Regency of Morton, 1572-1578, pp.56-80.


THE Earl of Morton had no sooner assumed the reins of government, than his vigorous talents began to be felt. The chief strength of Mary’s friends was in Edinburgh Castle, held for her by Kirkaldy of Grange. All the means at the Regent’s command proving insufficient to reduce this fortress, he obtained from England an army of 1500 men, commanded by Sir William Drury, and provided with artillery. The castle stood a siege of three weeks, and was then obliged to yield (May 29, 1573). With mean vindictiveness, Morton sent the gallant Kirkaldy to the gallows. Maitland of Lethington might have shared the same fate, if it had not been anticipated either by a natural death or suicide.

Morton was, on the whole, a serviceable, though not a just or clement ruler. It was his policy, arising from his love of money, to punish his adversaries rather by fines than bloodshed. Under this ruling passion, he tampered with the coin, sold justice, and cheated the church of its revenues. It was supposed that he had concealed large treasures in his castle of Dalkeith; but we have no certain account of their ever being found, and probably the popular notions on the subject were exaggerated.

Under Morton, a slight move was made towards the establishment of a kind of Episcopacy in the church, though the persons he appointed to the sees were mere creatures who consented to be receivers of the revenues on his account. The general feeling of the people continued to be decidedly in favour of the simple Presbyterian polity.

Meanwhile the young king was reared in great seclusion in Stirling Castle, under the case of the celebrated scholar George Buchanan. His acquirements, at a very early age, were such as to raise great hopes of his future rule. In reality, his character was a strange mixture of cleverness and weakness, of wit and folly. His greatest deficiency was in a courageous will to pursue the ends of justice.*

The regency of Morton came to a premature conclusion in consequence of a combination raised against him by the Earls of Athole and Argyll; and James became nominally the acting ruler (March 1578), ere he had completed his twelfth year.



Nov. 18. – ‘… in the morning was seen a star northward, very bright and clear, in the constellation of Cassiopeia, at the back of her chair; which, with three chief fixed stars of the said constellation, made a geometrical figure lozenge-wise, of the learned men called rhombus. This star, at the first appearing, seemed bigger than Jupiter, and not much less than Venus when she seemeth greatest… the said star never changed his1 place… and so continued (by little and little appearing less) the space of sixteen months; at what time it was so small, that rather thought, by exercise of oft viewing, might imagine the place, than any eye could judge the presence of the same.’ – Holinshead.

This was the celebrated Star of Tycho, so called because Tycho Brahé made it the subject of observation. The Danish astronomer is known to have first observed it a few days before the date assigned by Holinshed – namely, on the 11th of November, while taking an evening walk in the fields. From the suddenness of its appearance and its very great brightness, he suspected that his sense was deceived, and was only convinced he saw truly when he found some peasants gazing at the imposing stranger with as much astonishment as himself. It has been regarded as an example of a class of stars which move in periods between remote and comparatively near points in space; and as there was a similar object seen in 945 and 1264, it was supposed that the period of this star was somewhat over 300 years. But ‘the period of 300 years, which Goodriche conjectured, has been reduced by Kiell and Pigot to 150 years.’

‘This year, a great and sharp frost almost continually lasted from before the feast of All Saints till after the feast of Epiphany of our Lord, with sometimes great and deep snows, and sometimes rains, which freezed as fast as the same fell to the ground, wherethrough at Wrotham, in Kent, and many other places, the arms and boughs of trees, being overcharged with ice, broke off, and fell from the stocks… also the wind continued north and east till after the Ascension Day, with sharp frosts and snows, whereby followed a late spring.’ – Stowe.


Apr. 3. – The gipsies, who are usually said to have wandered into Europe from the East, are first heard of in Scotland in 1505, and again in 1540, when a writ of the Privy Seal was passed in favour of ‘John Faw, Lord and Earl of Little Egypt,’ enabling him to rule his company in conformity with the laws of his pretended country. First accepted as noble refugees, possessing a semi-religious character, they were in time discovered to be mere rogues and vagabonds. It was now declared in the Privy Council, that ‘the commonweal of this realm was greatumly damnifiet and harmit through certain vagabond, idle, and counterfeit people of diver nations, falsely named Egyptians, living on stowth and other unlawful means.’ These people were commanded to settle to fixed habitations and honest industry; otherwise it should be competent to seize and throw them into the nearest prison, when, if they could not give caution for a due obedience to this edict, they were ‘to be scourgit throughout the town or parish, and sae to be imprisonit and scourgit fra parish to parish, while [till] they be utterly renderit furth of this realm.’ – P. C. R.

Little more than three years onward (August 27, 1576), it was declared that this act had ‘wantit execution’ – a very common misfortune to acts of council in those days; and it was found that ‘the said idle vagabonds has continuit in their wicked and mischievous manner of living, committing murders, theft, and abusing the simple and ignorant people with sorcery and divination.’ Men in authority were now enjoined to stricter courses with these wanderers, on pain of being held as their accomplices.

May 2. – An English force having come to help the Regent in winning Edinburgh Castle, the operations of the siege commenced by the fixing up of twenty ‘great pieces’ at four several places around the ancient fortress. ‘They shot so hard continually, that the second day they had beat down wholly three towers. The Laird of Grange would not give over, but shot at them continually, both with great shot and small; so that there was a very great slaughter amongst the English cannoneers.’ – Bir.

