11th of March

St Constantine, of Scotland, martyr, 6th century. St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, 639. St Ængus, the Culdee, bishop in Ireland, 824. St Eulogius, of Cordova, 859.


Born. – Torquato Tasso, Italian poet, 1544, Sorrento; John Peter Niceron, French biographer, 1685, Paris. 
Died. – John Toland, miscellaneous writer, 1722, Putney.



In Romeo and Juliet the servants of Capulet and Montague commence a quarrel by one biting his thumb, apparently as an insult to the others. And the commentators, considering the act of biting the thumb as an insulting gesture, quote the following passage from Decker’s Dead Term in support of that opinion:- ‘What swearing is there’ (says Decker, describing the groups that daily frequented the walks of St Paul’s Church), ‘what shouldering, what jostling, what jeering, what biting of thumbs to beget quarrels!’ Sir Walter Scott, referring to this subject in a note to the Lay of the Last Minstrel, says:- ‘To bite the thumb or the glove seems not to have been considered, upon the Border, as a gesture of contempt, though so used by Shakspeare, but as a pledge of mortal revenge. It is yet remembered that a young gentleman of Teviotdale, on the morning after a hard drinking bout, observed that he had bitten his glove. He instantly demanded of his companions with whom he had quarrelled? and learning that he had had words with one of the party, insisted on instant satisfaction, asserting that, though he remembered nothing of the dispute, yet he never would have bitten his glove without he had received some unpardonable insult. He fell in the duel, which was fought near Selkirk in 1721 [1707].’ 

A curious illustration of this subject will be found int he following extract from evidence given at a court-martial held on a sergeant of Sir James Montgomery’s regiment, in 1642. It may be necessary to state that, though the regiment was nominally raised in Ireland, all the officers and men were Scotch by birth, or the immediate descendants of Scottish settlers in Ulster. Sergeant Kyle was accused of killing Lieutenant Baird; and one of the witnesses deposed as follows:- 

The witness and James McCullogh going to drink together a little after nightfall on the twenty-second of February, the said lieutenant and sergeant ran into the room where they were drinking, and the sergeant being first there, offered the chair he sat on to the lieutenant, but the lieutenant refused it, and sat upon the end of a chest. Afterwards, the lieutenant and sergeant fell a-jeering one another, upon which the sergeant told the lieutenant that if he would try him, he would find him a man, if he had aught to say to him. Also, Sergeant Kyle threw down his glove, saying there is my glove, lieutenant, unto which the lieutenant said nothing. Afterwards, many ill words were (exchanged) between them, and the lieutenant threatening him (the said sergeant), the sergeant told him that he would defend himself, and take no disgrace at his hands, but that he was not his equal, he being his inferior in place, he being a lieutenant and the said Kyle a sergeant. Afterwards the sergeant threw down his glove a second time, and the lieutenant not having a glove, demanded James McCullogh his glove to throw to the sergeant, who would not give him his glove; upon that, the lieutenant held up his thumb licking on it with his tongue, and saying, ‘There is my parole for it.’ Afterwards, Sergeant Kyle went to the lieutenant’s ear, and asked him, ‘When?’ The lieutenant answered, ‘Presently.’ Upon that Sergeant Kyle went out, and the lieutenant followed with his sword drawn under his arm, and being a space distant from the house said, ‘Where is the villain now?’ ‘Here I am for you,’ said Kyle, and so they struck fiercely one at another. 

Licking of the thumb – and why not biting? – is a most ancient form of giving a solemn pledge or promise, and has remained to a late period in Scotland as a legalized form of undertaking, or bargain. Erskine, in his Institutes, says it was ‘a symbol anciently used in proof that a sale was perfected; which continues to this day in bargains of lesser importance among the lower ranks of the people – the parties licking and joining of thumbs; and decrees are yet extant, sustaining sales upon “summonses of thumb-licking,” upon this, “That the parties had licked thumbs at finishing the bargain”’ 

Proverbs and snatches of Scottish song may be cited as illustrative of this ancient custom; and in the parts of Ulster where the inhabitants are of Scottish descent, it is still a common saying, when two persons have a community of opinion on any subject, ‘We may lich thooms upo’ that.’ 

Jamieson, in his Scottish Dictionary, remarks – ‘This custom, though now apparently credulous and childish, bears indubitable marks of great antiquity. Tacitus, in his Annals, states that it existed among the Iberians; and Ihre alludes to it as a custom among the Goths. I am well assured by a gentleman, who has long resided in India, that the Moors, when concluding a bargain, do it, in the very same manner as the vulgar in Scotland, by licking their thumbs.’


On this Day in Other Sources.


The King calls a parliament to meet at Edinburgh, the 11th day of March this year, 1503; wherein it is ordained, that there should be a daily council or judicature, to sit at Edinburgh, to decide civil matters and complaints, and shall have the same power as the Lords of Session. That justices and sheriffs be made for the Isles. That Duart, Glentower, and the lordship of Lorne, answer and underlay the law at the justice aire of Perth; Mamore, Lochaber come to the aire of Inverness; and Argyll (when the King pleases) shall answer at the justice aire of Perth; and that that part of Cowal that is not within the bounds nor lordship of Argyll, and all the inhabitants thereof, come to the aire of Dumbarton; as also that the aire of Bute, Arran, Knapdale, Kintyre, and [Great] Cumbrae, be [held] at the burgh of Ayr or Rothesay, and the inhabitants thereof come there at the King’s pleasure. 

