“(NOTES FROM THE FOUNTAINHALL FOLIO.)
LORD FOUNTAINHALL, writing apparently between 1670 and 1680, took extensive notes of the progress of the movement for the erection of the Edinburgh Merchants into a Chartered Incorporation. The volume containing, amidst a great deal of other matter, his observations on that subject, with copies of many relative documents, escaped the attention of the editors of his works. It remained anonymous, and practically unused and unknown amongst the manuscript possessions of Stirling’s Library,1 Glasgow, until a few years ago, when a series of internal and decisive evidences led to the definitive establishment of its authorship.2 The existence of so valuable a contemporary memoir being undisclosed, it is not surprising that in an official account3 of the Merchant Company there is no allusion to the events and discussions dealt with in the succinct but vivid narrative, given in the Fountainhall Folio, of the long and angry contention which arose in 1661 between the merchants and the trades of Edinburgh out of the proposal by the former to constitute themselves into an incorporated society. The scheme as soon as propounded evoked the bitter hostility of the Crafts, causing a recrudescence of the old jealousies which the “Sett or Decreitt Arbitrall” of James VI. as “Odsman and Oversman” in 1583 had vainly essayed to compose forever. Lord Fountainhall, however, may be left to tell the story as far as possible himself:–4
“Ane accompt of the debate betwixt the merchand and
trades of Edenborough and of the acts and other
papers that passed theirupon in 1661 and their-
“In anno 1661 (the Parliament being restored to its ancient luster and then sitting) their happened great animosities between the Merchands and Crafts of Edenburgh; for their being a Committee for trade established consisting of members of Parliament, the merchands, judging this ane oppurtunitie not to be neglected for reviving their much decayed trade and the remeiding the manie insolent incroachments of the trades upon their priviledges and rights gave in the following Overtures (which yet are verie tender in relation to the saids trades) to the said Comissioners:-
“1. That for Improving of Fisching and manufactories both at home and abroad and for restraining of unfrie traders and for releiffe of the poor the merchants of Edenbrugh may be incorporat in one Society and company and may have frie meetings amongs themselfes at their oune hall for contriving and promoving the saids particulars; which Society shall consist of as many gild brether (whither merchands or others) as shall be pleased to enter and being entred shall subiect themselfes to the laws and ordors of the Companie; alwayes providing that such gild brether as be craftsmen at their entrie quit their trades and become adventorers.
“2. That all the commodities of this kingdome as can be made use of by the crafts be ather reallie or wirtuallie restrained from being caried abroad by a great Imposition.
“3. That all commodities now brought from abroad that can be made at home by our oune craftsmen; providing alwayes they make them as sufficient for the service of the liedges as they can be brought home and at as easie rates.
“Thir overtures would seime wery just and verie modest; yet such was the fatalitie of that tyme and the hotspurrednesse of James Borthwick the crafts deacon conveiner and John Milne ther old Deacon that it was firmly believed by the wholle crafts that this was nothing but a designe to overturne their priviledges and seals of cause and it was clamored to be a breach of the Sett. The toune Counsell conceaving it was incumbent for them to extinguish in tyme thir Sparks of division before they should break out in a flame and to compose the differences of their oune toune rather than to give the Parliament or its subcommittie the trouble or honor of it (call it whither of them you please) they by ane act of the Toune Counsell bearing date the 18 of January 1661 nominats John Jossie Baillie Edward Edgar dean of Gild James Borthwick chirurgian and William Carmichall glover (the provest Sir Rot Murray and Sir Wm Thomsone Clerk being alwayes Supernumerarie) with some others to meit with the merchands and hear their proposalls as to the matter of trade and to endevor a agriement and report.
“This was so far fra taking anie desirable effect that it made the differences wider, so that theirs a new act of Counsell made dated 7 febr: 1661 narrating the former and when it had tane no successe and that the Comissioners of Parliament for commerce ware pressing the matter to be heard before them theirfor recommends yet to persones to be nominat by each syde to studie to compose differences amongs themselfes without hearing and in case they could not then that the magistrats should do the same.