Mr Robert Hamilton, minister of St Andrews, was in Edinburgh at this time,along with the servant who had written down John Knox’s prediction regarding the fate of Kirkaldy (see page 51). According to James Melville, ‘they gaed up to the Castle-hill, and saw the forewark of the castle all demolished, and running like a sandy brae; they saw the men of weir all set in order. The captain, with a little staff in his hand, taken down over the walls upon the ladders, and Mr Robert, troubled with the thrang of the people, says: “Go, what have I ado here?” In going away, the servant remembers his master of the sermon and the words, wha was compelled to glorify God, and say he was a true prophet.’

Aug. 3. – ‘William Kirkaldy of Grange, knight, sometime captain of the Castle of Edinburgh, and James Mosman, goldsmith, were harlit in twa carts backward, frae the Abbey to the cross of Edinburgh, where they, with Mr James [Kirkaldy] and James Cockie, were hangit,’ ‘for keeping of the said castle against the king and his regent.’ – D. O.  Bir.

Such was the dismal end of one who had undoubtedly been a most valiant soldier, though, it must be added, an unsteady politician, and too much a follower of private ends in public affairs. When the castle surrendered, Kirkaldy fell into the power of the Regent Morton. He offered all he possessed for his life. But the Reformer’s prophecy was to be fulfilled, and how far it served to fulfil itself, we may surmise from what Morton wrote to the English agent. ‘Considering,’ he says, ‘what has been, and daily is, spoken by the preachers, that God’s plague will not cease while [till] the land be purged of blood, and having regard that such as are interested by the death of their friends, the destruction of their houses, and away taking of their goods, could not be satisfied by any offer made to me in particular… I deliberated to let justice proceed.’

Mr David Lindsay, who had gone with Kirkaldy’s fruitless offer, ‘the morn by nine hours comes again to the captain, the Laird of Grange [who was now confined under a guard in a house in the High Street], and taking him to a fore-stair of the lodging apart, resolves him it behoved him to suffer. “O, then, Mr David (says he), for our auld friendship, and for Christ’s sake, leave me not.”… Sae, about three hours afternoon, he was brought out, and Mr David with him, and about four, the sun being wast about the northward nook of the steeple, he was put aff the ladder, and his face first fell to the east, but within a little while, turned about to the west, and there remained against the sun; at whilk time, Mr David, ever present, says he marked him, when all thought he was away [dead], to lift up his hands that were bund before him, and lay them down again saftly; whilk moved him with exclamation to glorify God before all the people.’

The burgh records of Glasgow, of which liberal excerpts have been published by the Maitland Club,2 throw much light on manners and the state of society, and also on the burghal or municipal customs. Glasgow was then a little town, undistinguished from any other of its size, excepting in its university and a small commerce, chiefly of a coasting description.

The quarrels, flytings (scoldings), and acts of personal violence form by far the most conspicuous entries in these records. Men strike women, women clapperclaw each other, and even the dignitaries of the town are assailed on the street and in their council-house. Whingers (that is, swords) and pistols are frequently used in these conflicts, and sometimes with dire effects. As examples –

April 9, 1574. – ‘Alexander Curry and Marion Smith, spouses, are found in the wrang for troublance done by them to Margaret Hunter, in casting down of two pair of sheets, tamping them in the gutter, and striking of the said Margaret.’ Surety is given that Alexander and Marion shall in future abstain from striking each other; and ‘gif they flyte, to be brankit‘ – that is, invested with the king of iron bridle, with a tongue retroverted into the mouth, of which a description has already been given.

One common species of case is an attack of one female upon another, ‘striking of her, scarting of her, and dinging her to the erd’ (earth); in one instance, ‘shooting of her down in her awn fire.’ Injurious words often accompany or provoke these violent acts. Bartilmo Lawteth strikes ‘ane poor wife’ to the effusion of her blood. Ninian Swan strikes Marion Simpson with ‘ane tangs’ (pair of tongs), and knocks her down – she, however, having previously spit in his face.

In June 1589, Thomas Miln, chirurgeon, was brought before the magistrates for slanderous speeches against them, and for applying to the town itself an epithet which now, at least, appears strangely inapplicable – the Hungry Town of Glasgow. He was sentenced to appear at the cross and openly confess his fault.

Much light is thrown on the character of the age by the magistrates ordering ‘every booth-halder [shopkeeper] to have in readiness within the booth ane halbert, jack, and steel bonnet, for eschewing of sic inconveniences as may happen, conform to the auld statute made thereanent.’

The streets of the town appear to have been kept much in the same state in which we now find those of neglected country villages, yet not without efforts towards a better order of things. The ordinances for good order may be said to prove the disorder. It is statute (1574) ‘that there be nae middings laid upon the fore-gate [front street], nor yet in the Green, and that nae fleshers toom their uschawis upon the fore-gate, and that nae stanes or timber lie on the gate langer nor year and day.’ In 1577, this statute is renewed in nearly the same words, showing that it was but imperfectly obeyed; and next year there is a simple order ‘that the haill middings be removed off the Hie Gait, and that nane scrape on the Hie Gait.’

Several allusions are made in these records to the ‘knocks’ – that is, clocks – set up for the public convenience. An old one is repaired, and James Scott gets a sum ‘for labour done by him in colouring of the knock, moon, and horologe, and other common work of the town.’ References are made to several trades not known in our age by the same names, as a lorimer, the maker of the ironwork in horse-furniture; a snap-maker, by which is to be understood a maker of firelocks, then called snap-hances; a ladleman; a tabroner, meaning a drummer, &c. In 1577, the magistrates grant a pension of ten marks to Alexander Hay, chirurgeon, to encourage him to remain in Glasgow, ‘in readiness for serving of the town by his craft and art.’ This gentleman would bleed the citizens in exigencies of their health, and shave them daily.

