Site icon Random Scottish History

Reign of James the Sixth, 1591-1603, pp.124-176.

IN this period we see a continuation of the struggles of the clergy for the independence of the kirk, and those of the king for a supremacy over it; the merciless measures for repressing the Catholic faith, and the desperate practices of the Catholics for relief; the weak rule of the king in all administrative matters; and the efforts of ambitious courtiers to gain an ascendency in his councils.

Towards the end of 1592, new troubles arose, in consequence of the discovery of a treasonable correspondence between the Catholic nobles Huntly, Errol, and Angus with the king of Spain. These chiefs, finding themselves harassed beyond endurance by the now triumphant Presbyterians, who would allow them no freedom for the exercise of their religion, resorted to the desperate step of seeking assistance from a foreign and a Catholic sovereign. Under the urgency of Elizabeth and the kirk, James proceeded with vigour against these nobles, whose force he easily dispelled, and whom he prosecuted to forfeiture, but without meaning to effect their entire destruction.

The general lawlessness of the country at this period and the frightful atrocities which were almost daily committed, make some appearance in the chronicle. A singular riot in Edinburgh in December 1596 led to a reaction in favour of the king against the ultra-zealous Presbyterians. James was enabled to acquire considerable influence in the church-courts, to obtain seats in parliament for certain ministers, as representing the ancient bishops, and to secure a peaceable restoration for the popish lords.

The most remarkable event was the mysterious Gowrie Conspiracy (August 5, 1600). The young Earl of Gowrie and his brother Alexander Ruthven, sons of the Gowrie who suffered in 1584, appeared to have formed a plan to entrap the king, and by the possession of his person, to work out some project for placing themselves at the head of affairs. James was induced to visit their house at Perth by a tempting story about a man who knew of a concealed treasure. After dinner, he was conducted by Alexander Ruthven into a solitary room at the end of a long gallery and put into the hands of an armed man. At the same time a false alarm was given to his attendants that he had left the house and was riding homeward. While they were hurrying to their horses in the courtyard, the king had a struggle with Ruthven, who first attempted to bind, and then to poniard him. With great difficulty, and not without the exercise of considerable presence of mind, he succeeded in giving an alarm to his attendants; one of whom, named John Ramsay, rushed to his rescue, and slew the two brothers on the spot. Their bodies were dealt with as those of traitors on the same day (November 19) on which the king’s second son, afterwards Charles I., was born.



During this age of general violence, the rights of women were, as a matter of course, little respected.* Abductions, both under the impulse of passion and from motives of cupidity, were frequent. The young Duke of Lennox, the cousin and favourite of the king, had contracted a violent attachment to Lady Sophia Ruthven, one of the numerous children left by the unfortunate Earl of Gowrie at his death in 1584. By the order of the king, the young lady was placed in seclusion at Easter Wemyss in Fife. The duke, crossing the Firth (April 19), took the Lady Sophia out of the house where she lived, and ‘carried her away on his awn horse all the night, and on the morn married the said gentlewoman, contrair the ordinance of the kirk; whereat the king was greatly commoved.’ – Jo. Hist.

On the 6th of September 1594, Margaret Hay, a girl of only fourteen years, was forcibly taken from her mother’s house at Shiplaw, Peeblesshire, by Thomas Hay, brother of Hay of Smithfield, John and Thomas Govan, brothers, and ‘Willie Hay callit the Bastard.’ She was rescued by Cockburn of Skirling, who refused to give her up. The end of the matter does not appear. – P. C. R.

Birrel notes, under 14th August 1595, how Christian Johnston, a widow, was carried off from Edinburgh by Patrick Aikenhead. ‘The town was put in ane great fray by the ringing of the common bell,’ and ‘the said Christian was followit and brought back.’ On the 27th of November 1600, a number of persons were denounced and intercommuned for taking away the daughter of George Carkettle, burgess of Edinburgh, ‘furth of his awn house of Monkrig, where she was for the time [living] with her mother in peaceable and quiet manner.’ It afterwards appeared that the chief guilty party was Robert Hepburn of Alderston, in East Lothian. – P. C. R.

About two miles to the south-west of Edinburgh, on the slope of the Craiglockhart Hill, there is a mansion called Craig House, of the period of James VI., and which in that time belonged to a branch of the old family of Kincaid. On the 17th of December 1600, John Kincaid of Craig House, attended by a party of friends and servants, all ‘bodin in feir of weir, with swords, secrets, and other weapons,’ came to the village of Water of Leith, also closely adjacent to Edinburgh, and there attacked the house of Bailie John Johnston, ‘where Isobel Hutcheon, widow, was in sober, quiet, and peaceable manner for the time, dreading nae evil, harm, injury, or pursuit of ony persons, but to have lived under God’s peace and our sovereign lord’s.’ Kincaid ‘violently and forcibly brak up the doors of the said dwelling-house, entered therein, and pat violent hands on the said Isobel’s person, took her captive, reft, ravished and took her away with him to his place of Craig House; where he deteined her, while [till] his majesty being upon the fields, accompanied with John, Earl of Mar, Sir John Ramsay, and divers others, his hieness’ servants, to follow him, and relieve her furth of his hands. Wha having come to his place of Craig House, and requiring for her relief, he refusit to grant the same, while [till] they menaced to bring his majesty about his said house and raise fire therein; and sae compellit him to relieve her.

Kincaid underwent trial for this outrage, January 13, 1601, and his doom was ordered by the king to be a fine of 2500 merks, payable ‘to us and our treasurer’ – ‘as also he sall deliver to us and our treasurer his brown horse.’ – Pit.

Apr. 30. – ‘John Dickson, younger of Belchester, being apprehended, ta’en, and brought to Edinburgh, was put to the knawledge of ane assize for the slaughter of his awn natural father [in July 1588], and also for the lying for the said offence at the process of excommunication. [Being convicted, he was] brought to the scaffold, and at the cross broken on ane rack, [ane] worried – where he lay all that night, and on the morn [was] carried to the gallows of the Burgh-moor, where the rack was set up, and the corpse laid thereupon.’ Jo. Hist.

The frightful cutaneous disease of leprosy prevailed in Scotland, as in most other European countries, from an early age. There was a hospital for the reception of its victims at Kingcase, near Ayr, believed to have existed from the reign of King Robert I. At Glasgow, such an establishment was planted by the Lady of Lochow, daughter of Robert, Duke of Albany, and in 1584 it had six inmates. There were a few other such refuges of hopeless misery throughout the land.

In a sheltered spot called Greenside, near the northern skirts of the Calton Hill, a small monastery of Carmelite Friars had had a brief existence before the Reformation. On its desolate site, a merchant-burgess of Edinburgh, John Robertson by name (whom we soon after find in the office of bailie), now erected a small house for the reception of lepers, led thereto, it is stated, by a sense of gratitude to God for a signal deliverance vouchsafed to him. The town-council concurred in his object, and undertook the oversight and direction of the establishment (Nov. 21). Five men afflicted with leprosy,and two women, the wives of two of these men, but not themselves lepers, were admitted, each leper being allowed four shillings Scots money – equal to 4d. sterling – weekly, and also having a privilege of begging under certain restrictions. They were on no account to go about for alms, or to stir from the house at all, or to admit any visitor, under penalty of death, and, to show how earnest was the spirit of this rule, a gibbet was erected at the gable of the hospital, ready for the instant execution of any transgressor. From sunset to sunrise, their door was to be kept fast locked, under the same penalty. Each patient was to take his turn of sitting at the door ‘with ane clapper,’ to attract the attention of people passing between Edinburgh and Leith, and to beg from them for the general benefit. The rest were meanwhile to stay within doors. The two wives, Isobel Barear and Jonet Gatt, were to be allowed to go to market to purchase vivres for the lepers and for themselves, but not to call anywhere else in the town, under penalty of death. A person was appointed to read prayers to the inmates each Sunday, and a weekly oversight was confided to the Masters of Trinity Hospital. The leper-house seems to have been extinct since the middle of the seventeenth century. Trinity Hospital has also disappeared, though its funds exist, and support a large body of pensioners.


Feb. 7. – The slaughter of the Bonny Earl of Moray at Dunnibrissle stands prominent amongst the tragic events of the time. Moray had connected himself with a number of gentlemen and heads of clans in the north, who had combined against the Earl of Huntly. In the latter part of 1590, there were in that district of Scotland musterings, marchings, and fightings, too obscure to make an appearance in general history, but enough to keep three counties in a state resembling civil war. Huntly, who acted as lord-lieutenant of the north, and thus had a colour of law on his side, pursued the Mackintoshes and Grants, who befriended the Earl of Moray, as rebels, both against himself, who was their feudal superior, and against the king. In a reconnoitring expedition which he made at Darnaway Castle, the Earl of Moray’s house, one of his gentlemen was unfortunately killed by a musket-shot, discharged by a servant from the battlements – an injury which the feelings of the day made it a virtue to revenge.

By the intervention of Lord Ochiltree, Moray came south to his house of Dunnibrissle, in Fife, with a view to a reconciliation with Huntly. The northern chief was also at court; but his thoughts were not turned on peace.

Mustering forty friends on horseback, he set out with them, as to a race at Leith; but, having thus lulled suspicion, he quickly turned away, and crossed the Fourth at the Queensferry. At a late hour on a winter night, the Earl of Moray heard his lonely house surrounded by the hostile Gordons, and received a summons to surrender. He had no friend with him but one – Dunbar, sheriff of Moray – and a few servants; yet he determined to make resistance. The Gordons then gathered corn from the neighbouring farms, and piling it against the door, set it on fire. To pursue the quaint recitals of the day: ‘The Earl of Moray, being within, wissed not whether to come out and be slain, or be burned quick; yet, after avisement, this Dunbar says to my lord of Moray: “I will go out at the gate before your lordship, and I am sure the people will charge on me, thinking me to be your lordship; sae, it being mirk under night, ye shall come out after me, and look if that ye can fend [provide] for yourself.” In the meantime, this Dunbar came forth, and ran desperately amang the Earl of Huntly’s folks, and they all ran upon him and presently slew him. During this broil with Dunbar, the Earl of Moray came running out at the gate of Dunnibrissle, which stands beside the sea, and there sat down amang the rocks. But, unfortunately, the said lord’s knapscull tippet, whereon was a silk string, had taken fire, which betrayed him to his enemies in the darkness of the night, himself not knowing the same. They came down on him on a sudden, and there most cruelly, without mercy, murdered him.’ – Bir. Moy.

Next morning, Edinburgh was full of mourning and lamentation for this sad event. That the victim was a Protestant and son-in-law of the Good Regent, while the Earl of Huntly was notedly the head of the popish party in Scotland, was chiefly remembered by them. The sympathies of the king, on the other hand, were with Huntly; nor, had it been otherwise, would his majesty have found it an easy task to bring to justice a grandee who had recently come forth against the Protestant interest with ten thousand men at his back.

Feb. 9. – ‘… the Earl of Moray’s mother, accompanied with her friends, brought over her son’s and the sheriff of Moray’s dead corpse, in litters, to Leith, to be brought from thence to be buried in the aile of the Great Kirk of Edinburgh, in the Good Regent’s tomb, and, as some report, to be made first a spectacle to the people at the cross of Edinburgh; but they were stayed by command from the king. Captain [John] Gordon [a brother of the Laird of Gicht] was left for dead at Dunnibrissle; his hat, his purse, his gold, his weapons were taken by one of his own company; his shanks [stockings] were pulled off. He was taken in by the Earl of Moray’s mother, and cherished with meat, drink, and clothing. A rare example! She brought him over with her son’s corpse to seek justice. The earl’s mother caused draw her son’s picture as he was demained, and presented it to the king in a fine laine cloth, with lamentations and earnest suit for justice. But little regard was had to the matter. Of the three bullets she found in the bowelling of the body of her son, she presented one to the king, another to… the third she reserved to herself, and said: “I shall not part with this till it be bestowed on him that hindereth justice.” ‘1Cal.


