The Moultrays of the Ilk – Village of Moultray’s Hill – The Chapel of St. Ninian – St. James’s Square – Bunker’s Hill – Mr. Dundas – Robert Burns’s House – State of the Scottish Records – Indifference of the Government in 1740 – The Register House built – Its Objects and Size – Curious Documents preserved in this House – The Office of Lord Clerk Register – The Secretary’s Register – The Register of Sasines – The Lyon King of Arms – Sir David Lindesay – Sir James Balfour – Sir Alexander Erskine – New Register House – Great and Privy Seals of Scotland – The Wellington Statue.
AT the north end of the bridge, and immediately opposite it and the New General Post Office, the ground forming the east end of the main ridge on which the New Town is built rises to some elevation, and bore the name of Multrie’s or Moultray’s Hill, which Lord Hailes in his “Annals” supposes to be the corruption of two Gaelic words “signifying the covert or receptacle of the wild boar;” but it would appear rather to have taken its name from the fact of its being the residence of the Moultrays of Seafield, a baronial Fifeshire family of eminence in the time of James IV., whose lonely old tower stands in ruins upon a wave-washed rock near Kinghorn. Alexander Stewart of Grenane (ancestor of the Earls of Galloway), who fell at Flodden, left sixteen daughters, one of whom was married to Moultray of Seafield, and another to Tours of Inverleith, whose castle in those days would be quite visible from the height where St. James’s Square stands. The name first occurs in Scottish records, in the time of David II., when “Henry Multra” had the lands of Greenhill, near Edinburgh, of Henry Braid of that ilk.
On the 7th of February, 1549, John Moultray of Seafield signed a charter in the chartulary of Dunfermline. In 1559, the laird being of the Catholic faction, had to furnish the insurgent lords with corn and cattle. They besieged his tower, and took him prisoner, but released him on parole not to assist the queen regent’s French troops. In 1559 Moultray of Seafield was chancellor of “ane assize,” in a criminal trial, as recorded by Pitcairn. In 1715 Alexander Malloch of Moultray’s Hill quitted this ancient house at Edinburgh, to join the Highlanders under Brigadier Macintosh of Borlum, but was shot dead in mistake by them near the village of Jock’s Lodge; and after 1739 the older family, which became extinct, was represented by the Moultrays of Rescobie.
From the abode of this old race, then, Moultray’s Hill took its name. Gordon of Rothiemay’s map shows a large quadrangular edifice, with gables and dormer windows crowning the apex of the hill, which may be the residence of the family referred to; but by 1701 quite a suburban village had sprung up in that quarter, the occupants of which, weavers and other tradesmen, had the quarrel, recorded elsewhere, with the magistrates of Edinburgh, who, to punish them, closed Halkerston’s Wynd Port, and by the loch sluice, flooded the pathway that led to their houses.
In 1765 the village seems to have consisted of at least ten distinct blocks of several houses each, surrounded by gardens and parks, on each side of the extreme east end of the Long Gate (now Princes Street), and from thence Leith Street takes precisely the curve of the old road, on its way to join the Walk.
At the eastern foot of this hill, exactly where now stands the western pier of the Regent Bridge, deep down in a narrow hollow, stood the ancient chapel of St, Ninian (or St. Ringan, “whose fame,” says Nimmo, “has been embalmed in the many churches dedicated to him,”) but by whom founded or when, is quite unknown; and from this edifice an adjacent street was for ages names St. Ninian’s Row. “The under part of the building still remains,” to quote Arnot; “it is the nearest house to the Register Office on the south-east, except the row of houses on the east side of the theatre. The lower storey was vaulted, and the vaults still remain. On these a mean house has been superstructed, and the whole converted into a dwelling-house. The baptismal font, which was in danger of being destroyed, was this year (1787) removed to the curious tower, built at Dean Haugh, by Mr. Walter Ross, Writer to the Signet.” The “lower part” of the building, was evidently the crypt, and the font referred to, a neatly-sculptured basin with a beautiful Gothic canopy, is now among the many fragments built by Sir Walter Scott into the walls of Abbotsford. The extinct chapel appears to have been a dependency of Holyrood abbey, from the numerous notices that appear in licences granted by the abbots of that house to the Corporations of the Canongate, for founding and maintaining altars in the church; and in one of these, dated 1554, by Robert Stewart, abbot of Holyrood, with reference to St. Crispin’s altar therein, he states, “it is our will yat ye [ƿat ƿe (that the)] Cordinars dwelland within our regalitie… besyde our chapell of Sanct Ninian, out with Sanct Andrews Port besyde Edinburcht, be in bretherheid and fellowschipe with ye said dekin and masters of ye cordinar craft.”
