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The History of Glasgow
Chapter LII - Privileges of Burghs—Liberties and Privileges of Craftsmen—Deacons Discharged and Visitors Substituted—These Conditions Dispensed with—Trading in West Seas—Exactions on Herring Fishing—Summer Plays

IN the Queen-regent's first parliament many wise and useful acts were passed for improving the administration of justice throughout the country and there was also some experimental legislation specially affecting the burghs. It is understood that on these subjects the regent was chiefly guided not by her French advisers but by the sage counsel of Henry Sinclair, dean of Glasgow, a man of profound legal knowledge and eminent as a scholar and statesman. [Tytler, iii. p. 76; where the more important statutes are alluded to. Henry Sinclair, second son of Sir Oliver St. Clair of Roslin was educated for the church at the university of St. Andrews. He was highly esteemed by James V. and was for years in his family. On 13th November, 1537, he was admitted an ordinary lord of session, and on 16th December, 1538, he was appointed rector of Glasgow primo. The commendatorship of Kilwinning he held from 1541 till 1550 when he exchanged that benefice for the deanery of Glasgow, then held by Gavin Hamilton. On being appointed bishop of Ross, in 1560, he had to resign the deanery, but was allowed to retain the prebend of Glasgow primo. Sinclair was lord president of the court of session from 1558 till his death in 1565. (Senators of the College of Justice (1836) pp. 58-60; Dowden's Bishops, p. 228.)]

By one of the burgh statutes it was recalled that for many bygone years, through trouble of wars, the estate of burgesses had suffered both in their lands and goods, and also that their privileges constituted by royal grants and acts of parliament, had not been duly observed and kept, and parliament there-f ore ratified all these privileges to burghs, burgesses and merchants, and ordained the lords of council to exercise their authority in enforcing the statutes. The act of James IV. requiring ships coming to free burghs in the west seas to observe certain rules [Antea, p. 244.] was ordered to be renewed, with an addition requiring that no one should purchase merchandise from strangers but only from freemen at free ports of the burghs.

All the burghs of the west country, such as Irvine, Ayr, Dumbarton and Glasgow, had been in the practice of resorting yearly to the fishing of Loch Fyne and other lochs in the North Isles, for the herring and other fishing, and hitherto they had been subject to no other exaction than the payment of the fishermen. Nevertheless some countrymen, dwelling beside Loch Fyne, had begun to charge custom on every last of herring taken in the loch, as high as the Queen's custom. On hearing of this new exaction parliament ordained that it should be discharged and not taken from the burgesses in respect of any herring or fishes taken by them in the lochs, for furnishing of their own houses and the country. This provision does not seem to have applied to fish caught for export, but perhaps home supply was mainly looked for at that time. On the same day as the fishing act was passed, parliament, referring to the increasing dearth in the country, of victuals and flesh, caused by the export of these, prohibited their removal from the country, except in so far as might be necessary for victualling ships and vessels during their voyage. But it allowed the inhabitants of the burghs of Ayr, Irvine, Glasgow and Dumbarton, and others dwelling at the west seas, to take baken bread, brewed ale and aquavitae to the Isles to barter with other merchandise. [Clyde Burghs, p. 23.]

For the due exercise of their privilege of free trade throughout the kingdom facility of passage from one town to another was indispensable, and it was with the view of securing this object that parliament ordained that all common highways, formerly in use for going from or coming to a burgh, and specially all common highways from "dry" burghs to ports and havens, should be observed and kept and that no one should cause interruption to such traffic. In this provision Glasgow, which in a limited sense might then be regarded as a "dry" burgh, was protected in the use of the highway leading from the city to the free port of Linlithgow.

