THE death of King William without children (March 8, 1702), opened the succession to the Princess Anne, second daughter of the late King James. Following up the policy of her predecessor, she had not been more than two months upon the throne, when, in conjunction with Germany and Holland, she proclaimed war against the king of France, whose usurpation of the succession to Spain for a member of his family, had renewed a general feeling of hostility against him. This war, distinguished by the victories of the Duke of Marlborough, lasted till the peace of Utrecht in 1713. The queen had been many years married to Prince George of Denmark, and had had several children; but all were now dead.
In 1700, the English parliament, viewing the want of children to both William and the Princess Anne, had settled the crown of England upon the Electress Sophia of Hanover, daughter of the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King James I., she being the nearest Protestant heir; thus excluding not only the progeny of James II., but that of several elder children of the Princess Elizabeth, all of whom were of the Roman Catholic religion. It was highly desirable that the Scottish Estates should be induced to settle the crown of Scotland on the same person, in order that peace might be preserved between the two kingdoms; but the discontents of the Scotch stood in the way.
It came to be seen that the only way to secure a harmony with the northern kingdom in some matters essential to peace was to admit it to an incorporating union, in which there should be a provision for an equality of mercantile privileges. To effect this arrangement, accordingly became the policy of the English Whig ministry of Queen Anne. On the other hand, the proposition did not meet with a favourable reception in Scotland, where the ancient national independence was a matter of national pride; nevertheless, there also a parliamentary sanction was obtained for the preliminary steps. In May 1706, the Commissioners, thirty from each nation, met at Westminster, to deliberate on the terms of the proposed treaty, and the Act of Union was passed in February 1707, as to take effect from the ensuing 1st of May.
The sport of cock-fighting had lately been introduced into Scotland, and a cock-pit was now in operation in Leith Links, where the charges for admission were 10d. for the front row, 7d. for the second, and 4d. for the third. Soon after, ‘the passion for cock-fighting was so general among all ranks of the people, that the magistrates [of Edinburgh] discharged its being practised on the streets, on account of the disturbances it occasioned.’
The amusement of cock-fighting long kept a hold of the Scottish people. It will now be scarcely believed that, through the greater part of the eighteenth century, and till within the recollection of persons still living, the boys attending the parish and burghal schools were encouraged to bring cocks to school at Fasten’s E’en (Shrove-tide), and devote an entire day to this barbarising sport. The slain birds and fugies (so the craven birds were called) become the property of the schoolmaster. The minister of Applecross, in Ross-shire, in his account of the parish, written about 1790, coolly tells us that the schoolmaster’s income is composed of two hundred merks, with payments form the scholars of 1s. 6d. for English, and 2s. 6d. for Latin, and ‘the cock-fight dues, which are equal to one quarter’s payment for each scholar.’
Dec. – Usually, in our day, the opposing solicitors in a cause do not feel any wrath towards each other. It was different with two agents employed at this time in the Court of Session on different interests, one of them being Patrick Comrie, who acted in the capacity of ‘doer’ for the Laird of Lawers. To him, one day, as he lounged through the Outer House, came up James Leslie, a ‘writer,’ who entered into some conversation with him about Lawers’s business, and so provoked him, that he struck Leslie in the face, in the presence of many witnesses. Leslie appealed to the court, on the strength of an old statute which decreed death to any one guilty of violence in the presence of the Lords, and Comrie was apprehended. There then arose many curious and perplexing questions among the judges as to the various bearings of the case; but all were suddenly solved by Comrie obtaining a remission of his offence from the queen. – Foun. Dec.
