Ecclesiastical History, pp.189-215.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

The ecclesiastical history of Glasgow – not the history of the Church, but the proceedings of the ecclesiastics and the church courts, and the exercise of their jurisdictions, is in many respects curious, but my space does not permit more than a brief notice of it. The materials, indeed, are limited. With the exception of the Chartularies the only local record which we possess of the period before the Reformation is the Protocol Register, which Professor Innes believed to have been lost. but which was fortunately discovered by the Rev. Mr. Stevenson at Buckie, in Banffshire, among the collections of Bishop Kyle, and which has been since printed by the Grampian Club. It embraces only fourteen years – from 1499 to 1513 – but it contains some curious and interesting entries, and casts considerable light on church life, and on the proceedings of the ecclesiastical authorities during that period. Besides collations and presentations to livings, questions of jurisdiction, and records of the conveyance of property, there are entries as to ecclesiastical disputes, cases of libel for slander, the exercise of church discipline in cases of assault and slaughter, and other matters dealt with by the Archbishop of Glasgow and by the dean and chapter.

The cases in which the discipline of the church was invoked to redress acts of violence are numerous, and in the worst of them the delinquents are priests. On one occasion Sir John Carnwath, a priest, is accused of having violently carried off sub silentio noctis, during the first week in Lent, the daughter of John Smyth, in the parish of Linton.1 Another priest, Sir Bartholomew Blare – every priest had the prefix of “Sir” – is charged with “mutilating and dismembering” certain parishioners of Biggar in a conflict betwixt him and the said parishioners.2 And Sir John Wanles, also a priest, is cited before the archbishop, “to see and hear himself declared irregular and deprived of his rank, and to be thrown into prison by the secular authorities and otherwise punished, for the cruel slaughter of Adam Moscrop, scholar.”3 Many other cases of the same kind occur – acts of violence and licentiousness, and in one instance of theft – all committed by priests.4 In one instance a priest, for using “loose and profane words” in presence of the chancellor, is ordained to confess his fault and ask pardon of the judge and the archbishop “flexis genubus on the floor of the court.”5

There is another class of interesting entries in this old record relating to the forms observed on the induction of ecclesiastics. On the admission of Archbishop James Beton he is first received by the chapter, under letters apostolic addressed by the pope to that body. He is then received by the rector in name of the university and clergy of Glasgow; and lastly he is acknowledged by two of the bailies in name of the citizens to be archbishop of the see “and father and shepherd of their souls.”6 On a subsequent occasion he takes the oath of office in the chapter-house of the Cathedral “by touching his breast and swearing on the word of an archbishop and on the Holy Gospels.” Induction is given to a chaplaincy, that of St. John the Baptist in the Cathedral, “by touch and real delivery of the chalice, book, altar, and ornaments thereof.”7 And there is an interesting instrument recording the investiture, by the king in person, within the Abbey of Holyrood, of Sir John Symington to the chapel-royal of St. Ninian of Dondonald, in the diocese of Glasgow. The investiture on this occasion is recorded to have been made “by James IV. king of Scots, the true patron donator and disposer thereof, by His Majesty personally taking the right hand of the said Mr. John, and subscribing with his own Royal hand a writ containing the royal mandate.”8 Another instrument records the investiture of Sir John Heriot, in the parish church of Drumman (Drymen), by leading the presentee “through the south gate of the church to the high altar, and delivering to him the keys of the church, the baptismal font, the bell rope, the high altar and ornaments thereof, Chalice and Book; all which were handled by the said Sir John in token of real possession obtained.” And two newly created canons of the Cathedral are admitted by “making canonical obedience to the Dean and Chapter, by joining their hands, and falling on their knees, and taking the oath of the canons – placing the right hand on the breast after the manner of priests.”9

Other instruments in the Protocol are interesting as relating to pilgrimages from Glasgow to Rome. One of these records that Sir Bartholomew Blare – the same individual, apparently, who had so maltreated the parishioners of Biggar – being, in expiation of his crime no doubt, about to visit the shrines of the apostles Peter and Paul in Rome, and “having taken a staff for support in his right hand, and in his left a pilgrim wallet, and setting out in name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit,” committed to the protection of the pope and the see, himself and his chaplaincy, and all his goods, “and all those adhering to him;” and thereupon he asks instruments in the hands of the notary. This he does in the chapter-house, in presence of the chapter. In another case the notary records that the pilgrim priest, “taking his wallet, cloak, cap, and staff, and taking leave of the byestanders, advancing a little distance, took his journey to his Holiness Pope Julius II.”

In one case the chapter takes proceedings against George Lyle for non-adherence to his spouse, and not treating her with matrimonial affection;10 and in another case the archbishop pronounces a sentence of divorce.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century we have in the same records examples of the attempts which had begun to be made by the citizens to assert their independence, and of the collision into which they came with the archbishop, in consequence. In December, 1510, there is a record of proceedings taken at the instance of the commissaries against the bailies of the city and other citizens, who had “incurred the greater excommunication” for having done certain acts and made certain statutes against the jurisdiction of the Church, “namely, that none of the citizens of Glasgow ought to summon another citizen before a spiritual judge ordinary respecting a matter which could be competently decided before the bailies in the Court House of Glasgow; and because they had fined one Alan Lethame a citizen, because he complained to the Official against another fellow-citizen.” The provost, the Earl of Lennox, appeared before the chapter “as pleader for the said bailies, and procurator for the citizens to defend them,” and demanded to be furnished with a copy of the citation. This bears to have been “done, Sabbath, 7th Dec. 1510.”11 But the time of independence had not yet come. In the following month the earl again appeared and “publicly confessed and openly acknowledged” the act complained of, and renounced, in name of himself and the citizens, “all statutes made against the liberty and jurisdiction of Holy Mother Church, promising never to put them in execution in time to come.”12

All law business at that time was in the hands of ecclesiastics; and notaries received their appointment from the archbishop, who had the power of suspending them at his pleasure.13 In one of the instruments the notary styles himself “presbiter, notarius publicus, ac scriba” – writer – the name adopted by his successors in the Faculty.14

