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The History of Old Dundee
Early History

The remote history of Dundee is involved in obscurity through which we have only occasional glimpses, and all that is known of it from authentic records may he told in few words. In the sixteenth century, when there was a contest as to whether Dundee or Perth should have precedence in Parliament, it was contended that the later ought to yield the place, "because it shall be proven by evidents that Dundee is more ancient, and by ancient record of chronicles whilk verify it to be hundreds of years before the days of King William, who is alleged to be the fundator of Perth ;" but no such evidents appear to have escaped destruction in the fire and pillage to which the town was subjected when Edward I. endeavoured to subjugate the national independence; and although we know that the burgh had an ancient origin, and has passed through remote antecedents, yet it is only from the time of this occupation that any of the circumstances of its annals can be traced with certainty, and it is not until much later that we can follow events in a historical narrative.

The Castle, which was an important stronghold, was then held by the English for several years, and withstood a siege of some duration by William Wallace, but was afterwards surrendered to Alexander Scrymgeour, the royal standard-bearer, who received from the Guardian of Scotland for his services a grant of the hereditary office of Constable of the Castle and of the Town, and a gift of certain adjoining lands, which established the Scrymgeours in an important relationship toward the burgesses. The charter conferring these rights bears the date of 1298, and is the only writ of William Wallace which remains extant. In 1309, an important national meeting of the clergy was held within the church of the Friars Minors in Dundee, at which a declaration was made in favour of the claim of Robert Bruce to the throne,' which much aided him in the struggle wherein he was then engaged. Shortly after this, the Castle was again in possession of the enemy; and having been supplied with provisions and reinforcements by sea, it continued to resist the attack of the Scots for more than two years, but was captured before the decisive victory of Bannockburn, which put an end to the pretensions of the English, and established Bruce in his kingdom.

The destruction of the ancient charters, left the privileges of the burgesses unsupported by authority either to define or to substantiate them, so King Robert, in 1325, instructed commissioners to enquire into what these had been in the time of Alexander III.; and a report having been made to the effect that they were similar to those possessed by the principal towns in Scotland, the King, in 1327, granted a new charter to the burgh. In this there is a confirmation of all the rights enjoyed by the burgesses in the time of King William and in the time of Alexander III., as they were certified to the commissioners "by trusty and faithful men;" besides a grant of unrestricted liberty of trading, and other valuable immunities.

In 1346, David II. invaded England, but was defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Neville's Cross, and kept in captivity for eleven years. When ambassadors were sent to negotiate for his redemption, the seal of the burgh was affixed to their colninission,s and at his liberation the town undertook to pay part of the ransom which was exacted. During the time of the King's absence, a Council was held in Dundee, at which a commercial treaty was ratified between the burghis and merchants of Scotland and the town of Middleburgh in Holland, and in 1,351 the first meeting of Parliament within the burgh, of which there is record, took place; but we have no particulars regarding its enactments. Shortly after the return of David, he granted' a new charter to the town, whereby the privileges of the burgesses were confirmed and considerably extended.

Before the Serynigeours had long held the office of Constable, the jurisdiction which they claimed to exercise over the burgh in virtue of it, especially during the eight (lays of the annual fair, caused much irritation, and was the occasion of quarrels. To settle these disputes, and define the nature of the interference with burghal rule which their grant authorised, in 1384 an indenture was made in presence of certain nobles and barons, between the Council " upon the ane pairt, and James Scrymgeour, hand-senze of our master the Kyng, upon the tither pairt," wherein he " for hym and his aris, piirelye and sirnplye quyet-clamet all action of wrang that he had or might haife before the making of the indenture, in the punisching of the [blame] tuiching burgesses and stallangeris in taking of places at the fair, and in tryall of eliwandis, wechtis, and balancis, and of all utlier wrangis tuiehing the libertye of the burgh, for fourty pundis usual moneye compleetly payit;" and by which he as Constable became bound that neither he "nor his aris sail any way intromeit with the fautes of the burgesses, except onlye what happen at the fair;" and agreed that if any offender be arrestit be him or his (leput, the Bailzeis sail sit upon the Castill hill with the Constabill or his deput, and the Baiizeis sail do the complaner rycht as order or reasoun requyres; and gif" the offender "be convict the merciament it sail be xx to the Bailzeis, na pairt of it remaining to the Constable." This contract was ratified by James H. in 1458, but it did not effectually settle the question of the Constable's assumption of authority, which continued to be a cause of contest in later times.

