21st of February

Saints Daniel, priest, and Verda, virgin, martyrs, 344. St Severianus, bishop of Scythopolis, martyr, about 452. Blessed Pepin of Landen, mayor of the palace, 640. Saints German, abbot, and Randaut, martyrs, about 666.

Born. – Pierre dui Bosc, 1623, Bayeux; Mrs Anne Grant, author of Letters from the Mountains, 1755, Glasgow
Died. – Caius Cæsar Agrippa, A.D. 4; James I. (of Scotland), murdered, 1437, Perth; Pope Julius II., 1513; Benedict de Spinoza, philosopher, 1677; Pope Benedict XIII., 1730; Eugéne de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, 1824, Munich.


Shrove Tuesday derives its name from the ancient practice, in the Church of Rome, of confessing sins, and being shrived or shrove, i.e. obtaining absolution, on this day. Being the day prior to the beginning of Lent, it may occur on any one between the 2nd of February and the 8th of March. In Scotland, it is called Fasten’s E’en, but is little regarded in that Presbyterian country. The character of the day as a popular festival is mirthful: it is a season of carnival-like jollity and drollery – ‘Welcome, merry Shrovetide!’ truly sings Master Silence. 


When Shrove Tuesday dawned, the bells were set a ringing, and everybody abandoned himself to amusement and good humour. All through the day, there was a preparing and devouring of pancakes, as if some profoundly important religious principle were involved in it. The pancake and Shrove Tuesday are inextricably associated in the popular mind and in old literature. Before being eaten, there was always a great deal of contention among the eaters, to see which could most adroitly toss them in the pan. 

Among the revels which marked the day, football seems in most places to have been conspicuous. There is perhaps no part of the United Kingdom where this Shrovetide sport is kept up with so much energy as at the village of Scone, near Perth, in Scotland. The men of the parish assemble at the cross, the married on one side and the bachelors on the other; a ball is thrown up, and they play from two o’clock till sunset. A person who witnessed the sport in the latter part of the last century, thus describes it: ‘The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, ran with it till overtaken by one of the opposite party; and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he ran on; if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no party was allowed to kick it. The object of the married men was to hang it, that is, to put it three times into a small hole on the moor, which was the dool, or limit, on the one hand: that of the bachelors was to drown it, or dip it three times in a deep place in the river, the limit on the other: the party who could effect either of these objects won the game; if neither one, the ball was cut into equal parts at sunset. In the course of the play, there was usually some violence between the parties; but it is a proverb in this part of the country, that “A’ is fair at the ba’ o’ Scone.” ‘ 

Cock-fights were also common on this day. Strange to say, they were in many instances the sanctioned sport of public schools, the master receiving on the occasion a small tax from the boys under the name of a cock-penny. Perhaps this last practice took its rise in the circumstance of the master supplying the cocks, which seems to have been the custom in some places in a remote age. Such cock-fights regularly took place on Fasten’s E’en in many parts of Scotland till the middle of the eighteenth century, the master presiding at the battle, and enjoying the perquisite of all the runaway cocks, which were technically called fugies. Nay, so late as 1790, the minister of Applecross, in Ross-shire, in the account of his parish, states the schoolmaster’s income as composed of two hundred merks, with 1s. 6d. and 2s. 6d. per quarter from each scholar, and the cock-fight dues, which are equal to one quarter’s payment for each scholar.1 


Julius de la Rovere, who ascended the papal throne in 1503, under the title of Julius II., is one of the most famous of all the Popes. He was the founder of the church of St Peter at Rome; but his most remarkable acts were of a warlike character. During his papacy of ten years, he was continually engaged in war, first, against the Venetians, to recover the Romagna, in which affair he was assisted by the French and Germans; afterwards with the Germans against the French, in order to get these dangerous friends driven out of Italy. As examples of the far-reaching policy of the man, he sent a splendid sword of state to the King of Scotland (James IV.); it still exists among the Scottish regalia, exhibiting the armorial bearings of Pope Julius. In the great chest at Reikiavik cathedral in Iceland, are robes which he sent to the bishop of that remote island.