Under the bishops and archbishops the religious life of the inhabitants was that of other cathedral towns. There were the usual services in the High Church, in its choir and at its many altars. The Black Friars had services in their church in the High Street, afterwards known as the College Church; and in the collegiate church of St. Mary and St. Anne in St. Thenew’s Gate, now the Trongate, there were regular services. At the Reformation these two last-mentioned churches became ruinous, and thus there was then only one church for the city – the Cathedral – with one minister, to whom a second was in 1588 joined as a colleague. In 1592 the increasing population caused the church of St. Mary and St. Anne to be repaired, and a third minister was then provided. A fourth was appointed in 1595 to the Barony, which was separated from the city in the following year. For this congregation, the crypt – for some time called the Laigh Kirk – was fitted up. In 1622 the old Blackfriars Church was added, having been repaired in that year. To accommodate an additional congregation the western part of the nave of the Cathedral was fitted up in 1648. It was called the Outer High Church, and Patrick Gillespie was appointed its first minister. In that year Glasgow was divided ecclesiastically into four parishes, and in 1701 it was divided into six. In making this division the Magistrates and the General Session – for it was done at the sight of both – appear to have had regard solely to the number of “examinable persons” which would be in each division. The total number of such persons to be provided for was 9994, and how very equally the city was apportioned for their accommodation will be seen from the division made. There was first “the north quarter,” comprehending the Drygate and Rottenrow “and country places,” and coming down to the Blackfriars’ Church, “containing of examinable persons” 1777. Second, the middle quarter, down the High Street to the Cross, containing 1685. Third, the east quarter, comprehending the Gallowgate and east side of Saltmarket, containing 1628. Fourth, the south quarter, comprehending the Bridgegate and Goosedubs, containing 1648. Fifth, the south-west quarter, now the Tron parish, containing 1649; and lastly, the north-west quarter, beginning at the Tolbooth and “taking in all without the west port and the west side of Stockwell, and comprehending the Candle Street and Bells Wynd with the Grammar School Wynd and the Back Wynd,” containing 1607.15 This enumeration is interesting as showing how the population was located in the beginning of the eighteenth century. In each of the six divisions it will be seen there was an almost equal number of persons – the difference between the highest division and the lowest amounting to not more than seventy, and between the others much less. Other parishes were subsequently formed, and churches erected from time to time, till they amounted to ten – the present number. They are called the City Churches. The stipends of the ministers are paid by the city out of “the common good,” but apart from what the church lands yielded, some of the churches – certainly the Tron and Blackfriars – had originally independent endowments and property, of which the corporation took possession. If the matter were investigated, and the magistrates were brought to account for all the property which they hold in trust for ecclesiastical purposes, it would probably be found that the city churches do not form such a burden on the proper resources of the community as is generally supposed.

In matters of discipline, after the Reformation, an entirely new order of things succeeded to what had formerly prevailed in Glasgow, and the inhabitants found that under the presbytery and the kirk session, especially the latter, they were to be subjected to a rule very much stricter than they had experienced under the archbishops.

On the abolition of Episcopacy it might be supposed that all ecclesiastical matters would fall under the cognizance and control of the presbytery, but this was by no means the case. There were no parochial sessions till the middle of the seventeenth century, but in the General Kirk Session, instituted in 1572, a power arose which appears to have been at first above both presbytery and corporation. Its rule was despotic, and it claimed and exercised powers which would not be credited if we had not the records before us. They sat in secret conclave – the whole elders and deacons, being “sworn, with uplifted hands, to reveal nothing that shall be voted in the session, nor the voters.”16 The original books of the session are unfortunately lost, but copious extracts from them had been made by Wodrow, and they are preserved in his unpublished “Life of Mr. David Weemes,” the manuscript of which is in the library of the university. From these we obtain a curious picture of social life in Glasgow in those olden times.

To begin with, the kirk session exercised for a long time the right of patronage of the city churches. It was by them that the city was in 1648 divided into four parishes – the magistrates merely concurring. Even after the magistrates had obtained from the crown a gift of the patronage, the kirk session still insisted on appointing the ministers, and this continued down to 1717, when the magistrates, on the ground that all the churches except the Cathedral were maintained and endowed from funds dispensed by them, claimed to have a say in the appointments. This led to an arrangement in that year by which it was agreed that the session of the vacant church should be allowed to make the nomination, but that the minister should not be called until the approval was obtained, not of the magistrates only, but of the General Session. This continued for some time, but disputes arose which led to the proposal of other schemes, and as the parties could not agree it was at length settled in a judicial process that the magistrates had the exclusive patronage. This decision was the cause of a small “disruption,” for it so displeased the General Session that a number of its members left the church, and having erected a chapel in Canon Street, they termed it the meeting-house of the Free Presbyterian body.17

Under date 28th May, 1588, we find the kirk session intimating to the presbytery that the “exercise” of the latter cannot be permitted in the Blackfriars on Friday, because it “interfeirs with the preaching” on that day, and the presbytery is desired “to alter the day of their exercise.” The presbytery yielded, and there is an intimation afterwards “that preaching, with consent of session and presbytery, is to be in the Blackfriars Wednesday and Friday.”

Equally did the session dictate to the town council, and even interfere in the nomination of the magistrates. on the 26th of September, 1587, they sent to the council on the day of the election “to request that in chusing the baillies men might be chosen that were fit for the office,” but they added judiciously “as near as possible.” In 1644 we find them giving orders “that the magistrates shall attend the Tables at the “Communion in the Hie Kirk and keep order; and the Dean of Guild and Convener and the old Magistrates in the New Kirk [the Tron].” This must have been no sinecure, if an order, which was enacted by the session in 1589, was enforced, that the “time of convening on Sundays of the Communion” should be four o’clock in the morning – the “Collectors” being ordered to assemble in the High Church on these occasions at three in the morning.