In 1775 one or two houses of St. James’s Square were built on the very crest of Moultray’s Hill. The first stone of the house at the south-east corner of the square was laid on the day that news reached Edinburgh of the battle of Bunker’s Hill, which was fought on the 17th of June in that year. “The news being of course very interesting, was the subject of popular discussion for the day, and nothing but Bunker’s Hill was in everybody’s mouth. It so happened that the two builders founding this first tenement fell out between themselves, and before the ceremony was concluded, most indecorously fell to and fought out the quarrel on the spot, in presence of an immense assemblage of spectators, who forthwith conferred the name of Bunker’s Hill upon the place, in commemoration of the combat, which it retains to this day. The tenement founded under these curious circumstances was permitted to stand by itself for some years upon the eminence of Bunker’s Hill; and being remarkably tall and narrow, as well as a solitary land, it got the popular appellation of ‘Hugo Arnot’ from the celebrated historian, who lived in the neighbourhood, and whose slim, skeleton-looking figure was well known to the public eye at the period.”
So lately as 1804 the ground occupied by the lower end of Katharine Street, at the north-eastern side of Moultray’s Hill, was a green slope, where people were wont to assemble, to watch the crowds returning from the races on Leith sands.
In this new tenement on Bunker’s Hill dwelt Margaret Watson of Muirhouse, widow of Robert Dundas, merchant, and mother of Sir David Dundas, the celebrated military tactician. “We used to go to her house on Bunker’s Hill,” says Lord Cockburn, “when boys, on Sundays between the morning and the afternoon sermons, when we were cherished with Scottish broth and cakes, and many a joke from the old lady. Age had made her incapable of walking even across the room; so, clad in a plain silk gown, and a pure muslin cap, she sat half encircled by a high-backed black leather chair, reading, with silver spectacles stuck on her thin nose, and interspersing her studies and her days with much laughter and not a little sarcasm. What a spirit! There was more fun and sense round that chair than in the theatre or the church.”
In 1809 No. 7 St. James’s Square was the residence of Alexander Geddes, A.R.S.A., a well-known Scottish artist. He was born at 7 St. Patrick Street, near the Cross-causeway, in 1783. In 1812 he removed to 55 York Place, and finally to London, where he died, in Berners Street, on the 5th of May, 1844. His etchings in folio were edited by David Laing, in 1875, but only 100 copies were printed.
A flat on the west side of the square was long the residence of Charles Mackay, whose unrivalled impersonation of Bailie Nicol Jarvie was once the most cherished recollection of the old theatre-going public, and who died on the 2nd November, 1857.
This square was not completed till 1790. In 1787 Robert Burns lived for several months in No. 2 (a common stair now numbered as 30) whither he had removed from Baxter’s Close in the Lawnmarket, and from this place many of the letters printed in his correspondence are dated. In one or two he adds, “Direct to me at Mr. W. Cruikshank’s, St. James’s Square, New Town, Edinburgh.” This gentleman was one of the masters of the High School, with whom he passed many a happy hour, and to whose daughter he inscribed the verses beginning –
“Beauteous rosebud, young and gay,
Blooming in thy early May,” &c.
It was while here that he joined most in that brilliant circle in which the accomplished Duchess of Gordon and the beautiful Miss Burnet of Monboddo made him ever welcome.