In those days, the citizens of Glasgow kept each his cow, which was fed, under the care of a town’s herdsman, in a common beyond the walls.


Apr. 11. – A strange tragedy took place at the cross of Edinburgh. Robert Drummond, sometimes called Doctor Handie, who had been a great seeker and apprehender of papists, had been punished for adultery by exposure in the church and banishment from the city. Out of favour on account of his services against popery, he was pardoned and brought back; but being again found guilty of the same offence, he was condemned to exposure in the stocks at the cross, along with the companion of his crime; after which he was to be burnt in the cheek. While undergoing this punishment, ‘there being great science (?) of people about them, and the Doctor Handie being in ane great furie, said: “What wonder ye? I sall give you more occasion to wonder.” So, suddenly, he took his awn knife, wha strake himself three or four times fornent the heart, with whilk he departit. This done, the magistrates causit harl him in ane cart through the town, and the bloody knife borne behind in his hand; and on the morn harlit in the same manner to the gallows on the Burgh-muir, where he was buried.’ – D. O.

July 29. – The press was not likely to be a friend to the Regent, and the Regent, therefore, was not a friend to the press. At this date he induced the Privy Council to issue an edict that ‘nane tak upon hand to emprent or sell whatsoever book, ballet, or other werk,’ without its being examined and licensed, under pain of death and confiscation of goods. – P. C. R.

Sep. 3. – The town-council of Edinburgh agreed with a Frenchman that he should set up a school in the city to teach his own language, for which he should be entitled to charge each child twenty-five shillings yearly, besides enjoying a salary of twenty pounds during the council’s pleasure. – City Register, apud Maitland.

‘The summer right evil weather, and dear; the boll of malt five merk and half merk, and the boll of meal four merk and three merk. Evil August; wind and rain. The harvest evil weather that ever was seen; continual weet.’ – C. F. Consequently, in autumn and winter, ‘there was ane great dearth in Scotland of all kinds of victuals.’ – D. O.

Oct. 14. – ‘The pest came to Leith by ane passenger wha came out of England, and sundry died thereof before it was known.’ On the 24th, it entered Edinburgh, ‘brought in by ane dochter of Malvis Curll out of Kirkcaldy.’ The Court of Session abstained from sitting in consequence. ‘My Lord Regent’s grace skalit his house and men of weir, and was but six in household; I know not whether for fear of the pest or for sparing of expenses.’ – D. O.

In December, the kirk-session of Edinburgh, ‘foreseeing the great apparent plague and scourge of pest, hinging universally upon the haill realm,’ and considering that ‘the only ordinary means appointed by God in his holy word, whereby the said apparent scourge may be removed, is ane public fast and humiliation,’ did accordingly appoint such a fast, to last for eight days, with sermon and prayers every day, and the people’s ‘food to be breid and drink with all kind of sobriety.’

We do not hear of the pest proving very deadly in Scotland on this occasion.

In this year died David Home of Wedderburn, a gentleman of good account in Berwickshire, and father of the David Home of Godscroft, to whom Scottish literature owes the History of the House of Douglas. The son has left us a portraiture of the father, which, even when we make a good allowance for filial partiality, must be held as showing that society was not then without estimable members. ‘He died in the fiftieth year of his age, of a consumption, being the first (as is said) of his family who had died a natural death – all the rest having lost their lives in defence of their country.’

David is, moreover, described as being swift of foot and fond of foot-races. Horse-racing was also one of his amusements. ‘He collected a number of the swiftest horses both from the north of Scotland and from England, by the assistance of one Graeme, recommended to him by his brother-in-law, Lochinvar. He generally had eight or more of that kind, so that the prize was seldom won by any but those of his family… He was so great a master of the art of riding, that he would often be beat to-day, and within eight days lay a double wager on the some horses, and come off conqueror… He went frequently from home to his diversion, sometimes to Haddington, and sometimes to Peebles, the one of which is eighteen, and the other twenty-four miles distant, and sometimes stayed there for several days with numerous attendants, regardless of expense, as being too mean and sordid a care, and below the dignity of one of his rank.


Feb. – ‘In the meantime, there was ane great dearth in Scotland of all kind of victuals,’ – D. O.

Mar. 8. – Though copies of the English Bible had found their way into Scotland, and been of great service in promoting and establishing the reformed doctrines, there was as yet no abundance of copies, nor had any edition been printed within the kingdom. There was, however, a burgess of Edinburgh named Thomas Bassendyne, who for some years had had a small printing-office there. He was probably too poor a man to undertake the printing of a thick quarto, the form in which the Bible was then usually presented; but he took into association with himself a man of better connection and means, named Alexander Arbuthnot, also an Edinburgh burgess; and now it was deemed possible that an edition of the Scriptures might be brought out within the realm of Scotland. The government, under the Regent Morton, gave a favourable ear to the project, and it was further encouraged by the bishops, superintendents, and other leading men of the kirk.

On the day noted, the Privy Council, seeing that ‘the charge and hazard of the wark will be great and sumptuous,’ decreed that each parish in the kingdom should advance £5 as a contribution, to be collected under the care of the said officers of the church, £4, 13s. 4d. of this sum being considered as the price of a copy of the impression, to be afterwards delivered, ‘weel and sufficiently bund in paste or timmer,’ and the remaining 6s. 8d. as the expense of collecting the money. The money was to be handed to Alexander Arbuthnot before the 1st of July next.