But, indeed, early hours were generally observed in Glasgow at that time and for long afterwards. In a journal kept by an English student, one Josiah Chorley, who attended the university in 1670, the writer says – “The good orders of the College were very agreeable to mine inclination. At five o’clock in the morning the bell rings, and every scholar is to answer to his name which is then called over. The day is spent in private studies and pubic exercises in the classes; at nine at night every chamber is visited by the respective regents.”18

Speaking of the religious life of the people, Mr. Chorley says – “The Lord’s days are strictly observed: all the scholars called to the several classes, where after religious exercises, all attend the Primar and Regents to church, forenoon and afternoon, and in the same order from church. Then in the evening they are called again to the classes, and then come under examination concerning the sermons heard, and give account of what was appointed the foregoing Sabbath in some theological treatise, and then to supper and chambers.” And he adds: “There is also a comely face of religion appearing throughout the whole city, in the private exercises thereof in the families, as may appear to any that walks through the streets; none being allowed either in or out of church time to pay or saunter about; but reading scriptures, singing psalms, &c., to be heard in most houses.”19 There is reason to fear, however, that in many cases it was only “a face of religion.” Absence from church was in those days a grave offence, and persons who were guilty of it, or of “playing or sauntering about,” were severely dealt with. The duty of looking after such delinquents was imposed by the kirk session on the magistrates and ministers, who, by a minute of session of 14th April, 1642, were directed “to go through the streets on Sabbath nights to search for persons who absent themselves from church: the town officers to go through with the Searchers.” By another minute the session directs the searchers, on the Sabbath, to pass into the houses and “to apprehend absents from the kirk.” These searchers, or “compurgators” as they were called, were also employed in perambulating the streets on Saturday nights, and when at the approach of twelve o’clock they heard any noisy conviviality going on, even in a private dwelling-house, they entered and dispersed the company. Another of their duties was to perambulate the streets and public walks during the time of divine service on Sunday, and compel every one they met abroad, not on necessary duty, to go to church. At a later period it was left optional to the delinquents to go home, and if they refused to do so they were taken into custody. This practice was continued till so late as the middle of last century, when the searchers having taken into custody Mr. Peter Blackburn, father of Mr. Blackburn of Killearn, for walking on the Green one Sunday, he prosecuted the magistrates and succeeded in his suit. This caused the practice to be abandoned.20

On the restoration of Episcopacy the archbishops took a leaf out of the book of the kirk session in the matter of compulsory church attendance, and this in a way that neither the session nor the town council liked. It was one thing to compel the inhabitants to come to church to hear the “ministers,” and a very different thing to have attendance enforced on the episcopal ordinances, and the orders of the prelates were to a great extent disregarded. In these circumstances Archbishop Fairfowl applied to the town council, and insisted on their enforcing the law; and this was followed, under date 3d April, 1666. by a curious entry in the records of the council. It bears that there was produced a letter “direct thereto be the Archbishop of Glasgow in the quhilk his Grace declaires that efter search he findes severall persones both men and weomen who ordinarlie dishantes [dis-haunts – forsakes] publict ordinances and flateres themselfes with hope of impunitie, but knew not from whence thir confidence springes, and therefor thought it his Grace dewtie to adverteis the Counsell that his Grace intendit, gif thair fynes be not exactlie leived be them, to employ some of the officers of his Majesties Melitia both to observe who withdrawes from ordinances, and also to exact the penalties imposed by law which his Grace is verie vnwilling to doe.” This letter troubled the magistrates not a little. It was “severall tymes read,” and, after much discussion, “it was concludit be pluralitie of votes that it was better for the toune that thes fynes war collectit and wpliftit be the Magistrates, to the effect they might be applyed to pius vses, then that any sojers should have the collecting thairof.”

But to return to the kirk session. Previous to the Restoration it would appear that certain pictures and crucifixes, saved from the general destruction, still remained in the High Church, and no doubt many such were to be found in the houses of those who adhered to the proscribed faith. By an act of an Assembly held at Aberdeen in 1640, it was ordered that all these should be removed, and the execution of this order naturally fell to the magistrates. But either they were slow to execute it, or the kirk session did not choose to wait for them, and accordingly we find the session issuing an order on the magistrates to take the necessary steps. “The session enacted that the Magistrates will cause all monuments of idolatry to be taken down and destroyed viz. all superstitious pictures crucifixes &c. both in private houses and in the Hie Kirk;” and the magistrates appear to have acted on the mandate and made the search. But it had not been very successful, as next day it was reported that they found only three that could be called so viz. the five wounds of Christ, the Holy Lamb, and Quintigerne ora pro nobis.”21

The kirk session was particularly severe on “swearers, blasphemers, and mockers of piety.” By one of their minutes they appoint “some of their number to go through the toun on the market day, till the magistrates provide one for that office, to take order with banners and swearers.” Swearers are ordained to pay twelve pence (a penny), and for the second fault to be rebuked in church.

But the kirk session did not confine themselves to morals and church matters. In the year 1598 we find the following curious entry: “The Session thinks good that the University, ministers, and Presbytery, take cognisance who are within the toun that pretend to have skill in medicine and hath not the same, that they who have skill may be retained and the others rejected.” And a message is sent to the town council “to see what course to take with such.”22

The first regular assessment for the support of the poor was made, as we have seen, in 1638, but at a much earlier period the kirk session had been doing something in that way at their own hand. In 1595 they appointed a committee to prepare “a roll of the people who were able in the toun to be stented for helping the poor;” and this they must have enforced, for there occur frequent entries afterwards of the distribution by the session of the money raised for this purpose. They also enacted that no beggars were to be allowed on the streets or at doors, and they got constables appointed to see this enforced, but not apparently to much purpose, as street begging continued for a long time after that.

Immediately before the Reformation, and for some time after it, the habits of the lower orders in Glasgow appear to have been far from exemplary – the gentler sex being apparently worse than the men. In 1589 we find the town council specially convened “becauss of the manifauld blaspemies and evill wordis vsst be sindrie wemen;” and as a preventative measure, “they haif concludit that ane pair joges be set upp vpon the goves, gangand up with thrie or four fut stepis.”23 The magistrates also by another minute appoint two persons “to attend everie day about the Cross, but especially at the sitting of Justice Courtes, for executing ther decreits against blasphemers, raillers, cursers, and other vicious livers.” Immorality prevailed to a large extent. The session, as might be supposed, took such cases specially into its own hands, and it was not slow to deal with them. Offences for which, in our day, there is no punishment, were visited with penalties which would startle offenders now if they were applied and enforced as they were in those times. A pillar was set apart in the churches, and there the delinquent was obliged to stand before the congregation, sometimes for six Sabbaths in succession, “bare foot and bare legged and in sackcloth,” and in some instances “to be carted through the toun.”24 On a repetition, and if the offender had been excommunicated, reconciliation to the church was to be obtained after this fashion. He is “to pass from his dwelling house to the Hie Kirk every Sunday at six in the morning, at the first bell, convoyed by two of the elders or deacons or any other two honest men, and stand at the kirk door, barefooted and bare legged, with a white wand in his hand, bareheaded, till after the reading of the text, and then in the same manner to repair to the pillar till the sermon be ended, and then go out to the door again till all pass from the kirk; and after this be received.”