A proper place for the retention and safety of the historical records and registers of Scotland had long been a desideratum [something wanted] in Edinburgh. In more ancient times the Register House was in one of the towers of the Castle. From the Acts of Sederunt many would appear to have been there in 1676. In after years the few documents that had escaped pillage or destruction at the hands of Edward I. and Oliver Cromwell were kept below the Parliament House. “A memoriall anent the Records of Scotland, 1740,” preserved among “The Culloden Papers,” reports them then to be in “very bad condition, for want of boards to cover them; many of the first and last leafs of each book being so much obliterat as they cannot be easily read, and in a little time will be entirely defaced. For preventing whereof, it may be thought expedient, that application be made to Government for procuring a fund, in order to re-bind all the Records of Charters, Records of Parliament, Records of Privy Seal, Records of Privy Council, &c., and for the more sure preservation of the ancient charters, Sasins and Records of Parliament, and that these be bound in Russia leather* which no vermin will kill.”
Another memorial in the same year, from William Smith, Clerk to the Chancellor, “anent the ancient rolls, registers, charters, patents of honour, &c., in the Lower Parliament House,” states that “till ordered up to London by Oliver Cromwell they were in exceeding good order;” but that now, “after consideration of the miserable circumstances these rolls and registers were in, and daily growing worse, occasioned by the dampness of that low house, and thereby incredibly productive of moths, these eating the parchments upon which they are writ, and the other washing out the ink; and the great trouble and expense it must put any person to, who would, for the love of antiquity and his country, take upon him to redeem them; upon these considerations, I say, we gave over further thoughts of the matter. But however troublesome, yea, impracticable to some, the redemption of these rolls and registers from their present misery, and the restoration of some of them to their primary circumstances, may appear, the memorialist, despising the trouble, is of opinion that the work may be put in practice, and to a very good purpose, if the following proposals are agreed to.”
The latter were of an extremely moderate character, as they merely involved a grant for only £253; yet, the Government, though perfectly ready to absorb yearly the whole revenue of Scotland, utterly ignored the petition.
The idea of a New Register House was actively urged by James Earl of Morton, who died in 1774, and who was Lord Clerk Register. Seeing that it was vain to hope for any direct government grant, he obtained £12,000 out of the money accruing from the forfeited estates of the Jacobites, and laid it at interest till 1765, when Robert Adam, architect, and then M.P. for Kinross, having made a design of the present building, it was completely approved of, and on the 27th of June, 1774, the foundation stone was laid, under a royal salute of cannon, by Lord Frederick Campbell, Lord Register of Scotland, in presence of the magistrates, the judges of the Court of Session and Exchequer, Thomas Millar of Barskimming, Lord Justice Clerk, and James Montgomery, Lord Advocate, the three trustees appointed by the crown to see the design put in execution.
As the estimated expense of the building was £40,000 (and it is said to have cost twice that sum) its progress was slow, as the Treasury seldom favour a Scottish project much. It combines the utmost internal commodiousness, with exterior architectural beauty of a Palladian kind; while all chance of fire is totally precluded by the passages and apartments being walled and vaulted with massive stone.
The building, which stands forty feet back from the line of Princes Street, and is screened by an ornamental parapet having two sentry boxes, and divided in the centre by a double flight of stately steps, has a smooth ashlar front two hundred feet in length, by one hundred and twenty in depth, having a tetrastyle portico of four fluted Corinthian columns, half sunk in the wall. In the centre is a circular saloon, fifty feet in diameter, wherein is the library under a dome, from the top of which it is lighted, and here, until its removal to another part of the edifice, stood a marble statue of George III., by the Hon. Mrs. Damer. Upwards of a hundred vaulted rooms are occupied in the conservation of the national and legal documents of the kingdom, which have been received at the Register House for many years to the present times.