Arbuthnot and Bassendyne, on their parts, bound themselves to execute the work under certain penalties, and respectable men came forward as their sureties. Those who stood for Arbuthnot were David Guthrie of Kincaldrum, William Guthrie of Halkerton, William Rynd of Carse, and James Arnot of Lentusche – all Forfarshire gentlemen, be it remarked – a fact arguing that Arbuthnot himself was of the same district. The exact arrangements of Arbuthnot and Bassendyne between themselves do not at this time appear; but we find that Bassendyne engaged in Flanders one ‘Salomon Kerknett of Magdeburg’ to come and act as ‘composer’ at 49s. of weekly wages,and sought the aid of Mr George Young, servant of the abbot of Dunfermline, as corrector of the press. Having ‘guid characters and prenting irons,’ it was to be expected that the work, great and sumptuous as it was, would go quickly and pleasantly on. This hope, however, was not to be realised. (See [July 18, 1576, below].) – P. C. R.

Mar. – Among the evils of these times, was one which the present generation knows nothing of but from history. Owing to the constant exporting of good coin, and the importing of bad, the circulating medium of the country was in a wretched state. There seems to have been a regular system for coining base placks and lions (otherwise called hardheads) in the Low Countries, to be introduced by merchants into Scotland. The Regent, in a proclamation, described the abundance of debased money as the chief cause of the present dearth, the possessors of grain being thus inclined to withhold it from market. For this reason, according to his own account, proceeding upon an act of the convention now sitting, he ordained the old coin to be brought to the cunyie-house, where it would be ‘clippit, and put in ane close lockit coffer cup on the count and inventar of the quantity receivit frae every person;’ and meanwhile the lately issued genuine placks and lions were to have currency at twopence and a penny apiece respectively – that is, at denominations above their value. Any one hereafter possessing the false coin, was to be punished as an out-putter of false money.

The Regent, while thus an oppressor of his people by attempting to enhance the value of the coin, was engaged in several sumptuous undertakings. He was restoring the castle of Edinburgh at a vast expense, and also erecting a new mint – putting over its door, by the way, a prayer ‘Be mercyfull to me, O God.’ His own personal extravagances were not less remarkable. He erected at Dalkeith a magnificent palace, richly adorned with tapestries and pictures, and fitter for a king than a subject. Here he lived in an appropriate style. All this he did at the expense of his enemies. He kept a fool named Patrick Bonny, who, seeing him one day pestered by a concourse of beggars, advised him to have them all burnt in one fire. ‘What an impious idea!’ said the Regent. ‘Not at all,’ replied the jester; ‘if the whole of these poor people were consumed, you would soon make more poor people out of the rich.’ – Jo. R. B. Hist.


Aug. – The General Assembly declared its mind regarding the dress fit for clergymen and their wives. ‘We think all kind of broidering unseemly; all begares3 of velvet, in gown, hose, or coat, and all superfluous and vain cutting out, steeking with silks, all kind of costly sewing on passments4… all kind of costly sewing or variant hues in sarks; all kind of light and variant hues in clothing, as red, blue, yellow, and such like, which declare the lightness of the mind; all wearing of rings, bracelets, buttons of silver, gold, or other metal; all kind of superfluity of cloth in making of hose; all using of plaids in the kirk by readers or ministers, namely, in the time of their ministry or using of their office; all kind of gowning, cutting, doubletting, or breeks of velvet, satin, taffeta, or such like; all silk hats, and hats of divers and light colours.’ It was recommended to the clergy, that ;their whole habit be of grave colour, as black, russet, sad gray, or sad brown; or serges, worset, chamlet, grogram, lytes worset, or such like… And their wives to be subject to the same order.’

It is rather curious that any such sumptuary regulations should have been required for the Presbyterian ministers, or even their helpmates, as, according to all accounts, their incomes for the first forty years after the Reformation were wretchedly narrow and irregular. The thirds of the old benefices assigned to them by Queen Mary’s act were far from being well paid. In the pathetic words of a memorial they presented to Mary in 1562, ‘most of them led a beggar’s life.’ They were as ill off under the grasping Morton as at any other time. The proceedings of the General Assembly of 1576 reveal that some were compelled to eke out their miserable stipends by selling ale to their flocks. The question was then formally put: ‘Whether a minister or reader may tap ale, beer, or wine, and keep an open tavern?’ to which it was answered: ‘Ane minister or reader that taps ale or beer or wine, and keeps ane open tavern, sould be exhorted by the commissioners to keep decorum.’ – B. U. K.


May 1. – ‘The first day of May, 1576 years, was sae evil, the wind and weet at the west-north-west, with great showers of snaw and sleet, that the like was nocht seen by them that was living, in mony years afore, sae evil.’ – Chr. Aber.

May. – The Earl of Huntly died in a sudden and mysterious manner at Strathbogie Castle. Having fallen down in a fit while playing at football, he was carried to bed, where he foamed at the mouth and nostrils, struggled with his hands, and stared wildly, as if he would have spoken, but could never command but one word – ‘Look, look, look.’ He also vomited a good deal of blood. After four hours’ illness, he expired.