In 1402, the Duke of Rothesay, eldest son of Robert III., was foully murdered at Falkland—it was alleged with the connivance of his uncle, the Duke of Albany. He had been a wild profligate, but the poor King sorrowed for his son, and two years afterwards he endowed the altar of St. Salvator, in the parish church of Dundee, with one hundred shillings sterling yearly as a perpetual alms-gift, to be employed under the patronage of the Town Council, "for the weal of the soul of our whilorn first-born David."' By the death of the Prince, Albany was restored to the office of Governor of the Kingdom; and in that capacity lie was called on to adjudicate upon a claim preferred by the burgh of Perth against Dundee, wherein it was alleged "that na ship of adventure in the water of Thy aucht to break bulk until it comes to the Brig of Perth." But lie decided that the burgesses of Dundee have freedom, so that any ship that comes in Tay on a venture may "loiss" at their haven.

James, the brother of the Duke of Rothesay, was sent in 1405 to be bred at the Court of France; but the vessel in which he sailed was captured by an English armed ship, and he was taken, and kept a prisoner for nineteen years. At Windsor Castle he received a good education, and gained an acquaintance with the fathers of English letters, which developed his fine poetic genius, and enabled him to carry some of the civilising influences of learning into his own ruder kingdom. Henry VI. set him at liberty, upon the four towns of Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, and Aberdeen severally becoming bound to pay their parts of 50,000 merks English; and at Durham, on his journey home, James granted the burghs a bond of relief for the sums in which they were bound by writ.

When the Earl of Huntingdon founded the church at Dundee in honour of the Virgin, he placed it under the superiority of the Monastery of Lindores; giving that fraternity a right to the endowments, and binding it to maintain a vicar there. The original building was probably of inconsiderable extent; but, by the end of the fourteenth century—no doubt through the liberality of the burgesses—the more stately church, the massive western tower, and the various chapels and altars, had been completed, except in the northern transept, with all the magnificent accessories of a great ecclesiastical edifice. The responsibility of time Monastery for its maintenance, had not been held to extend over the additional parts of the structure, but was limited to the choir and the great altar of St. Mary. nub monks, however, began to neglect their duty in regard to the reparation, which caused the Council to make complaints to time Bishop of Brechin, and became the "subject of litigation," and led to "very great discord, contention, and altercation," which "continued for many years without any agreement." At length, in 1442, a contract was made between the Council and Abbot John, whereby the former agreed to take on the sole burden of keeping and repairing the choir of the church in its walls, windows, pillars, window-glass, wood work, and roof," and also "the vestments, books, chalices, pails, and cloths of the great altar, and other ornaments of the choir," and the Abbot and Monastery in return became bound to pay the sum of five merks annual rent out of certain tenements.' After the Council had thus obtained time charge of all the church property, Henry of Fothringame, the Provost, caused an inventory to be made of the vessels and vestments belonging to the principal altars. This is still preserved, and it is a most interesting memorial of the old church. The various articles are specified with some minuteness, and details are given regarding valuable donations of vestments of silk and altar- coverings of cloth of gold, of missals, and of silver crosses and chalices, which show that provision was made for conducting the service with great ornament and splendour. There is also a very curious enumeration of the diverse properties which were then used in the Corpus Christi processions. Besides these inventories, the book contains a few particulars concerning the reparation and building of the church. In 1461, contributions began to be made for the cost of "theiking" the choir with lead. Some of these were given in kind. One man gifted eight stanes weight, and another presented a brewer's vessel of that material, while others gave sums of money, and in return the donors obtained the right to burial places for themselves and their wives within the church. After the choir had been covered with load, the payments made for lairs were appropriated toward "the red," or putting into order, of the roof of the new aisle, by which name time north transept had probably been designated. This work appears to have been executed before the end of the century; and we may conclude that the whole structure of the edifice having thereby been completed, St. Mary's Church then attained to its greatest grandeur.