At each of the four corners, equidistant from the central dome, rises a spire or square turret, having clock-dials on the exterior sides, and a cupola and vane on the top. The royal arms of Britain occupy the centre pediment. In addition to the rooms mentioned, which open off long intersecting corridors, are smaller ones for the use of functionaries connected with the Supreme Courts, and large apartments for the stowage of registers. In 1869 the folio record volumes numbered 42,835, occupying the shelves of twenty-one chambers.
In one of the largest rooms are preserved the rolls of ancient Parliaments, the records of the Privy Council, charters of the sovereigns of Scotland from William the Lion to the days of Queen Anne, and on the central table lies the Scottish duplicate of the Treaty of Union. In these fireproof chambers is deposited a vast quantity of valuable and curious legal and historical documents, such as the famous letter of the Scottish barons to the Pope in 1320, declaring that “so long as one hundred Scotsmen remained alive, they would never submit to the dominion of England,” adding, “it is not for glory, riches, or honour, that we fight, but for that liberty which no good man will consent to lose but with life!” There, too, is preserved the Act of Settlement of the Scottish crown upon the House of Stuart, a document through which the present royal family inherits the throne; the original deed initiating the College of Justice by James V.; &c. Of all the mass of records preserved here some relate more immediately to the transmission of landed property in Scotland, and to the condition of Scottish society. Others illustrate the relations of Scotland with foreign countries, but more especially with England.
The Lord Clerk Register and Keeper of the Signet, who is a Minister of State of Scotland, and whose office is of great antiquity, has always been at the head of this establishment, which includes various offices, such as those of the Lord Lyon, the Lords Commissioners of Tiends, the Clerk and Extractors of the Court of Session, the Jury Court, and Court of Justiciary, the Great or Privy Seal, and the Register General.
In 1789, at the request of Lord Frederick Campbell, a military guard was first placed upon this important public building, and two sentinels were posted, one at the east and the other at the west end. In the same year lamps were first placed upon it.
In modern times the two chief departments of the Lord Clerk Register’s duty was the registration of title deeds and the custody of historical documents. Originally, like the Master of the Rolls in England, he occasionally exercised judicial functions; but, unlike that official, these functions did not become permanently a part of his office. At the Union the office of Clerk Register was preserved with all its dignity and emoluments, and it was provided by one of the articles of the Treaty, that the records of Scotland should always remain in that kingdom.
The salary of the office was abolished between 1861 and 1868; but a select committee was so strongly in favour of its maintenance, that it was restored by the 25th section of the Writs’ Registration Act of the latter year.
Under the Act passed together with the Treaty of Union, no election of representative peers can take place in Scotland without the presence of the Lord Clerk Register.
Perhaps no holder of this important office rendered better service than the late Sir William Gibson Craig, Bart., of Riccarton, who was equally well known for his talents, energy, and great urbanity of manner. He was born in 1797, and in 1837 represented Midlothian in the Whig interest. In 1841 he was returned for the city as one of its representatives along with Lord Macaulay, and continued to sit till 1852, and ten years after was appointed Lord Clerk Register and one result of the careful charge and supervision he took of his department, was that the historical documents of the realm have been open to all genuine scholars. Another result of his tenure of office has been the publication of a series of documents and works of the utmost value to students of Scottish History – the completion of the Acts of Parliament begun by Thomas Thomson and finished by Cosmo Innes, the Treasurer’s accounts of the time of James IV., the Exchequer Rolls, &c.
No person sleeps in any part of the building generally, the whole being allotted to public purposes only. In the sunk storey under the dome, when the house was built, four furnaces were constructed, from each of which proceeded a flue in a spiral direction, under the pavement of the dome, for the purpose of securing the records from damp.
Among other offices under the same roof are the Privy Seal, the Lord Keeper of which was, in 1879, the Marquis of Lothian; the signet officer; the Register of Deeds and Protests; and the Sasine Office, in the large central front room up-stairs, where a numerous staff of clerks are daily at work, under the Keeper of the General Register and his five assistant-keepers.
