Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Papers Relating to the Scots in Poland (1576 - 1798)
General Introduction by A. Francis Steuart - Part I

In the English Parliament of 1606, when a union between England and the inhabitants of Scotland was proposed the proposal met with indignant opposition. ‘The party opposing said, "If we admit them into our liberties, we shall be overrun with them, as cattle (naturally) pent up by a slight hedg will over it into a bettet soyl, and a tree taken from a barren place will thrive to excessive and exuberant branches in a better, witness the multiplicities of the Scots in Polonia."’ [Arthur Wilson, p. 34. ‘The History of Great Britain, being the Life and Reign of King James the First, relating to what passed from his first access to the Crown till his death.’ London, 1653.]

These ‘multiplicities’ were certainly considerable, and were it not otherwise proved, indeed almost incredible. The indefatigable Clydesdale traveller, William Lithgow, who visited Poland in 1616, gives a short account of them. He comments thus on his experience in Poland in that year: —

‘Being arrived in Crocko or Crocavia, the capitall city of Polland (though but of small importance), I met with diverse Scotish Merchants, who were wonderfull glade of mine arrival there, especiaIly the two brothers Dicksones, men of singular note of honesty and Wealth. It was my lucke here, to bee acquainted with Count du Torne (Graf von Thorn) the first Nobleman of Boheme, who had newly broake out of Prison in Prage and fled hither from Bohemia for safety. Mathias then being Emperour, against whom hee had highly offended in boasting him in his Bed Chamber with hard and intollerable speeches.

‘This Fugitive Earle stayed me with him ten dayes. . . At last his trayne and treasure comming with many other Bohemian Barons and Gentlemen his friends, I humbly left him, and touching at Lubilinia where the Judges of Polland sit for halfe the yeare, I arrived at Warsaw, the resident place for the King Sigismond, who had newly married the other sister of his former wife, being both Sisters to this Ferdinando now Emperour. . . .‘

He continues after an interval: ‘Polland is a large and mighty Kingdome, puissant in Horsemen and populous of strangers being charged with a proud Nobility, a familiar and manly Gentry, and a ruvidous Vulgarity.’ Between Cracow, Warsaw, and Lublin, he met many compatriots. ‘Here I found abundance of gallant, rich Merchants, my Countrey-men, who were all very kind to me, and so were they by the way in every place where I came, the conclusion being ever sealed ‘with deepe draughts, and God be with you.’ [The Totall Discoveries of the Rare Adventures and Painefull Perigrinations, by Wm. Lithgow, pp. 367-368. Glasgow, 1906.]

He continues to praise the Land of Poland—which suited the Scottish adventurer—in an oft-quoted passage: ‘And for áuspicuousness, I may rather tearme it to be a Mother and Nurse, for the youth and younglings of Scotland, who are yearely sent hither in great numbers, than a proper Dame for her owne birth; in cloathing, feeding, and inriching them with the fatnesse of her best things; besides thirty thousand Scots families, that live incorporate in her bowells. And certainely Polland may be tearmed in this kind to be the mother of our Commons, and the first commencement of all our best Merchants’ wealth, or at least most part of them.’

This handsome tribute to the Poles as the source of wealth is at least more complimentary than the constant comparison later, almost the only allusion to the Poles one finds in British sources, being that Parliament, when a Parliamentary debate became unseemly, was becoming a mere ‘Polish diet’; [e.g. News Letters of 1715-16, edited by A. Francis Steuart, p. 21.] and this one could only have come from a Scot who knew the conditions of his own country and his countryman’s adopted country.

But that we can know these conditions, we had, until the present volume could be issued, to rely to a great extent upon the works of a German savant who was by good fortune known to the writer of these pages, Dr. Th. A. Fischer. He, luckily for those interested in foreign parts where the Scot penetrated, in past ages, wrote two monographs, The Scots in Germany, [Edinburgh, 1902.] and The Scots in Eastern and Western Prussia, [Edinburgh, 1903.] both of which shed much light on Scottish travellers of the trading class in Poland. The present writer feels less scruple in referring the curious reader to them for details, and also for quoting very largely from them, for three reasons. First, they are not as well known as, from their learning and information, they ought to be; secondly, he was ‘at the biggin’ of both; and thirdly, that the books are difficult to understand, as they are chronologically rather confused, written in German-English, and have meagre indices, so that although all essential information is there waiting a discoverer, possibly their usefulness will be increased, through the assistance of this present volume, for a future historian of the Scots in Poland.