At such exhibitions the congregation looked on no doubt with becoming reverence, but not such was the case with a party of English soldiers who were quartered in the town in 1655, whose treatment of the ceremonial was the occasion of the following minute: “The Session resolves that so long as the English continue in the toun they will put no person on the pillar because they mock at them.”

It may be believed that immorality was not confined to the lower orders, but it is not to the credit of the session that even-handed justice was not meted out when the offender was of higher degree. It so happened that on one occasion there was found in this category no less a person than the Laird of Minto. But then he was the Laird of Minto. He had recently been provost, and he was a person of influence in the town. Accordingly, in the exercise of a prudent discretion, and on his paying the very moderate commutation of “20 lib” (£1, 13s. 4d.) “the Session pass the laird, considering his age, and the station he held in the town.”

Even the ministers were not free from the charge of exercising occasionally an undue partiality in such matters, and it was the occasion of a minute in 1630, by which “the Presbytery censures the ministers of Glasgow for dispensing with public repentance for money.”

In matters such as marriages, games, and banquets, the session exercised a like despotic authority. In 1583 they decreed that there should be “no superfluous gatherings at banquets or marriages; that the price of the dinner should be eighteen pence [less than twopence], and that persons married shall find caution to that effect.” In 1593 they directed the drum to go through the town that there be no bickering nor plays on Sundays either by old or young, and that no person go to Ruglen to see vain plays on Sunday.”

But apart from the restriction on the price of the banquets, it was not so simple a matter to get married then as it is nowadays. There was something more required than a promise to love, honour, and obey. In 1591 the session enacted that “those who are to be married declare the ten commandments, Articles of faith and Lord’s prayer, or else they shall be declared unworthy to be joined in marriage and further censured.”25 And following up this there is an entry in the session records in the same month bearing that a marriage had been actually stopped “till the man learn the Ten Commandments the Lord’s Prayer and Belief.”26

And the sentence of the kirk session was no mere bruntum fulmen. They enforced as well as pronounced it. They caused “a ward house” to be constructed in the steeple of the Blackfriars’ Church, and to this prison they committed offenders. One person is sentenced to confinement for eight days, and instructions are given “to the beddal to let steeplers get nothing but bread and water, or small drink, so long as they continue in the steeple.”27 An individual who had been absent from “the examination” and the communion for several years is committed to the steeple, and ordered to make public repentance besides. In 1609 the session enacts that al offenders shall pay their penalties personally before leaving the session-house, “or be put in the steeple till it be paid.”

In 1665 the manse of the Prebendary of Cambuslang on the south side of the Drygate was acquired by the Earl of Glencairn, who in that year sold it to the magistrates, who, as I have already mentioned, converted it into a house of correction for persons of dissolute character. Of this new prison the kirk session took advantage – the Blackfriars’ Church having become ruinous – and immediately afterwards there occur entries in their records ordaining persons to be taken to the house of correction, both men and women, and appointing them “to be whipped every day during the Sessions will.”

But the session had still more alarming penalties in store for female delinquents – notably among these being ducking in the Clyde. The magistrates had themselves previously resorted to this mode of enforcing morality, as we find an entry in the burgh accounts of a payment in 1575 “to the officeris for dowking of Janet Fawside xld.” (about fivepence).28 But the kirk session improved upon this. By a minute in 1587 certain women are adjudged to be imprisoned and fed fifteen days on bread and water, and “to be put on a cart one day, and ducked in Clyde, and to be put in the jugs at the Cross on a Monday,”* that being the market day. The ducking system seems to have proved a success, but as the duckers probably fared as bad as the ducked, and ingenious device was resorted to in order to obviate that inconvenience. the session appointed a pulley to be made on the bridge, whereby the offenders “may be ducked in the Clyde.” By the same minute the time of exposure at the pillar in the church is relaxed, and it is declared that for a single offence the punishment shall be “only eight days in the steeple, one day on the cockstool and one day at the pillar.”

I have mentioned the stringent measures which the session took to compel attendance at church. When the people were got there they were subjected to an equally rigorous censorship. In 1587 the session enacted “that all persons in time of prayer bow their knee to the ground.” In 1588 they ordered some ash-trees in the High Church yard to be cut down “to make forms for the folk to sit on in the kirk.” But this was for the accommodation of the male sex only, for in the following year they ordain “that no women sit upon or occupy the forms men should sit on, but either sit laigh or else bring stools with them.”29 By a later minute they ordained “that no woman married or unmarried come within the kirk doors to preachings or prayers with their plaids about their heads, neither lie down in the kirk on their face in time of prayer, sleeping that way; with certification that their plaids shall be drawn down or they roused by the beddel.”30 For the better preservation of order they got the town council to enact, on the occasion of the filling up of “the beddellship of the Laigh Kirk in Trongait,” that it should be the duty of that official not only to ring the bells, “but also to walk throw the kirk in tyme of divyne service with ane whyt staff in his hand, as wont to be of old, for the crubbing of bairnes and uthirs that maks disturbance in the kirk, and for impeiding of all abuses therin.”31 I find a similar regulation in the minutes of the kirk session of Perth in 1616, which ordains the session officer “to have his red stagg in the kirk on the sabbath days therewith to wauken sleepers ad to remove greeting bairns furth of the kirk.”