‘Upon that Tyesday after the deid [death], ane surgeoner of Aberdeen, callit William Urquhart, came to Strathbogie and bowelled the dead corpse, which, after the bowelling, was ta’en out of the chalmer and had into the chapel, where it remaineth to the burial. John Hamilton receivit the key of the chalmer door again when the dead corpse was ta’en out. On Wednesday next, after the deid, Patrick Gordon, the earl’s brother, was sitting on ane form next to that chalmer door where that the dead corpse was bowelled; he hears ane great noise and din in that chalmer, whether it was of speech, of graning, or rumbling, I cannot tell. There was sixteen or twenty men in the hall with him; he gars call for John Hamilton, and asks gif there was onybody in that chalmer; the other said: “Nay.” He bade him hearken what he heard at the door, wha heard as he did. Then the key was brought him. He commandit John Hamilton to gang in, wha refused; he skipped in himself; John Hamilton followed ane step or twa, and came with speed again to the door for fear. Patrick passed to the inner side of the chalmer, and heard the like noise as he did when he was thereout, but yet could see nothing, for it was even, at the wayganging of the daylight. He came back again very affrayedly, and out at the door, and show[ed] so mony as bidden in the hall what he had heard, wha assayit to pass to the chalmer, to know what was there; but nane enterit ower the threshold; all came back for fear. This pastime lasted them more nor ane hour. Candles were brought, the chalmer vissied [examined]; nothing there. As soon as they came to the door again, the noise was as great as of before, the candles burning there ben [within]; they said to me that knows it, there is not sae meikle a quick thing as a mouse may enter within that chalmer, the doors and windows [being] steekit, it is so close all about. Judge ye how ghaists and gyre-carlins come in among them. They were ane hour or twa at this bickering, while ane man of the place comes in among them, and said to Patrick: “Fye, for gif he was not tentie [careful], the bruit [report] wald pass through the country that the Earl of Huntly had risen again.” The Patrick called them that had heard it, and commandit that nae sic word should be spoken.’ – Ban.

July 18. – The work of printing the Bible, undertaken by Arbuthnot and Bassendyne in March of the year preceding, had proved a heavier undertaking than they expected, and had met with ‘impediments.’ They now therefore came with their sureties before the Privy Council, and pleaded for nine months’ further time to complete the work, obliging themselves, in case of failure, to return the money which had been contributed by the various parishes. This grace was extended to them.

On the 5th January 1576-7, the work of the Bible was still in hand, and we have then a complaint made to the Regent by ‘Salomon Kerknett of Magdeburg, composer of wark of the Bible,’ to the effect that Thomas Bassendyne had refused since the 23d of December bypast, to pay him the weekly wages of 49s., agreed upon between them when he was engaged in Flanders. The Regent, finding the complaint just, ordered Bassendyne to pay Kerknett his arrears, and continue paying him at the same rate till the work should be finished.

Six days later, a more serious complaint was made against Bassendyne – namely, by Alexander Arbuthnot, that he would not deliver to Alexander, as he had contracted to do, the printing-house and the Bible, so far as printed, ‘wherethrough the wark lies idle, to the great hurt of the commonweal of the realm.’ The Regent, having heard parties, and being ripely advised by the Lords of the Council, ordered that Bassendyne should deliver the printing-house and Bible to Alexander Arbuthnot before the end of the month. – P. C. R.

Such were the difficulties which stood in the way of the first edition of the Bible printed in Scotland.

‘The whilk summer was right guid weather; but there was weir betwixt my Lord of Argyle and my Lord Athole, and great spoliation made by the men of Lochaber on puir men. God see till that.’

‘All June, July, and August right evil weather… Nae aits shorn in Fortingall the 23 day of September… All October evil weather; mickle corn unshorn and unled.’ – C. F.

Nov. 8. – The trial of Elizabeth or Bessie Dunlop of Lyne, in Ayrshire, for the alleged crime of witchcraft. Bessie was a married woman, apparently in middle life, and her only offence was giving information, as from a supernatural source, regarding articles which had been stolen, and for the cure of diseases. ‘She herself had nae kind of art nor science sae to do;’ she obtained her information, when she required it, from ‘ane Tom Reid, wha died at Pinkie,’ that is, at the battle fought there twenty-nine years before. her intercourse with a deceased person seems to have given herself little surprise, and she spoke of it with much coolness.

Being asked, ‘what kind of man this Tom Reid was, [she] declarit, he was ane honest, weel, elderly man, gray-beardit, and had ane gray coat with Lombard sleeves of the auld fashion; ane pair of gray breeks and white shanks [stockings], gartenit aboon the knee; ane black bonnet on his head, close behind and plain before; with silken laces drawn through the lips thereof; and ane white wand in his hand. Being interrogat how and in what manner of place the said Tom Reid came to her, [she] answerit, as she was ganging betwixt he awn house and the yard of Monkcastle, driving her kye to the pasture, and making heavy sair dule with herself, greeting very fast for her cow that was dead, her husband and child that were lying sick in the land-ill, and she new risen out of gissan [childbed], the said Tom met her by the way, halsit her [took her round the neck, saluting her], and said: “Gude day, Bessie;” and she said: “God speed you, gudeman.” “Sancta Maria,” said he, “Bessie, why makes thou sae great dule and sair greeting for ony warldly thing?” She answerit: “Alas, have I not cause to make great dule? for our gear is traikit [dwindled away], and my husband is on the point of deid, and ane baby of my awn will not live, and myself at ane weak point; have I not gude cause, then, to have ane sair heart?” But Tom said: “Bessie, thou hast crabbit [irritated] God, and askit something you should not have done; and therefore I counsel thee to mend to him, for I tell thee thy bairn shall die, and the sick cow, ere you come hame; thy twa sheep shall die too; but thy husband shall mend, and be as haill and feir as ever he was.” And then was I something blyther, frae he tauld me that my gudeman wald mend. Then Tom Reid went away from me in through the yard of Monkcastle; and I thought he gaed in at ane narrower hole of the dyke nor ony eardly man could have gane through; and sae I was something fleyit [frightenend].’