The Register of Sasines, the corner-stone of the Scottish system of registration, was instituted in 1617. It had, however, been preceded by another record, called the Secretary’s Register, which existed for a short period, being instituted in 1599, but abolished in 1609, and was under the Scottish Secretary of State, and is thus referred to by Robertson in his “Index of Missing Charters,” 1798:-
“The Secretary’s Register, as it is called, was the first attempt to introduce our most useful record, that of sasines. But having been committed to the superintendence of the Secretary of State instead of the Lord Clerk of Register, and most of the books having remained concealed, and many of them having been lost in consequence of their not being made transmissible to public custody, the institution became useless, and was abolished by Act of Parliament. The Register of Sasines in its present form was instituted in the month of June, 1617.”
In the register of this office the whole land writs of Scotland are recorded, and the correctness of it is essential to the validity of title. To it all men go to ascertain the burdens that affect land, and the whole of such registration is now concentrated in Edinburgh. In 1876 the fees of the sasine office amounted to £30,000, and the expense was £17,000, leaving a profit to the Treasury of £13,000.
In a part of the general register house is the office of the Lyon King-of-arms. This office is one of high rank and great antiquity, his station in Scotland being precisely similar to that of the Garter King in England; and at the coronation of George III. the Lord Lyon walked abreast with the former, immediately preceding the Lord Great Chamberlain. Though heraldry now is little known as a science, and acquaintance with it is, singular to say, not necessary in the Lyon Office, in feudal times the post of a Scottish herald was held of the utmost importance, and the inauguration of the king-at-arms was the mimicry of a royal one, save that the unction was made with wine instead of oil.
In “The order of combats for life,” ordained by James I. of Scotland in the early part of the fifteenth century, the places assigned for the “King-of-Arms, Heraulds, and other officers,” are to be settled by the Lord High Constable. In 1513 James IV. sent the Lyon King with his defiance to Henry VIII., then in France, and the following year he went to Paris with letters for the Duke of Albany. Accompanied by two heralds he went to Paris again in 1558, to be present at the coronation of Francis and Mary as King and Queen of Scotland.
Of old, and before the College of Arms was reconstructed, and the office of Lord Lyon abolished by a recent Act of Parliament, it consisted of the following members:-
The Lord Lyon King-of-Arms.
Six trumpeters; a Lyon Clerk and Keeper of Records, with his deputy; a Procurator Fiscal, Macer, and Herald Painter.
According to the “Montrose Peerage” case in 1850 there would appear to have been, about 1488, another official known as the “Montrose Herald,” connected in some manner with the dukedom of old Montrose.
By Acts of Parliament passed in the reign of James VI. the Lyon King was to hold two courts in the year at Edinburgh – on the 6th of May and 6th of November. Also, he, with his heralds, was empowered to take special supervision of all arms used by nobles and gentlemen, to matriculate them in their books, and inhibit such as had no right to heraldic cognisances, “under the pain of escheating the thing whereupon the said arms are found to the king, and of one hundred pounds to the Lyon and his brethren, or of imprisonment during the Lyon’s pleasure.”
Under the Lord Lyon were the messengers-at-arms, whose duty is still to execute all summonses before the Court of Session, to apprehend the persons of debtors, and generally to perform the executive parts of the law. By the twelfth Parliament of Charles II. it is defined that the province of the Lyon – who takes his name from the emblem in the royal standard – is to adjust matters of precedence, and marshal public processions; also to inspect the coats of arms of the nobility and gentry; to punish those who assume arms to which they have no hereditary right; to bestow coats of arms upon the deserving; to grant supporters in certain cases; and to take cognisance of, and to punish, offences committed by messengers-at-arms in the course of their office.
Of old, and before it degenerated into a mere legal sinecure, the office was one of great dignity, and the person of the holder was deemed almost sacred. Thus, Bishop Lesly tells us in his history that in 1515 the aged Lord Drummond was forfeited “for striking the Lyon, and narrowly escaped the loss of his life and dignity.”