Feb. 2. – Under strong external professions of religious conviction, rigorous Sabbath observance, and a general severity of manners, there prevailed great debauchery, which would now and then come to the surface. On this evening there had assembled a party in Edinburgh, who carried drink and excitement to such a pitch, that nothing less than a dance in the streets would satisfy them. There was Ensign Fleming of a Scots regiment in the Dutch service (son of Sir James Fleming, late provost of Edinburgh); there were Thomas Burnet, one of the guards; and John, son of the late George Galbraith, merchant. The ten o’clock bell had rung, to warn all good citizens home. The three bacchanals were enjoying their frolic in the decent Lawnmarket, where there was no light but what might come from the windows of the neighbouring houses; when suddenly there approaches a sedan-chair, attended by one or two footmen, one of them carrying a lantern. It was the Earl of Leven, governor of the castle, and a member of the Privy Council, passing home to his aerial lodging. Most perilous was it to meddle with such a person; but the merry youths were too far gone in their madness to inquire who it was or think of consequences; so, when Galbraith came against one of the footmen, and was warned off, he answered with an imprecation, and, turning to Fleming and Burnet, told them what had passed. Fleming said it would be brave sport for them to go after the chair and overturn it in the mud; whereupon the three assailed Lord Leven’s servants, and broke the lantern. His lordship spoke indignantly from his chair, and Fleming, drawing his sword, wounded one of the servants, but was quickly overpowered along with his companions.
The young delinquents speedily became aware of the quality of the man they had insulted, and were of course in great alarm. Fleming in particular being apprehensive of losing his commission. After a month’s imprisonment, they were glad to come and make public confession of penitence on their knees before the Council, in order to obtain their liberty.
On a Sunday, early in the same month, four free-living gentlemen, including Lord Blantyre – then a hot youth of two-and-twenty – drove in a hackney-coach to Leith, and sat in the tavern of a Mrs Innes all the time of the afternoon service. Thereafter they went out to take a ramble on the sands, but by-and-by returned to drinking at the tavern of a Captain Kendal, where they carried on the debauch till eight o’clock in the evening. Let an Edinburgh correspondent of Mr Wodrow tell the remainder of the story. Being all drunk – ‘when they were coming back to Edinburgh, in the very street of Leith, they called furiously to the coachman and post-boy to drive. The fellows, I think, were drunk too, and ran in on the side of the causey, dung down [knocked over] a woman, and both the fore and hind wheel went over her. The poor woman cried; however, the coach went on; the woman died in half an hour. Word came to the Advocate to-morrow morning, who caused seize the two fellows, and hath been taking a precognition of the witnesses… it will be a great pity that the gentlemen that were in the coach be not soundly fined for breach of Sabbath. One of them had once too great a profession to [make it proper that he should] be guilty now of such a crime.’ – Analecta Scotica.
The desire to see these scapegraces punished for what was called breach of Sabbath, without any regard to that dangerous rashness of conduct which had led to the loss of an innocent life, is very characteristic of Mr Wodrow’s style of correspondents.
Apr. 3. – The Master of Burleigh – eldest son of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, a peer possessed of considerable estates in Fife – had fallen in love with a girl of humble rank, and was sent abroad by his friends, in the hope that time and change of scene would save him from making a low marriage. He was heard to declare before going, that if she married in his absence, he would take the life of her husband. The girl was nevertheless married to Henry Stenhouse, schoolmaster of Inverkeithing. The Master was one of those hot-headed persons whom it is scarcely safe to leave at large, and who yet do not in general manifest the symptoms that justify restraint. Learning that his mistress was married, and to whom, he came at this date with two or three mounted servants to the door of the poor schoolmaster, who, at his request, came forth from amongst his pupils to speak to the young gentleman.
‘Do you know me?’ said Balfour.
‘I am the Master of Burleigh. You have spoken to my disadvantage, and I am come to fight you.’
‘I never saw you before,’ said the schoolmaster, ‘and I am sure I never said anything against you.’
‘I must nevertheless fight with you, and if you won’t, I will at once shoot you.’
‘It would be hard,’ said the schoolmaster, ‘to force a man who never injured you into a fight. I have neither horse nor arms, and it is against my principles to fight duels.’
‘You must nevertheless fight,’ said the Master, ‘or be shot instantly;’ and so saying, he held a pistol to Stenhouse’s breast.
The young man continuing to excuse himself, Balfour at length fired, and gave the schoolmaster a mortal wound in the shoulder, saying with savage cruelty: ‘Take that to be doing with.’ Then, seeing that an alarm had arisen among the neighbours, he rode off, brandishing a drawn sword, and calling out: ‘Hold the deserter!’ in order to divert the attention of the populace. The unfortunate schoolmaster died in a few days of his wound.
The Master for a time escaped pursuit, but at length he was brought to trial, July 28, 1709, and adjudged to be beheaded at the cross of Edinburgh, on the ensuing 6th of January. During this unusually long interval, he escaped from the Tolbooth by changing clothes with his sister. He was not again heard of till May 1714, when he appeared amongst a number of Jacobite gentlemen at the Cross of Lochmaben, to drink the health of James VIII. The family title had by this time devolved on him by the death of his father; but his property had all been escheat by sentence of the Court of Justiciary. His appearance in the rebellion of 1715 completed by attainder the ruin of his family, and he died unmarried and in obscurity in 1757.1
Oct. 3. – Walter Scott of Raeburn, grandson of the Quaker Raeburn who suffered a long imprisonment for his opinions in the reign of Charles II., fought a duel with Mark Pringle, youngest son of Andrew Pringle of Clifton. It arose from a quarrel the two gentlemen had the day before at the head-court of Selkirk. They were both of them young men, Scott being only twenty-four years of age, although already four years married, and a father. The contest was fought with swords in a field near the town, and Raeburn was killed. The scene of this melancholy tragedy has ever since been known as Raeburn’s Meadow-spot.
Pringle escaped abroad; became a merchant in Spain; and falling, on one occasion, into the hands of the Moors, underwent such a series of hardships, as, with the Scottish religious views of that age, he might well regard as a Heaven-directed retribution for his rash act. Eventually, however, realising a fortune, he returned with honour and credit to his native country, and purchased the estate of Crichton in Edinburghshire. He died in 1751, having survived the unhappy affair of Raeburn’s Meadow-spot for forty-four years; and his grandson, succeeding to the principal estate of the family, became Pringle of Clifton.
Nov. 3. – Mr John Strahan, Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, was at this time owner of Craigcrook, a romantically situated old manor-house under the lee of Corstorphine Hill – afterwards for many years the residence of Lord Jeffrey. Strahan had also a house in the High Street of Edinburgh. He was the owner of considerable wealth, the bulk of which he ultimately ‘mortified’ for the support of poor old men, women, and orphans; a charity which still flourishes.
Strahan had a servant named Helen Bell to keep his town mansion, and probably she was left a good deal by herself. As other young women in her situation will do, she admitted young men to see her in her master’s house. On Hallowe’en night this year, she received a visit from two young artisans, William Thomson and John Robertson, whom she happened to inform that on Monday morning – that is, the second morning thereafter – she was to go out to Craigcrook, leaving the town-house of course empty.
About five o’clock on Monday morning, accordingly, this innocent young woman locked up her master’s house and set forth on her brief journey, little reckning that it was the last she would ever undertake in this world. As she was proceeding through the silent streets, her two male friends joined her, telling her they were going part of her way; and she gave them a couple of bottles and the key of the house to carry, in order to lighten her burden. On coming to a difficult part of the way, called the Three Steps, at the foot of the Castle Rock, the two men threw her down and killed her with a hammer. They then returned to town, with the design of searching Mr Strahan’s house for money.
According to the subsequent confession of Thomson, as they returned through the Grassmarket, they swore to each other to give their souls and bodies to the devil, if ever either of them should inform against the other, even in the event of their being captured. In the empty streets, in the dull gray of the morning, agitated by the horrid reflections arising from their barbarous act and its probable consequences, it is not very wonderful that almost any sort of hallucination should have taken possession of these miserable men. It was stated by them that, on Robertson proposing that their engagement should be engrossed in a bond, a man started up between them in the middle of the West Bow and offered to write the bond, which they had agreed to subscribe with their blood; but, on Thomson’s demurring, this stranger immediately disappeared. No contemporary of course could be at any loss to surmise who this stranger was.
The two murderers having made their way into Mr Strahan’s house, broke open his study and the chest where his cash was kept. They found there a thousand pounds sterling, in bags of fifty pounds each, ‘all milled money,’ except one hundred pounds, which was in gold; all of which they carried off. Robertson proposed to set the house on fire before their departure; but Thomson said he had done wickedness enough already, and was resolved not to commit more, even though Robertson should attempt to murder him for his refusal.
Mr Strahan advertised a reward of five hundred merks for the detection of the perpetrator or perpetrators of these atrocities; but for some weeks no trace of the guilty men was discovered. At length, some suspicion lighting upon Thomson, he was taken up, and, having made a voluntary confession of the murder and robbery, he expiated his offence in the Grassmarket.2
The Union produced some immediate effects of a remarkable nature on the industry and traffic of Scotland – not all of them good, it must be owned, but this solely by reason of the erroneous laws in respect of trade which existed in England, and to which Scotland was obliged to conform.
Scotland had immediately to cease importing wines, brandy, and all things produced by France; with no remedy but what was supplied by the smuggler. This was one branch of her public or ostensible commerce now entirely destroyed. She had also, in conformity with England, to cease exporting her wool. This, however, was an evil not wholly unalleviated.
May. – There was at this time a dearth of victual in Scotland, and it was considered to be upon the increase. The magistrates and justices of Edinburgh arranged means for selling meal in open market, though in quantities not exceeding a firlot (or four pecks), at twelve shillings Scots per peck. They also ordered all possessors of grain to have it thrashed out and brought to market before the 20th of May, reserving none to themselves, and forbade, on high penalties, any one to buy up grain upon the road to market.
Nov. 9. – The Lords of Session decided this day on a critical question, involving the use of a word notedly of uncertain meaning. John Purdie having committed an act of immorality on which a parliamentary act of 1661 imposed a penalty of a hundred pounds in the case of ‘a gentleman,’ the justices of peace fined him accordingly, considering him a gentleman within the construction of the act, as being the son of ‘a heritor,’ or land-proprietor. ‘When charged for payment by Thomas Sandilands, collector of these fines, he suspended, upon this ground, that the fine was exorbitant, in so far as he was but a small heritor, and, as all heritors are not gentlemen, so he denied that he had the least pretence to the title of a gentleman. The Lords sustained the reason of suspension to restrict the fine to ten pounds Scots, because the suspender had not the face or air of a gentleman: albeit it was alleged by the charger [Sandilands] that the suspender’s profligateness and debauchery, the place of the country where he lives, and the company haunted by him, had influenced his mien.’ – Forbes’s Journal.
June 21. – The Edinburgh Courant intimated, in an advertisement, that ‘Robert Campbell, commonly known by the name of Rob Roy Macgregor, being lately intrusted by several noblemen and gentlemen with considerable sums for buying cows for them in the Highlands, has treacherously gone off with the money, to the value of £1000 sterling, which he carries along with him.’ This is the first public reference to a person who has become the theme of popular legend in Scotland to an extent little short of Robin Hood in England, and finally had had the fortune to be embalmed in a prose fiction by one of the greatest masters in modern literature.
May 1. – Died, Sir James Steuart, Lord Advocate for Scotland, aged about seventy-eight, greatly lamented by the Presbyterians, to whom he had ever been a steadfast friend. the General Assembly, in session at the time, came in a body to his funeral, which was the most numerously attended ever known in Edinburgh, the company reaching from the head of the close in which his lordship lived, in the Luckenbooths, to the Greyfriars’ Churchyard. For several years, bodily infirmity confined him to a chair; but his mind continued clear to the last. Sir reign of James II., but nevertheless was forced to flee his country, and he only returned along with King William, whose manifesto for Scotland he is understood to have written.
Jan. 10. – Campbell of Lochnell having died about this day, his son, a Jacobite, kept the corpse unburied till the 28th, in order that the burial might be turned to account, or made use of for political purposes. It was customary for the obsequies of a Highland chief or gentleman to be attended by a vast multitude of people, who usually received some entertainment on the occasion. It seems to have been understood that those who came to Lochnell’s funeral were making a masked demonstration in favour of the exiled Stuart. Those of the opposite inclination deemed it necessary to attend also, in order to be a check upon the Jacobites. Hence it came to pass that the inhumation of Lochnell was attended by two thousand five hundred men, well armed and appointed, five hundred being of Lochnell’s own lands, commanded by the famous Rob Roy, carrying with them a pair of colours belonging to the Earl of Breadalbane, and accompanied by the screams of thirteen bagpipes. Such a subject for a picture!