Reign of James the Sixth, 1578-1585, pp.81-98.


VERY soon after Morton had demitted the regency, he partly recovered his power, and this he continued for some time to exercise. They young king remained in Stirling Castle, under considerable restraint. With a view to acquire some control over him, as the only means of resisting the English or Protestant interest, his mother and French grand-uncles sent to his court a young gentleman of engaging manners, in whom they had confidence. This was Esme Stuart, usually called Monsieur d’Aubigné a member of the Lennox family, being nephew of the late Regent, but who had been brought up in France. It was belie3ved that he carried with him forty thousand pieces of gold, to be employed in winning favour with the Scottish nobility. About the same time, another but more distant relative, James Stuart, of the Ochiltree family, a captain in the royal guard – afterwards created Earl of Arran – began to acquire favour with the king. This was altogether a less worthy person than D’Aubigné, being arrogant, domineering, and vicious. D’Aubigné, however, being a Catholic, and suspected of designs in favour of popery, was perhaps the least liked of the two.

It was in September 1579, when little more than thirteen years of age, that James was for the first time so far liberated from the control of Morton and other councillors, as to be able to leave his castle of Stirling. Accompanied by D’Aubigné, then newly arrived, he made a formal visit to Edinburgh, where the citizens gave him a most affectionate reception.

This was a more important crisis of British history than is generally supposed. It was now that a commencement was made of that struggle for authority which we see going on through the remainder of this and the whole of the ensuing century. James had been reared as the creature of the zealous Presbyterian party. When he began to judge for himself, and to become conversant with minds beyond the range of his earlier associations, his affections led him to prefer those who had been his mother’s friends, and he soon came to believe that they and such as they were likely to be his own warmest supporters. What was most important of all, he found that the Presbyterian clergy, while professing respect for him as the chief magistrate of the land, and disposed to obey him in civil matters, claimed to be, in things ecclesiastical, not merely independent of him, but his superiors. In their view, as far as his own religious and moral practice was concerned, King James was only a parishioner of the Canongate. The pretension only set him upon looking up scriptural texts too, texts which could be interpreted as setting the royal authority equally above human challenge; and such were not difficult to be found. Hence arose the celebrated doctrine of the divine right of kings – a sort of antithesis to a doctrine which would have made kings in one important respect the subjects of a set of church-courts. And so commenced that unfortunate4 course of things in our national; history, which has presented this king as in constant antagonism to the ecclesiastical forms and order of worship preferred by the great bulk of his people, as seeking by all arts to thrust hated systems upon them, and as founding a policy which, becoming a deadly and obstinate struggle with his descendants, alternatively gave us anarchy and despotism, till it ended in the total overthrow of the main line of the House of Stuart.

Notwithstanding a strenuous opposition from Elizabeth and the Presbyterian clergy, D’Aubigné, whom James made Earl, and finally Duke of Lennox, succeeded in greatly advancing the French interest. It was in vain that the ministers railed at him as a papist: he coolly came before them and abjured popery. A Confession of Faith, condemning the pope and all his pretensions and works, was brought forward: James and his councillors, including the Earl of Lennox, unhesitatingly signed it (January 28, 1580-1). Morton, who alone possessed the personal character that could effectually stand for the English interest and the kirk, had, by his cruel and avaricious conduct, lost the support of all classes, the clergy included. It was even found possible to effect the ruin of this great man. On the last of December, 1580, the adventurer Stuart came into the council-chamber, and, falling on his knees, accused the ex-Regent of being concerned in the murder of his majesty’s father. To the general surprise, he fell without a struggle, and after a few months’ confinement, he perished on the scaffold (June 2, 1581).