Even in cases of separation between man and wife the kirk session of Glasgow took it upon them to exercise jurisdiction. One occasion is recorded when there came before them two married persons “who declare they are content to separate one from another till God send more love into their hearts;” and the man having undertaken to give the wife a small yearly allowance, “the session consent to this.”32

Nothing indeed appears to have escaped the cognisance of the session. It might be supposed that at any rate the regulation of the city ports would be under the exclusive control of the magistrates. But no. “The Session enacted that the ports be shut on Sabbath at twelve o’clock,” and that care be taken “that no traveller go out or come in the town, and watches to be set where there are no ports.” By another minute “the Session enact that the ports be shut on Saturday night, and watches set to observe travellers.”33 By a later order they enact “that the ports be well kept in time of sermon because of the highlandmen.”

The influence of the session continued to be felt till far on in the eighteenth century, and they appear to have had always considerable funds at their disposal. When the first town’s hospital was erected in Clyde Street in 1735 it was arranged that, besides a tax on the citizens, the sum of £570 towards the cost should be provided by the joint contributions of the town council, the Merchants’ House, the Trades’ House, and the general session, and of this sum the session gave no less than £250 – the town council giving only £140.

The records of the Presbytery also contain many curious entries which throw light on the manners and customs of these early times.

I have referred to the general practice of carrying arms, and the presbytery books afford evidence that in this the clergy formed no exception. The following entry occurs not long after the Reformation: “On Sunday 28th August 1587 William Cuningham when going up by the Wynd heid with his son Umphra and some other persons abused Mr. Wemyss the minister of the Hie Kirk, and in coming down from the kirk the father and son attacked Mr. Wemyss with a quhingear and a pistolet, called him a liar, and struck him on the head and breast which made him retire. Mr. Wemyss in fear of his life cast his goun over his arm and drew his quhingear in his defence. The Cuninghams attempted to draw their pistolets but were prevented by the Parson of Renfrew, who coming doun the Rattonraw at the time, and seeing the scuffle drew his quhingear, and defeated the Cuninghams, who were sentenced to ask pardon of God, of the Kirk, of the Magistrates, and of Mr. Wemyss, first at the Wynd heid, and then before the Congregation of the Kirk.” The record goes on to say that “the Presbiterie heron admonished their ministers to be diligent in their study, grave in their apparel and not vain with long rufils and vain gaudy toys in their clothing.”

Repeated instances occur of the presbytery dealing with parties who had used violence in churches. On one occasion “Andro Granger grantis yt he drew his quhinzeir vilfully in ye queer, ye preiching place of Glasgow, aganis Arthur Allan burges of Glasgw.” He expresses his regret, and is appointed to make public repentance.34 On another occasion the presbytery deals with John Stirling for forcibly entering the kirk of Cadder, during the administration of communion, “with ane drawin quhinzeir in his hand,” whereby the people were put in terror and the tables with the elements were “cassen to the grund.” For this act of sacrilege John was excommunicated. He was subsequently released from this much-dreaded sentence, but only on his finding surety to obey the injunctions of the presbytery. What these were is thus detailed; “Ye first ye said Jon paye ye sowme of fourtie merkes, qrof ten merkis to be gevin to the Kirk of Cader, and twentie lib to ye Collector in ye presbiterie to be bestoweit to godlie wses; And yt being done ye said Jon mak his publict repentance in sekclayt bairfutit, bairleggit, and bairheidit, first in ye Kirk of Cader, in maner of excommunicats – yt is, standing at ye Kirk duir of everie ane of ye said Kirkis, yan entring to ye piller yrin remaining qll ye pepell be cum furt of ye Kirk, and swa to indure wnto ye next Synodall assemblie.” It is to be presumed that John went through all this, as we hear no more of him.35

The fines levied in such cases were usually ordered to be applied to public works. The maintenance of bridges in those days was a matter of great importance, and we find many of the fines imposed by the presbytery of Glasgow were ordered to be applied “to repair ye brig of Inchbellie, ” to “big the brig of Kirkintillat,” for “reparacioun of ye brig of Campsie,” and other such purposes.

Among other offences dealt with and prohibited by the presbytery was “the playing of bagpipes on Sondaye from sun rising to its going doun,” and practising other pastimes after canonical hours under pain of censure.36 This limitation of the time for indulging in amusements appears to have been only carrying out an extraordinary order which the presbytery had issued a few years before prescribing the limits of the Sabbath. Their minute bears that they “interpret the sabbath to be from sun to sun – no work to be done between light and light in winter and between sun and sun in summer.”37 It was not till fifty years afterwards that the presbytery declared that the Sabbath “shall be from 12 on Saturday night to 12 on Sunday night.”38

Reverence to parents was strictly enforced in these times. On one occasion we find the presbytery dealing with a young man because of his being “gudget stubborne and a disobedient sone to his father” – a chief cause of his offence being that he had “cum by his father and his bonnet on his heid, not salutand his father.”39

Extravagance at bridal parties was strictly prohibited by the presbytery, as it was by the session. The latter, as we have seen, had in 1583 limited the expenditure to eighteenpence Scots. The presbytery ten years later relaxed the rule so as to allow forty pence – about fourpence of our money – for each person present. If anything was spent beyond that it was followed by a penalty. 40 Instances of the infliction of money fines by the presbytery are very numerous, and they appear, like those of the session, to have been enforced. Among the offences punished in this way, and also by the prescription of penance, are absence from church, non-attendance at the communion, “wirking on the Sondaye,” and “leiding of cornes” on that day; and in one case punishment is awarded because the offender “ryidis on Sondayes to sek his dettis.” And the presbytery, as a rule, were no respecters of persons. They ordered Lord Fleming to be summoned for being absent from the kirk of Lenzie on a particular Sunday when he was at Cumbernauld, because it was “the motive and greit occasion moving his tenantis to byd avay fra ye kirk.”