June (?). – ‘There came from Aberdeen a young woman called Helen Guthry, daughter to John Guthry, saddler, to admonish the king of his duty. She was so disquieted with the sins reigning in the country – searing, filthy speaking, profanation of the Sabbath, &c. – that she could find no rest till she came to the king. She presented a letter to him when he was going to see his hounds. After he had read a little of it, he fell a-laughing that he could scarce stand on his feet, and swore so horribly that the woman could not spare to reprove him. He asked if she was a prophetess. She answered she was a poor simple servant of God, that prayed to make him a servant of God also; that was desirous vice should be punished, and specially murder, which was chiefly craved at his hands; that she could find no rest till she put him in mind of his duty. After the king and courtiers had stormed a while, she was sent to the queen, whom she found more courteous and humane. So great and many were the enormities in the country, through impunity and want of justice, that the minds of simple and poor young women were disquieted, as ye may see; but the king and court had deaf ears to the crying sins.’ – Cal.

Dec. 25. – A few days before this date, the Earl of Mar was married at Alloa to Mary, the second daughter of the late Duke of Lennox, and sister of the Countess of Huntly. The king honoured the marriage with his presence, and spent his Christmas with the newly wedded pair. It is rather surprising to find Mar, who had always been on the ultra-Protestant side, allying himself to a daughter of the papist Lennox; but tradition informs us that the god of love had in this case overcome that of politics. There were also some natural obstructions, for the earl was a widower of five-and-thirty, while the bride was little more than a girl. The story is, that his lordship, finding the young lady scornful, became low-spirited to such a degree as to alarm his old school-fellow the king, for his life. Learning what was the matter, James told him in his characteristic familiar style: ‘By —, ye shanna die, Jock, for ony lass in a’ the land!’ He then used his influence as virtual guardian of the Lennox family, and soon brought about the match. From this pair have descended some of the most remarkable patriots, lawyers, statesmen, and divines to which our country has given birth.


Mr John Graham of Hallyards, a judge of the Court of Session, had an unfortunate litigation with Sir James Sandilands, the Tutor of Calder, about some temple-lands which his wife had brought to him. There had been a deed forged in the case, and a notary hanged for it, and a collision between the Court of Session and the General Assembly as to jurisdiction, and now Sir James Sandilands had become incensed to a degree of fury against his opponent the judge.

Feb. 13. – Graham, being charged by the king, for peace’ sake, to depart from Edinburgh, was passing down Leith Wynd in obedience to the order, attended by three or four score persons for his protection, when Sir James Sandilands, accompanied by his friend the Duke of Lennox and an armed company, followed hard at his heels. Graham, thinking he was about to be attacked, turned to make resistance. The duke sent to tell him that if he proceeded on his journey, no one would molest him; but the message proved of no use, in consequence of some stray shot from Graham’s company. The party of Sandilands immediately made an attack; the other party hastily fled. Graham fell wounded on the street, and was carried into a neighbouring house. A French boy, page to Sir Alexander Stewart, one of Sandilands’ friends, seeing his master slain, followed the hapless judge into the house, ‘douped a whinger into him,’ and so despatched him. Such was the characteristic termination of a lawsuit in 1593. –Cal.

It is highly worthy of remark, that, not many months after, Sir James Sandilands was once more peaceably living at court.


June. 21. – George Smollett, burgess of Dumbarton (an ancestor of the novelist), was denounced rebel for not answering certain charges made against him by the burghs of Glasgow and Renfrew. It was alleged that Smollett, having purchased a letter of the king, used it as a sanction to deeds of violent oppression against the Highland people resorting with merchandise to those towns. ‘He not only masterfully reives the goods and bestial,  claithing, and other parts of the Highlands, to the said burghs, by sea and land, but takes, apprehends, and imprisons their persons, and sometimes pursues themselves by way of deid.’ It was added that the people of the Highlands were, in consequence, inspired with a deadly hatred of the burghs of Glasgow and Renfrew, and were already committing such reprisals as threatened civil war. – P. C. R.

July 31. – Aberdeen, a commercial town with a university, bore a singular moral relation to the adjacent Highlands of the Dee, where a wild and lawless population, speaking a different language and using a different dress, existed. Many were the troubles of the industrious burghers from these rude neighbours, who would sometimes come sweeping down upon their borders like a flight of locusts, and leave nothing of value uneaten or undestroyed. At this time, we find the council of the northern city meeting to consider ‘the barbarous cruelty lately exercit by the lawless hielandmen in Birse, Glentanner, and thereabout, not only in the unmerciful murdering of men and bairns, but in the masterful and violent spulying of all the bestial, guids, and gear of a great part of the inhabitants of these bounds… committit near to this burgh, within twenty miles thereto;’ for which reason it was ordained that the whole inhabitants should be ready with arms to meet for the defence of the town, and to resist and repress the said hielandmen, as occasion shall be offered.


The Edinburgh goldsmiths of this period, though only occupying a few small obscure shops stuck between the buttresses of St Giles’s Church, comprehended in their number two or three persons of such considerable wealth as to verge upon an historic importance. Such, for example, was George Heriot, who in 1597 became goldsmith and jeweller to the king, and in time accumulated the fortune which enabled his executors to erect the magnificent hospital bearing his name. Another of the number was Thomas Foulis, who, when in spring 1593 the king had to march an army against the papist lords in the north, supplied a great part of the funds required for the purpose. What the Bank of England has often in modern times been to the British government, Thomas Foulis, the Edinburgh goldsmith, was in those days to King James – a ready resource when money was urgently required for state purposes. On the 10th of September 1594, the royal debt to Thomas was no less than £14,598; and as a security so far for this sum the king consigned to him ‘twa drinking pieces of gold, weighing in the haill fifteen pund and five unce,’ which the consignee was to be at liberty to coin into ‘five-pund pieces,’ if the debt should not be otherwise paid before the 1st of November next, ‘the superplus, gif oney beis,’ to be forthcoming for his majesty’s use. The value of the gold of these drinking-cups at the present day would be about £950, which shows that the debt in question was expressed in Scottish money. It may be remarked, that on the same day the king consigned another gold drinking-cup, weighing twelve pounds five ounces, in favour of John Arnott, burgess of Edinburgh, who had lent him £6000. It further appears that Thomas Foulis very soon after lent the king £12,000 more ‘for out-redding of sundry his hieness’ affairs.’

Feb. 19. – ‘… between twa and three hours in the morning, the queen was delivered of ane young prince, within the castle of Stirling, in his majesty’s chalmer there; whilk was a great comfort to the haill people, moving them till great triumph, wantoness, and play, for banefires were set out, and dancing and playing usit, in all parts, as gif the people had been daft for mirth.’ – Moy.

The king had scarcely seen his wife out of the perils of childbirth, when he was obliged to come to Edinburgh to take measures against the Earl of Bothwell, who was now breaking out into open rebellion. Fearing to live in Holyroodhouse, which had already been twice broken into by the turbulent lord, he took up his quarters in ‘Robert Gourlay’s lodging’ within the city.

Mar. 13. – ‘… being Sunday, his majesty came to Mr Robert Bruce’s preaching, [who] said to his majesty, that God wald stir up mae Bothwells nor ane (that was, mae enemies to him nor Bothwell), if he revengit not his, and faucht not God’s quarrels and battles on the papists, before he faucht or revenged his awn particular.’ – Bir.


Apr. 3. – The king ‘came to the sermon, and there, in presence of the haill people, promised to revenge God’s cause and to banish all the papists; and there requested the haill people to gang with him against Bothwell, wha was in Leith for the time. The same day, the king’s majesty rase, and the town of Edinburgh in arms. The Earl of Bothwell, hearing that his majesty was coming down, with the town of Edinburgh, rase with his five hundred horse, and rode up to the Hawk-hill, beside Lesterrick [Restalrig], and there stood till he saw the king and the town of Edinburgh approaching near him. He drew his company away through Duddingston. My Lord Home followed till the Woomet, at whilk place the Earl of Bothwell turned, thinking to have a hit at Home; but Home fled, and he followed; yet by chance little blood. The king’s majesty stood himself, seeing the said chase’ [at a safe distance, namely, on the Burgh-moor]. – Bir.

Within a few days after this affair, the earl, seeing he could not effect his object, retired into England. Soon after, much to the scandal of the preachers, he joined the papist lords. All his plans, however, were frustrated; and early in the next year, he left Scotland, an utterly broken man, never again to give his royal cousin any trouble.

July. – Robert Logan of Restalrig is one of the darkest characters of this bloody and turbulent time. A few years later, he was plotting with the Ruthvens of Gowrie for an assault upon the king. So early as February 1592-2, he was denounced for trafficking with the turbulent Bothwell. In June of this year, he was again denounced, and for a more serious matter – his sending out two servants, Jockie Houlden and Peter Craik, to rob travellers on the highway, near his house of Fast Castle in Berwickshire. They had attacked Robert Gray, burgess of Edinburgh, as he was passing the Boundrod, near Berwick, and taken from him nine hundred and fifty pounds, besides battering him to the peril of his life. – P. C. R. His residence, as is well known, was a fortalice perched on an almost inaccessible crag overhanging the waves of the sea, with black cliffs above, below, and nearly all round – perhaps the most romantically situated house in our ancient kingdom. Here, it is known, Logan had Bothwell for his occasional guest.

In July of this year, Logan entered into a contract with John Napier of Merchiston, proceeding upon the fact of ‘diverse auld reports, motives, and appearances, that there should be within the said Robert’s dwelling-place of Fast Castle a sowm of money and pose, his and huirdit up secretly.’ John Napier undertook that he ‘sall do his utter and exact diligence to search and seek out, and be all craft and ingyne that he dow [can], to tempt, try, and find out the same, and, be the grace of God, either sall find out the same, or than mak sure that nae sic thing has been there.’ For this he was to have a third of any money found. He was also to be convoyed back in safety to Edinburgh, unspoiled of his gains.

It is not known whether Napier did actually journey to the spray-beaten tower of Fast Castle and there practise his craft and ingyne. Probably he did, and was disappointed in more ways than one, as, two years after, he is found letting a portion of his property to a gentleman on the strict condition that no part of it shall be sublet to any one of the name of Logan.

‘This year, in the Merse, there was a great business about sorcery and the trial of witches, and many was there burnt, as, namely, one Roughhead, and Cuthbert Hume’s mother of Dunse, the parson of Dunse’s wife, and sundry of Eyemouth and Coldingham; near a dozen moe, and many fugitives, as the old Lady A. Sundry others were delated, and the Ladies of Butt: and Lady B.: the Laird of B.: his sister; one in Liddesdale by virtue of [a] superstitious well, whereat was professed great skill; one Dick’s sister, who had her mother hanged before in Waughton. They confessed the death of the whole goods [live-stock] of the country.’ – Pa. And.


Jan. 19. – A great tulyie or street-combat this day took place in Edinburgh.

