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Regency of Moray, 1567-1570, pp.35-44.

MARY remained a prisoner in Lochleven Castle for ten months, while Moray, as Regent, maintained a good understanding with England,* and did much to enforce internal peace and order. At length (May 1568), the unhappy Queen made her escape, and threw herself into the arms of the powerful family of Hamilton. They raised for her a considerable body of retainers; but her army was overthrown at Langside by the Regent, and she had then no resource but to pass into England, and ask refuge with Queen Elizabeth. By her she was received with a show of civility, but was in reality treated as a prisoner.

Moray, whatever opinion may be entertained of his conduct towards his sister, proved a vigorous and just ruler, insomuch as to gain the title of the Good Regent; but he was early cut off in his course, falling victim to private revenge at Linlithgow (January 23, 1569-70).



Oct. – The long-enduring system of predatory warfare carried on by the Borderers against England rendered them a lawless set at all times; but in the present state of the government, they were unusually troublesome. ‘In all this time,’ says the Diurnal of Occurrents, ‘frae the queen’s grace’ putting in captivity to this time, the thieves of Liddesdale made great hership on the poor labourers of the ground, and that through wanting of justice; for the realm was sae divided in sundry factions and conspirations, that there was nae authority obeyed, nor nae justice execute.’

‘… there was ane proclamation [October 10], to meet the Regent in Peebles, upon the 8 of November next, for the repressing of the thieves in Annandale and Eskdale; but my Lord Regent thinking they wald get advertisement, he prevented the day, and came over the water secretly, and lodged in Dalkeith; this upon the 19 day [October]; and upon the morrow he departed towards Hawick, where he came both secretly and suddenly, and there took thirty-four thieves whom he partly caused hang and partly drown; five he let free upon caution; and upon the 2nd day of November, he brought other ten with him to Edinburgh, and there put them in irons.’ – Bir.

We have some trace of these men in the Lord Treasurer’s accounts as inmates of the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. On the 30th of November, thirty-two pounds are paid to Andro Lindsay, keeper of that prison, for the furnishing of meat and drink to Robert Elliot, alias Clement’s Hob, and Archy Elliot, called Archy Kene. On the same day, twenty-three pounds four shillings are disbursed for a month’s board in the same black hotel, for ‘Robert Elliot, called Mirk Hob; Gavin Elliot, called Gawin of Ramsiegill; Martin Elliot, called Martin of Heuchous; Robert Elliot, son to Elder Will; Robert Elliot, called the Vicar’s Rob; Robert Elliot, called Hob of Thorlieshope; Dandy Grosar, called Richardtoncleucht; and Robert Grosar, called Son to Cockston.

Walter Scott of Harden, a famous Border chief, was this year married to Mary Scott of Dryhope, commonly called the Flower of Yarrow. The pair had six sons, from five of whom descended the families of Harden (which became extinct), Highchesters (now represented by Lord Polwarth), Raeburn (from which came Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford), Wool, and Synton; and six daughters, all of whom were married to gentlemen of figure, and all had issue.

It is a curious consideration to the many descendants of Walter Scott of Harden, that his marriage-contract is signed by a notary, because none of the parties could write their names. The father-in-law, Scott of Dryhope, bound himself to find Harden in horse meat and man’s meat, at his own house, for a year and a day; and five barons engaged that he should remove at the expiration of that period, without attempting to continue in possession by force.

Oct. 30. – Bessie Tailiefeir, in the Canongate, Edinburgh, having slandered Bailie Thomas Hunter by saying ‘he had in his house ane false stoup [measure],’ which was found not to be true, she was sentenced to be brankit and set on the cross for an hour.

The punishment of branking, which was a customary one for scolds, slanderers, and other offenders of a secondary class, consisted in having the head inclosed in an iron frame, from which projected a kind of spike, so as to enter the mouth and prevent speech.

Nov. 24. – ‘… at 2 afternoon, the Laird of Airth and the Laird of Wemyss met upon the Hie Gait of Edinburgh; and they and their followers faught a very bluidy skirmish, where there was many hurt on both sides with shot of pistol.’ – Bir.

This is the first of a series of street fights by which the Hie Gait of Edinburgh was reddened during the reign of James VI., and which scarcely came to an end till his English reign was far advanced.

