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Domestic Life in Scotland, 1488 - 1688
By John Warrack (1924)


FEW realise how modern are the conceptions of comfort and decency which inspire the furnishing and arrangements of our present-day homes, or how different were the conditions in which, only a few centuries ago, our forefathers spent their lives. Till the beginning of the seventeenth century chairs for ordinary household use were unknown. Hats were worn at meals. Washing formed no part of the morning toilet, even in Charles II's time, and very few in any country in Europe washed their faces every day. The use of forks did not become general till the eighteenth century, and food was picked from the general dish and raised to the mouth with the fingers.

The development of Domestic Life has not, I think, hitherto been studied as a continuous process, nor traced to its social and historical origins, though many of its details have been worked out and much knowledge of a fragmentary kind has been accumulated. In trying to reconstruct the domestic life of Scotland at various epochs in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and to trace the lines of development, I have had recourse to the comparison and analysis of many hundreds of early inventories which are to be found among the national documents preserved in the Register House, and the study of these records has resulted in much new and curious information as to the details of household life in early times. I have also drawn freely on early Scottish literature, including biographies, journals and account books, for material likely to put my readers into more living touch with the men, women and children of the times with which I have dealt.

While the book deals mainly with Scotland, there are many references to the social develop- ment of England, France and other countries in western Europe. For a general enquiry there is a certain advantage in the smaller and less crowded stage. To the non-Scottish reader I would address the invitation and guarantee given by a character in a witty French comedy:—

Mon camarade
Allons faire au jardin un tour de promenade!
Suivez-moi sans rien craindre; it est dans mes principes
De ne forcer personne a louer nos tulipes!

To express in detail all my obligations to those who have helped me would overweight my book. But I must acknowledge the kindness of Sir James Balfour Paul, C.V.O., in reading my proofs; of Mr. F. C. Eeles in advising me as to the contents of the Oratory in the second Lecture; of Prof. Hannay and Dr. Hay Fleming; and of Dr. Thomas Ross, Dr. William Kelly, A.R.S.A., Aberdeen, and Mr. James Beveridge, Linlithgow. My best thanks are also due to those who have allowed me to reproduce articles in their possession among my illustrations.



  • Lecture I - In Feudal Days: A Medieval Castle
    Poverty of the country—Unsettled conditions—Scarcity of native timber—Foreign trade : exports and imports—Inferences as to social conditions in Scotland and in Flanders—Value of knowledge of early social life in interpreting early literature—The medieval castle and its furnishings—An evening meal—Washing the hands—Early codes of manners and rules for behaviour—Table arrangements—The salt-fatt, dishes, spoons, and serviotts—Arrangements and furnishing of the hall—"Till necessitie and nocht til decore "—The dais—The hie burde—Literary references — The parelling — The comptar or counter : origin and line of development—The chalmer of des: its position and uses—Bedrooms—Beds and canopies—The futegang.

  • Lecture II - The Wealth of the Church: A Pre-Reformation Manse
    The wealth of the Church as a factor in the Reformation movement—Relation of the movement to the Renaissance—Humanism within the Church—The Parson of Stobo; his revenues, etc.—The manse in Glasgow and its inmates—A disappointed nephew—The parson's bedchamber—Rich hangings and furniture—An unexpected apparition—Coffers and chests and their contents —Early regulations as to clerical costume—The parson's costly apparel—"The oratour within his hous"—The altar and its furnishings—Vestments—Sacred and secular books—The hall—Carved furniture—Cupboard of plate—Significance of plate in medieval times—The kitchen "Large tabling and belly cheer"—Stores of provisions and fuel—Riding kit and armour—Sport and recreations—Tame animals—An early chiming clock—The parson's death — The people and the Church.

  • Lecture III - The Rise of the Burghers; A Cloth Merchant's House; and Some Decorative Arts
    The three estates—Rising importance of the burgher class—Dwelling-house of a sixteenth-century cloth merchant—The hall—Armour—The bedchamber—Agricultural implements—The booth—"Ane hingand brod of oley cullouris"—Early interest in painting in Scotland—Pictures and painted cloths—The burgesses as art patrons and introducers of foreign products and ideas—The "keiking glass"—The alarm clock—Some items in the inventory of Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount—Wood-carving in Scotland—Domestic panelling—Linenfold and other patterns—Carved wood from Montrose—At Ethie Castle—From Threave Castle—Cardinal Beaton's panels at Balfour House—Embroidery in early times—Its development in the sixteenth century —Queen Mary's embroideries—"Story work"—Various examples—The Rehoboam set—The Earl of Morton's sot—Probable date and origin.

  • Lecture IV - The Decay of Feudalism and The Development of Family Life
    JAMES VI, 1578-1625
    New conceptions of domestic life—Historical origins of the change—Passing away of feudalism—Expansion of trade and increasing importance of the towns—Enrichment of the nobles by partition of Church property—An era of building—Domestic character of the new architecture—Feudal lords transformed into courtiers, with luxurious standards of living—Changes in domestic arrangements—The hall gives place to the dining-room —The "Dravand Buird"—Table manners at Court and in private life—Table ware, etc.—Display of plate—Cupboards with "gries"— The dresser—Dessert and the banquet—The parlour — Stuffed chairs — The taffel — Books: the Family Bible — Pictures — Music — Life of the leisured classes—Men's employments and recreations—How a lady of fashion spent her day—Dietetic dangers and some medical counsels—Children's toys—A boy's penknife—Duncan's new doublet

  • Lecture V - The King or the Covenant
    CHARLES I, 1625-1649
    The Covenanting Period—Ascetic views of life—A Covenanter's courtship, with an eighteenth-century contrast—Conditions unfavourable to the development of furniture—New Scottish industries—Furniture and fashions from London—A Scottish nobleman's house—"The laiche hall" —The dining-room and silver plate—The drawing-room—New ideas in furniture and ornaments —The lettermeitt house—Bedrooms—Development of beds in Scotland—The knop sek—The strek bed—The letacamp bed—Kaissit beds—The box-bed or buistie—The "laych-rynnand" or truckle bed—The laird's mistake—The fourposter—Royal beds—Devices on the Queen of Scots' bed—Mourning beds and mourning customs—Queen Mary's bed-curtains from Loch Leven—Heraldic decoration of beds—Changing fashions in colours and colour names.

  • Lecture VI - The Commonwealth and the Restoration
    The restoration of the Monarchy---Irreconcilable differences—Organised and harmonious national life impossible—Persecutions—The Acts of Indulgence----Inducements to accept the established regime—History of the times reflected in furniture—Severe and utilitarian character of Commonwealth furniture—Restoration chairs and day-beds—Chairs as evidences of changes in the treatment of floors—Easy chairs—Extravagance of the Court—Exotic materials--Cabinets—The chest of drawers—Tea, coffee and cocoa—Walnut tables—The virginalls—Barred grates—Forks not yet in use—Scottish diarists—Social life of the time—Billiards—Horse racing—The kirk stool—Going to church—Giving out the line—The hourglass—Periwigs, powder and Sedan chairs, as preluding the eighteenth century—Conclusion.

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