The Earl of Montrose, head of the house of Graham, was of grave years – towards fifty: he was of such a character as to be chosen, a few years afterwards, chancellor of the kingdom: still later, he became for a time viceroy of Scotland, the king being then in England. Yet this astute noble was so entirely under the sway of the feelings of the age as to deem it necessary and proper that he should revenge the death of John Graham (see page 132) upon its author, under circumstances similar to those which attended that slaughter. On its being known that the earl was coming with his son and retinue to Edinburgh, Sandilands was strongly recommended by some of his friends to withdraw from the town, ‘because the earl was then over great a party against him. His mind was, notwithstanding, sae undantonit, and unmindful of his former misdeed, finding himself not sae weel accompanied as he wald, he sent for friends, and convokit them to Edinburgh, upon plain purpose rather first to invade the said earl than to be invadit by him, and took the opportunity baith of time and place within Edinburgh, and made a furious onset on the earl [at the Salt Tron in the High Street], with guns and swords in great number.2 The earl, with his eldest son, defendit manifully, till at last Sir James was dung [driven down] on his back, shot and hurt in divers parts of his body and head, [and] straitly invadit to have been slain out of hand, gif he had not been fortunately succoured by the prowess of a gentleman callit Captain Lockhart. The lord chancellor and Montrose were together at that time; but neither reverence [n]or respect was had unto him at this conflict, the fury was sae great on either side; sae that the chancellor retirit himself with gladness to the College of Justice. The magistrates of the town, with fencible weapons, separatit the parties for that time; and the greatest skaith Sir James gat on his party, for he himself was left for dead, and a cousin-german of his, callit Crawford of Kerse, was slain, and mony hurt: but Sir James convalescit again, and this recompense he obteinit for his arrogancy. On the earl’s side was but ane slain, and mony hurt.’ – H. K. J.

Mar. 10. – Commenced ‘ane horrible tempest of snaw, whilk lay upon the ground till the 14[th] of April thereafter.’ – Bir.


Sep. – The violences of the age extended even to school-boys. The ‘scholars and gentlemen’s sons’ of the High School of Edinburgh had at this time occasion to complain of some abridgement of their wonted period of vacation, and when they applied to the town-council for an extension of what they called their ‘privilege,’ only three days in addition to the restricted number of fourteen were granted. It appears that the master was favourable to their suit, but he was ‘borne down and abused by the Council, who never understood well what privilege belonged to that charge. Some of the chief gentlemen’s sons resolved to make a mutiny, and one day, the master being on necessary business a mile or two off the town, they came in the evening (Sep. 13) with all necessary provision, and entered the school, manned the same, took in which them some fencible weapons, with powder and bullet, and renforcit the doors, refusing to let [any] man come there, either master or magistrate, until their privileges were fairly granted.’ – Pa. And.

A night passed over. Next morning, ‘some men of the town came to these scholars, desiring them to give over, and to come forth upon composition; affirming that they should intercede to obtein them the license of other eight days’ playing. But the scholars replied that they were mocked of the first eight days’ privilege… they wald either have the residue of the days granted for their pastime, or else they wald not give over. This answer was consulted upon by the magistrates, and notified to the ministers; and the ministers gave their counsel that they should be letten alone, and some men should be depute to attend about the house to keep them from vivres, sae that they should be compelled to render by extremity of hunger.’ – H. K. J.

A day having passed in this manner, the Council lost patience, and determined to use strong measures. Headed by Bailie John Macmoran, and attended by a posse of officers, they came to the school, which was a long, low building, standing on the site of the ancient Blackfriars’ monastery. The bailie at first called on the boys in a peaceable manner to open the doors. They refused, and asked for their master, protesting they would acknowledge him at his return, but no other person. ‘The bailies began to be angry, and called for a great jeist to prise up the back-door. The scholars bade them beware, and wished them to desist and leave off that violence, or else they vowed to God they should put a pair of bullets through the best of their cheeks. The bailies, believing they durst not shoot, continued still to prise the door, boasting with many threatening words. The scholars perceiving nothing but extremity, one Sinclair, the chancellor of Caithness’ son, presented a gun from a window, direct opposite to the bailies’ faces, boasting them and calling them buttery carles. Off goeth the charged gun. [The bullet] pierced John Macmoran through his head, and presently killed him, so that he fell backward straight to the ground without speech at all.’3

‘When the scholars heard of this mischance, they were all moved to clamour, and gave over. Certain of them escaped, and the rest were carried to prison by the magistrates in great fury, and escaped weel unslain at that instant. Upon the morn, the said Sinclair was brought to the bar, and was there accused of that slaughter; but he denied the same constantly. Divers honest friends convenit, and assisted him.’ The relatives of Macmoran being rich, money-offers were of no avail in the case: life for life was what they sought for. ‘Friends threatened death to all the people of Edinburgh (!) if they did the child any harm, saying they were not wise that meddled with the scholars, especially the gentlemen’s sons. They should have committed that charge to the master, who knew best the truest remedy without any harm at all.’

Lord Sinclair, as head of the family to which the young culprit belonged, now came forward in his behalf, and, by his intercession, the king wrote to the magistrates, desiring them to delay proceedings. Afterwards, the process was transferred to the Privy Council. Meanwhile, the other youths, seven in number, the chief of whom were a son of Murray of Spainyiedale and a son of Pringle of Whitebank, were kept in confinement for upwards of two months, while a debate took place between the magistrates and the friends of the culprits as to a fair assize; it being alleged that one composed of citizens would be partial against the boys. The king commanded that an assize of gentlemen should be chosen, and, in the end, they, as well as Sinclair, got clear off.

The culprit became Sir William Sinclair of Mey. He married Catherine Ross of Balnagowan, whom we have seen unpleasantly mixed up in the charges against Lady Foulis (see page 117).

‘Macmoran,’ says Calderwood, ‘was the richest merchant in his time, but not gracious to the common people, because he carried victual to Spain, notwithstanding he was often admonished by the ministers to refrain.’ His house, still standing in Riddell’s Close in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, gives the idea that the style of living of a rich Scottish merchant of that day was far from being mean or despicable.4

Oct. – James, Lord Hay of Yester, at this time kept state in Neidpath Castle, with his wife. Their union was childless, his presumptive heir being his second-cousin, Hay of Smithfield, ancestor of the Hays of Haystoun and Kingsmeadows, Peeblesshire. In these circumstances, occasion was given for a curious series of proceedings, involving the fighting of a regular passage of arms on a neighbouring plain beside the Tweed.

Lord Yester had for his page one George Hepburn, brother of the parson of Oldhamstocks in East Lothian. His master-of-the-horse – for such officers were then retained in houses of this rank – was John Brown of Hartree. One day, Brown, in conversation with Hepburn, remarked: ‘Your father had good knowledge of physic: I think you should have some also.’ ‘What mean ye by that?’ said Hepburn. ‘You might have great advantage by something,’ answered Brown. On being further questioned, the latter stated that, seeing Lord Yester had no children, and Hay of Smithfield came next in the entail, it was only necessary to give the former a suitable dose in order to make the latter Lord Yester. ‘If you,’ continued Brown, ‘could give him some poison, you should be nobly rewarded, you and yours.’ ‘Methinks that were no good physic,’ quoth Hepburn drily, and soon after revealed the project to his lord. Brown, on being taxed with it, stood stoutly on his denial. Hepburn as strongly insisted that the proposal had been made to him. For such a case, there was no solution but the duellium.

Due authority being obtained, a regular and public combat was arranged to take place on Edston-haugh, near Neidpath. The two combatants were to fight in their doublets, mounted, with spears and swords. Some of the greatest men of the country took part in the affair, and honoured it with their presence. The Laird of Buccleuch appeared as judge for Brown; Hepburn had, on his part, the Laird of Cessford. The Lords Yester and Newbottle were amongst those officiating. When all was ready, the two combatants rode full tilt against each other with their spears, when Brown missed Hepburn, and was thrown from his horse with his adversary’s weapon through his body. Having grazed his thigh in the charge, Hepburn did not immediately follow up his advantage, but suffered Brown to lie unharmed on the ground. ‘Fie!’ cried one of the judges; ‘alight and take amends of thy enemy!’ He then advanced on foot with his sword in his hand to Brown, and commanded him to confess the truth. ‘Stay,’ cried Brown, ’till I draw the broken spear out of my body.’ This being done, Brown suddenly drew his sword and struck at Hepburn, who for some time was content to ward off his strokes, but at last dealt him a backward wipe across the face, when the wretched man, blinded with blood, fell to the ground. The judges then interfered to prevent him from being further punished by Hepburn; but he resolutely refused to make any confession.

About this time and for some time onward, Scotland underwent the pangs of a dearth of extraordinary severity, in consequence of the destruction of the crops by heavy rains in autumn. Birrel speaks of it as a famine, ‘the like whereof was never heard tell of in any age before, nor ever read of since the world was made.’ ‘In this month of October and November,’ he adds, ‘the wheat and malt at £10 [Scots] the boll; in March thereafter, the ait meal £10 the boll, the humble corn £7 the boll. In the month of May, the ait meal £20 the boll in Galloway.’


Apr. 12. – Sir Walter Scott of Branxholm, Laird of Buccleuch, performed an exploit which has been celebrated both in prose and rhyme.

About the end of January, a ‘day of truce’ was held at a spot called Dayholm of Kershope in Liddesdale, by the deputies of the English warden, Lord Scrope, and the Laird of Buccleuch, keeper of Liddesdale. The Scotch deputy, Scott of Goldielands, had but a small party – not above twenty – among whom, however, was a noted Border reiver, William Armstrong of Kinmont, commonly known as Kinmont Willie. The English deputy was attended by several hundred followers. It happened that, before the end of the meeting, a report came to the English deputy of some outrages at that moment in the course of being committed by Scottish Borderers within the English line. He entered a complaint on the subject, and received assurance that the guilty parties should be as soon as possible rendered up to the vengeance of Lord Scrope.

The day of truce ended peaceably; but, as the English party was retiring along their side of the Liddel, they caught sight of the Scottish reivers, and gave chase. Kinmont Willie was now riding quietly along the Scottish side of the Liddel. Mistaking him for one of the guilty troop, the English pursued him for three or four miles, and taking him prisoner, bore him off to Carlisle Castle.

Probably the Liddesdale thief had incurred more guilt in England than ten lives would have expiated. Yet what was this to Buccleuch? To him the case was simply that of a retainer betrayed while on his master’s business and assurance. If the affair had a public or national aspect, it was that of a Scottish subject maltreated, to the dishonour of his sovereign and country. Having in vain used remonstrances with Lord Scrope, both by himself and through the king’s representations to the English ambassador, he resolved at last, as himself has expressed it, ‘to attempt the simple recovery of the prisoner in sae moderate ane fashion as was possible to him.’

Bucceluch’s moderate proceeding consisted in the assembling of two hundred armed and mounted retainers at the tower of Morton, an hour before sunset of the 12th of April. He had arranged that no head of any house should be of the number, but all younger brothers, that the consequences might be the less likely to damage his following; but, nevertheless, three lairds had insisted on taking part in the enterprise. Passing silently across the Border, they came to Carlisle about the middle of the night. A select party of eighty then made an attempt to scale the walls of the castle; but their ladders proving too short, it was found necessary to break in by force through a postern on the west side. Two dozen men having got in, six were left to guard the passage, while the remaining eighteen passed on to Willie’s chamber, broke it up, and released the prisoner. All this was done without encountering any resistance except from a few watchmen, who were easily ‘dung on their backs’ (that is, thrown down). As a signal of their success, the party within the castle sounded their trumpet ‘mightily.’ Hearing this, Buccleuch raised a loud clamour amongst his horsemen on the green. At the same time, the bell of the castle began to sound, a beacon-fire was kindled on the top of the house, the great bell of the cathedral was rung in correspondence, the watch-bell of the Moot-hall joined the throng of sounds, and, to crown all, the drum began to rattle through the streets of the city. ‘The people were perturbit from their nocturnal sleep, then undigestit at that untimeous hour, with some cloudy weather and saft rain, whilk are noisome to the delicate persons of England, whaise bodies are given to quietness, rest, and delicate feeding, and consequently desirous of more sleep and repose in bed.’ Amidst the uproar, ‘the assaulters brought forth their countryman, and convoyit him to the court, where the Lord Scope’s chalmer has a prospect unto, to whom he cried with a loud voice a familiar guid-nicht! and another guid-nicht to his constable Mr Saughell.’ The twenty-four men returned with Kinmont Willie to the main body, and the whole party retired without molestation, and re-entered Scotland with the morning light.