Bessie from time to time consulted her ghostly friend about cases of sickness for which her skill was required. ‘Tom gave out of his awn hand ane thing like the root of ane beet, and bade her either seethe or make ane saw [salve] of it, or else dry it, and make powder of it, and give it to sick persons, and they should mend… She mendit John Jack’s bairn, and Wilson’s of the town, and her gudeman’s sister’s cow… Interrogate, gif she could tell of ony thing that was away, or ony thing that was to come, [she] answerit, that she could do naething of herself, but as Tom tauld her… mony fols in the country [came to her] to get wit of gear stolen frae them… The Lady Thirdpart in the barony of Renfrew sent to her and speerit at her, wha was it that had stolen frae her twa horns of gold, and ane crown of the sun, out of her purse? And after she had spoken with Tom, within twenty days, she sent her word wha had them; and she gat them again.’

Bessie states that Tom asked her to go with him to Elfame, that is, Fairyland. He used to come chiefly to her at noon. She had seen him walking among the people in the kirkyard of Dalry; also once in the High Street of Edinburgh, on a market-day, where he laughed to her. Having once ridden with her husband to Leith to bring home meal – ‘ganging afield to tether her horse at Restalrig Loch, there came ane company of riders bye, that made sic ane din as heaven and eard had gane together; and incontinent they rade into the loch, with mony hideous rumble. Tom tauld it was the gude wights that were riding in middle-eard.’

Being found guilty of sorcery and other evil arts laid to her charge, Bessie Dunlop was consigned to the flames. – Pit.

The modern student of insanity can have no difficulty with this case: it is simply one of hallucination, the consequence of diseased conditions.


Feb. 14. – The Regent, seeing the present abundance of corns in the country, and considering how in bypast times of dearth the people of Scotland had ‘received large help and support of victuals out of the easter seas, France, Flanders, and England,’ thought it proper that ‘the like favour and guid neighbourheid, charity and amity, should be extendit towards the people of the said countries in this present year, when it has pleasit God to visie them with the like dearth and scarcity.’ This was the more proper, in as far as ‘the farmers sould be greatly interested, gif they were constrainit to sell their corns at the low prices now current,’ seeing that their expenses were now as great as when in other times they were getting double prices. For these and other good reasons (whereof probably not the least was a good douceur from a few corn-merchants, such as Robert Gourlay), the Regent was pleased to arrange for a short suspension of the act of parliament forbidding the export of corn out of the country, taking on himself the power of licensing that operation to a certain modified extent. – P. C. R.


‘That April, right evil weather; and the May, mickle weet and rain; and June, right evil, weet and wind; and the beir-seed right late in all places, while after Sanct Colm’s Day [9th June].’ – C. F.

Nov. 13. – ‘This year, in the winter, appeared a terrible comet, the stern [star, forming the head] whereof was very great, and proceeding from it towards the east a long tail, in appearance of an ell and a half, like to a besom or scourge made of wands all fiery. It raise nightly in the south-west, not above a degree and a half ascending above the horizon, and continued about a sax weeks or twa month, and piece and piece wore away. The greatest effects whereof that out of our country we heard, was a great and mighty battle in Barbaria in Afric, wherein three kings were slain, with a huge multitude of people. And within the country the chasing away of the Hamiltons, &c.’ – Ja. Mel.

The notices of comets given by our old historical writers and diarists have no scientific value. They are only worthy of notice as showing the views entertained regarding comets by the people of an early and unenlightened age.

The comet of 1577 was a very noted one, seen over Europe and Asia, also in Peru, and well observed by Tycho Brahé. Its tail, according to the description of the Danish astronomer, extended over 22 degrees. Such was the real space, described by James Melville as an ell and a half!

Dec. 18. – ‘The Lord Somerville had often importuned the Lords of Session for a hearing in the Inner House [of a cause respecting lands, in which he was engaged against his relation, Somerville of Cambusnethan], but was still postponed by the moyen [means] and interest of the Laird of Cambusnethan and the Lady. At length he was advised to use this policy, by one who knew the temper and avarice of Morton, then Regent. This gentleman’s advice was, that the Lord Somerville should have his advocates in readiness, and his process in form, against the next day; timely in the morning, that he might not be prevented by other solicitors, he should wait upon the Regent in his own bed-chamber. And, whatever answer he should receive from the Regent, he desired my Lord Somerville not to be much concerned; but upon his taking leave, he should draw out his purse and make as though he intended to give the waiting-servants some money, and thereupon slip down his purse with the gold therein upon the table, and thereafter make quickly down-stairs, without taking notice of any cry that might come after him. The Lord Somerville punctually obeyed this gentleman’s direction and advice in all points. Timely the next morning with his principal advocate he was with the Regent, and informed him fully of his affair. It being the custom for noblemen and gentlemen at that time always to keep their money in purses, this the Lord Somerville draws out, as it were to take out a piece of money to give to the doorkeeper, and leaves it negligently upon the table. He went quickly down-stairs, and took no notice of the Regent’s still crying after him: “My lord, you have forgot your purse,” but went on still, until he came the length of the outer porch, now the Duke of Hamilton’s lodging, when a gentleman that attended the Regent came up, and told him that it was the Regent’s earnest desire that his lordship would be pleased to return and breakfast with him; which accordingly the Lord Somerville did, knowing weel that his project had taken effect.

