17th of April

St Anicetus, Pope and martyr, 173. St Simeon, Bishop of Ctesiphon, 341.

Died. – Marino Falieri, doge of Venice, executed, 1355; Joachim Camerarius, German Protestant scholar, 1574, Leipzig; Dr Benjamin Franklin, 1790, Philadelphia; James Thom, ‘The Ayrshire sculptor,’ 1850, New York.


The books of the Lord Treasurer of Scotland indicate that, when James IV. was at Stirling on the 17th April 1497, there was a payment ‘to twa fithalaris [fiddlers] that sang Greysteil to the king, ixs.’ Greysteil is the title of a metrical tale which originated at a very early period in Scotland, being a detail of the adventures of a chivalrous knight of that name. It was a favourite little book in the north throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sold commonly at sixpence; yet, though there was an edition so late as 1711, so entirely had it lost favour during the eighteenth century, that Mr David Laing, of Edinburgh, could find but one copy, from which to reprint the poem for the gratification of modern curiosity. We find a proof of its early popularity, not merely in its being sung to King James IV., but in another entry in the Lord Treasurer’s books, as follows:- ‘Jan. 22, 1508, to Gray Steill, lutar, vs.;’1 from which it can only be inferred that one of the royal lute-players, of whom there appear to have been four or five, bore the nickname of Greysteil, in consequence of his proficiency in singing this old minstrel poem. It appears to have been deemed, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as high a compliment as could well be paid to a gallant warrior, to call him Greysteil. For example, James V. in boyhood bestowed this pet name upon Archibald Douglas, of Kilspindie; and even when the Douglas was under banishment, and approaching the king in a kind of disguise for forgiveness, ‘Yonder is surely my Greysteil,’ exclaimed the monarch, pleased to recall the association of his early days. Another personage on whom the appelation was bestowed was Alexander, sixth Earl of Eglintoun, direct ancestor of the present Earl. A break in the succession (for Earl Alexander was, paternally, a Seton, not a Montgomery) had introduced a difficulty about the descent of both the titles and estates of the family, and the lordship of Kilwinning was actually given away to another by Act of Parliament, in 1612. In a family memoir we are told, ‘Alexander was not a man tamely to submit to such injustice, and the mode which he adopted to procure redress was characteristic. He had repeatedly remonstrated, but in vain. Irritated by the delay on the part of the crown to recognise his right to the earldom, and feeling further aggrieved by the more material interference with his barony of Kilwinning, he waited personally on the Earl of Somerset, the King’s favourite, with whom he supposed the matter mainly rested. He gave the favourite to understand that, as a peer of the realm, he was entitled to have his claims heard and justice done him, and that though but little skilled in the subtleties of law and the niceties of court etiquette, he knew the use of his sword. From his conduct in this affair, and his general readiness with his sword, the Earl acquired the sobriquet of Greysteil, by which he is still known in family tradition.’2

It will probably be a surprise to most of our readers that the tune of old called Greysteil, and probably the same which was sung to James IV. of Scotland in 1497, still exists, and can now be forthcoming. The piece of music we refer to is included, under the name Greysteil, in ‘Ane Playing Booke for the Lute, noted and collected at Aberdeen by Robert Gordon in 1627,’ a manuscript which some years ago was in the possession of George Chalmers, the historian. The airs in this book being in tablature, a form of notation long our of use, it was not till about 1840 that the tune of Greysteil was with some difficulty read off from it, and put into modern notation, and so communicated to the writer of this notice by his valued friend Mr William Dauney, advocate, editor of the ancient Scottish melodies just quoted. Mr Dauney, in sending it, said, ‘I have no doubt that it is in substance the air referred to in the Lord Treasurer’s accounts… The ballad or poem to which it had been chanted, was most probably the popular romance of that name, which you will find in Mr Laing’s Early Metrical Tales, and of which he says in the preface that, “along with the poems of Sir David Lyndsey, and the histories of Robert Bruce and of Sir William Wallace, it formed the standard production of the vernacular literature of the country.”… The tune,’ Mr Dauney goes on to say, ‘is not Scottish in its structure or character; but it bears a resemblance to the somewhat monotonous species of chant to which some of the old Spanish and even English historical ballads were sung. In this respect it is suitable to the subject of the old romance, which is not Scottish.’ There is a serviceable piece of evidence for the presumed antiquity of the air, in the fact that a satirical Scotch poem on the unfortunate Earl of Argyle, dated 1686, bears on it, ‘appointed to be sung to the tune of old Greysteil.’ We must, however, acknowledge that, but for this proof of poetry being actually sung to ‘Old Greysteil,’ we should have been disposed to think that the tune here printed was only presented by the luters as a sort of prelude or refrain to their chanting of the metrical romance in question. The abruptness of the end is very remarkable. 

The tune of Greysteil, for certain as old as 1627, and presumed to be traditional from at least 1497, is as follows: 

Greysteil as produced & played for us by RSH Patron & Fithalar extraordinaire, Paul Burns.