It was also statute in this parliament, that sheriffs be made in Ross and Caithness for [the] administration of justice; that yearly musters be kept in each burgh and shire; that all the King’s [subjects] be [ruled] by his laws; that all officers within [the] burgh[s] be changed yearly; that Scottish merchants pursue one another beyond [the] sea before any judge but the conservator, and that the said conservator come home yearly, or send a procurator; that all measures and weights be of one quantity; and to conclude this parliament, the King solemnly revokes all done by him in parliament, council, or otherwise in prejudice of the church or crown. 

– Historical Works, pp.214-238.


On the 11th March 1551,1 Glenurchy took a bond of manrent or service from James Stewart of Ballindoran, and two Drummonds, whereby these parties bound themselves “with their whole power, with their kin, friends and partakers, to invcade and pursue to the death Duncan Laudosach McGregour, Gregour his son, their servands, partakers and complices… be reason that thai ar our deidlie enemies and our Soverane Ladie’s rebels.”2

– Sketches, pp.341-394. 

1  That is, three months after the murder of Alaster Owir; the year ending 24th March.. 
2  It may have been in revenge of this undertaking that the McGregors, many years afterwards, murdered John Drummond (though under double assurance of their clan) with the circumstances of special and almost solemn ferocity described in a bond preserved at Taymouth.


In 1578, as appears from an entry in the burgh minutes, the Grammar School was covered with thatch. The later building was erected in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and while it was being built the scholars met in the High Church.1

– Old Glasgow, pp.131-140. 

1  Presbytery Records, 11th March, 1601.


Mar. 11 [1581.] – The ex-Regent now lay a hopeless prisoner in Dumbarton Castle, chiefly occupied, we are told, in reading the Bible, which, though he had forced the people to buy it under a penalty, he had hitherto much neglected himself. One of his servants, named George Fleck, ‘was apprehended in Alexander Lawson’s house [in Edinburgh], together with the said Alexander, not without their own consents, as was alleged, to reveal where the Earl of Morton’s treasure lay. The bruit [rumour] went – when the boots were presented to George Fleck, that he revealed a part of the treasure to be lying in Dalkeith yard, under the ground; a part in Aberdour, under a braid stone before the gate; a part in Leith. Certain it is he [the earl] was the wealthiest subject that had been in Scotland for many years.’ – Cal. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.81-98.


Mar. 11 [1597.] – The duellium seems to have been particularly in vogue at this time. ‘There chanced a single combat betwixt James Hepburn of Moreham and one Birnie, a skinner in Edinburgh [at St Leonard’s Craigs]. They were both slain [and buried the morning after]. The occasion and quarrel was not thought to be great nor yet necessary. Hepburn alleged and maintained that there was seven sacraments; Birnie would have but two, or else he would fight. The other was content with great protestations that he would defend his belief with the sword; and so, with great earnestness they yoked, and thus the question was decided.’ – P. And

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.


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.1

– Old Glasgow, pp.189-215. 

1  11th March, 1600.


Birrel notes: ‘The 19 of February, John Archibald with his family were taken out to the Burrow-muir, being infectit with the pest.’ Probably others immediately followed. This circumstance beings before us the celebrated John Napier, younger of Merchiston, who, on the 11th of March [1602,] complained to the Privy Council that the magistrates having ploughed up and turned to profitable service the place where they used formerly to lodge people infected with the pest, had on this occasion planted the sick in certain yards or parks of his at the Scheens, without any permission being asked. The magistrates did not come forward to defend themselves; nevertheless, the Council, considering the urgency of the demands of the public service, ordained that the lands in question should be left in the hands of the magistrates till next Candlemas, on terms to be agreed upon. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.


On 11th March 1716, Sir Hugh died, seventy-seven years old, “the oldest that had had his place for a hundred years;1 and he was buried, not with his forefathers, but in the “families new buriall place in the parish church built by Sir John, with a great funeral and funeral entertainment, and much drinking of claret and ‘waters.’ “ 

– Sketches, pp.395-436. 

1  Letter to his Grandson.


At a subsequent date we find the magistrates making regulations as to “linnen and cotton handkerchiefs,” the manufacture of which had also been introduced in Glasgow, and there is a statute directed against the use of false or loose colours, and against handkerchiefs “being made shorter in length than they are in breadth.”1 The foreign trade of the city increased rapidly. 

– Old Glasgow, pp.239-248. 

1  11th March, 1726.


SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF SCOTLAND (11th March [1895]). – Mr. D. P. Menzies described the bagpipes preserved in the family of pipers associated with the chiefs of Menzies, which, according to a tradition more easily stated than verified, were said to have played the clan into the battle of Bannockburn. In the discussion which followed, Mr. Glen stated that the chanter, differing from the kind now used, was similar to the Black Chanter of Cluny Macpherson, which was used in the ’45. 

– Scots Lore, pp.231-236.

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