‘About ten o’clock, the Regent went to the house, which was the same which is now the Tolbooth Church, in coach. There was none with him but the Lord Boyd and the Lord Somerville. Cambusnethan, by accident, as the coach passed, was standing at Niddry’s Wynd head, and having inquired who was in it with the Regent, he was answered: “None but the Lord Somerville and the Lord Boyd;” upon which he struck his breast, and said: “This day my cause is lost;” and indeed it proved so; for about eleven hours, the 18th day of December 1577, this action was called and debated until twelve most contentiously by the advocates upon both sides… After the debate was closed, the interlocutor passed in my Lord Somerville’s favours… Thus ended that expensive plea betwixt the houses of Cowthally and Cambusnethan, after seven or eight years’ debate, and these lands of Lothian [Drum, Gilmerton, and Goodtrees] returned again to the Lords Somerville, when they had been fourscore years complete in the possession of the family of Cambusnethan.’ – M. of S.

Although this story was transcribed from family tradition a century after the alleged occurrence, there is too much reason in the monstrous avarice of Morton to believe it near the truth.

The crop of this year must have failed to a lamentable extent, as, immediately after harvest, we hear of ‘exorbitant dearth of victual and penury thereof,’ and the ensuing year was, according to a contemporary diarist, marked by ‘ane great dearth of all kinds of victuals, through all Scotland, that the like was not seen in man’s days afore.’ According to the latter authority, ‘the meal was sauld for sax shillings the peck, the ale for ten pence the pint, the wine for the best cheap forty pence the pint; fish and flesh was scant and dear.’ – Aber. Chron.

In November 1577 two boat-loads of beir were about to sail from Aberdeen harbour for Leith, when the town-council arrested them, and ordained the victual to be sold to the inhabitants of Aberdeen at ‘competent prices.’5

According to the usual policy in such cases, the government (April 14, 1578) issued a proclamation commanding the possessors of grain to thrash it out before the 10th of June, under the pain of escheating, and that no person should keep more victual than was sufficient to serve him and his family a quarter of a year, the rest to be brought to the market within twenty days. It was also ordered, that no grain should be taken forth of the kingdom, but ‘strangers bringing in victual should be favourably enterteened and thankfully paid.’ – Cal. This proclamation, being entirely accordant with the prejudices of the masses, was ‘mickle commendit.’ – Moy.


Mar. 17. – There was an ancient feud between the families of Glammis and Crawford, but as the present lords were on the same side in politics, it was felt by both as inexpedient that any hostility should take place between them. Moreover, it would have been highly indecent of Lord Glammis, who was chancellor of the kingdom, to allow any demonstration of rancour to come from his side. Nevertheless, a fatal collision took place between these two nobles.

About the dusk of a spring day, Lord Glammis was coming down from Stirling Castle to his own house in the town, attended as usual by some of his friends and followers, when, in a narrow lane, he encountered the Earl of Crawford similarly attended. The two nobles bade their respective followers give way to the other; and the order was obeyed by all except the two last, who either wilfully or by accident jostled each other, and then immediately drew their swords and fell a-fighting. A skirmish then took place between the two parties, in the course of which Lord Glammis, whose stature made him overtop the company, was shot through the head with a pistol, and many were hurt on both sides.

The respective friends of Glammis and Crawford fell into active hostilities after this event, and Crawford was seized and thrown into prison. Being really free from blame,and befriended by many of the nobility, he was soon liberated, to the great joy of his own people. The general joy diffused by this event exasperated Thomas Lyon, a nephew of the deceased chancellor, insomuch that ‘Crawford all his life was glad to stand in a soldier’s posture.’ – Jo. Hist.

Sep. 11. – An attempt was made by proclamation to raise the value of the coin, thirty-shilling pieces being ordained to pass for 32s. 8d., and twenty, ten, and five shilling pieces in proportion, refusal of the coin at the exalted rates being threatened with capital punishment. ‘This was altogether mislikit by the common people, and specially by the inhabitants of Edinburgh.’ – Moy.


Feb. 21. – ‘The whilk day, the lords of secret council has thought meet and expedient that the king’s majesty sould not write to the lords of his hienes’ council and session in furtherance or hindrance of ony particular persons’ actions and causes in time coming, but suffer them to proceed and do justice in all actions privilegit to be decidit by them, as they sall answer to God and his hienes thereupon.’ – P. C. R.

James was now twelve and a half years old, but nominally in possession of the government. We see that his influence was already sought by individuals to affect the course of the chief civil tribunal of the country. It will appear a characteristic circumstance, and there are many others to corroborate its general purport; yet it is but right to remark, as the general impression produced by a perusal of the Privy Council record, that the decisions given there on matters of right between individuals are, on the whole, marked by an appearance of fairness and impartiality. Oppression from high quarters is frequently denounced; and there are numberless instances of a humane and forbearing spirit towards poor and unfortunate people.