At length there was a reaction against the dominion of the two court favourites, Lennox and Stuart. A combination of nobles of the ultra-Protestant party – the Earl of Gowrie, the Earl of Mar, Lord Glammis, and others, laid a gentle compulsion on the young king while he was staying at Ruthven House near Perth (August 1582), and his councillors Lennox and Arran were debarred from his presence. After this event, known in our history as the Raid of Ruthven, the king remained under the control of his new councillors for a year, during which a pure Presbyterianism was again encouraged, and the English alliance was cultivated. The Duke of Lennox was forced to withdraw to France, where, to the great grief of the king, he soon after contracted a sickness, and died.

Regaining his liberty by stratagem, James once more put himself under the guidance of the profligate but energetic Arran. A modified episcopate was established in the church, under a subordination to the state, and a restraint was imposed on the tongues of the clergy in the pulpit. The Earl of Gowrie was brought to the block. Several ministers, including Melville, had to take refuge in England. But the general tendency of things in Scotland was inconsistent with the rule of man possessing the genius of Arran. Elizabeth too, deemed it best for her interests that others should have the control of Scottish affairs. Accordingly, a new and more formidable combination of nobles was formed. Joined by Lord John Hamilton, the head of the long proscribed House of Hamilton, and by Lord Maxwell, whom Arran had offended, they advanced with an army of 5000 men to Stirling, then the seat of the court. Arran, unable to resist, fled, and was allowed to fall into obscurity. The king with great placidity put himself into the hands of his new councillors (November 1585). This coup d’état was followed by the restoration of the Hamilton family to its titles and estates.



The young king having now assumed the government, and being about to make his first visit to Edinburgh, the magistrates and citizens were anxious to give him an honourable reception. There was immediately a great bustle regarding the preparation of a silver cupboard and other pieces of plate to be presented to him, as well as the getting of dresses suitable to be worn by the chief men at the royal entry. There was even a deputation to the High School, ‘to vesie the maister of the Hie Schule tragedies to be made by the bairns, and to report;’ besides another ‘to speak the Frenchman for his opinion in device of the triumph.’

All merchants stented to above ten pounds were enjoined to have ‘everilk ane of them ane goune of fine black camlet of silk of serge, barrit with velvet, effeiring his substance.’ All stented to sixteen pounds, ‘to have their gounes of the like stuff, the breists thereof linit with velvet, and begairit with coits of velvet, damas, or sattin.’ The thirteen city-officers were to have each a livery composed of three ells of English stemming to be hose, six quarters of Rouen canvas to be doublets, with 13s. 4d. for passments, and a black hat with a white string.

Another preparative was an edict, that all manner of persons having cruives for swine under their stairs or in common vennels, ‘and sic like as has middings and fulyie collectit, or has tar barrels on the Hie Street, as also ony redd1 stanes or timber on the said Hie Street or common vennels, remove the same.’ Pioneers, too, ‘to shool in the muck outwith the West Port.’ The inhabitants to hang their stairs with tapestry and arras work. The Privy Council, on their part, proclaimed penalties against all who should come with firearms, or any other armour than their swords and whingers.

Sep. 30. – The boy-king came from Stirling attended by about two thousand men on horseback, and received an enthusiastic reception from the citizens of Edinburgh.

Oct. 20. – The Estates passed an act against ‘strang and idle beggars,’ and ‘sic as make themselves fules and are bards;’ likewise against ‘the idle people calling themselves Egyptians, or any other that feigns them to have knowledge of charming, prophecy, or other abused sciences, whereby they persuade the people that they can tell their weird, deaths, and fortunes, and sic other fantastical imaginations.’ The act condemns all sorts of vagrant idle people, including ‘minstrels, sangsters, and tale-tellers, not avowed in special service by some of the lords of parliament or great burghs,’ and ‘vagabond scholars of the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen.’

By this time, Arbuthnot’s edition of the Bible was completed and in circulation. The gratification of the clergy on seeing such a product of the native press, found eloquent expression in an address of the General Assembly to the king (June 1579), when they took occasion to praise the printer as ‘a man who hath taken great pains and travel worthy to be remembered;’ and told how there should henceforth be a copy in every parish kirk, to be called the Common Book of the Kirk, ‘as the most meet ornament for such a place.’ – B. U. K.