Some suspicion was entertained that the formation of bodies of craftsmen into a number of small confederacies afforded opportunity for raising class disturbances, and it was considered that if the centralising authority of the deacons were withdrawn the risk might be lessened ; and, on loth June, 1555, an act of parliament was passed for that purpose. In the words of this statute, the choosing of deacons and men of craft within burgh was dangerous, as they had caused great trouble in burghs, commotion and rising of the lieges, by making of leagues and bonds among themselves, and betwixt burgh and burgh. It was therefore ordained that there should be no deacon chosen in future ; but the provost, bailies and council of the burgh were to choose the most honest man, one of each craft, to visit the craftsmen and see that they laboured sufficiently and produced satisfactory work. Appointed at Michaelmas yearly, the visitors were to give oath for the true performance of their duties, without any power of assembling the craftsmen or of making any acts or statutes ; but all craftsmen to be under the magistrates and council. The visitors were to have voting in the choosing of officers and in other things as the deacons formerly had. No craftsman was to bear office in burgh in future, except two "maist honest and famous," who were to be chosen yearly upon the council and who were to be among the number of auditors of the common good, conform to previous acts of council. [Ancient Laws (A.D. 1555), ii. PP. 77-81.]

This act of parliament did not meet with acceptance and its main provisions were dispensed with by letters under the great seal, granted successively by the Regent, Queen Mary and King James VI. By the first of these documents, dated 16th April, 1556, only ten months after the act was passed, it is recited that seeing a well constituted state could not for long exist without good craftsmen, sovereigns had granted sundry privileges and liberties to craftsmen, including the right to choose deacons for inspection of work, to make statutes and to impose fines and inflict punishment, and good craftsmen who were burgesses were also allowed to navigate and use commerce like other merchants of the kingdom. The changes introduced by the act of 1555 are then referred to, and the Queen-regent states,—"we have learned that nothing has been done in pursuance of those causes and considerations which had moved our foresaid parliament to pass that measure ; nay, that everything is done more carelessly among those craftsmen at this day than formerly." Desiring, therefore, not to abridge the craftsmen's ancient privileges "without great, urgent and enduring cause, but that everything justly and properly granted in ancient time be restored to its pristine and original state, and also desiring to prevent dissensions and contentions among our merchants and tradesmen," dispensations were granted to all craftsmen in regard to the act of parliament and all its clauses which obstructed the liberties and privileges formerly granted to them. Specially there was restored the right of having deacons of crafts who should have votes in electing officers of burghs. Craftsmen were to join in the audit of the common good accounts, were authorised to make lawful statutes and ordinances relating to their own crafts, for the preservation of good order among themselves and the maintenance of divine service at the altars, and were allowed to navigate and exercise merchandise within and without the kingdom, as should seem to them most advantageous. [Reg. Mag. Sig. iv. No. 1054. This concession and restoration was obviously valued by craftsmen. Letters in similar terms were granted by Queen Mary on 1st March, 1564 (Ibid. No. 1583), and by King James VI. with consent of his privy council, on 22nd July, 1581 (Ibid. v. No. 233) ; but in these Letters no reference is made to altars. All the Letters, with translations, are printed in Cony. Rec. ii. pp. 469-79.]

Among the statutes of June, 1555, treating mainly on the serious concerns of everyday existence and the prosecution of trade and commerce, is placed a denouncement of the prevalent pastimes of the period, possibly a reaction on the celebrations of the previous month which may have been unusually demonstrative and disturbing to business people. Without preamble or explanation, parliament ordained that in future "na maner of persoun be chosin Robert Hude nor Lytill Johne, Abbot of Unressoun, Queenis of May, nouther in burgh nor to landwart," heavy penalties being imposed for infringement. Women, also, "about simmer treis singand" and disturbing the lieges, in their passing through burghs and towns, were threatened with the " cukstulis." But these dramatic games and amusements were too popular to be easily suppressed, and they survived not only this but many subsequent prohibitions. [Ancient Laws, p. 81. Robert Chambers describes a Robin Hood celebration and consequent riotous conduct at Edinburgh in 1561 (Domestic Annals, i. pp. 7-11); and though there is no early account of Glasgow amusements it may be assumed that the citizens shared in the current revels of the time.]

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