Dec. 15. – An act of parliament was passed to prevent horses being exported, it being found that so many had lately been taken to Bordeaux and other places abroad, as to cause ‘great skaith’ by the raising of prices at home.

Dec. 31. – ‘Robert Jack, merchant and burgess of Dundee, was hangit and quarterit for false coin called Hardheads, whilk he had brought out of Flanders.’ – Bir. ‘Fals lyons callit hardheades, plakis, balbeis,1 and other fals money,’ is the description given in another record, literatim.

The hardhead was originally a French coin, denominated in Guienne hardie, and identical with the liard. It was of debased copper, and usually of the value of three-halfpence Scotch; but further debasement was oftener than once resorted to by Scottish rulers as a means of raising a little revenue.


Jan. 5. – It may somewhat modify the views generally taken of the destruction of relics of the ancient religion under the Protestant governments succeeding the Reformation, that John Lockhart of Bar was denounced rebel at this time for conveying John Macbrair forth of the castle of Hamilton, and ‘for down-casting of images in the kirk of Ayr and other places.’

Mar. 4. – The Regent granted a license to Cornelius de Vois, a Dutchman, for nineteen years, to search for gold and silver in any part of Scotland, ‘break the ground, mak sinks and pots therein, and to put labourers thereto,’ as he might think expedient, ,with assurance of full protection from the government, paying in requital for every hundred ounces of gold or silver which could be purified by washing, eight ounces, and for every hundred of the same which required the more expensive process of a purification by fire, four ounces. – P. C. R.

Stephen Atkinson, who speculated in the gold mines of Scotland a generation later, gives us2 some account of Cornelius de Vois, whom he calls German lapidary, and who, he says, had come to Scotland with recommendations from Queen Elizabeth. According to this somewhat foolish writer, ‘Cornelius went to view the said mountains in Clydesdale and Nydesdale, upon which mountains he got a small taste of small gold. This was a whetstone to sharpen his knife upon; and this natural gold tasted so sweet as the honeycomb in his mouth. And then he consulted with his friends at Edinburgh, and by his persuasions provoked them to adventure with him, showing them at first the natural gold, which he called the temptable gold, or alluring gold. It was in sterns, and some like unto birds’ eyes and eggs: he compared it unto a woman’s eye, which entiseth her lover into her bosom.’ Cornelius was not inferior to his class in speculative extravagance. He found in his golden dreams a solution for the question regarding the poor. He saw Scotland and England ‘both oppressed with poor people which beg from door to door for want of employment, and no man looketh to it.’ But all these people were to find good and profitable employment if his projects were adopted.

It appears that Cornelius so far prevailed on the Scots, that they raised a stock of £5000 Scots, equal to about £416 sterling, and worked the mines under royal privileges. According to Atkinson, this adventurer ‘had sixscore men at work in valleys and dales. He employed both lads and lasses, idle men and women, which before went a-begging. He profited by their work,and they lived well and contented.’ They sought for the valuable metal by washing the detritus in the bottoms of the valleys, receiving from their employer a mark sterling for every ounce they realised. So long after as 1619, one John Gibson survived in the village of Crawford to relate how he had gathered gold in these valleys in pieces ‘like birds’ eyes and birds’ eggs,’ the best being found, he said, in Glengaber Water, in Meggat, which he sold for 6s. 8d. sterling per ounce to the Earl of Morton. Cornelius, within the space of thirty days, sent to the cunyie-house in Edinburgh as much as eight pounds-weight of gold, a quantity which would now bring £450 sterling.

What ultimately came of Cornelius’s adventure does not appear. He vanishes notelessly from the field. We are told by Atkinson that the adventure was subsequently taken up by one Abraham Grey, a Dutchman, heretofore resident in England, commonly called Graybeard, from his having a beard which reached to his girdle. He hired country people at fourpence a day, to wash the detritus of the valleys around Wanlockhead for gold; and it is added, that enough was found to make ‘a very fair deep basin of natural gold,’ which was presented by the Regent Morton to the French king, filled with gold pieces, also the production of Scotland.

The same valleys were afterwards searched for gold by an Englishman names George Bowes, who also sunk shafts in the rock, but probably with limited success, as has hitherto been experienced in ninety-nine out of every hundred instances, according to Sir Roderick Murchison.