The matter was brought before the king in council (May 25) by the English ambassador, who pleaded that Sir Walter Scott should be given up to the queen for punishment. Buccleuch himself, with true heroism, treated the matter calmly and even reasoningly. The simple recovery of the prisoner, he said, ‘maun necessarily be esteimit lawful, gif the taking and deteining of him be unlawful, as without all question it was.’ Of course his own countrymen sympathised with him in a deed so gallant, and performed from such a motive, and the king could not readily act in a contrary strain. Elizabeth never obtained any satisfaction for the taking of Kinmont Willie. – Spot. Moy. K.K.J. C.K.S. P.C.R. Bir.5

Aug. 3. – One John Dickson, an Englishman, was tried for uttering slanderous speeches against the king, calling him ‘ane bastard king,’ and saying ‘he was not worthy to be obeyed.’ This it appeared he had done in a drunken anger, when asked to veer his boat out of the way of the king’s ordnance. He was adjudged to be hanged. – Pit. It is curious on this and some other occasions to find that, while the king got so little practical obedience, and the laws in general were so feebly enforced, such a severe penalty was inflicted on acts of mere disrespect towards majesty.


John Mure, of Auchindrain, in Ayrshire, was a gentleman of good means and connections, who acted at one time in a judicial capacity as bailie of Carrick, and gave general satisfaction by his judgments. He was son-in-law to the Laird of Bargeny, one of the three chief men of the all-powerful Ayrshire family of Kennedy. Sir Thomas Kennedy of Colzean, another of these great men, was on bad terms with Bargeny. Mure, who might naturally be expected to take his father-in-law’s side, was for a time restrained by some practical benefits, in the shape of lands, offered him by Sir Thomas; but the titles to the lands not being ultimately made good, the Laird of Auchindrain conceived only the more furious hatred against the knight of Colzean. This happened about 1595, and it appears at the same time that Sir Thomas had excited a deadly rage in the bosom of the Earl of Cassillis’s next brother, usually called the Master of Cassillis. The Master and Auchindrain, with another called the Laird of Dunduff, easily came to an understanding with each other, and agreed to slay Sir Thomas Kennedy the first opportunity. Such was the manner of conducting a quarrel about land-rights amongst gentlemen in Ayrshire in those days.

On the evening of the 1st of January, Sir Thomas Kennedy supped with Sir Thomas Nisbet in the house of the latter at Maybole. The Lairds of Auchindrain and Dunduff, with a few servants, lay in wait for him in the yard, and when he came forth to go to his own house to bed, they fired their pistols at him. ‘He being safe of any hurt therewith, and perceiving them with their swords most cruelly to pursue his life… was forced for his safety to fly; in which chase they did approach him so near, as he had undoubtedly been overta’en and killed, if he had not adventured to run aside and cover himself with the ruins of ane decayed house; whilk, in respect of the darkness of the night, they did not perceive; but still followed to his lodging, and searched all the corners thereof, till the confluence of the people… forced them to retire.’6

For this assault, Sir Thomas Kennedy pursued at law the Lairds of Auchindrain and Dunduff, and was so far successful that Dunduff had to retire into England, while ‘Colzean gat the house of Auchindrain, and destroyit the… plenishing, and wrackit all the garden. And also they made mony sets [snares] to have gotten [Auchindrain] himself; but God preservit him from their tyranny.’7 Auchindrain, however, was forced ‘to cover malice by show of repentance, and for satisfaction of his by-past offence, and gage of his future duty, to offer his eldest son in marriage to Sir Thomas Kennedy’s dochter; whilk, by intercession of friends, [was] accepted.’8

We shall hear more of this feud hereafter.

Feb. 17. – Under a commission from the king, the provost and bailies of Aberdeen commenced a series of witch-trials of a remarkable kind. the first delinquent, Janet Wishart, spouse of John Lees, stabler – a woman considerably advanced in life – was accused of a great number of maléfices perpetrated, during upwards of thirty years, against neighbours, chiefly under a spirit of petty revenge. In the greater number of cases, the victim was described as being seized with an ailment under which he passed through extremes of heat and cold, and was afflicted with an insatiable drouth. In several cases the illness was said to have had a fatal conclusion. The poor woman appears to have been taken to the stake immediately after her trial. It appears that at this time twenty-two unfortunate men and women, chiefly the latter, suffered in Aberdeen and its neighbourhood.

Mar. 11. – The duellium seems to have been particularly in vogue at this time. ‘There chanced a single combat betwixt James Hepburn of Moreham and one Birnie, a skinner in Edinburgh [at St Leonard’s Craigs]. They were both slain [and buried the morning after]. The occasion and quarrel was not thought to be great nor yet necessary. Hepburn alleged and maintained that there was seven sacraments; Birnie would have but two, or else he would fight. The other was content with great protestations that he would defend his belief with the sword; and so, with great earnestness they yoked, and thus the question was decided.’ – P. And.

There was a traditionary tale in Edinburgh, which Sir Walter Scott had heard in his youth, and which he narrated to the author of this work in 1824, to the effect that, a gentleman having been foully murdered by a man of formidable repute as a swordsman, his widow brought forward two sons in succession to challenge the murderer to mortal combat, and when these had fallen, did not scruple even to send a third, her youngest and favourite, to avenge the slaughter of the rest. The first two youths ‘died like good men in their duty;’ but the third slew the murderer. The last fight, said Sir Walter, took place on Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth, and since then there has been no such combat permitted. Apparently the basis of this story is as follows:

James Carmichael, second son of the Laird of Carmichael, had killed Stephen Bruntfield, captain of Tantallon, in a duel at St Leonard’s Craigs, 22nd December 1596. Adam Bruntfield, brother of the deceased, ‘allegit that James Carmichael had slain his brother by treason, having promisit to meet him hand to hand, and had brought others with him to his slaughter, and therefore was a traitor. The other stood to his denial, and they baith seyit [tried] their moyen [influence] at his majesty’s hands for ane license to fecht, whilk with great difficulty was granted by his grace.’ They met (March 15) on Barnbougle Sands or Links, near Cramond Island, in the presence of a great multitude, and with the Duke of Lennox, the Laird of Buccleuch, Sir James Sandilands, and Lord Sinclair, to act as judges. ‘The one was clothed in blue taffeta, the other in red sattin.’ Carmichael, who was ‘as able a like man as was living,’ seemed at first to have great advantage over Adam Bruntfield, who was ‘but ane young man, and of mean stature;’ and at the first encounter he struck Adam on the loin. To the surprise of all, however, Bruntfield ‘strikes him in the craig [throat], and syne loups aboon him, and gives him sundry straiks with his dagger, and sae slays him. Adam Bruntfield is convoyit to Edinburgh with great triumph as ane victorious captain; and the other borne in deid.’ – Bir. Pa. And. C. K. Sc.


June 6. – There was a proclamation ‘that no man take upon hand to give out money any dearer nor ten for the hundred [ten per cent. interest], or victual according thereto, under the pain of confiscation of their goods, and punishing of their bodies as usurers.’ – Bir.

The Lanarkshire lead-mines, under the care of Thomas Foulis, goldsmith in Edinburgh, and Bewis Bulmer, an Englishman, whom Thomas had assumed as partner, were now beginning to be a source of profit. The lead was transported on the backs of horses to sundry parts of the realm, but the greater part of it to Leith, where it was disposed of for exportation. Just, however, as all the mining difficulties had been overcome, the enterprisers found troubles of a different kind. The broken men of the Borders had heard of this valuable metal passing along the uplands of Clydesdale, and it seemed to them not too hazardous an adventure to cross the hills and make a dash at such a booty. We therefore now hear (June 14) of the carriers of the lead, servants of Thomas Foulis, being occasionally beset on their way, and robbed by the Borderers of ‘horses, armour, clothing, and their haill carriage.’

July 23. – ‘Between eight and nine in the morning, there was an earthquake which made all the north parts of Scotland to tremble; Kintail, Ross, Cromarty, Mar, Breadalbane, &c. A man in St Johnston [Perth] laying compts with his compters, the compts lap off the buird; the man’s thighs trembled; one leg went up, and another down.’ – Cal.

This earthquake happening at the time when King James ‘interrupted Mr Robert Wallace and undid the ministry of St Andrews,’ James Melville likens it to that which God sent to punish Uzziah, king of Judah, for usurping the priestly office.

Aug. 6. – ‘The pest began in Leith’ (Bir.), and soon ‘infected sundry parts about Edinburgh, so that many fled out of the town.’ – Cal. It raged during this year in England, 17,890 persons being carried off in London alone. A fast was held in Edinburgh on account of this visit of the pestilence, from the 7th of August till the end of harvest, when it ceased. Notwithstanding the scarcity of food from October 1595 down almost to this time, the mortality in Scotland does not appear to have been great – a result probably owing in the main part to the abundant harvest of the present year.

Dec. 7. – A homicide committed at this time brings out a remarkable illustration of the exclusive rule of master over man which then prevailed. On the first day of the sitting of parliament, Archibald Jardine, servitor and master-stabler to the Earl of Angus, was slain negligently by Andrew Stalker, goldsmith, at Niddry’s Wynd head. ‘The said Andrew was apprehendit and put in prison. The young men of the town being all in arms, as they used to be in the time of the parliament, they came to his majesty, and desirit grace for the young man wha had done ane reckless deed. The king’s majesty desirit them to go to my Lord of Angus, the man’s master, and satisfy and pacify his wrath, and he should be contentit to grant his life. James Williamson, being captain to the young men, came to my Lord of Angus, offered him their manreid [bond of mutual support] to be ready to serve him gif he had to do: upon the whilk, he grantit them his life, and sae the said Andrew was releasit out of prison upon the said day at even.’ – Bir.

Feb. 8. – The impunity of numberless murders and other atrocious crimes in this reign is not more remarkable than the severity occasionally exhibited in comparatively trifling cases. For making a false writ in a matter of three hundred merks, five citizens of Edinburgh were condemned to death. Such, likewise, was the issue of the trial of John Moscrop, writer in Edinburgh, for giving himself out as a notary and subscribing divers papers as such, he not being one. The six men appear to have all been tried on one day, and the end of the affair is chronicled by Birrel: ‘John Windieyetts, John Moscrop, Alexander Lowrie, John Halliday, and Captain James Lowrie [were] all hangit at the cross of Edinburgh for counterfeiting false writs; whilk was great pity to see.’

Feb. 16. – It was now six years since the tragic death of the Earl of Moray, and yet his corpse lay unburied. So also did that of Lord Maxwell, killed in a conflict with the Johnstons in December 1593.

