5th of March – Shrove Tuesday (2019)

Saints Adrian and Eubulus, of Palestine, martyrs, 309. St Kiaran, of Ireland, bishop, 4th century.


Died. – Odoacer, King of Italy, A.D. 493; Alphonso II. (of Portugal), 1223, Alcobaça; Antonio Allegri Correggio, painter, 1534, Corregio; Henri I., Prince of Condé, 1588; Pope Clement VIII., 1605; James Duke of Hamilton, 1649, beheaded, Old Palace Yard; the Rev. Dr Philip Francis, 1773, Bath; Marquis de la Place, philosopher, 1827; Alexander Volta (Voltaism), 1827, Como; M. J. B. Orfila, physician and chemist, 1853.



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


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


On this Day in Other Sources.


The 5th day of March, in 1323, there was a fair son born to King Robert, at Dunfermline, whom he christened David. 

– Historical Works, pp.88-104.


The 5th of March [1405,] the estates of the kingdom met at Stirling, in 1405, where with unanimous consent, Robert [Stewart], Duke of Albany, is discerned Governor of the realm, until his nephew was relieved from the English captivity. This same day was Stirling town almost all burnt. 

– Historical Works, pp.133-144.


At the foot of Leith Wynd, on the west side, there was founded on the 5th of March, 1462, by royal charter, the collegiate church of the Holy Trinity, by Mary, Queen of Scotland, daughter of Arnold Duke of Gueldres, grand-daughter of John Duke of Burgundy, and widow of James II., slain about two years before by the bursting of a cannon at Roxburgh. Her great firmness on that disastrous occasion, and during the few remaining years of her own life, proves her to have been a princess of no ordinary strength of mind. 

-Old and New Edinburgh, pp.300-309.


George Nicol, the son of a tailor in Edinburgh, and who had been secretary or clerk to Sir Archibald Acheson, under an unlucky zeal for the public good, resolved to expose some malpractices of the Scottish rulers which had fallen under his attention, or which he believed to exist. Being in London, he presented to the king some information against the Chancellor, the Earls of Morton and Stratherne, the Lord Traquair, the Lord Advocate, &c., for mismanagement of the treasury. These officers were summoned to London to meet the charges brought against them, when it soon appeared that Nicol had advanced what he could not prove. 

He was sent back to Scotland under the power of the men whom he had accused, and was adjudged (Mar. 5 [1633]) by the privy Council guilty of lease-making, and to stand at the entry of the session-house for an hour, and two hours at the cross, with a paper on his head bearing, ‘Here stands Mr George Nicol, who is tried, found, and declared to be a false calumnious liar,’ and thereafter to receive six stripes on his naked back by the hand of the hangman, and then to be led back to the Tolbooth with his shoulders still exposed. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.228-256.


A letter of Dalrymple, dated from London the 5th March [1692,] makes us aware that the Massacre of Glencoe was already making a sensation there. It was said that the people had been murdered in their beds, after the chief had made the required submission. The secretary professed to have known nothing of the last fact, but he was far from regretting the bloodshed. ‘All I regret is that any of the sect got away.’ When the particulars became fully known – when it was ascertained that the Campbells had gone into the glen as friends, and fallen upon the people when they were in a defenceless state and when all suspicion was lulled asleep – the transaction assumed the character which it has ever since borne in the public estimation, as one of the foulest in modern history. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.342-354.


On Saturday last, Captain Green, Captain of the Ship Worchester, and the rest of his Crew who are Prisoners here, and are to be try’d as Pyrats, before the Judge-Admiral, has each of them got a Copy of their Inditement to answer against the 5th. of March next [1707;] and the Lords of Her Majesty’s Privy-Council, has appointed five of their number to be assessors to the Judge-Admiral. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.282-290.


In and around the city during the winter of 1787 there were committed a series of startling robberies, and no clue could be had to the perpetrators. Houses and shops were entered, and articles of value vanished as if by magic. In one instance a lady was unable to go to church from indisposition, and was at home alone, when a man entered with crape over his face, and taking her keys, opened her bureau and took away her money, while she remained panic-stricken; but as he retired she thought, “surely that was Deacon Brodie!” But the idea seemed so utterly inconceivable, that she preserved silence on the subject till subsequent events transpired. As these mysterious outrages continued, all Edinburgh became at last alarmed, and in all of them Brodie was either actively or passively concerned, till he conceived the – to him – fatal idea of robbing the Excise office in Chessel’s Court, an undertaking wholly planned by himself. He visited the office openly with a friend, studied the details of the cashier’s room, and observing the key of the outer door hanging from a nail, contrived to take an impression of it with putty, made a model therefrom, and tried it on the lock by way of experiment, but went no further then. 

On the 5th of March, Brodie, Smith, Ainslie, and Brown, met in the evening about eight to make the grand attempt. The Deacon was attired in black, with a brace of pistols; he had with him several keys and a double picklock. He seemed in the wildest spirits, and as they set forth he sang the well-known ditty from the “Beggar’s Opera” – 

“Let us take the road, 
Hark! I hear the sound of coaches! 
The hour of attack approaches; 
To your arms brave boys, and load. 
“See the ball I hold; 
Let chemists toil like asses – 
Our fire their fire surpasses, 
And turns our lead to gold!” 

The office was shut at night, but no watchman came till ten. Ainslie kept watch in Chessel’s Court, Brodie inside the outer door, when he opened it, while Smith and Brown entered the cashier’s room. All save the first carried pistols, and Brodie had a whistle by which he was to sound an alarm if necessary. In forcing the second or inner door, Brown and Smith had to use a crowbar, and the coulter of a plough which they had previously stolen for the purpose. Their faces were craped; they had with them a dark lantern, and they burst open every desk and press in the room. While thus engaged, Mr. James Bonnar, the deputy-solicitor, returned unexpectedly to the office at half-past eight, and detection seemed imminent indeed! “The outer door he found shut, and on opening it a man in black (Brodie) hurriedly passed him, a circumstance to which, not having the slightest suspicion, he paid no attention. He went to his room up-stairs, where he remained only a few minutes, and then returned, shutting the outer door behind him. Perceiving this, Ainslie became alarmed, gave a signal and retreated. Smith and Brown did not observe the call, but thinking themselves in danger when they heard Mr. Bonnar coming down-stairs, they cocked their pistols, determined not to be taken.” 

Eventually they got clear off with their booty, which proved to be only sixteen pounds odd, when they had expected thousands! 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.112-118.

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