In consequence of an extremely dry summer, the yield of grain and herbage in 1567 was exceedingly defective. The ensuing winter being unusually severe, there was a sad failure of the means of supporting the domestic animals. A stone of hay came to be sold in Derbyshire at fivepence,3 which seems to have been regarded as a starvation price. There was a general mortality among the sheep and horses. In Scotland, the opening of 1568 was marked by scarcity and all its attendant evils.

Sep. 8. – ‘Ane called James Dalgliesh, merchant, brought the pest in [to] Edinburgh.’ – D. O.

According to custom in Edinburgh, when this dire visitor made his appearance, the families which proved to be infected were compelled to remove, with all their goods and furniture, out to the Burgh-moor, where they lodged in wretched huts hastily erected for their accommodation. They were allowed to be visited by their friends, in company with an officer, after eleven in the forenoon; any one going earlier was liable to be punished with death – as were those who concealed the pest in their houses. Their clothes were meanwhile purified by boiling in a large caldron erected in the open air, and their houses were ‘clengit’ by the proper officers. All these regulations were under the care of two citizens selected for the purpose, and called Bailies of the Muir; for each of whom, as for the cleansers and bearers of the dead, a gown of gray was made, with a white St Andrew’s cross before and behind, to distinguish them from other people. Another arrangement of the day was, ‘that there be made twa close biers, with four feet, coloured over with black, and [ane] white cross with ane bell to be hung upon the side of the said bier, whilk sall mak warning to the people.’

The public policy was directed rather to the preservation of the untainted, than to the recovery of the sick. In other words, selfishness ruled the day. The inhumanity towards the humbler classes was dreadful. Well might Maister Gilbert Skeyne, Doctour in Medicine, remark in his little tract on the pest, now printed in Edinburgh: ‘Every ane is become sae detestable to other (whilk is to be lamentit), and specially the puir in the sight of the rich, as gif they were not equal with them touching their creation, but rather without saul or spirit, as beasts degenerate fra mankind.’ This worthy mediciner tells us, indeed, that he was partly moved to publish his book by ‘seeand the puir in Christ inlaik [perish] without assistance of support in body, all men detestand aspection, speech, or communication with them.’

This pestilence, lasting till February, is said to have carried off 2500 persons in Edinburgh, which could not be much less than a tenth of the population. From the double cause of the pest and the absence of the Regent in England, there were ‘nae diets of Justiciary halden frae the hinderend of August to the second day of March.’ Such of the inhabitants of the Canongate as were affected had to go out and live in huts on the Hill (by which is probably meant Salisbury Crags), and there stay till they were ‘clengit.’ A collection of money was made among the other inhabitants for their support.

The distresses of pestilence were preceded and attended by those of a famine, which suffered a great and sudden abatement in the month of August 1569, perhaps in consequence of favourable appearances in the crop then about to be gathered. At least we are informed by the Diurnal of Occurrents that on that day, in the forenoon, ‘the boll of ait meal was sauld for £3, 12s., the boll of wheat for £4, 10s., and the boll of beare for £3; but ere twa afternoon upon the same day, the boll of ait meal was sauld for 40s., 38s., and 36s., the boll of wheat for 50s., and the beare for 33s.’4

Little doubt is now entertained that the exanthematous or eruptive disease called long ago the Pest, and now the Plague,and which had happily been unknown in the British Islands for two centuries, was the consequence of miasma arising from crowded and filthy living, acting on bodies predisposed by deficient aliment and other causes, and that at a certain stage it assumed a contagious character. It will be found throughout the present work that the malady generally, though not invariably, followed dearth and famine. The pest was not the only epidemic which afflicted our ancestors in consequence of erroneous living and misery endured by great multitudes of people. There was one called the land-ill or wame-ill, which seems to have been of the nature of cholera. In an early chronicle, is the following striking notice of this kind of malady in connection with famine as occurring in 1439: ‘The samen time there was in Scotland a great dearth, for the boll of wheat was at 40s., and the boll of ait meal 30s; and verily the dearth was sae great that there died a passing [number of] people for hunger. And als the land-ill, the wame-ill, was so violent, that there died mae that year than ever there died, owther in pestilence, or yet in ony other sickness in Scotland. And that samen year the pestilence came in Scotland, and began at Dumfries,** and it was callit the Pestilence by Mercy, for there took it nane that ever recoverit, but they died within twenty-four hours.’