Somehow, from poverty or love of adventure, one reason or another, the Scottish nation were forced to go abroad as traders from an early period. That they did so in such quantities seems to the writer to show that in early ages the population was by no means so sparse as is now generally supposed. At any rate, as far back as the mid of the fifteenth century, the Scots were firmly established in wealth and prosperity in the Hanse city of Dantzig, and thence were very numerous in Poland, an alien country, with scarcely any settled rule as we understand it, and very far distant from their own. At that time many things favoured them. The Government of Poland—such as it was—was wholly military. There were but two classes: the nobles, who had all the power; and the peasants, who had none. All commerce was left, failing the Scots, Dutch, or German, or whatever foreigner chose to meddle in it, to the despised Jews, who had colonised Poland in the thirteenth century, if not much earlier, [Cf. Miss Beatrice Baskerville, The Jew in Poland.] and were by this time settled there in vast numbers and whose descendants were to be (as it has proved) the sole traders as soon as the foreign merchants were ousted. The Scots, seeking to benefit an unexploited country, and, incidentally, as usual, themselves, simply swarmed on East Prussia and Poland via the city of Dantzig. [The Hanse town of Dantzig, the chief home of the Scots in Northern Europe, although it became Polish in 1454, and although it was represented in the Polish Diet and helped to elect the Polish kings, remained a free city. No notice of its history is therefore contained in this sketch. Dr. Fischer supplies this want, however, and moreover gives a list of those Scots who became burgesses, and mentions innumerable Scots who were connected with the town in his Scots in East and West Prussia. The list of burgesses begins in 1531 and ends in 1710.] They came mainly from the class of small laird or town trader as hucksters, and were called Krämers, Krahmers, Cramers, and revenditores in the different deeds relating to their merchandise. ‘A Scot’s pedlar’s pack in Poland,’ which, we are told, became a proverbial expression, usually consisted of cloths [General Patrick Gordon mentions meeting at an inn near Elving ‘a fellow standing befor a pack, measuring off lawn; and having heard in Braunsberg that there were diverse Scottishmen who used this kind of trade in Prussia, I began to suspect this was a countreyman.’ Diary of Patrick Gordon (Spalding Club), p. 10.] and some kind of woollen goods called ‘Scottish,’ and linen kerchiefs (often, it is said, decorated with pictures of the Turkish wars). They sold tin-ware, ironware, such as scissors and knives. In addition to this they kept booths and small shops in the towns (institae Scotorum), attached themselves to the powerful Polish princes, to whom they lent money and acted as bankers; and, finally, eight of their chief merchants were made Mercatores aulici or curiales, purveyors to the Court, a life appointment of great importance. From 1576, as we will see from his Royal Grants, until 1585, we find King Stephen (Bathory) protecting ‘the Scots who always follow our Court,’ on the ground that they alone of all the merchants would follow it into Lithuania. ‘Our Court cannot be without them, that supply us with all that is necessary,’ and it is stated that they had supplied the king well during former times of war. He, therefore, commanded (dating from Niplomice on 7th May) [Fischer, The Scots in Germany. In this book the first faculty to John Gibson to ‘follow the Court’ is dated Warsaw, 1576.]that a certain district in Cracow might be assigned to them. That they were established there earlier is certain, for it is interesting to find that in 1569 Sir George Skene in his tract ‘De Verborum Significatione,’ under the word "Pedlar,’ mentions that he had met a vast multitude of his countrymen in that condition at Cracow; many suffered great privations and dangers, and they were not by any means all prosperous. Fynes Moryson writing in 1598 recognised this. He wrote that the Scots ‘flocke in greate numbers into Poland, abounding in all things for foode, and yielding many commodities. And in these (Northern) kingdomes they lived at this time in great multitudes, rather for the poverty of their owne kingdome, then for any great trafficke they exercised there, dealing rather for small fardels, then for great quantities of rich wares.’ The Merchant Guilds were very hostile to the huckster Scots, and to the Scots who did not gain admission to them, and they were by no means favoured by the Polish laws. In 1564 they were taxed along with the Jews and Gipsies. In 1566 a universal decree was promulgated forbidding Scottish pedlars to roam about the country, and King Stephen in 1567 issued orders that the unpropertied Scots must be forced to remove from his domains in Posen. Yet they could not become burgesses of the towns without much difficulty and submitting to many conditions. Poor Scots as well as more wealthy cramers continued to swarm into East Prussia and Poland, and often died of hunger: hucksters were forbidden to settle in Bromberg in 1568; and we have evidence that they were still legislated against, sometimes coupled with the hated Jews, which galled them greatly, and even occasionally with Gipsies and beggars. [These laws are given in Fischer’s The Scots in Germany.] Sigismund III., at the request of the town of Keyna, issued a mandate against ‘Jews, Scots, and other vagabonds,’ and later we shall see how the Scots objected to have to pay a capitation tax along with the Jews. The hostile measure of the trading communities forced the Scots also into a union or Brudershaft regulating their traffic. We are told this was recommended by King James VI.—no bad man of affairs—and agreed to by their German, Prussian, and Polish suzerains. In 1603 the Polish Government, says Dr. Fischer, commissioned Abraham Young (Jung), a captain in the King of Scots’ army, to inquire into the governing laws of his compatriots in Poland. [The Scots in Germany.] The evidence of a witness, Richard Tamson, a merchant in Posen [See also Scots in Germany.] shows that the Scottish Brotherhood in Poland had twelve branches with their own elders and judges. The latter could not, only fine, but could prosecute, proscribe, and, with the consent of the elders, banish. Their meetings took place every fair day, and there was a general Court of Appeal on the Feast of the Epiphany at Thorn. This was the ultimate resort, there was no appeal to the king at home. The ‘decreta’ were kept in a special book, and the elders had special duties to protect the guild and its privileges. They had to receive every new Scotsman into the Brotherhood, and the clergy who collected a tax for the upkeep of the Presbyterian churches were ex officio elders. Some of the Guild books show hostility to the Catholics. William Forbes, Gilbert Orem, William Henderson, and John Forbes, all merchants in Cracow, and rich, were for many years judges. The highest judge they acknowledged was the Royal Marshal according to a privilege granted them by King Stephen Bathory. They disputed even Captain Young’s right to meddle in their affairs until King Sigismund III., 20th March 1604, made him chief merchant of all the Scots in Poland, and they were forced to enter their names in his register ‘in order that they might be found easier if required for the defence of the country.’ From this blow, Dr. Fischer adds, ‘the Scottish autonomy never recovered.’