“Notwithstanding of all this paines their appearing no hopes of a reconcilment their was a petition given in by the merchands on the 13 of Febr: 1661 narrating all the former storie with the overtours and intreating the counsell to interpose for setling their debates conforme to the tenor of the last act: which being red on the 14 of Feb: in counsell James Borthwick showed their were some neibhours at the door that had some thing to say; which being called in compeired a promiscuous crue of merchands and crafts, amongs whom Jo: Milne presented a bill desiring to have up the merchands bill to sie and answer: who being all removed the Counsell fell in agitation if the crafts should have up the merchands bill to see or no, or if they should presently fall on the consideration of the merchands bill and their overtures and give ane answer theirto or if they sould refer it to a committee of their oune number (as before) or if whether they should not medle in it seeing its already tabled before the Parliament: upon all such quæries when the Counsell was ready to voice James Borthwick not being able to disuade them from it he rose up with the rest of the crafts in counsell and protested in name of the haill trades that their might be no voicing in that businesse being a thing that so nearlie concerned the liberties of the trades and theiron asked instruments: Immediately also Baillie Jossie protested in name of the Counsell that the major part of the Counsell might proceid in that busines as verie competent to them to voit in and give their answer: Then James Borthwick with the remanent Deacons and Counsellers of crafts removed out of doors and the Counsell being the major part went to voycing and fand it fit to leive it to the Parliament. Upon all which the premises their was ane act of Counsell made dated the 14 of Februar 1661.
“Nixt day being the 15, Counsell being met, it was moved by the Provest what could be the reason of the crafts their retiring out of counsell the day before and if they had a negative voice in Counsell yea or no, or if the remanent major part of the Counsell might not voyce in their absence which questions be such as could not be decided by the Counsell themselfes if theirfor they thought it not meit that a bill should be drawen in name of the Counsell to the Parliament that the Counsell may be clear as to thesse questions in all tymes coming: Then it was voyced whither to give in the bill that afternoon or to leave it till Monday (this 15 being friday) yet at the desire of the crafts and on hopes of aggriement it was delayed till Monday being the 18.”
But we must now condense. When Monday the 18th came parties were as far as ever from agreeing. A Supplication was lodged by the minority against the merchants’ bill as “dipping on the liberties of their crafts.” They were only 8, the merchants were 17; it was unfair to vote in such a matter of “fundamentall rights” especially when sub judice in Parliament. Therefore following the lead of James Borthwick who was deacon of the “chirurgians,” the crafts protested “in a most tumultuarie and disorderly way.” Bailie John Boyd, on the other hand, “protested against all their protestations” for the liberty of the Council, the majority of which ultimately referred the controversy for the decision of Parliament. Accordingly the case was stated to the Legislature by the Council, and 30 closely written pages of the Folio are filled with copies of Supplications, Answers, Observations and Reasons, all more or less vehement, acrimonious pleadings.
In their initial Supplication to Parliament the Council incidentally complain that although such meetings of craftsmen have been declared hurtful to the country as savouring of sedition yet the Crafts habitually convocate at the Magdalen Chapel5 and hold seditious conventicles contrary to law. In answer to this the Crafts deny the illegality. Their meetings, which have the sanction of reason, necessity, and continual custom are not illegal, because not tumultuous. No disorder or mutiny has ever arisen from them “unles ther ryseing upon the 17 day of authoritie can be construed to be ane mutinie though recordit in historie as ane signall testimonie of the loyaltie of the crafts of Edinburgh.”6
On the main proposition – the proposal to establish a Company of the Merchants of Edinburgh – the argument to be gleaned from the voluminous documents is full, vigorous, and instructive. Curiously enough our author, whilst apparently in sympathy with the case for the Merchants, yet (reversing the stout old reporter’s rule never to give the Whig dogs the best of the argument) quotes only the pleadings for the other side. Luckily they recapitulate the statements which they answer, and thus give a good idea of the course of the debate. From the moment of the presentation of the initial Supplication to Parliament Lord Fountainhall’s comments on the controversy cease, except for a single marginal note. He contents himself with copying the pleadings for the Crafts. These have no dates.
The first contention of the Merchants or Town Council for the establishment of the Company is that the want of Societies occasions low prices of commodities abroad, for merchants without foreign correspondence, fearing to be undersold, lower their prices. Witness, say they, “the Salmond trade, now decayed, though once the goldin myne in the Kingdome.” The Crafts reply: – Persons who wish may form voluntary Societies, but a Society on the lines proposed, destructive of other people’s liberties, is against all reason, and without a parallel. The governors of such a Company would be masters of the town. Besides, the flourishing and decay of trade depend not on Companies, and the merchants’ own instance shews that, when there was no Company, the Salmond trade “wes one of the goldin mynes of the nation.”
The second argument and the reply to it are remarkable as a forestalling in the seventeenth century of one of the aims of a certain Imperial Institute in the nineteenth, and they remind one of certain criticisms current during its inception also. “The great misterie of trade” (say these merchants of the Scottish capital when Charles II. was King) “consistes in correspondence abroad and information how pryces reules, which cannot be maintained bot at a grater expenss then any privat stock can furnish.” The reply is decidedly pithy: – “The said reasone does not evince the necessitie of Societies to be erected be authority, and the Gentlemen if they think fitt upon that and ther own pretences May Joyne in voluntar companies and societies… to that or any other end.”… “The trade of this Kingdome being not to remote countryes bot to france and spaine and others within Europe. It is notour that the information as [to] the price and rates of Comodities may and is daylie given be factors und correspondents without great expenss.”