Oct. – At the time when the pest broke out in Edinburgh, there lived in the city a young man of the middle class, bearing the name of George Bannatyne, who was somewhat addicted to the vain and unprofitable art of poesy. He was acquainted with the writings of his predecessors, Dunbar, Douglas, Henryson, Montgomery, Scott, and others, through the manuscripts to which alone they had as yet been committed. It was not ten the custom to print literary productions unless for some reason external to their literary character, and these poems, therefore, were existing in the same peril of not being preserved to posterity as the works of Ennius in the days of Augustus. In all probability, the greater part of them, if not nearly the whole, would have been lost, but for an accidental circumstance connected with the plague now raging.

In that terrible time, when hundreds were dying in the city, and apprehensions for their own safety engrossed every mind, the young man George Bannatyne passed into retirement, and for three months devoted himself to the task of transcribing the fugitive productions of the Scottish muse into a fair volume. His retreat is supposed to have been the old manor-house of Newtyle, near the village of Meigle in Strathmore, and nothing could be more likely, as this was the country-house of his father, who seems to have been a prosperous lawyer in Edinburgh. In the short space of time mentioned, George had copied in a good hand, from the mutilated and obscure manuscripts he possessed, three hundred and seventy-two poems, covering no less than eight hundred folio pages; a labour by which he has secured the eternal gratitude of his countrymen, and established for himself a fame granted to but few for their own compositions. The volume – celebrated as the BANNATYNE MANUSCRIPT – still exists, under the greatest veneration, in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, after yielding from its ample stores the materials of Ramsay’s,*** Hailes’s, and other printed selections.

May. – ‘… the Regent made progress first to Stirling, where four priests of Dumblane were condemnit to the death, for saying of mess against the act of parliament; but he remittit their lives, and causit them to be bund to the mercat cross with their vestments and chalices in derision, where the people cast eggs and other villanie at their faces, by the space of ane hour; and thereafter their vestments and chalices were burnt to ashes. From that he passed to Sactandrois, where a notable sorcerer called Nic Neville was condemnit to the death and brunt; and a Frenchman callit Paris, wha was ane of the devisers of the king’s death, was [Aug. 16] hangit in Sanctandrois, and with him William Stewart, Lyon King of Arms, for divers points of witchcraft and necromancy.’ – H. K. J.


Jan. 23. – ‘The Earl of Moray, the Good Regent, was slain in Linlithgow by James Hamilton of Bothwell-haugh, who shot the said Regent with a gun out at ane window, and presently thereafter fled out at the back, and leapt on a very good horse, which the Hamiltons had ready waiting for him; and, being followed speedily, after that spur and wand had failed him, he drew forth his dagger, and struck his horse behind; whilk causit the horse to leap a very broad stank; by whilk means he escaped.’ – Bir.


1  Baubees, halfpence, from bas billon, a low piece of money.
2  Discoverie and Historie of the Gold Mynes in Scotland. Written in 1619. Bannatyne Club, 1825.
3  Holinshed’s Chronicle.
4  The pest was severe in London in autumn 1569, whether by communication from Scotland does not appear.
*  The Regent Morton was already well in league and involved in the conspiracies and intrigues of Elizabeth,
“The Queen, soon after, recalled Murray, and Argyle, to court, when she endeavoured, to promote a general reconcilement among the nobles; as we have seen. But, the Queen never could be persuaded, that she was endeavouring to perform impossibilities: she could not be made to believe, even after Murray’s rebellion, and Murray’s conspiracy, with Darnley, Lennox, the whole officers of state, and many able, and vigorous characters, that he was capable of conspiring against her; that he had an overpowering faction; and that his ambition was, constantly, aiming at interests of his own, quite distinct from hers; and that he, invariably, courted Elizabeth, but never his sister: The influence of Murray over Mary, as it was not to be described, so can it only be compared to the singular influence of the rattlesnake over its prey: She could not resist it.” – From Rizzio’s Murder, till the Queen’s Delivery.
**  A mere 25 miles from the border with England, though, “whether by communication from [England] does not appear.”
***  I believe the “printed selection” of Ramsay’s mentioned here is alluding to his ‘Tea-table Miscellany’ of which I have a copy here.
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