In the churchyard of the parish of Balmaghie, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, are the gravestones of three persons who fell victims to the boot-and-saddle mission sent into Scotland under the last Stuarts. One of these rude monuments bears the following inscription: 

     ‘Here lyes David Halliday, portioner of Maifield, who was shot upon the 21st of February 1685, and David Halliday, once in Glengape, who was likewise shot upon the 11th of July 1685, for their adherence to the principles of Scotland’s Covenanted Reformation. 
‘Beneath This Stone Two David Hallidays 
 Do Lie, Whose Souls Now Sing Their Master’s praise. 
 To know If Curious Passengers desire, 
 For What, By Whom, And How They Did Expire; 
 They Did Oppose This Nation’s Perjury, 
 Nor Could They Join With Lordly Prelacy. 
 Indulging Favours From Christ’s Enemies 
 Quenched Not Their Zeal. This Monument Then cries, 
 These Were The Causes, Not To Be Forgot, 
 Why They By Lag So Wickedly Were Shot; 
 One Name, One Cause, One Grave, One Heaven, Do Tie 
 Their Souls To That One God Eternally.’

The reverend gentleman who first printed this epitaph in his parochial contribution to the Statistical Account of Scotland (1794), made upon it the unlucky remark – ‘The author of which no doubt supposed himself to have been writing poetry’ – unlucky when we consider the respect due to the earnestness of these men in a frame of religious opinion which they thought right, and for which they had surrendered life. Burns, who got the Statistical Account out of the subscription library of Dumfries, experienced the just feeling of the occasion, and rebuked the writer for his levity in a quatrain, which he inscribed on the margin, where it is still clearly to be traced: 

‘The Solemn League and Covenant 
      Now brings a smile – now brings a tear – 
 But sacred Freedom too was theirs; 
      If thou’rt a slave, indulge thy sneer.’ 

It will perhaps be learned with some surprise that a remnant of those Cameronians who felt unsatisfied with the Presbyterian settlement at the Revolution, still exists in Scotland. Numbering about seven hundred persons, scattered chiefly throughout the south-west provinces of Scotland, they continue to decline taking the oath of allegiance to the reigning monarch, or to accept of any public office, holding that monarch and people have broken their pledge or covenant, by which they were bound in 1644 to extirpate popery, prelacy, and other errors. Holding out their testimony on this subject, they abstain from even exercising the elective franchise, alleging that to do so would be to sanction the aforesaid breach of covenant, to which they trace all the evils that befall the land. In May 1861, when this Reformed Presbytery met in Edinburgh, a trying question came before them; there were young men in their body who felt anxious to join in the volunteer movement; some had even done it. There were also some members who had exercised the elective franchise. To pursue a contemporary record: ‘A lengthened discussion took place as to what should be done, and numerous reverend members urged the modification of the testimony, as regards the assumed identity of the representative and the voter, and as regards the interpretation of the oath of allegiance. Highly patriotic and almost loyal views were expressed on the Volunteer question, and warm expressions of admiration and love for Her Majesty were uttered, and of willingness to defend her person and protect the soil from invasion, so far as their service could be given apart from rendering fealty to the constitution. Another party in the Synod denounced the proposal to modify the testimony, as a backsliding and defection from the testimony. It was ultimately resolved, by 30 to 11, to appoint a committee to inquire into the soundness of the views contained in the testimony on the points mooted, and to relieve kirk sessions from the obligation to expel members who entertained doubts and difficulties on these matters, but meantime to recommend members of the Church to abstain from voting at elections. No similar recommendations having been made as to holding aloof from the Volunteer movement, it may be presumed that that point has been conceded.’


The long disputed questions respecting the period of the invention of playing-cards, and whether they were first used for purposes of divination or gambling, do not fall within the prescribed limits of this paper. Its object is simply to disclose – probably for the first time in print – the method or system of divination by playing-cards, constantly employed and implicitly depended upon, by many thousands of our fellow-countrymen and women at the present day. The majority of them ‘believe in the cards’ as firmly as the silly simpletons who employ and pay them. Moreover, besides those who make their livelihood by ‘card-cutting,’ there are a number of others, who, possessing a smattering of the art, daily refer to the paste-board oracles, to learn their fate and guide their conduct. The writer – for the first time as he believes – has applied the well-known term folk-lore to this system of divination by playing-cards, so extensively known and so continually practised in the British dominions. 

The art of cartomancy, or divination by playing-cards, dates from an early period of their obscure history. In the museum of Nantes there is a painting, said to be by Van Eyck, representing Philippe le Bon, Archduke of Austria, and subsequently King of Spain, consulting a fortune-teller by cards. This picture, of which a transcript is here given, cannot be of later date than the fifteenth century. 

The earliest work on cartomancy was written or compiled by one Francesco Marcolini, and printed at Venice in 1540. There are many modern French, Italian, and German works on the subject; but, as far as the writer’s knowledge extends, there is not an English one. It is to a soldier’s wife that this present exposition of the art is to be attributed. Many years ago the exigencies of a military life, and the ravages of a pestilential epidemic, caused the writer, then a puny but not very young child, to be left for many months in charge of a private soldier’s wife, at an out-station in a distant land. The poor woman, though childless herself, proved worthy of the confidence that was placed in her. She was too ignorant to teach her charge to read, yet she taught him the only accomplishment she possessed, – the art of ‘cutting cards,’ as she termed it; the word cartomancy, in all probability, she had never heard. And though it has not fallen to the writer’s lot to practise the art professionally, yet he has not forgotten it, as the following interpretation of the cards will testify.

The foregoing is merely the alphabet of the art; the letters, as it were, of the sentences formed by the various combinations of the cards. A general idea only can be given here of the manner in which those prophetic sentences are formed. The person who desires to explore the hidden mysteries of fate is represented, if a male by the king, if a female by the queen, of the suit which accords with his or her complexion. If a married woman consults the cards, the king of her own suit, or complexion, represents her husband; but with single women, the lover, either in esse or posse, is represented by his own colour; and all cards, when representing persons, lose their own normal significations. 

The general mode of manipulating the cards, when fortune-telling, is very simple. The person, who is desirous to know the future, after shuffling the cards ad libitum, cuts the pack into three parts. The seer, then, taking up these parts, lays the cards out, one by one, face upwards, upon the table, sometimes in a circular form, but oftener in rows consisting of nine cards in each row. Nine is the mystical number. Every nine consecutive cards form a separate combination, complete in itself; yet, like a word in a sentence, no more than a fractional part of the grand scroll of fate. 

In conclusion, a few words must be said on the professional fortune-tellers. That they are, generally speaking, wilful imposters is perhaps true. Yet, paradoxical though it may appear, the writer feels bound to assert that those ‘card-cutters’ whose practice lies among the lowest classes of society, really do a great deal of good. Few know what the lowest classes in our large towns suffer when assailed by mental affliction. They are, in most instances, utterly destitute of the consolations of religion, and incapable of sustained thought. Accustomed to live from hand to mouth, their whole existence is bound up in the present, and they have no idea of the healing effects of time. Their ill-regulated passions brook no self-denial, and a predominant element of self rules their confused minds. They know of no future, they think no other human being ever suffered as they do. As they term it themselves, ‘they are upset.’ They perceive no resource, no other remedy than a leap from the nearest bridge, or a dose of arsenic from the first chemist’s shop. Haply some friend or neighbour, one who has already suffered and been relieved, takes the wretched creature to a fortune-teller. The seeress at once perceives that her client is in distress, and, shrewdly guessing the cause, pretends that she sees it all in the cards. Having thus asserted her superior intelligence, she affords sympathy and consolation, and points to hope and a happy future; blessed hope! though in the form of a greasy playing card. The sufferer, if not cured, is relieved. The lacerated wounds, if not healed, are at least dressed; and, in all probability, a suicide or a murder is prevented. Scenes of this character occur every day in the meaner parts of London.  

Consequently the fortune-tellers are the moralists, as well as the consolers of the lower classes. They supply a want that society either cannot or will not do. If the great gulf which exists between rich and poor cannot be filled up, it would be well to try if, by any process of moral engineering, it could be bridged over.

1  Cock-fighting is now legally a misdemeanour, and punishable by penalty.

On this Day in Other Sources.

On the 21st of February, in the year 1437, was the noble King James I. killed at the abbey of the Dominicans, in the town of Perth, by Robert Stewart and Robert Graham, at the instigation of Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl, his uncle, in the 13th year of his reign. His corpse was solemnly interred in a magnificent monument erected by himself, (while he lived,) in his late founded monastery of the Carthusians [Perth Charterhouse], in the suburbs of Perth.

– Historical Works, pp.153-166.

The 21st of February, 1507, the Queen is brought to bed of a son, who was christened James. The [godfathers] were Robert [Blackadder], Archbishop of Glasgow, and [Adam Hepburn], Earl of Bothwell, Lord Hailes; and the Countess of Huntly [Jean Stewart] was godmother to this young Prince.

– Historical Works, pp.214-238.