Stigmatising this as an abuse that ‘of late has croppin in,’ and in order to prevent the example from being followed, the king and Council issued an order to the respective relatives of the two noblemen that they have the bodies buried in their ordinary places of sepulture within twenty days, under pain of rebellion. – P. C. R

Feb. 25. – On this day, being Saturday, occurred an eclipse of the sun, total at Edinburgh, and probably so throughout the country generally. No event entirely similar had occurred within the memory of living people in Scotland, and the impression which it was naturally calculated to produce in an age when such things were regarded as prodigies, was aggravated by the critical state in which the favourite Presbyterian institutions were then believed to be placed. Men regarded it as the omen of a dark period for the Kirk of Scotland.9

‘Betwixt nine and ten forenoon,’ says Calderwood, ‘began a fearful eclipse, which continued about two hours. The whole face of the sun seemed to be covered and darkened about half a quarter of an hour, in such measure that none could see to read a book. The stars appeared in the firmament. Sea, land, and air was still, and stricken dead as it were. The ravens and fowls flocking together mourned exceedingly in thier kind. Great multitudes of paddocks [frogs] ran together, making an uncouth and hideous noise; men and women were astonished, as if the day of judgment had been coming. Some women swooned. The streets of Edinburgh were full of cries. Some men ran off the streets to the kirk to pray.’

‘In the session-house or college of justice, no letter nor book could be read nor looked upon for the space of an hour for darkness, and yet in the north-east there appeared two stars. After this, the space of eight days fair weather [which] ensued was admirable. But the day after, yea Friday and Saturday, there fell out the greatest rain that might be, in such a manner that neither plough nor harrow could gang a long time after.’ – Pa. And.

‘I knew,’ says James Melville, ‘out of ephemeridis and almanack, the day and hour of it… also, by natural philosophy, the causes. I set myself to mark the proceedings of it in a basin of water mixed with ink, thinking the matter but common. But yet, when it came to the extremity of darkness, and I myself losit all the sun, I was strucken with such fear and astonishment, that I had no refuge but to prostrate [myself] on my knees, and commend myself to God, and cry for mercy.’

‘The like fearful darkness was never seen in this land, so far as we can read in our histories, or understand from tradition. The wise and godliest thought it very prodigious, so that from pulpit and by writ, admonitions were given to the ministers, that the changeable and glittering show of the world go not in betwixt them and Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, and remove the clear light of the gospel from the kirk.’ – Cal.

A Presbyterian diarist is careful to tell us the ‘notable effects of this eclipse’ in the year following; namely, the death of those famous ‘lights of the Kirk of Scotland, Mr Thomas Buchanan, Mr Robert Rollock, David Ferguson, &c.’ – Ja. Mel.


Apr. – Fynes Moryson, gentleman, who had travelled in most of the countries of Europe, being at Berwick, felt an earnest desire, before returning southwards, to see the king of Scots’ court. He therefore entered Scotland, and in one day rode to Edinburgh; after which he proceeded to Falkland, and designed to visit St Andrews and Stirling, but was prevented by unexpected business, which recalled him to England. He tells us little that is remarkable about the localities he visited, but makes some general observations regarding travelling in Scotland, which are not devoid of interest.

‘In Scotland,’ he says in his Itinerary (folio, 1617), ‘a horse may be hired for two shillings the first day, and eightpence the day till he be brought home; and the horse-letters used to send a footman to bring back the horse. They have no such inns as be in England; but in all places some houses are known where passengers may have meat and lodging; but they are commonly set up in stables in some out-lane, not in the same house where the passenger lies. And if any man be acquainted with a townsman, he will go freely to his house, for most of them will entertain a stranger for his money. A horseman shall pay for oats and straw (for hay is rare in those parts) some eightpence day and night; and he shall pay no less in summer for grass, whereof they have no great store. Himself at a common table shall pay about sixpence for his supper or dinner, and shall have his bed free; and if he will eat alone in his chamber, he may have meat at a reasonable rate. Some twenty or thirty years ago, the first use of coaches came into Scotland; yea, were they rare even at Edinburgh. At this day, since the kingdoms of England and Scotland were united, many Scots have been promoted by the king’s favour both in dignity and estate, and the use of coaches became more frequent, yet nothing so common as in England. But the use of horse-litters hath been very ancient in Scotland, as in England, for sickly men and women of quality.’

He tells that the Scotch eat much colewort and cabbage, and little fresh meat. ‘Myself,’ he says, ‘was at a knight’s house, who had many servants to attend him, that brought in his meat with their heads covered with blue caps, the table being more than half furnished with great platters of porridge, each having a little piece of sodden meat. And when the table was served, the servants did sit down with us; but the upper mess [those sitting above the salt-vat], instead of porridge, had a pullet with some prunes in the broth. And I observed no art of cookery or furniture of household stuff, but rather rude neglect of both, though myself and companion, sent from the governor of Berwick about Border affairs, were entertained after their best manner… They vulgarly eat hearth-cakes of oats [girdles for toasting the cakes over a fire were subsequently invented at Culross], but in cities have also wheaten bread, which for the most part was bought by courtiers, gentlemen, and the best sort of citizens… They drink pure wines, not with sugar, as the English; yet at feasts they put comfits in the wine, after the French manner; but they had not out vitners’ fraud, to mix the wines…

‘Their bedsteads were then like cupboards in the wall, with doors to be opened and shut at pleasure; so we climbed up to our beds. They used but one sheet, open at the sides and top, but close at the feet, and so doubled [still practised, and a comfortable custom it is]… When passengers go to bed, their custom was to present them with a sleeping-cup of wine at parting.’

‘The husbandmen, the servants, and almost all in the country did wear coarse cloth made at home, of gray or sky colour [hodden gray], and flat blue caps very broad. The merchants in cities were attired in English or French cloth, of pale colour or mingled black and blue. The gentlemen did wear English cloth, or silk, or light stuffs, little or nothing adorned with silk lace, much less with lace of silver or gold, and all followed at this time the French fashion, especially in court. Gentlewomen married did wear close upper bodies after the German manner, with large whalebone sleeves after the French manner, short cloaks like the Germans, French hoods, and large falling bands round their necks. the unmarried of all sorts did go bareheaded, and wear short cloaks, with most close linen sleeves on their arms, like the virgins of Germany. The inferior sort of citizens’ wives, and the women of the country, did wear cloaks made of a coarse stuff, of two or three colours in chequer-work, vulgarly called plodan.’***

July 10. – ‘… ane man, some callit him a juggler, playit sic supple tricks upon ane tow [rope], whilk was fastenit betwixt the top of St Giles’s Kirk steeple and ane stair beneath the Cross, callit Josia’s Close head, the like was never seen in this country, as he rade down the tow and playit sae mony pavies on it.’ – Bir.

Practitioners of such dangerous arts were not uncommon in those days. The death, in Edinburgh, of one Kirkaldy, ‘who had before danced at the cock of the steeple [St Giles’s],’ is noted in the history of the civil broils of 1571.

It appears that these diverting vagabonds were well rewarded. The juggler of 1598, called an ‘English sporter,’ had twenty pounds from the king for the steeple-trick. Two months after, six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence was ordered to ‘David Weir, sporter,’ supposed to be the same person.

‘This year the wheat was blasted.’ – Chron. Perth. ‘The ait meal sold for 6s. the peck.’ – Bir. There was, consequently, towards the end of the year, ‘ane extraordinar dearth of all kinds of pultrie and other vivres‘ throughout the realm.

Dec. – The Privy Council Record at this date gives an anecdote which reads like a tale of patriarchal times – the time when Jacob told his sons to go down into Egypt and buy corn, ‘that we may live, and not die.’

On some recent occasion of pestilence, Dumfries, being specially and severely afflicted, was, as usual, sequestered from all intercourse and traffic – its markets became altogether decayed, and the inhabitants, in addition to all their other distresses, found themselves ‘evil handlit for want of necessar sustentation.’ In these circumstances, it seemed good to them to send two of their number, unsuspected of infection, to the country about the Water of Cree in Galloway, to purchase cattle. The two men, James Sharpe and John Mertine, set forth on this quest, and, coming to the burgh of Wigtown, were there well received by the magistrates, who seemed willing to give them Christian help and countenance for their object, on the condition that the cattle were paid for and the burgh of Wigtown satisfied in their customs. Thus sanctioned, the Dumfries emissaries went into the country and bought thirty-eight nolt [oxen], which they began to drive towards Dumfries, looking for no interruption. At Monygaff on the Water of Cree, they were met by a large armed party under the command of Patrick Ahannay, provost of Wigtown, and John Edgar and Archibald Tailfer, bailies, who laid violent hands upon them, and carried them and their cattle to Wigtown. We do not learn what was the motive of this conduct, but may reasonably surmise it was some claim in the way of custom which the Dumfriessians had failed to satisfy. At Wigtown the cattle were detained eight days, getting gradually leaner for want of food, till at last they were ‘extreme lean;’ and it was not till their owners had paid a hundred merks that they were allowed to proceed with the beeves to the starving burgh of Dumfries.

This pitiable affair, which reads so strangely of Dumfries, now the scene of magnificent markets for the transfer of cattle, came under the notice of the Privy Council, and was remitted to the ordinary judges to be settled by them as they might think best.


Dec. 17. – Till this time, the new year legally held in Scotland was that pitched upon in the sixth century by Dionysius Exiguus when he introduced the Christian era – the 25th of March, or day of the Annunciation. King James, probably looking upon the approaching year 1600 as the beginning of a new century, thought it would be a good occasion for bringing Scotland into a conformity with other countries in respect of New-year’s Day. There was therefore passed this day at Holyrood an act of Privy Council, in which it is set forth that ‘in all other weel-governit commonwealths and countries, the year begins yearly upon the first of January, commonly called New-year’s Day, and that this realm only is different frae all others in the count and reckoning of the years;’ for which reason they ordained that, in all time coming, Scotland shall conform to this usage, and that the next first of January shall be the first day of the year of God 1600.****

During this year ‘there were divers incursions in the Highlands and Borders, and sundry slaughters committed in divers parts of the country. Five sundry men were slain in one week within two miles of Edinburgh.’ – Cal.

Circa 1559. – McAlexander of Drumachryne in Ayrshire had a lease of the tiends of his estate from the Laird of Girvanmains, who in his turn was head tenant of these teinds from the Earl of Cassillis. ‘But this Drumachryne, being ane proud man, wald now be tenant to my lord himself, and his man. [That is, he preferred being man or vassal to the earl.] The Laird of Girvanmains came to my lord, and said his lordship “had [done him wrang] in setting of his teinds to his awn man ower his head; and for ony gains he sall reap by that deed, the same sall be but small.” My lord answerit and said: “Ye dar not find fault with him; for an ye do, we knaw whare ye dwell.” The other said: “An he bide by that deed, he should repent the same, do for him wha likit!” My lord said: “Ye dar not steir him for your craig [neck]!” and bade him gang to his yett [gate]. The Laird of Girvanmains rides his ways, and thinking that the Laird of Drumachryne wald come after him, he stayit, and his twa servants with him, on a muir called Craigdow, behind ane knowe [knoll], while that he saw him coming; his brother, the Laird of Corseclays, being with him, and Oliver Kennedy of…; but they strake never ane strake in his defence. Girvanmains pursues him, and his twa men with him, callit Gilbert McFiddes and William McFiddes, ane boy, wha was the spy. They come to them on horseback, and strake him on the head with swords, and slew him. My lord was very far offendit at this deed, and avowit to have ane mends thereof, and causit denounce Girvanmains to the horn; and did all he could to have his life and wrack him in his geir.’ – Hist. Ken.


Feb. – At this time arrived in Edinburgh the young Earl of Gowrie and his brother Alexander Ruthven, from Padua, where they had been studying for some years. To all appearance, they were disposed to be peaceable subjects of the king, notwithstanding the hard measure which had been dealt out to their father sixteen years before. When, some months afterwards, they came to so tragical an end, a circumstance which occurred not long after their arrival in Edinburgh, was remembered, as betraying a state of mind different from what appeared on the surface of their general behaviour.

A certain Colonel Stuart of Houston, who, as commander of the royal guard, had been employed in seizing the late unfortunate Earl of Gowrie, was still employed at court. One day in June, as the young earl, accompanied with seven or eight of his servants, was passing through the long gallery of Holyrood, on his way to the king’s chamber, he observed Colonel Stuart come forth from an interview with his royal master. To avoid a too close meeting with one so painfully associated with his family history, he stepped aside a little, in order to let Stuart pass by. ‘The same being espied by ane of the said earl’s servants, going in the rank before him, callit Mr Thomas Kinrosser, [he] said ardently till him:  “What, my lord, are you going back for ony man here? Come forward, my lord, bauldly!” Whilk going aside and then coming forward again being seen by Colonel Stuart, he went in again to the king.

“Sir, it will please your majesty hear ane strange matter, that, for guid service done to your grace, I sould be so evil rewardit as I am. here comes in the Earl of Gowrie, and I see he minds to begin first at me; but beware next of the best of you all.”

‘herewith the said earl enterit in his majesty’s chalmer, and the colonel went out thereof; but there was nothing of that purpose spoken betwixt his majesty and the earl at that time. But, the colonel’s words to the king being reported to the earl, he answered: “Aquila non captat muscas. [The eagle does not capture flies.]” ‘ – Jo. Hist.

Mar. 14. – The king, returning from a General Assembly in Edinburgh to his palace of Falkland, crossed the Firth of Forth by the ferry between Leith and Kirkcaldy. The weather was fair at starting, but became foul on the passage, and the mariners were obliged to run their boat upon the sands at Kirkcaldy, where the king was taken out on horseback. ‘He exclaimed with execration, that he was ever in danger of his life in going to those assemblies.’ – Cal.

Apr. 2. – ‘… being the Sabbath-day, Robert Auchmuty, barber, slew James Wauchope at the combat in St Leonard’s Hill, and upon the 23d, the said Robert [was] put in ward in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. In the meantime of his being in ward, he hang ane cloak without the window of the iron house, and another within the window there, and, saying that he was sick, and might not see the light, he had aquafortis continually seething at the iron window, while [till] at the last the iron window was eaten through. Sae, upon a morning, he causit his prentice-boy attend when the town-guard should have dissolvit, at whilk time the boy waited on, and gave his master ane token that the said guard were gone, by the show or wave of his handcurch. The said Robert hung out ane tow whereon he thought to have come down. The said guard spied the wave of the handcurch, and sae the said Robert was disappointit of his intention and device; and sae, on the 10 day, he was beheadit at the cross, upon ane scaffold.’ – Bir.*****

July 2. – John Kincaid of Warriston, near Edinburgh, was married to a handsome young woman, named Jean Livingstone, daughter to a man of fortune and influence, the Laird of Dunipace. Owing to alleged maltreatment, the young wife conceived a deadly hatred of her husband. A base-minded nurse was near to whisper means and ways of revenge, and the lady was induced to tamper with a young man named Robert Weir, a servant of her father, to become the instrument. At an early hour in the morning above noted, Weir came to Warriston, and being admitted by the lady into the gentleman’s chamber, there fell upon him with his fists, and soon accomplished his death. While Weir fled, the lady remained at home, along with the nurse. Both were immediately seized, subjected to a summary kind of trial before the magistrates, and condemned to death.

In the brief interval between the sentence and execution, this unfortunate young creature – she was only twenty-one – was brought, by the discourse of an amiable clergyman, from a state of callous indifference to one of lively sensibility and religious resignation. Her case was reported in a small pamphlet of the day. She stated that, on Weir assaulting her husband, she went to the hall and waited till the deed was done. She thought she still heard the pitiful cries uttered by her husband while struggling with his murderer. Afterwards, by way of dissembling, she tried to weep; but not a tear could she shed. She could only regard her approaching death as a just expiation of her offence. Her relations, feeling shamed by her guilt and its consequences, made interest to obtain that her execution should be as little public as possible, and it was accordingly arranged that, while the nurse was being burnt on the Castle-hill at four in the morning, and thus attracting the attention of any who might be out of their beds, the lady should be conducted to the Girth Cross, at the opposite extremity of the city, and there despatched by the Maiden.

According to the contemporary pamphlet: ‘The whole way, as she went to the place of execution, she behaved herself so cheerfully as if she had been going to her wedding, and not to her death. When she came to the scaffold, and was carried up upon it, she looked up to the Maiden with two longsome looks, for she had never seen it before. This I may say of her, to which all that saw her will bear record, that her only countenance moved [her countenance alone would have excited emotion], although she had not spoken a word. For there appeared such majesty in her countenance and visage, and such a heavenly carriage in her gesture, that many said: “That woman is ravished with a higher spirit than man or woman’s!” ‘ After reading a short address to the multitude at the four corners of the scaffold, she calmly resigned herself to her fate, uttering expressions of devotion till the descent of the axe cut short her speech.

Weir, being taken four years after, was broken on the wheel (June 26, 1604); a severe death, scarcely ever before inflicted in Scotland. – Pit. Bir.

July 21. – In Edinburgh, this day, ‘at nine hours at even, a combat or tulyie [was fought] between twa brether of the Dempsters, and ane of them slain by John Wilson. [He] being tane with het bluid, was execute at the flesh-stocks, where he had slain the man the night before.’ – Bir.

July. – The calamities of dearth, want, and a high mortality continued this year to press upon the people in almost all parts of the country. ‘A sheaf of oat-straw was sold for forty shillings in Edinburgh. There was also a great death of little children; six or seven buried [in Edinburgh] in a day.’ – Cal.

‘The year of God 1600, fourteen whales, of huge bigness, were casten in by the sea upon the sands under the town of Dornoch in Sutherland. They came in alive, and were slain immediately by the inhabitants, who reaped some commodity thereby. Some of these fishes were ninety feet in length.’ – G. H. S.

Aug. 5. – In the midst of a time unmarked by great events, great excitement was caused by the attempt of the Earl of Gowrie and his brother upon the king’s liberty of life, at Perth. James Melville notes that ‘a little before or hard about the day of this accident, the sea at an instant, about low-water, debordit and ran up aboon the sea-mark, higher nor at any stream-tide, athort all the coast-side of Fife, and at an instant reteired again to almaist low-water, to the great admiration of all, and skaith done to some.’

Aug. 6. – While Mr Robert Bruce and some others of the clergy professed to regard the conspiracy with incredulity, the great bulk of the people, going with their loyalty, as often happens, far beyond the merit of its object, manifested all tokens of extreme satisfaction at the king’s escape. On the arrival of the news, ‘there was sic joy, that the cannons shot, the bells rang, the trumpets sounded, the drums strake. The town rase in arms, with shooting of muskets, casting of fireworks, and banefires set forth; the like was never seen in Scotland, there was sic merriness and dancing all the nicht.’ – Bir.

The same day, the state officers, with some other nobles, went to the cross, ‘and there heard Mr David Lindsay make ane orison, and the haill people sat down on their knees, giving thanks to God for the king’s deliverance out of sic ane great danger.’ – Bir.

Dec. 23. – The baptism of the young prince, subsequently Charles I., took place this day at Holyroodhouse. The manner in which the king obtained the means of holding any such ceremonial is illustrated by the following letter (printed literatim), which he addressed on the occasion to the Laird of Dundas:

‘Richt traist friend, we greet you heartily well. The baptism of our dearest son being appointit at Halyrudhouse upon the xxiii day of Decemr instant, wherat some princes of France, strangers, with the specialis of our nobility, being invyted to be present, necessar it is that great provisions, gude cheir, and sic uther things necessary for decorations thairof be providit, whilks cannot be had without the help of sum of our loving subjects, quhairof accounting you one of the specialis, we have thought good to request you effectuously to propyne with vennysons, wyld meit, Brissel fowlis, caponis, with sic other provisions as are maist seasonable at that time and errand. To be sent into Halyrudhouse upon the 22 day of the said moneth of December instant, and herewithall to invyte you to be present at that solemnitie, to take part of your awin gude cheir, as you tender our honour, and the honour of the country; swa we committ you to God. From Lithgow, this 6th of Decemr 1600 – JAMES R.’


Feb. – Among the violences of the age, what would now be called agrarian outrages were very common. Sometimes it was a pretender to proprietorship who came in to trouble the tenants of the landlord in possession; sometimes a tenant was the object of wrathful jealousy among persons of his own class. Of the former order of troubles we have an example at this time in a charge brought before the Privy Council (February 19, 1601) against David Hamilton, younger, of Bothwell-haugh, ‘servant to the laird of Innerwick.’ It was for the turning out of his wife from Woodhouselee that Hamilton of Bothwell-haugh murdered the Good Regent. His descendants were repossessed in the estate, and we now see his present representative breaking other laws on account of the same lands. Sir James Bellenden of Broughton, who was landlord de facto, complains against David Hamilton, that, with a company ‘bodin and furnist in feir of weir,’ he had come, on the 10th of February instant, to the tenants of the lands of Woodhouselee, ‘where they were in peaceable and quiet maner at their plews,’ and there assailed them with furious speeches, ‘threatening to have their lives gif they insistit in manuring and lawboring of the said lands,’ and actually compelled them through fear to give up their work. As David failed to appear and answer this charge, letters were ordered to denounce him as a rebel.

April 17. – John Watt, Deacon of the deacons in Edinburgh, or he would have latterly been called Convener of the Trades, was shot dead on the Burgh-moor. This was the official who raised the trades for the protection of the king at the celebrated tumult of the 17th December 1596. One Alexander Slummon, a bystander, was tried for the murder, but found innocent.

April 27. – ‘… Archibald Cornwall, town-officer, hangit at the cross, and hung on the gibbet twenty-four hours; and the cause wherefore he was hangit – He being an unmerciful greedy creature, he poindit the king and queen’s pictures; and when he came to the cross to comprise the same, he hung them up upon twa nails on the same gallows to be comprisit; and they being seen, word gaed to the king and queen, whereupon he was apprehendit and hangit.’ – Bir.

Cornwall sustained a regular trial before a jury, eight of whom were tailors. The dittay bears that ‘in treasonable contempt and disdain of his majesty, he stood up upon ane furm or buird beside the gibbet, and called [drove] ane nail therein as heich as he could reach it, and lifted up his hieness’ portraitor foresaid and held the same upon the gibbet, pressing to have hung the same thereon, and to have left it there, as an ignominious spectacle to the haill world, gif he had not been stayed by the just indignation of the haill people, menacing to stane him dead, and pulling him perforce frae the gibbet.’

The punishment goes so monstrously beyond the apparent offence, that one is led to suspect something which does not appear. The gibbet on which the portrait had been hung was, as something rendered horrible by that profanity, ‘taken down and burnt with fire.’

June. – An effort was made at this time by the burghs to introduce a cloth-manufacture into Scotland. Seven Flemings were engaged to settle in the country, in order to set the work agoing, six of them being for says,10 and the seventh for broadcloth. When the men came, expecting to be immediately set to work in Edinburgh, a delay arose while it was debated whether they should not be dispersed among the principal towns, in order to diffuse their instructions as widely as possible. We find the strangers on the 28th of July complaining to the Privy Council that they were neither entertained nor set to work, and that it was proposed to sunder them, ‘whilk wald be a grit hinder to the perfection of the wark.’

The Council decreed that ‘the haill strangers brought hame for this errand sall be halden together within the burgh of Edinburgh, and put to work conform to the conditions past betwix the said strangers and the commissioners wha dealt with them.’ Meanwhile, till they should begin their work, the Council ordained ‘the bailies of Edinburgh to entertene them in meat and drink,’ though this should be paid back to them by the other burghs, and the strangers were at the same time to be allowed to undertake any other work for their own benefit. – P. C. R.

On the 11th of September, the burghs had done nothing to ‘effectuat the claith working,’ and the Council declared that unless they should have made a beginning by Michaelmas, the royal privilege would be withdrawn.

Aug. – The bare, half-moorish uplands of Buchan, in Aberdeenshire, are varied, on the course of the river Ythan, by a deep woody dell, on the edge of which is perched an ancient baronial castle named Gight. Here dwelt a branch of the noble house of Huntly – the GORDONS OF GIGHT – noted in modern literary history by reason of the heiress, in whom the line ended, having thrown herself and her family property into the arms of a certain spendthrift named Byron, by whom she became the mother of one who flourished as the most noted poet of his day.11 At the time of which we are speaking, the Laird of Gight was a personage of some local importance, a baron of the house of Gordon, a noted supporter of the marquis in all his enterprises; above all, a man deeply offensive to the government of his day on account of his obstinate adherence to popery.

The kirk had levelled its artillery at George Gordon, the young laird, for a long time in vain; he had always hitherto contrived to put them off with fair promises. Now at length the presbytery of Aberdeen met in a stern mood, and appeared as if it would be trifled with no longer. Gordon, feeling that his means of resistance were failing, wrote a pleading letter to the reverend court, telling how he was deadly diseased, and unable to leave the country, but was willing, if agreeable to confine himself within a mile of his own house, ‘and receipt nane wha is excommunicat (my bedfellow excepted);’ or he would go into confinement anywhere else, and confer with Protestant clergymen as soon as his sickness would permit. ‘I persuade myself,’ he adds, ‘you will nocht be hasty in pronouncing the sentence of excommunication against me, for I knaw undoubtedly that sentence will prejudge my wardly estate, and will be ane great motive to you in the kirk of Scotland to crave my blude.’ He concludes: ‘If it shall please his majesty and your wisdoms of the Kirk of Scotland sae to tak my blude for my profession, whilk is Catholic Roman, I will maist willingly offer it; and, gif sae be, God grant me constancy to abide the same.’ This letter proved unsatisfactory to the court, seeing it ‘made nae offer that micht move them to stay from the excommunication.’ Therefore, the court in one voice concluded that, unless Gordon came forward in eight days with sufficient surety for either subscribing or departing, he should be excommunicated without further delay.

Sep. or Oct. – Among the many men of the name pursuing lawless and violent courses, one of the most noted was George Meldrum, younger of Dumbreck. In 1599, he set upon his brother Andrew at the Milltown of Dumbreck, and wounded him grievously, after which he carried him away and detained him as a prisoner for several weeks. In the ensuing year, he had committed a similar attack upon Andrew Meldrum of Auchquharties, conveying him as a malefactor from Aberdeenshire to the house of one Fyfe, on the Burgh-moor of Edinburgh, where he was kept several days, until he contrived to make his escape. Law and private vengeance were alike devoid of terror to this young bravo, who seems never to have had any difficulty in procuring associates to assist him in his outrageous proceedings.

About the time here noted, he entered upon an enterprise partaking of the romantic, and which has actually been the subject of ballad celebration, though under a mistake as to his name and condition in life. Mr Alexander Gibson, one of the clerks of Session, and who subsequently was eminent as a judge under the designation of Lord Durie, was, for some reason which does not appear, honoured with the malice of young Dumbreck. Possibly, there was some legal case pending or concluded in which GIbson stood opposed to the interests of the brigand. However it was, Gibson was living quietly at St Andrews – he being a landed gentleman of Fife – when Meldrum, tracking him by a spy, learned one day that he was riding with a friend and a servant on the water-side opposite Dundee. Accompanied by a suitable party, consisting of two Jardines, a Johnston – Border thieves, probably – one called John Kerr, son to the Tutor of Graden, and Alexander Bartilmo, with two foot-boys, all armed with swords, hagbuts, and pistols, he set upon Mr Gibson and his friend in a furious manner, compelling them to surrender to him as prisoners; after which he robbed them of their purses, containing about three hundred merks in gold and silver, and hurried them southward to the ferry of Kinghorn. There, having liberated the friend and servant, he conducted Mr Gibson across the Firth of Forth, probably using some means, such as muffling of the face, to prevent his prisoner from being recognised. At least, we can scarcely suppose that, even in that turbulent age, it would have been possible otherwise to conduct so important and well-known a man as an involuntary prisoner to the house of William Kay in Leith, and thence past the palace of Holyroodhouse through the whole county of Edinburgh, and thence again to Melrose, Meldrum divided the money they had taken between himself and his accomplices, each getting about twenty merks. He then conducted Mr Gibson across the Border, landing him in the castle of Harbottle, which appears to have then been the residence of one George Ratcliff; and here the stolen lawyer was kept in strict durance for eight days. – Pit. We may here adopt something of the traditionary story, as preserved by Sir Walter Scott: ‘He was imprisoned and solitary; receiving his food through an aperture in the wall, and never hearing the sound of a human voice save when a shepherd called his dog by the name of Batty, and when a female domestic called upon Madge, the cat. These, he concluded, were invocations of spirits, for he held himself to be in the dungeon of a sorcerer.’12

How Mr Gibson was liberated, we do not learn. During his absence, his wife and children mourned him as dead. George Meldrum contrived, in November 1603, to gain forcible possession of his brother Andrew’s house of Dumbreck; and there he hoped to set law at defiance. The case, however, was too clamant to allow of his escaping in this manner. A party of his majesty’s guard being sent to Aberdeen for his capture, the citizens added a force of sixteen men, with a commander, and then a  regular siege was established round the den of the outlaw. Being compelled to submit, he was carried to Edinburgh, and subjected to a trial, which ended in his having the head struck from his body at the cross, January 12, 1604.

Nov. 24. – The pest was declared to have at this time broken out in the town of Crail in Fife, and in the parishes of Eaglesham, Eastwood, and Pollock in Renfrewshire. Orders for secluding the population of those places were, as usual, issued. – P. C. R.

On the 21st of December, the pest was understood to have entered Glasgow. the inhabitants of that city were therefore forbidden to visit Edinburgh.

On the 26th of January 1602, it is stated that the infected families of Crail being put forth upon the neighbouring moor, and there being no provision for ‘the entertening of the puir and indigent creatures,’ they had wandered throughout the country in quest of food, and thus endangered the spread of the disease. The sheriff of Fife was ordered to see provision made for these people, and to take measures for punishing those who had wandered.

On the 4th of February, the pestilence was in Edinburgh, and the Court of Session was obliged in consequence to rise. Birrel notes: ‘The 19 of February, John Archibald with his family were taken out to the Burrow-muir, being infectit with the pest.’ Probably others immediately followed. This circumstance brings before us the celebrated John Napier, younger of Merchiston, who, on the 11th of March, complained to the Privy Council that the magistrates having ploughed up and turned to profitable service the place where they used formerly to lodge people infected with the pest, had on this occasion planted the sick in certain yards or parks of his at the Scheens, without any permission being asked. The magistrates did not come forward to defend themselves; nevertheless, the Council, considering the urgency of the demands of the public service, ordained that the lands in question should be left in the hands of the magistrates till next Candlemas, on terms to be agreed upon.

Dec. 11. – Great hatred and strife had now lasted for some years between the Earl of Cassillis13 and Sir Thomas Kennedy of Colzean on the one side, and the Laird of Bargeny, the Laird of Blairwhan, the Laird of Girvanmains, and some other Carrick gentlemen on the other. The crafty Laird of Auchindrain, though professedly reconciled to Sir Thomas Kennedy,14 was mainly on the side of Bargeny, who was his brother-in-law. It is believed that he employed himself to inflate Bargeny, who was but a youth, with ambitious designs, making him believe that he could easily put himself on a level with the Earl of Cassillis. The king made an effort to reconcile the parties, but it had no permanent effect. For some time these Carrick chieftains were chiefly busied in devising plots against each other’s lives. On one occasion, the earl, having been induced to accept the hospitality of the Laird of Blairwhan, was apprised that certain of his unfriends, along with Blairwhan, intended to murder him in his bed; he therefore left the house by a backdoor and made his way by night to Maybole. On another occasion, with the consent of Bargeny, the Laird of Benand, with some associates, lay in ambush in the kiln of Daljarrock, in which they had made holes for their hagbuts, designing to shoot Lord Cassillis as he passed that way. Receiving timely warning, he escaped the danger by going his journey by another road.

On the 6th of December 1601, the Laird of Bargeny had occasion to go to Ayr on business. Along with him rode his brother and the Laird of Benand – the two leaders in the affair of the kiln – and ten or twelve other horsemen. Passing within a quarter of a mile of Cassillis Castle and not stopping to pay their respects to the earl, they thus violated one of the most sacred of the social laws then existing. Lord Cassillis could interpret it into nothing but the grossest insult. He was the more enraged, knowing that Bargeny’s two principal companions had lately lain in wait for his life. He immediately took measures for gathering his friends about him, and sent spies to Ayr to apprise him of all Bargeny’s movements.

After spending four or five days in Ayr, Bargeny proposed to return to his own house, much against the advice of his friends, who feared dangers by the way. Setting out with a company of about eighty on horseback, in the midst of a dense snowstorm, he made a halt at the Bridge of Doon – that place since made so famous from another cause – and there addressed his people, protesting that he sought no quarrel with Lord Cassillis, but expressing his hope that, if attacked, they would stand around him and do their duty as became men of honour. They all assured him that they would die in his defence. He then divided his train into two parties, and riding on, at the Lady Cross met the earl, who came out of Maybole with fully two hundred men. Being all ready to meet, the ane on the Teind knowe, and the other on the next, within the shot of ane musket, they began to flyte [use despiteful language towards each other].

The Laird of Bargeny, anxious still to avoid fighting if possible, led off his men along the side of a bog; but the Cassillis party came by the other side and met him at the bottom. He then made a dash forward across a ditch, with Muir of Auchindrain, his page, and three other gentlemen, but, not being supported by any others, found himself outnumbered by the enemy. A brief conflict took place, in which the laird and his friends unhorsed, and another sore hurt. He himself, though but one of his friends remained, was not daunted, but rode rapidly into the ranks of the enemy. He was instantly set upon by a host of the earl’s friends, who strake at him with swords and bore him back by sheer force. At that moment, one John Dick, who had formerly received benefits at his hands, thrust a lance through his throat and stopped his breath. The poor gentleman was then borne off by his horse towards such of his party as still stood their ground, and fell at their feet. The skirmish being now at an end, they were allowed to conduct him away from the field, taking his first to a barn at a place called Dingham, then to Maybole, and finally to Ayr, where he soon after died, being but twenty-five years of age, leaving a widow and two children to bewail his bloody end.

The procedure consequent on this sad tragedy is very notable. The Countess of Cassillis rose immediately to court, to intercede for James’s favour towards her lord. With the help of the Laird of Colzean, she contrived to obtain an act of Council, making the earl’s part in the late conflict ‘good service to the king’ – the pretext being that, in the opposite party, was Thomas Kennedy, Bargeny’s brother, a denounced rebel. A partial contemporary adds: ‘The ten thousand merks given to the treasurer was what did the turn.’

‘The Lady Bargeny rade to Edinburgh and made her complent to the king and queen, but was little better, or least but heard; for she was compellit to buy the ward of her son, and to give thirteen thousand merks for the same.’ It is alleged that she afterwards used all the means she could to take the life of Lord Cassillis, in revenge for her husband’s death. She died in 1605.


The winter of 1601-2 is described by Birrel as of unheard-of severity and duration. It lasted from the 1st of November to the 1st of May. In February was a ten-days’ snow-fall.

May 11. – Sir Thomas Kennedy of Colzean was this day murdered in the immediate neighbourhood of the town of Ayr. ‘He was ane very potentous man, and very wise. He had buildit ane proper house in the Cove [the mansion superseded by the present Colzean Castle], with very brave yards; and, by ane moyed and other, had conquest ane guid living.’ We have seen (page 146) an attempt upon the life of this gentleman at Maybole, by Mure of Auchindrain, who subsequently was reconciled to him, and, for the confirmation of amity, caused his son to be married to Sir Thomas’s daughter. It nevertheless became in time apparent that Mure was the prime mover of this atrocious murder, the circumstances of which are thus related by the king’s advocate, Sir Thomas Hamilton.

Sir Thomas Kennedy, ‘being only intentive on his own adeos, whilk did require his resort to Edinburgh, there to consult with his lawyers in his wechty business, he send his servant to Maybole, to seek Auchindrain and advertise him of his purpose. This servant of Colzean’s, missing Auchindrain in Maybole, desired Mr Robert Mure, schoolmaster at Maybole, to write ane letter of that substance to Auchindrain; who did so, and sent it by ane boy of his school, called William Dalrymple; who, finding Auchindrain at his house of Auchindrain, with his cousin Walter Mure of Cloncaird, ane deadly enemy to the Earl of Cassillis; so soon as he [Auchindrain] fand himself certified of Colzean’s purpose and diet, he dismissed the boy, commanding him to return back in haste, carrying the letter with him; directing him further to shaw to his master and Colzean’s man that he had not fand him at his house… Immediately thereafter, [he] resolved with his cousin Cloncaird that this occasion of revenge of Bargeny’s slaughter by Colzean’s murder was not to be unslipped… After some deliberation, [he] concluded upon the choice of the actors and manner of the execution, making advertisement thereof, as weel by letter to Thomas Kennedy of Drumurchy… as by message to Cloncaird… The said Thomas Kennedy, Walter Mure of Cloncaird, and four or five sservants with them, weel armed and horsed, convoying themselves nbear the way appointed by Colzean’s letter for his meeting with Auchindrain, did lie await for Colzean’s by-coming; who, being in full security of his dangerless estate, riding upon ane pacing nag, and having with him ane servant only, they suddenly surprised him, and with their pistols and swords gave him ane number of deadly wounds; and, not content to have so barbarously and traitorously bereft him of his life, spoiled him of ane number of gold buttons upon his coat, and some rings and other jewels.’

‘He being slain, his man Lancelot beings him with him to the Greenan, and there gets ane horse litter, and takes him to Maybole, where there was great dule made for him.’ – Hist. Ken.

Sir Thomas Hamilton proceeds to narrate that, while the actual murderers were first outlawed and afterwards forefaulted, Auchindrain fell under strong suspicion of having been the deviser of the deed. The reader must be referred to July 1611 for the remainder of the history of this extraordinary criminal. Here, however, may be introduced the remarkable fact, that the Earl of Cassillis  an attempt to obtain a private revenge on Auchindrain for the murder of his uncle Colzean. The earl had long been on bad terms with his brother Hugh, whom we have seen as the guilty associate of Auchindrain. Now, he made up all past quarrels with Hugh, and granted him a bond, September 4, 1602, stating: ‘Howsoon our brother, Hugh Kennedy of Brownston, with his complices, takes the Laird of Auchindrain’s life, we sall mak guid and thankful payment to him and them of the sum of twelve hundred merks yearly, together with corn to six horses, [until] we receive them in household with ourself, beginning the first payment immediately after their committing of the said deed. Attour [moreover] howsoon we receive them in household, we shall pay to the twa serving gentlemen the fees, yearly, as our awn household servants. And hereto we oblige us, upon our honour.’ – Pit.

Nov. 1. – At Perth – ‘Henry Balnaves and William Jack made their repentance in their awn seats on Sabbath afternoon, for making libel against Mr William Couper, minister, and Henry Elder, clerk –

As King David was ane sair sanct to the crown,
So is Mr William Couper and the clerk to this poor town.

Ane act of Council against them, that nane of them should bear office or get honourable place in the town thereafter.’ – Chron. Perth.

Dec. 1. – It had become a practice for persons who had revengeful feelings towards their neighbours to obtain petards from the continent, and employ them for the destruction of those against whom they had an ill-will. The king now issued a proclamation against ‘sic detestable and unworthy crimes, without example in any other kingdom,’ whereby ‘na man of whatsomever rank and calling can assure his awn safety and preservation within his awn house and iron yetts.’ He ordered all who have any ‘pittartis’ to surrender them at the next burgh immediately, and forbade any more being brought home by sea, or made or mended within the country. – P. C. R.


Jan. 30. – ‘Francis Mowbray brak ward out of the [Edinburgh] Castle, and he fell owir the wall and brak his craig [neck]. Thereafter, he was trailit to the gallows, and hangit; and thereafter he was quarterit, and his head and four quarters put on the four ports.’

In this brief manner Birrel narrates the sad end of a sprightly and gallant, though intemperate spirit. Francis Mowbray was a son of Sir John Mowbray of Barnbougle, an ancient house long since gone down to nothing. Francis himself was the friend and companion of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, the hero of the attack on Carlisle Castle in 1596. He had taken part in that exploit, but soon after got into trouble, in consequence of a quarrel with one William Schaw, whom he struck through with a rapier and killed.

An Italian fencer named Daniel, residing in London, had denounced Mowbray to Elizabeth’s government as having undertaken to kill the king of Scots. Mowbray denied the accusation, and offered the combat. The two being sent down to Edinburgh, it was arranged that they should fight hand to hand in the great close of Holyroodhouse; but before the appointed day arrived, notice came from England that some witnesses had come forward who could prove the treason. On the 29th of January, Mowbray was confronted with the witnesses, whose evidence, however, was not considered conclusive. The two were placed in several apartments in Edinburgh Castle, the Italian occupying a room immediately above Mowbray.

At eight o’clock in the evening of the 30th of January, being Sunday, Francis Mowbray was found dying at the foot of the Castle rock. It was stated that he had sewed his blankets together, and let himself down over the wall; but the line being too short, he fell, and mortally injured himself. The unfortunate man died in the course of the night. An attempt was made by some friends to raise a report that he had been thrown over the window; but this was believed by few. The authorities showed no hesitation about the matter; but, concluding on the guilt of the deceased, had his body dragged backwards through the streets to the bar of the Court of Justiciary, where sentence was duly passed against him. The corpse was then dealt with as Birrel relates. The superstitious remarked the verification of the fearful words of the deceased – that he might fall at his enemies’ feet, and become a spectacle to all Edinburgh. – Pit. Cal.

Feb. 9. – This is the date of an outbreak of private warfare which throws all contemporary events of the same kind into the shade.

In pursuance of a quarrel of some standing between the Clan Gregor and Colquhoun, Laird of Luss, the former came in force to the banks of Loch Lomond. The parties met in Glenfruin, and the Colquhouns, out-manœuvred by the enemy, were overthrown. The Macgregors, besides killing a number of persons, variously stated at three score and four score, in the battle, are alleged to have murdered a number of prisoners (amongst whom, by the way,was Tobias Smollett, bailie of Dumbarton, very likely an ancestor of the novelist, his namesake), and also some poor unarmed people. The whole slaughter is set down at 140 persons. Besides all this, they carried off 600 cattle, 800 sheep and goats, fourteen score of horse and mares, ‘with the haill plenishing, gudes and geir, of the four-score-pound land of Luss, burning and destroying everything else.’ It has been alleged that they killed the laird after taking him prisoner, and murdered a number of school-boys from the college or school of Dumbarton; but these would appear to be groundless charges. Such as their guilt was, it proved the commencement of a long course of oppression and misery endured by this clan. According to a contemporary writer, a mournful procession came to Edinburgh, bearing eleven score of bloody shirts, to excite the indignation of the king against the Macgregors. There being no friend of the Macgregors present to plead their cause, letters of intercommuning were immediately issued against them.

1  It will be found that the body of the Bonny Earl remained above ground for six years, probably with a view to keeping up the popular indignation against his murderers. (See under February 16, 1597-8.)
2  Another writer represents the Master of Montrose as setting upon Sir James Sandilands.
3  Patrick Anderson’s History, MS. He adds: ‘I was at the time by chance an eyewitness myself.’
4  The room of Macmoran’s house in which the Duke of Holstein, the queen’s brother, was banqueted in 1598, is now used as the Mechanics’ Library.
5  For the ballad of Kinmont Willie and many particulars of the affair, see Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
6  Letter of Sir Thomas Hamilton, king’s advocate, Pitcairn, iii. 162.
7  History of the Kennedies, 27.
8  Letter above cited.
9  ‘… that ferarful eclipse of the sun which continued the space of two hours, so fearful that that Saturday is yet called by the people the BLACK SATURDAY; a prognostic, as the times give occasion to interpret, of that darkness which was to fall upon the kirk.’ – Scot’s Narration.
10  Say or serge, a thin woollen cloth.
11  Miss Gordon having married Mr Byron without any ‘settlement,’ her property was seized by his creditors and sold for £18,500, while she and her son, the future poet, were left to penury.
12  See the ballad of Christie’s Will, with the notes, in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
13  John, fifth Earl of Cassillis, son of the lord who roasted Allan Stewart in Dunure Castle; see pp. 48-50.
14  See page 146.
*  I urge you to check out just how very little women were thought of by the white, middle class, male writers of the 19th century, London-based, Punch magazine.
**  The story of the killing of Bailie John MacMoran is related in Chapter 11 of James Grant’s ‘Old and New Edinburgh’ (1880).
***  This passage is related at the start of Chapter 22 of James Grant’s ‘Old and New Edinburgh’ (1880).
****  This is why dates between January and March have the year designated as 1546-7, as Robert Chambers himself does throughout this book. George Chalmers does it throughout his ‘Life of Mary, Queen of Scots‘ too. Chambers also writes in his ‘Book of Days’ (1886) for the month of January,
“Although, however, there was a general popular regard to the 1st of January as the beginning of the year, the ancient Jewish year, which opened with the 25th of March, continued long to have a legal position in Christian countries. In England, it was not till 1752 that the 1st of January became the initial day of the legal, as it had long been of the popular year. Before that time, it was customary to set down dates between the 1st of January and the 24th of March inclusive, thus: January 30, 1648-9: meaning, that popularly the year was 1649, but legally 1648. In Scotland, this desirable change was made by a decree of James VI. in privy council, in the year 1600. It was effected in France in 1564; in Holland, Protestant Germany, and Russia, in 1700; and in Sweden in 1753.”
*****  Another story related by James Grant in Chapter 49 of his ‘Old and New Edinburgh’ (1880).
Exit mobile version