Nov. 10. – In that unmistrusting reliance on force for religious objects which marked the age, it was enacted in parliament, that each householder worth three hundred merks of yearly rent, and all substantious yeomen and burgesses esteemed as worth five hundred pounds in land and goods, should have a Bible and psalm-book in the vulgar tongue, under the penalty of ten pounds. A few months later (June 16, 1580), one John Williamson was commissioned under the privy seal to visit and search every house in the realm, ‘and to require the sicht of their Bible and psalm-buke, gif they ony have, to be marked with their awn name, for eschewing of fraudful dealing in that behalf.’ – Maitland Club Miscellany.

The zeal of the clergy, their self-denying poverty, their resoluteness in advancing their views of church polity against court influence, have all been touched upon. Little more than six hundred in number – for hundreds of the parishes had no minister – they were indefatigable in their efforts to moralise the rude mass of the community; although it was, by their own account, such as might have appeared hopeless to other men; there being now, as they said, a ‘universal corruption in the whole realm,’ ‘great coldness and slackness’ even in the professors of religion, and a ‘daily increase of all kinds of fearful sins and enormities, with all manner of disorders and ungodly living.’


June 25. – ‘… being Saturday, betwixt three o’clock afternoon and Sunday’s night thereafter, there blew such a vehement tempest of wind, that it was thought to be the cause that a great many of the inhabitants of Edinburgh contracted a strange sickness, which was called Kindness. It fell out in the court, as well as sundry parts of the country, so that some people who were corpulent and aged deceased very suddenly. It continued with every one that took it three days at least.’ – Moy. R.

July. – The king being at St Andrews on a progress with the Regent Morton, the gentlemen of the country had a guise or fence to play before him. ‘The play was to be acted in the New Abbey.2 While the people is gazing and longing for the play, Skipper Lindsay, a phrenetic man, stepped into the place which was kept void till the players came, and paceth up and down in sight of the people with great gravity, his hands on his side, and looking loftily. He had a manly countenance, but was all rough with hair. He had great tufts of hair upon his brows, and also a great tuft upon the neb of his nose. At the first sight, the people laughed loud; but when he began to speak he procured attention, as if it had been to a preacher. He discoursed with great force of spirit, and mighty voice, exhorting men of all ranks and degrees to hear him, and take example by him. He declared how wicked and riotous he had been, what he had done and conquest [acquired] by sea, how he had spended and abased himself on land, and what God had justly brought upon him for the same. He had wit, he had riches, he had strength and ability of body, he had fame and estimation above all others of his trade and rank; but all was vanity that made him misken his God. But God would not be mistaken by the highest. Turning himself to the boss [empty] window, where the king and Aubigné was above, and Morton standing beneath, gnapping upon his staff, he applied to him in special, as was marvellous in the ears of the hearers; so that many were astonished and some moved to tears, beholding and hearkening to the man. Among other things, he warned the earl, not obscurely, that his judgment was drawing near and his doom in dressing. And in very deed at the same time was his death contrived. The contrivers would have expected a discovery, if they had not known the man to be phrenetic and bereft of his wit. The earl was so moved and touched at the heart, that, during the time of the play, he never changed the gravity of his countenance for all the sports of the play.’ – Cal.

Oct. – Lord Ruthven and Lord Oliphant were at feud, in consequence of a dispute about tiends. The former, on his return from Kincardine, where he had been attending the Earl of Mar’s marriage, passed near Lord Oliphant’s seat of Dupplin, near Perth. This was construed by Oliphant into a bravado on the part of Ruthven. His son, the Master of Oliphant, accordingly came forth with a train of armed followers, and rode hastily after Lord Ruthven. The foremost of Ruthven’s party, taking a panic, fled in disorder, notwithstanding their master’s call to them to stay. He was then obliged to fly also; but his kinsman, Alexander Stewart, of the House of Traquair, stayed to try to pacify the Oliphant party. He was shot with a harquebus by one who did not know whom he was, to the great grief of the Master.

