dunglass House, in Berwickshire, and ‘used very honourably.’ He dined next day with his brother-in-law, Sir James Home of Cowdenknowes, at Broxmouth House, near Thinbar. Advancing thence towards Edinburgh, he was met by the secretary of state, Sir Thomas Hamilton of Binning, accompanied by a number of gentlemen of the country, all of whom had waited for him the preceding night at Musselburgh Links, but were disappointed of his coming forward. He was by them convoyed to the Canongate, and lodged in John Killoch’s house. Next morning, he proceeded to the Castle, and ‘viewed the site, fortification, and natural strength thereof.’ Having dined, he rode from Edinburgh with the Lord Chancellor to Dunfermline, where he was entertained with all kindness and respect till Monday, the 16th. He then went to Culross, to see Sir George Bruce’s coal-works, which were one of the wonders of the age; ‘where, having received the best entertainment they could make him, my Lord Chancellor took leave of him, and left him to be convoyed by my Lord Erskine to Stirling, where he could not be persuaded to stay above one night. The next day, he saw the park of Stirling, dined in the Castle, and raid that night towards Falkland.’ On the way, Lord Erskine transferred him to the care of Lord Scone, who, assisted by many gentlemen of Fife, took him to his house in Falkland.’ There, doubtless to the great distress of Lord Scone, no entreaties could prevail upon Lord Walden to stay longer than a night, ‘to receive that entertainment which he wald gladly have made langer to him.’ So, ‘after the sight of the park and palace, having dined, his lordship and my Lord of Scone came to Burntisland, where he had ready and speedy passage; but the wind being very loud, he was exceeding sick at sea.’ Landing at Leith, the distinguished company was received for refreshment into the house of a rich and prominent person of that day, Bernard Lindsay, whom we shall see erelong entertaining Ben Jonson in the same place. Here the secretary again took up the stranger, and convoyed him once more to John Killoch’s in the Canongate, ‘whither the baillies of Edinburgh came to him, and invited him to supper the next day, but could not induce him by any entreaty to stay.’ Having dismissed them, he went to see the palace of Holyrood. Next day, the 19th of August, he left Edinburgh, and rode with the secretary to Seton, ‘where he was received by the Countess of Winton and her children, and used with all due respect.’ After taking a sight of the house, which was of princely elegance, with beautiful gardens, Lord Walden proceeded to Broxmouth, and there spent the night.

‘In all his journey through this country,’ says the contemporary writer, ‘great and loving respect has been borne to him by all honest men, whereof he has proven most worthy; for he has esteemed all things to the uttermost of their worth, and in his courteous discretion has favourably excused all oversights and defects. Every honest man here wishes him happiness in all his other journeys and enterprises, for the honourable, wise, and humane behaviour he has used amang them.’

In this year, a small volume was printed and published by Andro Hart of Edinburgh, under the title of Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, &e., Auctore et Inventore Joanne Napero, Barone Merchistonii, Scoto. This was a remarkable event in the midst of so many traits of barbarism, bigotry, and ignorance; for in Napier’s volume was presented a mode of calculation forming an essential pre-requisite to the solution of all the great problems involving numbers which have since been brought before mankind. John Napier is believed to have been engaged in the elaboration of his Logarithms for fully twenty years, while at the same time giving some of his time to such inventions as burning-glasses for the destruction of fleets, to theological discussions; and the occult sciences. The tall, antique tower of Merchiston, in which he lived and pursued his studies, still exists at the head of the Burgh-moor of Edinburgh.

Napier’s little book was published in an English translation by Henry Briggs of Oxford, the greatest mathematician of his day in England. The admiration of Briggs for the person of Napier was testified in the summer of 1615 by his paying a visit to Scotland, in order to see him. Of this rencontre there is a curious and interesting account preserved by William Lilly in his Life and Times. "I will acquaint you,’ says he, ‘with one memorable story related unto me by John Man, an excellent mathematician and geometrician, whom I conceive you remember. He was a servant to King James I. and Charles I. When Merchiston first published his Logarithms, Mr Briggs, then reader of the astronomy lectures at Gresham College in London, was so surprised with admiration of them, that he could have no quietness in himself until he had seen that noble person whose only invention they were. He acquaints John Man therewith, who went in [to] Scotland before Mr Briggs, purposely to be there when these two so learned persons should meet. Mr Briggs appoints a certain day when to meet at Edinburgh; but failing thereof, Merchiston was fearful he would not come. It happened one day, as John Marr and Lord Napier were speaking of Mr Briggs, "Oh! John," saith Merchiston, "Mr Briggs will not came now." At the very instant, one knocks at the gate. John Marr hasted down, and it proved to be Mr Briggs, to his great contentment. He brings Mr Briggs into my lord’s chamber, where almost one quarter of an hour was spent, each beholding other with admiration, before one word was spoken. At last Mr Briggs began: "My lord, I have undertaken this long journey purposely to see your person, and to know by what engine of wit or ingenuity you came first to think of this most excellent help unto astronomy—namely, the Logarithms; but, my lord, being by you found out, I wonder nobody else found it out before, when, now being known, it appears so easy." He was nobly entertained by the Lord Napier; and every summer after that, during the laird’s being alive, this venerable man went purposely to Scotland to visit him.’

As Napier (whom Lilly erroneously calls lord) died in April 1617, Mr Briggs could not have made more than one other summer pilgrimage to Merchiston.