And yet it was at this time they were very powerful. The connection between Scotland and Poland was, considering the distance and interval of nations, wonderfully intimate. [I have not called special attention to the Polish story that the daughter born to Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots died in a convent in Warsaw.] Mr. Robert Abercromby, the intriguing priest, when he thought it wise to leave Scotland for a time, went to Poland in 1607. [Register of the Scottish Privy Council, vol, xiv. Addenda, p. 487.] Another evidence of the intimate knowledge of what happened in Poland is shown by the incident of the unfortunate John Stercovius. [See Register of the Scottish Privy Council, vol. ix. pp. 540-543, and vol. x. pp. 100 n, 164, 191-193, 251.] This German inhabitant of Poland had (apparently a rare experience) visited Scotland, where his Polish costume had made him laughed at in the streets. On his return to Poland he published a tract on his journey very detrimental to the Scottish people. This came into the hands of King James VI., who felt it necessary that he must show great irritation at this ‘libel’ on the nation from which he sprung. Therefore, through his ‘famulus’ Patrick Gordon, the Scottish ‘factor’ [In a note to the king’s letters, in Letters and State Papers of the Reign of James VI. (Abbotsford Club), pp. 211-212, he is called ‘Author of The Bruce.] at Dantzig, and one David Gray, born in Prussia, he prosecuted the unhappy writer of this famosus libellue; and brought so much weight. to bear upon the Polish government that the wretched Stercovius was apprehended, convicted, sentenced, and beheaded ‘by the sword,’ at Rastenburg in 1611. Nor was this all. The King was still unsatisfied. The ‘Chronicle of Rastenburg’ has an entry, 15th February 1612, that an order was issued at the request of the King of Great Britain that all extant copies of the libel were to be sent, well wrapped up and sealed, to the magistrates by the owners, under a penalty in the case of disobedience. [The Scots in Germany.]