Lord Ruthven prosecuted the Master for this outrage. The Earl of Morton, out of regard to Douglas of Lochleven, whose son-in-law Oliphant was, gave his influence on that side, and thus incurred some odium, which probably helped to bring about his destruction soon after. – Cal.

Oct. 20. – In a General Assembly held at Edinburgh, an order was issued to execute the acts of the kirk upon apostates; ‘particularly that the Laird of Dun execute this act upon the Master of Gray, an apostate now returned to Scotland. It being reported to the king that the Master of Gray his house did shake and rock in the night as with an earthquake, and the king [then fourteen years old] interrogating  David Ferguson [minister of Dunfermline], “What he thought it could mean that that house alone should shake and totter?” he answered: “Sir, why should not the devil rock his awn bairns?” ‘ – Row’s History.

An earthquake noted in Howes’s Chronicle as having been experienced in Kent at midnight of the first of May this year, was probably the cause of the rocking felt at the Master of Gray’s house. In Kent it made ‘the people to rise out of their beds and run to the churches, where they called upon God by earnest prayers to be merciful to them.’

George Auchinleck of Balmanno had been one of the confidants of the Regent in the days of his power. It being well known that he had influence in bringing about the decision of lawsuits, the highest nobility were glad at that time to pay court to him. As an illustration of the nature of his position – Coming one day from the Regent’s house at Dalkeith to Edinburgh, and walking up the High Street, he met one Captain Nesbit, with whom he had some slight quarrel, and drawing his sword, instantly thrust him through the body, so that he was left for dead. So far from seeking concealment after this violence, Auchinleck held straight on to the Tolbooth, where the Court of Session sat, as though he had done no wrong; after which he coolly made his way back to the Regent’s court at Dalkeith. It does not appear that he was in any way punished for stabbing Nesbit.

On another occasion, as Auchinleck stood within the bar of the Tolbooth, an old man of unprosperous appearance made his way through the crowd, asking permission to speak with him. When Auchinleck turned to ask what he wanted, the old man said: ‘I am Oliver Sinclair!’ and without another word, turned and went away. It was the quondam favourite of James V., now a poor and dejected gentleman, albeit connected by near ties with some of the greatest men in the country. Men talked much of this proceeding of Sinclair: it seemed to them equivalent to his saying: ‘Be not too proud of your interest at court. I was once as you are; you may fall to be as I am.’ – H. of G.

The prediction was now verified, for, Morton being out of power and in danger of his life, Auchinleck no longer had influence at council or in court. He, moreover, stood in no small personal danger from his many enemies. As he was walking on the High Street of Edinburgh (Dec. 12), he was beset at a passage near St Giles’s Church by William Bickerton of Casch and four other gentlemen, who assailed him with bended pistols, by one of which he was shot through the body, after which he was left for dead. This was thought to be done in revenge for an attack by him upon Archibald, the brother of William Bickerton. The assailants were all found guilty of the slaughterous attempt, but without the aggravation of its being done within three-quarters of a mile of the king’s person, seeing that ‘the king’s majesty was furth at the hunting, the time of the committing thereof.’ – Pit.

Auchinleck survived this accident, and we find him in the ensuing March in the hands of the Earl of Arran, and put to the torture, in order to extort from him a confession of certain crimes with which he was charged, but which he denied. He took a part in the affair of the Raid of Ruthven in August 1582. When the Earl of Arran on that occasion, hearing of the king’s being secluded in Ruthven House, came to try if he could gain access to him, ‘the Earl of Gowrie met him at the gate, and had straightaway killed him, if George Auchinleck had not held his hand as he was about to have pulled out his dagger to have stabbed him.’ – H. of G.


Jan. 28. – A Confession of Faith was this day subscribed by the king, his household and courtiers, including Lennox, and many of the nobility and other persons, professing ‘the religion now revealed to the world by the preaching of the blessed evangel,’ and solemnly abjuring all the doctrines and practices of the Romish Church.3

Jan. 29. – This day, Sunday, there were gay doings in the boy-king’s court of Holyrood, namely, running at the ring, jousting, and such-like pastimes, besides sailing about in boats and galleys at Leith. – Cal.


Mar. 11. – The ex-Regent now lay a hopeless prisoner in Dumbarton Castle, chiefly occupied, we are told, in reading the Bible, which, though he had forced the people to buy it under a penalty, he had hitherto much neglected himself. One of his servants, named George Fleck, ‘was apprehended in Alexander Lawson’s house [in Edinburgh], together with the said Alexander, not without their own consents, as was alleged, to reveal where the Earl of Morton’s treasure lay. The bruit [rumour] went – when the boots were presented to George Fleck, that he revealed a part of the treasure to be lying in Dalkeith yard, under the ground; a part in Aberdour, under a braid stone before the gate; a part in Leith. Certain it is he [the earl] was the wealthiest subject that had been in Scotland for many years.’ – Cal.

In May, Morton ‘was brought to Edinburgh, and kept in Robin Gourlay’s house, with a band of men of weir.’ James Melville says: ‘The very day of his putting to assize, I happened to be in Edinburgh, and heard and saw the notablest example, baith of God’s judgment and mercy that, to my knowledge, ever fell out in my time. For in that Tolbooth, where oftentimes, during his government, he had wrested and thrawn judgment, partly for gain, whereto he was given, and partly for particular favour, was his judgment overthrown; and he wha, above any Scotsman, had maist gear, friendship, and cliental,4 had nane to speak a word for him that day; but, the greatest part of the assizers being his knawn unfriends, he was condemned to be headit on a scaffold, and that head, whilk was sae witty in wardly affairs and policy, and had commanded with sic authority and dignity within that town and judgment-seat, to be set upon a prick upon the hichest stane of the gable of the Tolbooth that is towards the public street.’

Morton was condemned for being ‘airt and part’5 concerned in the murder of Darnley. He was more clearly an actor in the cruel slaughter of Riccio. After doing his best to insnare Mary into a marriage with Bothwell, he had headed a rebellion against her on hypocritical pretences. The extortions he had practised during his regency, in order to enrich himself, showed an equally sordid and cruel character. Throughout all the time of his government, he had outraged decency by the grossness of his private life. Yet ‘he had great comfort that he died a Christian, in the true and sincere profession of religion, whilk he cravat all the faithful to follow, and abide thereat to the death.’ – Moy. ‘He keepit the same countenance, gesture, and short sententious form of language upon the scaffold, whilk he usit in his princely government. He spake, led about and urgit by the commanders at the four nooks of the scaffold; but after that ance he had very fectfully6 and gravely uttered, at guid length, that whilk he had to speak, thereafter almaist he altered not thir words: “It is for my sins that God has justly brought me to this place; for gif I had served my God as truly as I did my king, I had not come here. But as for that I am condemned for by men, I am innocent, as God knows. Pray for me.”… I [am] content to have recordit the wark of God, whilk I saw with my ees and heard with my ears.’ – Ja. Mel.

‘After all was done, he went without fear and laid his neck upon the block, crying DomesticAnnals2continually: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” till the axe of the Maiden – which he himself had caused make after the pattern which he had seen at Halifax in Yorkshire – falling upon his neck, put an end to his life and that note together. His body was carried to the Tolbooth, and buried secretly in the night in the Greyfriars. His head was affixed on the gate of the city.’ – H. of G.

The Maiden, which still exists in the Museum of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland, is an instrument of the same nature as the guillotine, a loaded knife running in an upright frame, and descending upon a cross-beam, on which the neck of the culprit is laid. It is not unlikely that the ex-Regent introduced the Maiden; but another allegation, which asserts him to have been the first to suffer by it, is untrue.

June. 11. – An entry in the Lord Treasurer’s books reveals the mood of the gay king and his courtiers, nine days after the bloody end of Morton. It is Sunday, and James is residing with the Duke of Lennox at Dalkeith Castle. He attends the parish church within the town, and, after service, returns, with two pipers playing before him.7

Nov. – At this time, upwards of twenty years after the Reformation, it was still found that ‘the dregs of idolatry’ existed in sundry parts of the realm, ‘by using of pilgrimage to some chapels, wells, crosses,… as also by observing of the festival-days of the sancts, sometime namit their patrons; in setting furth of banefires, [and] singing of carols within and about kirks at certain seasons of the year.’ An act of parliament was now passed, condemning these practices, and imposing heavy fines on those guilty of them; failing which, the transgressors to endure a month’s imprisonment upon bread and water.


June. – The archbishopric of Glasgow being vacant, Mr Robert Montgomery accepted it from the king, on an understanding with the king’s favourite, the Duke of Lennox, as to the income. The church excommunicated him. In Edinburgh, ‘he was openly onbeset [waylaid] by lasses and rascals of the town, and hued out by flinging of stones at him, out at the Kirk of Field port, and narrowly escaped with his life.’ – Moy.

Sep. 4. – One consequence of the coup d’état at Ruthven was the return of John Durie from the banishment into which he had gone in May, to resume his ministry in Edinburgh. The affair makes a fine historic picture.

‘As he is coming from Leith to Edinburgh, there met him at the Gallow Green two hundred men of the inhabitants of Edinburgh. Their number still increased till he came within the Nether Bow. There they began [with bare heads and loud voices] to sing the 124th psalm – “Now Israel may say, and that truly,” &c., in four parts [till heaven and earth resounded]. They came up the street to the Great Kirk, singing thus all the way, to the number of two thousand. They were much moved themselves, and so were the beholders. The Duke [of Lennox, who was lodged in the High Street, and looked out and saw] was astonished and more affrayed at that sight than at anything that ever he had seen before in Scotland, and rave his beard for anger. After exhortation made in the reader’s place by Mr James Lowson, to thankfulness, and the singing of a psalm, they dissolved with great joy.’ – Cal.

Sep. 5. – Another consequence of the change at court was, that the Duke of Lennox was forced to leave the kingdom. The Presbyterian historians relate the manner of his departure with evident relish. ‘The duke departed out of the town, after noon, accompanied with the provost, bailies, and five hundred men… He rode towards Glasgow, accompanied by Lord Maxwell, the Master of Livingstone, the Master of Eglintoun, Ferniehirst, and sundry other gentlemen.’ – Cal... He ‘remained in Dunbarton at the West Sea, where, or [ere] he gat passage, he was put to as hard a diet as he caused the Earl of Morton to use there; yea, even to the other extremity that he had used at court; for, whereas his kitchen was sae sumptuous that lumps of butter was cast in the fire when it soked [grew dull], and twa or three crowns waird upon a stock of kale dressing, he was fain to eat of a meagre guse, scoundered with beare strae.’ – Melville’s Diary.

Sep. 28. – Died in Edinburgh, George Buchanan, in his seventy-seventh year, immediately after concluding his History of Scotland. His high literary accomplishments, especially his exquisite Latin composition, have made his name permanently famous. His personal character was not without its shades, yet it stands forth amidst the rough scenes of that time as something, on the whole, venerable.

A little while before Buchanan’s death, while his history was passing through the press of Alexander Arbuthnot in Edinburgh, the Rev. James Melville, accompanied by his uncle Andrew, came from St Andrews ‘anes-errand’ – that is, on set purpose – to see him and his work. ‘When we came to his chalmer,’ says Melville, ‘we fand him sitting in his chair, teaching his young man that servit in his chalmer to spell a, b, ab; e, b, eb, &c. After salutation, Mr Andrew says: “I see, sir, ye are not idle.” “Better this,” quoth he, “nor stealing sheep, or sitting idle, whilk is as ill.” Thereafter he show us the Epistle Dedicatory to the King; the whilk when Mr Andrew had read he tauld him it was obscure in some places, and wanted certain words to perfite the sentence. Says he: “I may do nae mair for thinking on another matter.” “What is that?” says Mr Andrew. “To die,” quoth he; “but I leave that and mony mae things for you to help.”

‘We went from him to the printer’s wark-house, whom we fand at the end of the 17 buik of his chronicle, at a place whilk we thought very hard for the time, whilk might be an occasion of staying the hail wark, anent the burial of Davie [that is, Riccio]. Thereafter, staying the printer from proceeding, we came to Mr George again, and fand him bedfast by [contrary to] his custom; and asking him how he did – “Even going the way of welfare,” says he. Mr Thomas, his cousin, shows him the hardness of that part of his story, that the king might be offended with it, and it might stay all the wark. “Tell me, man,” says he, “gif I have tauld the truth?” “Yes,” says Mr Thomas, “sir, I think sae.” “I will bide his feud and all his kin’s then,” quoth he.’

Dec. 10. – The king’s new councillors of course felt that hard measure had been dealt to the ex-Regent. At this date, ‘the Earl of Morton’s head was taken down off the prick which is upon the high gavel of the Tolbooth, with the king’s license, at the eleventh hour of the day; was laid in a fine cloth, convoyed honourably, and laid in the kist where his body was buried. The Laird of Carmichael carried it, shedding tears abundantly by the way.’ – Cal.


While the king was in the hands of the Ruthven conspirators, two gentlemen came as ambassadors from France to see what could be done for him, and were of course treated with little civility by the royal councillors. The second, M. de Menainville, must have been the less acceptable to them, if it was true which was alleged, that he had been one of the chief devisers of the league in Picardy against the Protestants. With some difficulty, De Menainville made his way into the royal presence at Holyroodhouse (Jan. 23). The king, with much ado, prevailed upon the magistracy of Edinburgh to give the other ambassador, the Sieur de la Motte Fenelon, a banquet on the eve of his departure. The kirk-session (Feb. 4) opposed the entertainment; and when they found they could not prevent it, they did the next best – held a solemn fast, with preachings and psalm-singing, during the whole time of the feast – namely, from betwixt nine and ten in the morning till two in the afternoon. The ministers called the banquet a holding fellowship with ‘the murderers of the sancts of God.’ – Cal.


Mar. 28. – De Menainville remained for some time after. ‘Upon Thursday the 28th of March, commonly called Skyre Thursday, [he] called into his lodging thirteen poor men, and washed their feet according to the popish manner, whereat the people was greatly offended.’ – Cal.

Sep. 10. – The king having now escaped from his Ruthven councillors, and fallen once more under the influence of the Earl of Arran, Sir Francis Walsingham came as Elizabeth’s ambassador to express her concern about these movements, and see what could be done towards opposite effects. Coming to a king with an unwelcome message has never been a pleasant duty; but it must have been particularly disagreeable on this occasion, if it be true, as is alleged by a Presbyterian historian, that Arran – who, says he, within a few days after his return to court, ‘began to look braid’ – hounded out a low woman, called Kate the witch, to assail the ambassador with vile speeches as he passed to and from the king’s presence. – Cal.


Thomas Vautrollier, a French Protestant, who had come to England early in Elizabeth’s reign, migrated about this time to Edinburgh, where he set up a printing-press. From his office proceeded this year a small volume of poems, composed by the young king, under the title of The Essayes of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie; to which was added a prose treatise embracing the ‘rules and cautels for Scottish poesie:’ a volume of which it may be enough to say, that it betrays a laudable love of literature in the royal author, joined to some power of literary expression. Vautrollier does not appear to have met with sufficient encouragement to induce him to remain in Edinburgh, as he soon after returned to London.