Died John M’Birnie. minister of St Nicolas’ Church, Aberdeen —a typical example of the more zealous and self-denying of the Presbyterian clergy of that age. A similar one of the next age says of M’Birnie: ‘I heard Lady Culross say: "He was a godly, zealous, and painful preacher; and that he used always, when he rode, to have two Bibles hanging at a leather girdle about his middle, the one original, the other English; as also, a little sand-glass in a brazen ease: and being alone, he read, or meditated, or prayed; and if any company were with him, he would read or speak from the Word to them." . . . . When he died, he called his wife, and told her he had no outward means to leave her, or his only daughter, but that he had got good assurance that the Lord would provide for them; and accordingly, the day he was buried, the magistrates of the town came to the house, after the burial, and brought two subscribed papers, one of a competent maintenance to his wife during her life, another of a provision for his daughter.’

The latter part of the winter 1614—15 was of such severity as to be attended with several remarkable circumstances which were long remembered. In February, the Tay was frozen over so strongly as to admit of passage for both horse and man. ‘Upon Fasten’s E’en [February 21], there was twa puncheons of Bourdeaux wine ‘carriet, sting and ling, on men’s shoulders, on the ice, at the mids of the North Inch, the weight of the puncheon and the bearers, estimate to three score twelve stane weight.’ This state of things, however, was inconvenient for the ferrymen, ‘being thereby prejudgit of their commodity.’ So they, ‘in the night-time, brak the ice at the entry, and stayit the passage.’—Chron. Perth.

An enormous fall of snow took place early in March, so as to stop all comrnunication throughout the country. On its third day, many men and horse perished in vain attempts to travel. The accumulation of snow was beyond all that any man remembered. ‘In some places, men devised snow-ploughs to clear the ground, and fodder the cattle.’ —Bat. The snow fell to such a depth, and endured so long upon the ground, that, according to Sir Robert Gordon, ‘most part of all the horse, nolt, and sheep of the kingdom did perish, but chiefly in the north.’ [This unheard-of snow-fall was equally notable in the south. When the thaw came, it caused an unexampled flood in the Ouse of Yorkshire, which lasted ten days, carrying away a great number of bridges. ‘After this storm followed such fair and dry weather, that in April the ground was as dusty as in any time of summer. The drought continued till the 20th of August, and made such a scarcity of hay, beans, and barley, that the former was sold at York for 30s. and 40s. a wainload.’—History of York, 1785, i. 256.]

The Privy Council, viewing the ‘universal death, destruction, and wrack of the beasts and goods throughout all parts of the country,’ apprehended that, without some extraordinary care, there would not be enough of lambs left to replenish the farms with sheep for future use. They accordingly interfered with a decree forbidding the use of lamb for a certain time. Nevertheless, so early as the 26th of April, it was ascertained that there were undutiful subjects, who, ‘preferring their own private contentment and their inordinate appetite, and the delicate feeding of their bellies, to the reverence and obedience of the law,’ continued to use lamb, only purchasing it in secret places, as if no such prohibition had ever been uttered. It was therefore become necessary that severe punishment should be threatened for this offence. The threats launched forth on this occasion were found next year to have been of some effect in preserving the remnant of the lamb stock; and, to complete the restoration of the stock, a new decree to the like effect was then made (March 14, 1616).

The king and his English council having, with the usual short-sighted policy of the age, decreed that no goods should be imported into or exported out of England, except in English vessels, the burghs of Scotland were not slow to perceive that the interests of their country would be deeply injured thereby, as other states would of course establish similar restrictions, ‘and if so, there is naething to be expected but decay and wrack to our shipping, insaemickle as the best ships of Scotland are continually employed in the service of Frenchmen, not only within the dominions of France, but also within the bounds of Spain, Italy, and Barbary, where their trade lies, whilk is ane chief cause of the increase of the number of Scots ships and of their maintenance, whereas by the contrary, the half of the number of ships whilk are presently in Scotland will serve for our awn privat trade and negotiation.’

The king of France did in reality revenge the selfish policy of England by issuing a similar order in favour of French shipping, the first consequence of which was that an English vessel and a Dutch one, lading in Normandy, were obliged to disburden themselves and come empty home. ‘Ane Scottish bark perteining to Andrew Allan, whilk that same time was lading with French merchandise,’ would have been subjected to the same inconvenience, if the master had not pretended to an immunity in favour of his country, through its ancient alliance with France, ‘inviolably kept these 800 years bypast.’ The Scots factors in France entered a complaint before the parliament of Paris, reminding it of that ancient alliance, and pleading that the French had ever had liberty of trade in all Scottish ports; shewing, indeed, that Scotland was not comprised in the edict of the English monarch and his council. The parliament accordingly decreed that the Scotch should remain in the enjoyment of freedom of trade within France, as heretofore.

The attention of the king being necessarily called to the interests of Scotland in this matter, he was found obstinate in favour of the general principle of the English order in council. ‘Natural reason,’ he said, ‘teaches us that Scotland, being part of an isle, cannot be mainteined or preserved without shipping, and shipping cannot be mainteined without employment; and the very law of nature teaeheth every sort of corporation, kingdom, or country, first to set their own vessels on work, before they employ any stranger.' He was willing, however, to relax in particular cases. James argues logically, but he had not sagacity to anticipate the doctrines of Adam Smith.

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