But the king, though anxious to vindicate the honour of his people, was by no means anxious to pay the expenses of the prosecution in Poland set afoot by Gordon. He proposed instead to obtain it by taxing the Scottish burghs. The magistrates were unwilling, and the Lords of the Secret Council, to whom he wished to refer his refractory subjects, refused to proceed on the ground that they had no jurisdiction. The king then wrote a letter to John Spermannus and all the other magistrates and officials of Dantzig, proposing to raise the money by a tax on all his subjects resident there, in Poland, and in Prussia. [Letters and State Papers of the Reign of James VI., No. CXVII, Note 2.]

After Mr. Patrick Gordon’s success in the matter of the unfortunate Stercovius, it is interesting to find that he too had evil days. He returned to Scotland, and there, on 3rd July 1617, was called upon to answer before the Privy Council in Edinburgh a complaint lodged against him by Gilbert Wilson, Merchant, in Peterco, for gross neglect of his duties in his Polish agency. The complaint begins by showing that the Polish Parliament at Warsaw had passed an edict which imposed on every Scot residing in Poland a capitation tax of two gulden yearly. This tax caused great dissatisfaction among the Scots in Poland, as it was also ‘layd upon the Jewis,’ and on no other Christian strangers in the kingdom. Tie Scots agitated so much by their nominees, the complainer, John Wynrahame and James Broun, that they obtained from their delegates (after they had met at Lanschoittis) to the Polish Court, the complainer and Alexander Narne, a suspension of the Edict. The complainer then went to England, and begged the king for a letter of remonstrance to the King of Poland, and in doing so told the king that Gordon had done nothing in the matter. Royal remonstrances were sent. The edict was modified by being made a ‘personal’ tax, and not a capitation tax like that which the Jews endured; but we are told that this was by private agitation, and ‘nawyse be the procurement of the said Mr. Patrick.’ Other complaints in regard to the property of one Thomas Forbes, a Scottish merchant in Poland, whose estate on his reported death became escheated to the Polish Crown, were made also; and it appeared that Gordon had not come clean handed out of this matter either, and during the dispute ‘avowit and protestit to caus cut the luggis out’ from Gilbert Wilson’s head. The case can be read in full, [Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. xi. Pp. cxli-v, 174-178, 357-362. Some letters of King James I. And VI. to Patrick Gordon exist among the Denmyin MSS. In the Advocates’ Library.] and ended in the triumph—with seven hundred merks to the good—of Wilson over Patrick Gordon. [A letter of Patrick Gordon to King James VI. Will be found later in this volume.]

The position of the mercantile Scot abroad, and indeed of the Scot in Poland especially, was not improved after the death of James VI. by the Parliamentary wars. When Parliament had overcome the king they were worse off owing to the uncertainty in which the Scots stood in regard to the Commonwealth, and the opposing claim of Charles II. The latter thought—during his wandering—that his subjects in Poland ought, having been duly and officially told of his Royal father’s execution, to contribute to his maintenance. Desirable although the object may have been for himself, his subjects at Dantzig and in Poland proper did not like it much, and eventually it raised so much difficulty that King John Casimir of Poland threatened in 1651 to expel all the Scots on account of their ‘forged Royal letters,’ which were in reality but too real. We have to note that when the forced subsidy was collected for the king there were only nine trading Scots families left in Posen. These were Edward Hebron (Hepburn), James Heyt, William Huyson (Hewison), James Farquhar, James Lindsay, Daniel Mackalroy, Jacob and Andrew Watson and Albert Schmart (Smart). These were all ‘new names’ since 1605, and, as Dr. Fischer points out, prove the fluctuating nature of the Scottish settlements. [ The Scots in Germany. Eleven are noted but only nine are named.] Eventually some 10,000 pounds was raised, and, as was supposed, transmitted to His Majesty, but of the sum collected in Poland and Prussia one is afraid only 800 or 600 pounds reached him. [Clarendon, History of the Rebellion, vol. v. p. 255.]

It is very interesting for us to see how during this period the Scots traders had remained established in their Polish El Dorado. The usual estimate in the first half of the seventeenth century of the number of Scots who were in Poland was the same as that Lithgow the traveller had made, as we saw, in 1616. The Englishman Chamberlain wrote in 1621 to his friend Carlton: ‘The Polish Ambassador had no audience of the King. . . there are about 30,000 Scots in Poland,’ [Cal. State Papers, Dom., p. 33.] and this is corroborated by the statement of Sir James Cochrane, the English Ambassador to Poland, that there were in 1652 many thousand of Scots in the country besides women, children, and servants. [Thurloe, State Papers.]

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus