12th of January

St Arcadius, martyr. St Benedict, commonly called Bennet, 690. St Tygrius, priest. St Ælred, 1166.

 

RUNNING FOOTMEN.

Down to the time of our grandfathers, while there was less conveniency in the world than now, there was much more state. The nobility lived in a very dignified way, and amongst the particulars of their grandeur was the custom of keeping running footmen. All great people deemed it a necessary part of their travelling equipage, that one or more men should run in front of the carriage, not for any useful purpose, unless it might be in some instances to assist in lifting the carriage out of ruts, or helping it through rivers, but principally and professedly as a mark of the consequence of the traveller. Roads being generally bad, coach travelling was not rapid in those days; seldom above five miles an hour. The strain required to keep up with his master’s coach was accordingly not very severe on one of these officials; at least, it was not so till towards the end of the eighteenth century, when, as a consequence of the acceleration of travelling, the custom began to be given up.

Nevertheless, the running footman required to be a healthy and agile man, and both in his dress and his diet a regard was had to the long and comparatively rapid journeys which he had to perform. A light black cap, a jockey coat, white linen trousers, or a mere linen shirt coming to the knees, with a pole six or seven feet long, constituted his outfit. On the top of the pole was a hollow ball, in which he kept a hard-boiled egg, or a little white wine, to serve as a refreshment in his journey; and this ball-topped pole seems to be the original of the long silver-headed cane which is still borne by footmen at the backs of the carriages of the nobility. A clever runner in his best days would undertake to do as much as seven miles an hour, when necessary, and go three-score miles a day; but, of course, it was not possible for any man to last long who tasked himself in this manner.

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The custom of keeping running footmen survived to such recent times that Sir Walter Scott remembered seeing the state-coach of John Earl of Hopetoun attended by one of the fraternity, ‘clothed in white, and bearing a staff.’

In our country, the running footman was occasionally employed upon simple errands when unusual dispatch was required. In the neighbourhood of various great houses in Scotland, the country people still tell stories illustrative of the singular speed which these men attained. For example: the Earl of Home, residing at Hume Castle in Berwickshire, had occasion to send his footman to Edinburgh one evening on important business. Descending to the hall in the morning, he found the man asleep on a bench, and, thinking he had neglected his duty, prepared to chastise him, but found, to his surprise, that the man had been to Edinburgh (thirty-five miles) and back, with his business sped, since the past evening. As another instance: the Duke of Lauderdale, in the reign of Charles II., being to give a large dinner-party at his castle of Thirlstane, near Lauder, it was discovered, at the laying of the cloth, that some additional plate would be required from the Duke’s other seat of Lethington, near Haddington, fully fifteen miles distant across the Lammermuir hills. The running footman instantly darted off, and was back with the required articles in time for dinner! The great boast of the running footman was that, on a long journey, he could beat a horse. ‘A traditional anecdote is related of one of these fleet messengers (rather half-witted), who was sent from Glasgow to Edinburgh for two doctors to come to see his sick master. He was interrupted on the road with an inquiry how his master was now. “He’s no dead yet,” was the reply; “but he’ll soon be, for I’m fast on the way for twa Edinburgh doctors to come and visit him.” ‘1

Langham, an Irishman, who served Henry Lord Berkeley as running footman in Elizabeth’s time, on one occasion, this noble’s wife being sick, ‘carried a letter from Callowdon to old Dr Fryer, a physician dwelling in Little Britain in London, and returned with a glass bottle in his hand, compounded by the doctor, for the recovery of her health, a journey of 148 miles performed by him in less than forty-two hours, notwithstanding his stay of one night at the physician’s and apothecary’s houses, which no one horse could have so well and safely performed; for which the Lady shall after give him a new suit of clothes.’ – Berkeley Manuscripts, 4to, 1821, p. 204.

 

1  Notes and Queries, 2nd ser., i. 121.

 

On this Day from Other Sources.

 

ROTHESAY’S STATUS ELEVATED.

Rothesay was erected into a royal burgh by charter from Robert III., dated 12th January 1400; this king at that time held his court in the castle.

Select Views pp.137-140.

 

NOBLEMAN ESCAPES FROM EDINBURGH CASTLE.

The Lord [John] Maxwell, that had been a prisoner in the castle of Edinburgh, made his escape from [there], [on] the 12th of January this year, 1602; and on the 17th day of the same month, there issued forth a proclamation after him, inhibiting all his majesty’s [subjects] to [receive], harbour, or give any entertainment to him, under the pain of treason.

Historical Works, pp.340-416.

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