When on the subject of so early a piece of Scotch music, it may not be inappropriate to advert to another specimen, which we can set forth as originally printed in 1588, being the oldest piece in print as far as we know. It is only a simple little lilt, designed for a homely dance, but still, from its comparative certain antiquity, is well worthy of preservation. Mr Douce has transferred it into his Illustrations of Shakspeare, from the book in which it originally appeared, a volume styled Orchesographie, professedly by Thionot Arbeau (in reality by a monk named Jean Tabouret), printed at Lengres in the year above mentioned. He calls it a branle or brawl, ‘which was performed by several persons uniting hands in a circle and giving each other continual shakes, the steps changing with the tune. It usually consisted of three pas and a pied-joint to the time of four strokes of the bow; which being repeated, was termed a double brawl. With this dance balls were usually opened.’ 

The copy given in the original work being in notation scarcely intelligible to a modern musician, we have had it read off and harmonised as follows: 

1  Dauney’s Ancient Scottish Melodies, 4to, Edinburgh, 1838, p. 358. 
2  Memorials of the Earls of Eglintoun, by William Fraser. 2 vols. 4to. Edinburgh [privately printed], 1859.

On this Day in Other Sources.

It is said the Abbey church was again burned on this occasion, and not improbably. We know not if the Abbey escaped an attack planned against it a century later, on 17th April 1544. The Lords of the English Council reported to King Henry VIII., that Wyshart, among other enterprises, undertook that a body of troops to be paid by the English king, “joining with the power of the Earl Marshall, the Master of Rothes, the laird of Calder, and others of the Lord Gray’s friends, will take upon them… to destroy the Abbey and Town of Arbroth, being the Cardinal’s, and all the other Bishops and Abbots houses, and countries on that side the water thereabouts.” Henry, who was very wroth against the Cardinal, gave them all encouragement “effectually to burn and destroy.”1

– Sketches, pp.144-172.

1  Lelandi Collectanea, I. 269.

Elizabeth consented, that the Scotish Queen might send a servant to her son, who shall be accompanied, by one of the Queen’s Majesty’s servants. Mary, disliking the terms of Elizabeth’s permission, declined to send a servant into Scotland. The great effort now was to keep the Scotish Queen, from private intelligences, which was supposed not to be easily done. Sir Ralph’s indulgence to Mary, obtained, what his entreaties had tried, in vain, the arrival of Sir Amias Paulet, as the Queen’s warden, on the 17th of April 1585: who was to introduce new restrictions, during those dangerous and doubtful times: He soon had his first interview with the Queen of Scots, who seemed displeased, with him, as she had heard, that he was unfriendly to her; but, she soon became more contented with her situation, and more satisfied with her new warden. Sir Amias directed, that all her letters should pass through his hands, to which she agreed: and he directed her servants not to convey any letters, or messages, unknown to him. But, his rigours were soon complained of; and her people became clamorous, when they saw, that the Queen’s coachman could not exercise his horses, without having some of the warden’s servants with him; when they beheld, “the cloth of estate,” in the great chamber removed; Sir Amias being of opinion, that there ought to be but one cloth of estate, in England: But, he did not reflect, that by this measure, he, in same measure, degraded Mary, from her dignity of Queen. 

– Life of Mary, pp.293-304.

April 17 [1601]. – John Watt, Deacon of the deacons in Edinburgh, or he would have latterly been called Convener of the Trades, was shot dead on the Burgh-moor. This was the official who raised the trades for the protection of the king at the celebrated tumult of the 17th December 1596. One Alexander Slummon, a bystander, was tried for the murder, but found innocent. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

From a private Letter, London, April 12.

   Yesterday a Petition of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was presented to the Commons, and read; representing that Patronages have since the Reformation been deemed by the said Church a very great Grievance, and not warranted by the Word of God, and have at all Times been struggled against; That soon after the Revolution an Act of Parliament was made in Scotland abolishing the Patron’s Power to present Ministers to vacant Churches, and at the Union of the two Kingdoms, the Establishment of the Church of Scotland in all its Rights and Privileges by that and other Acts of Parliament made or ratified after the Revolution, was declared to be a fundamental and essential Article of that Union; and at that Time it was the Right and Privilege of the Church to be free from Patronages; but that by an Act decimo Annae, intituled An Act to restore the Patrons to their ancient Rights of presenting Ministers to vacant Churches in Scotland, the aforesaid Act of King William was rescinded in so far as concerned the Patron’s Power to present, and other Advantages which had been the chief Things bestowed on Patrons in Lieu of their former Right of Presentation, were nevertheless continued with them: and therefore praying, &c. 

   And the said Act of the Tenth of the Queen being read, a Bill was ordered in, for repealing so much thereof as relates to the Power of Patrons to present to vacant Churches; and for explaining a Scots Act 1690 concerning Patronages, and for ascertaining the Method of calling Ministers to vacant Churches in Scotland: And Mess. Plumer, Erskine, Forbes, Areskine, Sir James Fergusson, and Mr. Hume Campbel, are to bring in the same.” 

– Caledonian Mercury, Thursday 17th April, 1735.

– Treaty of Union Articles, 1700-1750.