We have seen how the kirk session exercised jurisdiction in cases of separation between man and wife, and an illustration of the extent to which a similar jurisdiction was exercised by the presbytery of Glasgow is found in a case of divorce, on the ground of desertion, which came before them early in the seventeenth century. A man and a woman – John Philpe and Helen Willsoun – appeared craving the authority of the presbytery for their marriage, notwithstanding an allegation that a former husband of the woman was still alive. The presbytery having “efter tryell founde that now it is mair than twentie yeiris since hir husband left hir, quho since that time hes not been hard of, grantis libertie to the saidis John and Helen to marie.”41

Repeated cases also occur of the presbytery trying cases of breach of promise of marriage. In one case the offender, Helein Bull, confessed to “refusing to marie Johne Miller wt quhome scho hes bein proclaimit twyse, now being of mind to marie Patrik Bryce.” She is adjudged to mak hir repentance in his paroche kirk of Leinzae for hir inconstancie, and forder to pay penaltie to the thesaurer of hir kirk the nixt sondaye afore she entir to his repentance.”42 In another case about the same time the lady was the complainer, and her swain having denied the promise, and there being no proof, she referred it to his oath. The minute of the presbytery is as follows: “Quhilk daye Johnne gudden denyis he maid promise to marie Jonet Busset and sweiris be his aithe yt he maid na promise to marie hir – it being referrit yrto be ye said Jonet; Thairfore ye Kirk absolvis ye said Johnne fra ye said Jonetis psute and grantis to him libertie to marie in ye Lord quhat woman he sall pleis.”43 So frequent were such cases of breach of promise that we find the kirk session of Cambusnethan enacting “that each pairtie to be proclaimit sould lay doun aucht merk, and the pairtie rewer sould lose theirs, and the other sould get their aught merks vp againe.”44

But the presbytery did not confine themselves to pecuniary penalties. Here is what an unfortunate wight had to undergo for “dinging” his stepmother. “Quhilk daye the Presbiterie ordaine Gavin Lekprevik, for dinging of Marioun Maxwell his stepmother, to be in the joggis the nixt sondaye be the space of half ane hour afoir his minister sall entir in the kirk to preiche Gods word, that he pas on the piller within the said kirk, and thairon remane during the haill tyme of the sermont, and at the command of his minister to ask God his kirk and the said Marioun forgiveness on his kneis, for the sclandeir he hes committit be the dinging of the said Marioun and that he find souertie under the pane of xx lib money that he sall obey this ordinance.”45

One offence, with a rather startling designation, with which the presbytery appears to have had repeatedly to deal, was what is called in their records “smooring bairns” – that is, smothering children. For example: “three women parochinaris of Cadder accusit of smooring thair bairnis in the nicht are referrit to the Session of Cadder to be tryit thair;” and there are many other examples. The delinquents are chiefly women, but on some occasions the man appears and is “rebuked for being art and part in smooring the bairn.” Some have supposed that these were cases of deliberate smothering – in plain words, child murder – but this was not so. they were merely cases where the child had lost its life through the carelessness or intemperate habits of the parent. The lightness of the punishment awarded, indeed, shows this. An early entry in the records bears that the presbytery “advises and resolves that smoorers of bairns mak thair repentance two sondayes in sekcleith standing at the Kirk door.”46 And it is made still more clear by an entry in the following century, which bears that “a number of women in the town having overlaid their children in their drunkenness the Presbiterie advise that the old Act touching the repentance be revised and put in execution.”47

Another crime with which the Presbytery of Glasgow, in common with all the other presbyteries in Scotland, dealt with exceptional severity was witchcraft; and some of their minutes on the subject are very curious. In the end of the sixteenth century there occurs this entry: “Qlk daye comperit Sibill Dowe and grantis yt scho said wordes to his fellow servant woman tuiching ye houlat hart [owl’s heart] to be rubbit to ane manis shuldeir, to cause a man to luif ane woman; but scho usit not that thing in any sort.”

Shortly afterwards we find the presbytery taking cognisance of a case where an individual in the parish of Lenzie48 had used the very old practice of divination by “turning the riddle” to discover the guilty party in cases of theft. The practice was to place the riddle or sieve on a pair of tongs held and lifted up by only two fingers. The name of the suspected party being mentioned, if the sieve trembled or was moved round he was held to be guilty.49 In the case referred to in the Presbytery of Glasgow the minute is as follows: “Quhilk daye compeirit Jon Robeson in Leinzie paroche and grantis yt riddell upone yame yt had tane away his cleithes: ye said Kate come, ye said Jon braid being afield, ye said Kate turnit ye riddell for his cleithes yt he wantitt.” For this “greit and heynous sin” John Robeson is decerned to make his repentance on the pillar and to ask pardon at God and his kirk, – and Katherine Hopkin, for turning the riddle, is subjected to the same penance.50

A similar superstition prevails at the present day in Shropshire. A key is placed on a Bible, with the fingers of the party holding it placed so as to form a cross. It is thus carried from house to house, and on coming to the residence of the guilty party the key is supposed to turn completely round.

Another case in which witchcraft was practised in the olden time was for the purpose of getting mills to grind freely. With such a case we find the Presbytery of Glasgow dealing on the 24th of March, 1602. “Quhilk daye compeirit William grinla in ye parochin of Leinzae and grantis yat William baird in Balloche gart him gang wt him to Annie forsyithe and thai bayth besoucht ye said Annie for godis saik to cause ye mylne gang to grind ye said William bairds meill; and yt ye said William baird opened his sek, and ye said Annie pat hir hand in ye sek, and efter yt ye said mylne geid.” At a subsequent diet the presbytery find that the parties “have committed a capital crime replenischit with sorcerie,” and understanding that the woman Annie is fugitive, they remit the two men “to Lord Flemyng yair ordinar to underly punischment for thair offence.” Lord Fleming reserving to himself “ye pecuniall sum” to be exacted from them, remitted them back to the presbytery to prescribe the penance, and the presbytery for their “horrible sine” appointed them to make their repentance publicly in each of three several kirks in sackcloth, “bairfuttit, bairleggit, and bairheidit, sex severall sondayes and to crave Gods mercie for declyning to praye to God and inclining to the said Annie.”