Another contention of the Company was the desirability of some such body of judicious merchants to promote useful public measures. To this the neat rejoinder is made that the convention of royal burghs was instituted for that very purpose.
Lastly, the merchants argue that the Company will maintain the honour of the nation, and serve as an excellent seminary for the breeding of youth. This (sarcastically retort the Crafts) is an averment so general that it neither needs nor admits of answer, and they allege that, on the contrary, the Company would prove the destruction of trade and a seminary of monopolies.
It appears from a note on the margin of the Folio7 that Parliament conceded the claim of the Council to decide by the vote of a majority. This, says Lord Fountainhall in that note, “in my opinion was a very considerable stroak to the Trades.” How matters progressed further before Parliament or its Committee he does not say, but we know that ultimately the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, though with a constitution differing from that originally proposed, was incorporated by Royal Charter8 in 1681, and the records of Parliament shew that when the Charter was confirmed in 1693 the Trades9 were still protesting.
N. A. J.”
1 It is catalogued as “No. M20628. Manuscripts: Historical Papers relating to Scottish affairs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”
2 See article in the Scotsman, 3rd November, 1888.*
3 Historical Notes as to the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, by A. K. Mackie, Edinburgh: Private press of Peter Lawson & Son, 1862.
4 The passages cited in this article occur on ff. 37 et seq. Of the third part (“Number 3”) of the Fountainhall Folio MS. referred to supra.
5 A building still well known, situated in the Cowgate.
6 A famous tumult (“ane uproar,” Pitscottie, p. 577, calls it, “betwixt the King and the Kirk”), described vigorously in Birrel’s Diary; also in most histories. See Spotswood, Hist. Of Church of Scot. (ed. 1655), p. 428. Tytler iv. 253.
7 “Number 3,” fo. 40.
8 The text of the Charter is quoted in Mr. Mackie’s Historical Notes before referred to; pp. 8-11.
9 Acts Parl. Scot. ix. 334.
* The Scotsman, Saturday, 3rd November, 1888
“MARGARET, LADY YESTER, AND HER
17TH CENTURY BIOGRAPHER
IF the underwritten transcript from a seventeenth century manuscript, which has long been in Stirling’s Library in Glasgow, now appears in print for the first time, it will command an appreciative perusal. It contains a sketch of the life, a catalogue of the charities, and a copy of the epitaph of that Lady Yester whose memory is perpetuated in the name of one of the churches in Edinburgh. Her munificence might well have warranted the bestowal upon her of the epithet “Lady Bountiful,” and it is little wonder that in the second half of the 17th century, whilst her memory was still fresh, the industrious compiler of “A Perfect Inventar of all the pious donationes since the dayes of King Ja: the first,” when at the close of his compilation he came to record Lady Yester’s charitable gifts, departed from his rule of merely cataloguing bequests, and wrote a brief but comprehensive and generous biography:-
MORTIFIC’ONE BE DAME MARGARET KER, LATE
The sd. Dame Margaret Ker wes þe oldest dauchter of Mark Comendator of Newbatle ane of þe Lords of counsall and sessione þereftir E: of Louthean, procreat betwixt him and […] Maxwell ane dauchter of John Lord Herries. […] In her young yeirs She wes ffirst married be John Lord Hay of Yester And by her wise and wertuous governmt She wes instrumentall in preserving and Improveing þe sd Estate by him She had two sones Lord Hay of Yester þereftir E: of Tweddale and Sr Wm her second sone, for qm She purchased þe barronie of Linplum Her daughter Lady Margaret Hay wes first married to Alexr E: of Dumfermling Chancellor of Scotland And eftir his death wes married to James E: of Calendar The sd Dame Margaret Ker having Lived many yeirs a widow She married Sr Andro Ker yonger of ffairniebirst and procured his father to be made Lord Jedburghe besydes þe many buildings yairds and parks made be hir in all places belonging to her husband in evry parish qr athr of her husbands had any reule She Erected and built hospitalls and Schools ffirst in Dumbar besyde þe castle of Beltoune eftir She had Repaired þe castle of Beltoune as appears by this distich wrin in great Lres wrin upone stone round about þe toure
Mænia cuncta mihi cedat manus æmula cara
fforma et materia est Margaris una mihi.
[I yield to the walls of the hands of rival dear
the form and the matter is Margaris one said to me.]