During the fifteenth century the maritime commerce of the town had acquired considerable importance, and endeavours were made to render the harbour more safe and commodious. commodious. In 1447, James II., in consideration of the danger which ships incurred at entering and leaving the port by reason of its defective condition, granted to the Council the right of levying specific dues from all ships and goods arriving within the haven, and applying the same to its enlargement and reparation.' lie also gave the burgesses exemption from the payment of certain customs, and conferred upon them a right to exact multures of all the grain exported, the same as if it had been in the town's inills.2 Some contentions regarding rival privileges having arisen between Dundee and Montrose, Parliament, in 1458, enacted that both burghs should have the liberty of buying and selling, but that Dundee should have authority to indict and punish forestallers within the Sherifidom of Forfar, in the presence of the King's Chamberlain.

James IV., in 1511, ratified all the town's ancient charters, and lie also granted to the Council and community a very comprehensive discharge of all transgressions committed by them, or of crimes that may be imputed to them, in the use of any improper weights or measures and likewise discharged "all actions that may be input to any officers of the burgh, present or bygane, anent the execution of their offices, or negligence or sleuth thierein." This indemnity was probably given to condone the use of illegal weights, in some commercial transaction which had been called in question.

For several years before the time that the Council Register begins to open up the inner history of Dundee, there are other sources of information which enable us to realize some of the incidents of burghal life. In 1544, the town was attacked by the plague with a fatal severity which "almost Passed credibility;" and while it was in its darkest hour, and the people were in their sorest trouble, John Knox tells us how that good and valiant man, George Wishart, made them the memorable visit during which he ministered hope and comfort to the afflicted, and by his earnest sympathy and noble se1fsaeriflce gained for himself a lasting place in grateful hearts. The following summer there was a call for the muster of an army, to which Dundee, being so ravaged by the pestilence, was unable to respond ; and in February 1545-6, the magistrates were summoned by Regent Arran to answer before Parliament on behalf of the burgesses, "for their treasonable remaining fra the host and army made toward the borders in July last, and for other crimes." They accordingly compeared, and having "put them in my Lord Governor's will, and submitted them to the Lords of Parliament," they were discharged from any penalty. Although the Abbot of Jedburgh, who appears to have had a vested right to tithes from such fines, "protestit for his teind penny of the composition for the escheat."' Three years later, the pest was again "very vehement in divers parts of the realm, and speciallie in the towns of Dundee, Aberdeen, and other parts of the north, and continowit all the next year."

In 1547, during the infancy of Queen Mary, Protector Somerset carried a powerful English army into Scotland for the purpose of dealing the country an effectual blow. The forces which the Scots raised to repel it, suffered a signal defeat at Pinkie Clench on September 10th, and the English remained masters of the south. In the meantime," says a contemporary historian, "the English fleet be sea past to the castle of Broughty Craig in the mouth of the Frith of Tay, beside the town of Dundee, quhair, after certain of their shot discharged against the castle for a colour, the same was be treason of the keepers renderit unto the English men." This traitorous surrender was made by Lord Gray, who had been privy to the designs of the enemy. The castle was then a place of great strength, and the commanding position which it held, made its possession an object of much importance.

In October, "my Lord Governor and Lords of Secret Council, understanding perfectly that our auld enemies of England, being in the house of Broughty, are apparently to invade the burgh of Dundee and haul country, and to herry, slay, and destroy the lieges dwelling within the bounds thereof, without they be resistit;" therefor ordained "that there sail be raisit three hundred men of weir, of the quhilk ane hundred hagbutrnon and ane hundred spearmen to be furnished—the ane half be the greit prelates, and the uther half be the inhabitants of Dundee, and ane hundred horsemen be the barons and landit men "a force which was, however, insufficient for the reduction of the enemy's stronghold. The castle was subsequently besieged by a considerable army, first under Regent Arran, and then under the Earl of Argyle. But the latter, in the beginning of 1;548, made a truce with the English, which gave them an opportunity for receiving considerable reinforcements by sea, and he then retired—conduct which becomes explicable when we learn that he received a bribe of one thousand crowns of the enemy's money through Lord Gray, who, in reporting on the matter to Protector Somerset, wrote that "Argyle's mind is wonderfully given to further the King's godly purpose." James Haliburton, tutor of Pitcur, had command of the horse, and in reward of his honourable and honest service he afterwards received, as we shall see, "ane ploy against Lord Gray," which, however, turned out to be "na less skaithfui to him nor his former pains, and yet naething to his commoditie."

An account of the operations of the siege, is written by a French gentleman who served with the foreign auxiliaries that latterly took part in thom.3 He says that the English, after being strengthened, "seized upon a little hill distant from Broughty nine hundred paces, and here they built a very fine fortress, and spared no cost to render it admirable, and to furnish it with men and ammunition of all sorts." From this position, "they sent betwixt sixteen and seventeen hundred lances, both foot and horse, to Dundee, which they entered without opposition: For although this last is one of the most beautiful, rich, and populous towns in the kingdom, and though 'twere easy to render it impregnable, yet, as the Scots have ever been careless to fortify their country, those in Dundee had no other defence than the walls of their private houses." News of this occupation having reached Edinburgh, three companies of the French and German forces were sent north for the purpose of surprising the English, "who," says the narrator, "upon advice that we were about to visit them, demolished the fortifications they had commenced and diligently carried on during the space of eight days at Dundee, rifled the houses, set the town on fire, and so retired to their two forts of Broughty." And when the allies "entered the town they had the mortification to find nobody in it but some poor women and a few men, who were labouring hard to extinguish those flames which the English had kindled." Lesly says that there came "great support to the Englishmen, both of men of war, pioneers, and all kinds of munition, and instruments to build a fort upon a hill not far distant fra the castle—as they (lid shortly thereafter, quhair they placed a great company of their soldiers. And in the latter end of the year they purposed to fortifie Dundee, a proper town not past two miles from Broughty." Upon "coming there, they enterit and began to make building for the fortefeing of it." But when they heard of the allies' approach, "they avoidit the town, having first spulyeit that of all sic riches as they found within it, and that done, set tire in the houses, and brint the most pairt of the town."'

The aid which reached the English by sea enabled them to hold possession of Broughty for more than two years; but in February 1550, Do Thermos, the French commander, and the Regent went against it with a strong force, "and cuttit away all moyens betwix the fort and the castle ; and efter the fort was dung down with great ordinance, the assault was given therto baith with the Scots and Frenchmen; quhair the English made resistance and defence at the first entering, but they war so courageously and stoutly assailyeit that the most part of them all were slain and the rest taken prisoners. Next day the Englishmen quha keepit the castle, fearing the like to come to them, ronderit it, having only their lives safe." It was afterwards thought expedient that the fort and some others should "be cassin down, because they serve of na thing in time of peace, and are nocht necessar in time of weir;" but "the fort of Inchkeith and the castle of Broughty, because they are [at] the entries of twa of our Soverane's maist special rivers," were ordered to be preserved and garrisoned.

The deplorable condition in which the town was left, secured the burgesses exemption from the next muster. In April 1330, the Regent understanding that "the burgh of Dundee is alluterlie brint and destroyed be our auld enemies of England being in the fort and Craig of Broughty, and son the wynning thereof, the inhabitants are repairing the [town] and making some policy for the sustentation of the lieges, and throw the great herschipps and downeasts they have gotten, as yet may nocht susteno the pyne and costs of the weirs," therefore granted thorn licence "to byde at hame fra the host" which was then called on.

Dundee did not for long recover from the effects of this spoiling and havoc. Eight years afterwanis, the Council continued to lament over "the grite decay of the burgh and the destruction of the policie thereof be their auld enemies of England in the time of war bygane;" and in 1582, when the burgesses petitioned James VI. for remission of taxation, they claimed it chiefly because of "the wrack and herschip they had suffered when "their burgh, the kirk, tolbuith, steeple, aimous house, and tither common houses thereof were brint and cassin down be England." Some of the injury inflicted by the fire was indeed irreparable. The goodly church was spoiled, and thenceforth much of the structure lay in shapeless ruin, the beautiful arches which till then had crowned the noble tower were altogether destroyed, and in the wreck of the tolbooth, many of the ancient writs and almost all the burgh records were irretrievably lost.

After the enemy had been cleared away, there followed a season during which Bishop Lesly says, "the whole realm of Scotland being in quietness, every man addrest himself to policie, and to big, plant, and phenish" those places " which through the troubles of the wars had been wasted, brint, spulyeit, or destroyit."

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