On another occasion we find the presbytery ordaining the minister of Rutherglen to summon the persons within his parish “quha in ye tyme called ʒule days used Gysrie superstitiouslie and troublit yr nichtboars in ye nicht tyme to ye great offence of God and his kirk.”51 The offenders are afterwards ordained to make repentance. And on a subsequent occasion the presbytery “ordaines James broun in Ruglen allegit gysor in womens cloathes to be summoned.”52 This relates to the well-known and, as we now think, very innocent practice of young men and boys going about at Christmas masked or disguised, and enacting in the halls or kitchens of the better classes a rude sort of play or mystery. Sir Walter Scott, in “The Pirate,” referring to this custom, mentions a party “setting forth as maskers, or as they are called in Scotland, Guizards.” The custom, I believe, dates from a very early period. In Glasgow the party were sometimes called “Galatians” – no doubt from the opening words invariably used by the first performer, “Here comes I, Galatian.”

On a later occasion the presbytery ordains Agnes Gourlay “to mak publick repentance in sekclaith for charming kine.”53 The object in this case was to produce good cream, and for the information of those who may wish to repeat the experiment, I may state that the modus operandi practised by Agnes was “casting some of the milk into the grup, and putting of salt and bread into the cow’s lugs.” The grup is the trench for carrying off the sewage of the byre.

One peculiar case with which the presbytery dealt was that of Mr. George Semple, minister of Killellan, who was accused by John Hutcheson, one of the bailies of Paisley, that “he had ane book of Mr. Michael Scotts of unlawful airtes; that he saw him buy Albertus Magnus; that he heard him speak of sundrie vnlawful conceits;” and, to crown all, that “he hard tell that he made ballads and sonnets.”54 There are among ourselves some clerical gentlemen who collect curious books, and even some who write poetry, with whom it would have fared ill had they lived in those days. There were other charges against Mr. George, but the result of the trial is not stated.

Another case is interesting for a reason to be presently noticed. One Robert Stewart was accused “by a libelled summons, ” at the instance of the presbytery, of having refused to allow his child to be baptised, and for setting the authority of the presbytery at defiance; “as also for invading [attacking] Mr. Jon Couper ane of ye ministers of Glasgw doun ye gait of Glasgw to ye blak frier kirk, touking him, dinging him af ye hicht of ye cassie, minacing wt wordes, minting to drawe ane sword to him, and spewand out blasphemous filthie speeiches agains him.” What is interesting in the case is that Stewart in his defence declined the jurisdiction of the presbytery, on a ground which has been frequently made the subject of observation in later times, viz., that the presbytery was both judge and prosecutor. “And being partie,” he pleaded, “ye power of ye Juge did failzie, for in ye ane and ye self same cause nane can be bayt accuser ad juge.” So he appealed to the Synod and General Assembly. To this appeal the presbytery paid no regard, and having repeated their order to have the child baptized under pain of excommunication, Stewart “appellit fra ye said presbyterie to ye kinges maiestie and lordes of his secret consale.” It seems to have been regarded as an exceptional case of high defiance of the church courts, and the presbytery appear to have themselves invoked the civil arm, for shortly after we find Stewart a prisoner in the castle of Glasgow, and two of the ministers appointed to confer with him there to ascertain “gif he be penitent.” What followed does not appear, there being no further mention of the case.

There occur in these old ecclesiastical records many other curious cases which my limits do not permit me to notice. But the chief business which occupied the presbytery was offences against morality – vice in all forms, profane swearing, blasphemy, personal violence, and homicide. At the period of the Reformation, as I have already said, the morals of the people of Glasgow   the rural parishes adjoining must have been at a very low ebb, and during a long series of years there is hardly one page of the presbytery records in which there does not occur one or other of such cases. Among the offenders, too, were persons of all ranks, including both lords and ladies; and it is amusing to find the celebrated physician “Mr. Peter Lowe Doctor of chirurgerie” among those decerned to make repentance, and a complaint afterwards made of him for levity while under the penance; as the minute expresses it, for “not behaveing him on the pillar as becomes.”

Cases of homicide and other deeds of violence were frequent. Some of the latter I have already mentioned. Of the former, one is curious for the reference it contains to the practice of offenders in such cases compounding with the relatives of the slaughtered man. The minute of the presbytery is as follows: “Ordenis Jon Levingstoun in Inchevod to produce yis day viii dayes before yame Lettres of Relaxation fra ye horne, and respet he hes fra ye slauchter of wmqll [umquhill or deceased] Jon Adame: As also ane Lettir of Slayance for ye said slauchtir fra ye said wmqll Jons wyfe, bairnis, kin, freindes and alyance for ye said slauchtir. And ordanis ye minister of Campsie to summond ye said wmqll Jon wyfe and bairnis before yame yis daye viii dayes, that yai may declair gif yai be aggreed wt ye said Jon Levingstone and satisfeit for ye said wmqll Jon Adames slauchtir.”55

On another occasion Arthur Colquhoun is arraigned before the presbytery “for the cruelle murther of wmqll James Pincartoun his brothers son quha had not affendit him.” He is ordained “to underlye ye censure of ye kirk for ye saming,” and subsequently he is excommunicated.56

A few pages on we find an individual dealt with “for swearing and blasphemy;” another for coming into the church of Cathcart armed with hagbut and steel bonnet, and making a disturbance. A little farther on, Matthew Fleming, merchant burgess of Glasgow, is delated for having “in ane rage and anger” struck off the hat of Mr. John Young, minister of Beith, “on the high street of Glasgow,” for which “hevie sclander to Godis kirk” he is ordained to make his public repentance.57 John Hamilton, younger of Preston, and another, are charged for a “sclandeir offerit to ye kirk and presbiterie of Glasgow be ye hurting dome be yame of Robert Hamilton of Silveston and Andro Hamilton of Letthame in ye effusion of yair bluid wpone ane Sondaye eftir nwn amangis ye middis of ye pepill cuming fra ye hie kirk at ye wynd heid of Glasgw immediatelie eftir ye preeching.”58 A parishioner of Campsie is enjoined penance for having “interrupted his minister in the pulpit by mony proud wordes before the lettir prayer.”59 And a woman is charged with “laying doun twa twynes [twins] at ye door of ane poor honest man.” Cases of ordinary discipline for immorality occur, with wearisome regularity, at almost every diet of the presbytery, as do likewise cases of Sabbath-breaking. On one occasion an individual is charged with “ye sclandeir done be slaying on ye Lordes daye of salmont and red fische;” and accusations for attending stage plays on Sunday are frequent – these, curiously enough, being almost invariably enacted at Rutherglen.