In 1530 the office of Lord Lyon was bestowed by James V. upon Sir David Lindesay of the Mount, the celebrated poet, moralist, and reformer, whom, four years after, he sent as an ambassador to Germany, and in 1548 in a similar capacity to Denmark. It was an office imposed upon the Lord Lyon to receive foreign ambassadors, and Lindesay did this honour to Sir Ralf Sadler, who came from England in 1539-40; and in 1568 Sir David Lindesay of Rathuleit was solemnly crowned King-of-arms, in presence of the Regent and nobility; and in 1603, as Balfour tells us, “Sir David Lindesay of Mount, Lyone King-of-arms,” proclaimed at the Cross the accession of James VI. to the English throne.
On the 15th of June, 1630, Sir Jerome Lyndsay of Annatland resigned the office in favour of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne,** who was crowned as Lyon King by George Earl of Kinnoul, Chancellor of Scotland, acting as royal commissioner, and in 1633 he was created a baronet. Balfour, an eminent antiquary and annalist, was well versed in heraldry, to perfect the study of which, before his appointment, he proceeded to London and became acquainted with Sir Robert Cotton, and Sir William Segar the Garter King, who obtained for him from the heralds’ college a highly honourable testimonial, signed and sealed by all the members of that corporation. When the Civil War broke out, though a staunch Presbyterian, Sir James remained loyal to the king, for whose Scots Guards he designed colours in 1649; but was deprived of his office by Cromwell, after which he retired to Fifeshire, and collected many manuscripts on the science of heraldry and connected with Scottish history, prior to his death in 1657, and these are now preserved in the Advocates’ Library. A fine portrait of him is prefixed to his “Annales,” published at Edinburgh in 1824.
The installation of a Lyon King is given fully in an account of “The order observed at the coronation of Sir Alexander Erskine of Cambo, Baronet, Lord Lyon King-of-arms, at the royal palace of Holyrood House, on the 27th day of July, 1681, his Royal Highness James Duke of Albany and York being his Majesty’s High Commissioner.”
In the ceremony of installation the Lord Lyon is duly crowned; and Sir Alexander was the last who was thus crowned. His father, Sir Charles Erskine of Cambo, had previously been Lyon King, of which office he obtained a “ratification,” by Parliament in 1672, with remainder to his son.
In 1703 the chief Scottish work on heraldry was published by Alexander Nisbet of that ilk, to whom the Scottish Parliament gave a grant of £248 6s. 8d. to assist him in bringing it forth.
It is related in MacCormick’s “Life of Principal Carstairs,” that when the latter was a prisoner in the Castle of Edinburgh in 1685, an engaging boy about twelve years of age, son of Erskine of Cambo, then constable of the fortress, used to come almost daily to the open grating of his dungeon, and was wont to sit there for hours, “lamenting his unhappy situation, and endeavouring by a thousand innocent and childish means to divert him. Sometimes the boy brought him packages of fruit and provisions (more delicate than the coarse fare of the prison), and, what were of more importance, pens, ink, and paper, and when the prisoner wrote letters carried them to the post.”
Years elapsed ere the unfortunate Carstairs could testify his gratitude; but when the Revolution came and the hand of misfortune fell heavily on the Cavalier Erskines of Cambo, the Principal, then high in favour with William III., remembered his little friend of the bitter past in the Castle of Edinburgh; and one of the first favours he asked the new king was to bestow the office of Lord Lyon upon the young heir of Cambo. The request was granted, with the additional favour that it was made hereditary in the family; but it was soon after forfeited by their joining the Earl of Mar in 1715.
“The office of Lord Lyon has of late,” says Arnot, “been held as a sinecure… The business, therefore, is entirely committed to deputies, who manage it in such a manner that, in a country where pedigree is the best ascertained of any in the world, the national record of armorial bearings, and memoirs concerning the respective families inserted along with them, are far from being the pure repositary of truth. Indeed, there have of late been instances of genealogies inrolled in the books of the Lyon Court, and coats of arms with supporters and other marks of distinction being bestowed in such a manner as to throw ridicule upon the whole science of heraldry.”