Feb. 21. [1681] – A company of distracted people was this day brought into Edinburgh, under the guardianship of a troop of dragoons. They were commonly known as the Sweet Singers of Borrowstounness, from their noted habit of frequent chanting of psalms. The religious exasperations of the times, the execution of two Bo’ness persons, named Stewart and Potter, on the preceding 1st of December, and perhaps in addition to these causes, the terrors diffused by the comet, had now produced in that little town an epidemic mania of a type only too well known. These people felt as if all was wrong in church and state, and professed to deny all kinds of institutions, even the names of the days of the week; nay, the commonest social obligations, as that of working for one’s own bread. They protested against taxes, confessions, and covenants; disowned the king and his government; and called for vengeance on the murderers of the two late martyrs, Stewart and Potter, whose blood they carried on a handkerchief. They ran up and down the town in a furious manner, sometimes uttering prayers which consisted chiefly of curses invoked against individuals, more frequently singing psalms of lamentation (74th, 79th, 80th, 83d, and 137th) for the sins of the land. Such of the females as were married deserted their homes and husbands, and if the husband, in his endeavours to win his wife back to rationality, took hold of any part of her dress, she indignantly washed the place, as to remove an impurity. They followed a gigantic fellow, commonly called Muckle John Gibb, but who passed among them under the name of King Solomon, and at length, ‘leaving their homes and soft warm beds and covered tables,’ six-and-twenty of them went forth from their native town, notwithstanding the entreaties of weeping husbands, fathers, and children, calling on them to stay;..

– Domestic Annals, pp.322-337.

How Halkerston’s Wynd obtained its name we have already told. Here was an outlet from the ancient city by way of a dam or dyke across the loch, to which Lord Fountainhall refers in a case dated 21st February, 1708. About twenty years before that time it would appear that the Town Council “had opened a new port at the foot of Halkerston’s Wynd for the convenience of those who went on foot to Leith; and that Robert Malloch, having acquired some lands on the other side of the North Loch, and made yards and built houses thereon, and also having invited sundry weavers and other good tradesmen to set up on Moutree’s Hill [site of the Register House], and the deacons of crafts finding this prejudicial to them, and contrary to the 154th Act of Parliament, 1592,” evading which, these craftsmen paid neither “scot, lot, nor stent,” the magistrates closed up the port, and a law plea ensued between them and the enterprising Robert Malloch, who was accused of filling up a portion of the bank of the loch with soil from a quarry. “The town, on the other hand, did stop the vent and passage over the loch, which made it overflow and drown Robert’s new acquired ground, of which he complained as an act of oppression.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.235-241.

The Duke [of Cumberland], with an army overwhelming in numbers, as contrasted with that of Charles, passed through Edinburgh on the 21st of February, 1746, not marching at the head of his troops, like the latter, but travelling in a coach-and-six presented to him by the Earl of Hopetoun; and on being joined by 6,000 Hessians, who landed under the Landgrave at Leith, he proceeded to obliterate “all memory of the last disagreeable affair” as the rout at Falkirk was named. As he passed up the Canongate and High Street he is said to have expressed great surprise at the number of broken windows he saw; but when informed that this was the result of a recent illumination in his honour, and that a shattered casement indicated the residence of a Jacobite, he laughed heartily, remarking, “that he was better content with this explanation, ill as it omened to himself and his family, than he could have been with his first impression, which ascribed the circumstance to poverty or negligence.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.329-334.

   “It is said that the Government is hopeful of changing opinion in Scotland by the legislation to be brought forward for that country. A more feeble hope could not be whispered. Scotchmen have never got anything from a Tory Government worthy of acceptance excepting what has actually been forced and obtained with the assistance of the Liberal party. But the simple truth is that Scotchmen just now are more concerned with the Irish question than even with the precious University Bill, which is to be revived this session for the twentieth time. The neglect of the Government has been brought home very closely to the people of Scotland and they have made the Irish cause their own. The action of the Government and of the Irish Secretary has created a feeling of distrust and indignation north the Tweed which no peddling legislation will either remove or subdue. Bye-elections have shown what Scotland thinks of the Government, and what it is prepared to do with the Coercionists. Lord Hartington, Mr Chamberlain, Mr Goschen, and even the Duke of Argyle may stump all Scotland for a year and a day, but they will never restore confidence in a Government which arrests Irish Members of Parliament for their political speeches, and which even invades the private dwellings of Scottish gentlemen and puts the shackles upon their Irish guests. Scotland will not help the Government. neither will Wales, England, too, loathes the Government’s policy.”  

– Daily Gazette for Middlesborough, Thursday 21st February, 1889.

– Treaty of Union Articles, 1875-1900.

GLASGOW ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY (21st February [1895]). – On the motion of Mr. C. D. Donald, seconded by Mr. F. T. Barrett, it was remitted to the council to address a memorial to the Lord Provost and Town Council, praying that when the redivision of the city into municipal wards is completed, the official designation of the several wards be by name instead of (as at present) by numbers; and that names be selected which are historically associated with the localities included within each ward respectively.

– Scots Lore, pp.173-180.

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