Of charges against the ministers there are few, but they do occur occasionally. One of the presbytery, Mr. David Weems, is accused that he is “fund to be declynand in doctrine, negligent in preparacioun, and in his teaching hes gevin occasioun of lauchtir; and aftymes to be overtaine wt drink.”60 Another minister is charged with the crime of usury – receiving interest on certain sums he had lent. In this case the proceedings are voluminous and protracted, for usury in those days was a serious offence.

The records of the presbytery contain also some curious notices regarding their forms of procedure. For example, we are accustomed to suppose that only a minister can be moderator at meetings of a presbytery, but it was not always so. On one occasion there were in the Glasgow presbytery two candidates for the office – one a minister and the other a schoolmaster – and the schoolmaster was elected.61

The ministers, as a rule, were educated gentlemen, many of them belonging to the best families; and they were undoubtedly the true patriots of the time. Repeated evidences of this occur in their records. In the time of the Commonwealth there was read in the Presbytery of Glasgow a letter from the Presbytery of Edinburgh, subscribed by Mr. Hugh McKail, pointing out the expediency of ministers of their own accord contributing to the defence of the country, and suggesting the levying of a regiment of horse in the interests of Cromwell. This was agreed to – the whole members contributing in proportion to their stipends.62 The regiment thus raised by the Presbytery of Glasgow was called “the ministers’ regiment,” and was commanded by General Strachan.

For a long time there were no pews in the churches in Glasgow, and when seats came to be provided they were free. They were first let in 1667, and one of the bailies and the master of work was appointed “to visit the haill seats and lay on the quantitie of mailles thairon.”63

The ministers had, indeed, much need of seat-rents. Out of the ample possessions which belonged to the church at the Reformation the rapacity of the nobles left but a scanty remnant for the support of the ministers, and their stipends in the end of the sixteenth century were miserably inadequate. There is an incidental notice of this in a minute of presbytery in 1595. It bears that the Presbytery of Glasgow consists of six churches, viz., Glasgow, Govan, Rutherglen, Cadder, Lenzie, and Campsie, “and of the said sex Kirkis thair is the minister of Campsie ane auld man having onlie in yeirlie stipend fourscoir and sex lib [about £9] and the minister of Leinzae onlie in stipend fourtie aucht lib with the vicarage worth twentie merkis in the ʒeir [altogether under £7] and the saidis ministers of Campsie and Leinzae throch povertie keipis nocht the dayes of presbiterie.”64 No wonder. The object which the presbytery had in view, however, was not the increase of the emoluments of these poor gentlemen – which was probably at that time hopeless – but to get the General Assembly to cause the church of Monkland and some other churches to be joined to the Presbytery of Glasgow so as to increase the number of members necessary for the despatch of business. At a period long after this the stipend of the first charge in Glasgow was only 500 merks – equal at that time to only £27, 15s. 6d.; that of the second charge was 300 merks – £16, 13s. 4d.; that of Cadder was only 68 lib. vis. viiid. and three chalders – in all £14, 17s. 6d. In many cases residence was impossible for want of a house, and the minister of Cadder had to reside and study in the steeple. It was true what Knox wrote, that “thair was none within the realme more unmercyfull to the poor ministers than war thei whiche had the greatest rentis of the churches.”65

1  20th April, 1504, Lib. Protocol., No. 80.
2  Ibid., No. 356.
3  14th April, 1511, Idem, No. 516.
4  Vide Ibid., Nos. 569, 570.
5  Ibid., No. 442.
6  Lib. Protocol., No. 359.
7  Ibid., No .399.
8  Ibid., No. 492, 6th Nov. 1510.
9  Ibid., No. 572.
10  Protocolla, No. 362.
11  Ibid., No. 498.
12  Ibid., No. 504.
13  Protocolla, No. 428.
14  Ibid., No. 501.
15  Burgh Records, 9th September, 1701.
16  Session Records, 24th October, 1588.
17  Clelland’s Annals, ii. p. 411.
18  “Chorleyana, or a Register commemorating the most remarkable passages of God’s providence towards me from my nativity, by Josiah Chorley,” MS., quoted by Professor Innes in Preface to Munimenta Universitatis, p. xxiv.
19  Pref. to Munimenta Universitatis, p. xxv.
20  Notes by Dugald Bannatyne, Esq., quoted in Statistical Account, vol. vi. p. 231.
21  8th January, 1641.
22  14th Sept. 1598.
23  Minute of Council, 3d June, 1589.
24  Minute of Session, 1586.
25  20th Dec. 1591.
26  26th Dec. 1591.
27  Session Records, 7th Sept. 1604.
28  6th Nov. 1575.
29  10th July, 1589.
30  3d May, 1604.
31  25th March, 1665.
32  22d October, 1635.
33  18th August, 1637.
34  9th Dec. 1595.
35 Presbytery Records, 14th May, 1575.
36  7th May, 1594.
37  17th January, 1590.
38 18th August, 1640.
39   6th February, 1598.
40   29th January, 1593; 22d April, 1594.
41   1610.
42  7th September, 1596.
43 1st July, 1595.
44  13th January, 1650.
45  13th May, 1607.
46  27th April, 1592.
47  25th December, 1647.
48  Kirkintilloch.
49  Weirus de Magis Infamibus, c. 12, p. 134.
50  9th December, 1601.
51 13th January, 1608.
52  20th January, 1608.
53  9th Dec. 1650.
54  27th Oct. 1613.
55  Presbytery Records, 7th Feb. 1595.
56  8th April, 1600.
57  31st October, 1603.
58  25th April, 1598.
59  7th May, 1606.
60  29th October, 1600.
61  11th March, 1600.
62  Presbytery Records, 16th July, 1650.
63  Minute of Council, 16th Dec. 1667.
64  Presbytery Records, 16th March, 1595.
65  Knox’s Hist., vol. ii. p. 128.
*  I believe these “jugs” to be the same as the “Jougs at Kilallen” described in ‘Scots Lore‘ as having a collar attached to them, one of adult size and the other a child’s.

52 thoughts on “Ecclesiastical History, pp.189-215.

Leave a Reply