For a time the office was held by John Hooke Campbell, Esq., with a salary of £300 yearly. Robert ninth Earl of Kinnoul, and Thomas tenth Earl, held it as a sinecure in succession, with a salary of £555 yearly; for each herald £25 yearly, and for each pursuivant £16 13s. 4d. yearly were paid; and on the death of the last-named earl, in 1866, the office of Lord Lyon was reduced to a mere Lyon King, while the heralds and pursuivants were respectively reduced to four each in number, who, clad in tabards, proclaim by sound of trumpet and under a guard of honour, at the market cross, as of old, war or peace with foreign nations, the proroguing and assembly of Parliament, the election of peers, and so forth.
The new Register House stands partly behind the old one, with an open frontage in West Register Street, towards Princes Street. It was built between 1857 and 1860, at a cost of £27,000, from designs by Robert Matheson. It is in a species of Palladian style, with Greek details. It serves chiefly as the General Registry Office for births, deaths, and marriages, with the statistical and index departments allotted thereto. A supplemental building in connection with both houses was built in 1871, from designs by the same architect. It is a circular edifice, fifty-five feet in diameter, and sixty in height, relieved by eight massive piers and a dado course, surmounted by a glazed dome, that rises within a cornice and balustrade. It serves for the reception of record volumes in continuation of those in the old Register House.
In the new buildings are various departments connected with the law courts – such as the Great Seal Office, the Keeper of the Seal being the Earl of Selkirk; and the office of the Privy Seal, the keeper of which is the Marquis of Lothian.
The latter was first established by James I., upon his return to Scotland in 1423. In ancient times, in the attestation of writings, seals were commonly affixed in lieu of signatures, and this took place with documents concerning debt as well as with writs of more importance. In writs granted by the king, the affixing of his seal alone gave them sufficient authority without signature. This seal was kept by the Lord High Chancellor; but as public business increased, a keeper of the Privy or King’s Seal was created by James I., who wished to model the officials of his court after what he had seen in England; and the first Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, in 1424, was Walter Footte, Provost of Bothwell. The affixing of this seal to any document became preparatory to obtaining the great seal to it. It was, however, in some cases, a sufficient sanction of itself to several writs which were not to pass the great seal; and it came at length to be an established rule, which holds good to this day, that the rights of such things as might be conveyed among private persons by assignations were to pass as grants from the king under his privy seal alone; but those of lands and heritages, which among subjects are transmitted by dispositions, were to pass by grants from the king under the great seal. “Accordingly, the writs in use to pass under the privy seal alone were gifts of offices, pensions, presentation to benefices, gifts of escheat, ward, marriage and relief, ultimus hæres, and such like; but as most of the writs which were to pass under the great seal were first to pass the privy seal, that afforded great opportunity to examine the king’s writs, and to prevent His Majesty or his subjects from being hurt by deception or fraud.”
In the new Register House are also the Chancery Office, and the Record of Entails, for which an Act was first passed by the Parliament of Scotland in 1685, the bill chamber and extractor’s chamber, the accountant in bankruptcy, and the tiend office, &c.
In front of the flights of steps which lead to the entrance of the original Register House stands the bronze equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington, executed by Sir John Steell, R.S.A., a native sculptor. The bust taken for this figure so pleased the old duke that he ordered two to be executed for him, one for Apsley House, and the other for Eton. It was erected in 1852, amid considerable ceremony, when there were present at the unveiling a vast number of pensioners drawn up in the street, many minus legs and arms, while a crowd of retired officers, all wearing the newly-given war-medal, occupied the steps of the Register House, and were cheered by their old comrades to the echo. Many met on that day who had not seen each other since the peace that followed Waterloo; and when the bands struck up such airs as “The garb of old Gaul,” and “The British Grenadiers,” many a withered face was seen to brighten, and many an eye grew moist; staffs and crutches were brandished, and the cheering broke forth again and again.
10 thoughts on “Chapter 47 – Moultray’s Hill – Her Majesty’s General Register House., pp.364-372.”