‘The magistrates of [Glasgow], by the earnest dealing of Mr Andrew Melville and other ministers, had condescended to demolish the cathedral, and build with the materials thereof some little churches in other parts, for the ease of the citizens. Divers reasons were given for it – such ass, the resort of superstitious people to do their devotion in that place; the huge vastness of the church, and that the voice of a preacher could not be heard by the multitudes that convened to sermon; the more commodious service of the people; and the removing of that idolatrous monument (so they called it) which was of all the cathedrals in the country only left unruined, and in a possibility to be repaired. To do this work, a number of quarriers, masons, and other workmen was conducted, and the day assigned when it should take beginning. Intimation being made thereof, and the workmen by sound of a drum warned to go unto their work, the crafts of the city in a tumult took arms, swearing with many oaths, that he who did cast down the first stone should be buried under it. neither could they be pacified till the workmen were discharged by the magistrates. A complaint was hereupon made, and the principals cited before the council for insurrection: where the king, not as then thirteen years of age, taking the protection of the crafts, did allow [sanction] the opposition they had made, and inhibited the ministers (for they were the complainers) to meddle any more in that business, saying, “That too many churches had already been destroyed, and that he would not tolerate more abuses in that kind.” ‘ – Spot.

Apr. – John Stewart, Earl of Athole, was one of the more respectable of the Scottish nobility of this age. To Queen Mary – whom he had entertained at a hunt in Glen Tilt in 1564 – he proved a faithful friend, till her fatal marriage with Bothwell, when, although a Catholic, he joined those who crowned her son as king. During the regencies, he lived in dignified retirement, till called upon to make an effort to rescue the young king from the thraldom in which he was held by Morton. A temporary fall of Morton in 1577 left Athole chancellor of the kingdom.

He now came to Stirling, to assist in accommodating some quarrels of the friends of the Mar family regarding the custody of the young king and the government of Stirling Castle. ‘Matters being seemingly adjusted, the old Countess of Mar, or the Earl of Morton, in her name, invited the chancellor to an entertainment. While they were drinking hard, somebody conveyed a deadly poison into the chancellor’s glass.’ April 16th, ‘the chancellor passed forth of Stirling to Kincardine,6 very sick and ill at ease, and upon the 24th day deceased there.’ His friends, thinking he had got foul play, sent to Edinburgh for surgeons to open the body; and though these men of skill declared upon oath that they found no trace of poison or mark of violence done to the deceased, the widow and eldest son entered a protest that this should not prejudge the criminal process which they intended before the Justice-general. ‘Some blamed the old Countess of Mar for it; others suspected the Earl of Morton at the bottom of it.’ Both suspicions were probably groundless; it may even be doubted if the earl was poisoned at all. When under sentence of death some years after, Morton solemnly denied the crime imputed to him, and said in no circumstances would he have injured a hair of Athole’s head.

‘Upon the seventh of July, the corpse of the Earl of Athole being convoyit to Dunblane, was carried forth thereof the direct way to Dunfermline, where they remained that night. Upon the morn, they passed forth to Edinburgh , where a great number of friends were convenit to the burial. Upon the tenth day, [the body of the earl] was honourably convoyit with his friends from Haliroodhouse to St Giles’ Kirk, where he was buried on the east side of the altar on the south side of the church.

Owing to the general belief as to the mode of the earl’s death, his funeral brought forth strong marks of public feeling.7 It appears that, before it took place, there was a rumour that the relatives of the deceased designed that it should be attended with sundry superstitious rites, as ‘a white cross in the mortclaith, lang gowns with stroups, and torches.’ A deputation from the General Assembly come to inquire, and were asked to satisfy themselves by inspecting the preparations. ‘The kirk thought the cross and the stroups superstitious and ethnic-like, and desirit them to remove the same.’ It was accordingly arranged to cover the cross with black velvet and to remove the stroups. – B. U. K.

Aug. 12. – ‘Twa poets of Edinburgh, remarking some of his [the Earl of Morton’s] sinistrous dealing, did publish the same to the people by a famous libel written against him; and Morton, hearing of this, causit the men to be brought to Stirling, where they were convict for slandering ane of the king’s councillors, and were there baith hangit. The names of the men were William Turnbull, schoolmaster in Edinburgh, and William Scott, notar. They were baith weel beloved of the common people for their common offices.’ – H. K. J. ‘Which was thought a precedent, never one being hanged for the like before; and in the meantime, at the scattering of the people, there were ten or twelve despiteful letters and infamous libels in prose, found, as if they had been lost among the people, tending to the reproach of the Earl of Morton and his predecessors.’ – Moy. R.

At the fall of Morton, less than two years after, when he was taken prisoner and conducted to Edinburgh Castle – ‘as he passed the Butter Tron, a woman who had her husband put to death at Stirling for a ballad entitled Daff and dow nothing [as much as to say, “Sport, and be at your ease”], sitting down on her bare knees, poured out many imprecations upon him.’ – Cal.

Aug. 17. – During the night following this day, ‘there blew sic ane tempest at the herring drave of Dunbar, that three-score fisher-boats and three hundred men perished.’ – Moy.



1  The word its did not then exist, and writers were forced to use either his or her instead.
2  Under the care of John Smith, youngest, the secretary of the Club. 1832.
3  Coloured stripes sewed on a garment.
4  Fringes or trimmings.
5  Aberdeen Council Register, Spal. Cl. Mis., i. 30.
6  The seat of the Earl of Montrose, on the skirts of the Ochil Hills.
7  Crawford’s Officers of State. Moysie’s Memoirs.
*  Which we can see in his inaction of his mother Mary’s execution.

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