July. – At the end of this month, the pest was brought into Scotland at Wester Wemyss, a small port in Fife – ‘where many departed.’ – Moy.

King James tells us in his Basilicon Doron that ‘the pest always smites the sickarest such as flies it furthest and apprehends deepliest the peril thereof.’ See his own conduct on this occasion. About the end of September, while he was hunting at Ruthven, ‘word came that there were five or six houses in Perth affected with the plague, where his majesty’s servants were for the time. Whereupon, his majesty departed the same night with a very small train to Tullibardine, and next day to Stirling, leaving his whole household servants inclosed in the place of Ruthven, with express command to them not to follow, nor remove forth of the same, until they saw what became of them upon the suspicion.’ – Moy. R.

The pest on this occasion remained in Perth for several months, working great destruction. It was ordained by the kirk-session, May 24, 1585, that ‘hereafter during the time of the plague, no banquets should be at marriages, and no persons should resort to bridals under pain of ten pounds… forty pounds to be paid by them that call more than four on the side to the banquet, or bridal, during the pest.’

In the ensuing February, under an apprehension about the arrival of the pestilence in their city, the town-council of Edinburgh adopted a highly rational sanitary measure, ordering the ashes, dust, and dirt of their streets to be put up to auction. We do not learn that any one undertook to pay for the privilege of cleaning the streets of the capital, and Maitland remarks in his History, that many years elapsed before the movement was renewed, not to say carried into effect.

Dec. 2. – ‘… a baxter’s boy, called Robert Henderson – no doubt by the instigation of Satan – desperately put some powder and a candle in his father’s heather-stack, standing in a close opposite to the Tron of Edinburgh [the public weighing-machine], and burnt the same, with his father’s house, which lay next adjacent, to the imminent hazard of burning the whole town. For which, being apprehended most marvellously, after his escaping out of the town, he was on the next day burnt quick at the cross, as an example.’ – Moy. R.


May 7. – The pest, which had commenced in Perth in the previous September, was believed to be now brought thence by a servant-woman to the Fishmarket in Edinburgh (Moy.), where it ‘was first knawn to be in Simon Mercerbanks’s house.’ (Bir.) From accident or otherwise, the king acted on this occasion exactly as he had done at Perth, when the plague first declared itself there. On the very day when the disease appeared in Edinburgh, he left the city, and ‘rode to Dirleton to a sumptuous banquet prepared by the Earl of Arran.’ (Cal.) The pest continued in the capital till the subsequent January, sometimes carrying off twenty-four people in a single night. ‘The hail people whilk was able to flee, fled out of the town: nevertheless there died of people which were not able to flee, fourteen hundred and some odd.’ (Bir.) It was at St Andrews in August, ‘and continued till upwards of four hundred people died, and the place was left almost desolate.’ (Moy.) Duns is cited as a place where this pestilence ‘raged extremely.’ (Mar.) In Perth, between 24th September 1584 and August 1585, when it ceased, it carried off fourteen hundred and twenty-seven persons, young and old, or thereby. (Chron. Perth.) This could not be less than a sixth of the entire population.


1  Arranged – not lying as rubbish.
2  A house called the Novum Hospitium, in the Priory Park. It has long been demolished, excepting only the court-gate.
3  The original of this document, commonly called the King’s Confession, is preserved in the Advocate’s Library.
4  Fr. clientèle, dependents.
5  This Scotch law-phrase has become familiar in England, under the form of ‘art and part,’ and is not in general correctly understood. The first word is not art, but airt, meaning direction, implying that the accused was believed to have counselled and guided the actual perpetrators of the crime.
6  Powerfully.
7  ‘Item, to ane pyper and ane young boy his sone that playit in Dalkeytht upon Sonday the xj day of Junii, fra the kirk to the castell befoir his Hienes… xxs.’

29 thoughts on “Reign of James the Sixth, 1578-1585, pp.81-98.

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