27th of May

St Julius, martyr, about 302. St John, pope, martyr, 526.

Born. – Alighieri Dante, poet, 1265, Florence;* Caspar Scioppius, learned grammarian, Catholic controversialist, 1576, Newmarck; Cardinal Louis de Noailles, 1651, Paris
Died. – John Calvin, theologian, 1564, Geneva; Gui de Faur, seigneur de Pibrac, reformer of the bar of 1584; Vincent Voiture, prince of the belle-lettres of France in his day, 1648; Archibald, Marquis of Argyle, beheaded at Edinburgh, 1661; Dominique Bouhours, Jesuit (grammar and critical literature), 1702, Clermont; Charles de la Rue, eminent French preacher, one of the fabricators of the ‘Delphin Classics,’ 1725; Comte de Lœwendhall, marshal of France, 1755; Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, statesman, 1811, Edinburgh; Noah Webster, author of an English dictionary, 1843, Newhaven, U.S.


Cannibalism, so ordinary a feature of savage life in many parts of the earth in our day, may for that reason be presumed to have marked the people of the British isles when they were in the same primitive state. The earliest notices that we have upon this subject are certain accusations brought against the Saxon conquerors of England, in the old chronicles called the Welsh Triads. In these historical documents it is alleged that Ethelfrith, King of England, encouraged cannibalism at his court; and that Gwrgi, a truant Welshman there, became so enamoured of human flesh, that he would eat no other. It was his custom to have a male and female Kymry killed for his own eating every day, except Saturday, when he slaughtered two of each, in order to be spared the sin of breaking the Sabbath. A northern chief, named Gwenddoleu, is also stated to have had his treasure guarded by two rapacious birds, for whom he had two Kymry slain daily. 

St Jerome, who cisited Gaul in his youth, about the year 380, has the following passage in one of his works:- ‘Cum ipse adolescentulus in Galliâ viderim Attacottos, gentem Britannicam, humanis vesci carnibus; et cum per sylvas porcorum greges, et armentorum pecudumque reperiant, pastorum nates et feminarum papillas solere abscindere; et has solas ciborum delicias arbitrari.’1 That is, he learned that the Attacotti, the people of the country now called Scotland, when hunting in the woods, preferred the shepherd to his flocks, and chose only the most fleshy and delicate parts for eating. This reminds us extremely of the late reports brought home by M. de Chaillu regarding the people of the gorilla country in Western Africa. Gibbon, in adverting to it, makes it the occasion of a compliment to Scotland. ‘If,’ says he, ‘in the neighbourhood of the commercial and literary town of Glasgow, a race of cannibals has already existed, we may contemplate, in the period of the Scottish history, the opposite extremes of savage and civilized life. Such reflections tend to enlarge the circle of our ideas, and to encourage the pleasing hope that New Zealand may produce, in a future age, the Hume of the Southern Hemisphere.’ 

There is reason to fear that cannibalism was not quite extinct in Scotland even in ages which may be deemed comparatively civilized. Andrew Wyntoun has a grisly passage in his rhyming chronicle regarding a man who lived so brief a while before his own day, that he might easily have heard of him from surviving contemporaries. It was about the year 1339, when a large part of Scotland, even the best and most fertile, had been desolated by the armies of Edward III. 

‘About Perth thare was the countrie 
 Sae waste, that wonder wes to see; 
 For intill well-great space thereby, 
 Wes nother house left nor herb’ry. 
 Of deer thare wes then sic foison [abundance], 
 That they wold near come to the town. 
 Sae great default was near that stead, 
 Than mony were in hunger dead. 
‘A carle they said was near thereby, 
 That wold set settis [traps] commonly, 
 Children and women for to slay, 
 And swains that he might over-ta; 
 And ate them all that he get might: 
 Chrysten Cleek till name be hight. 
 That sa’ry life continued he, 
 While waste but folk was the countrie.’2 

Lindsay of Pitscottie has a still more dismal story regarding the close of the reign of James II. (about 1460), a time also within the recollection of people living in the epoch of the historian. He says: ‘About this time there was ane brigand ta’en, with his haill family, who haunted a place in Angus. This mischievous man had ane execrable fashion, to tak all young men and children he could steal away quietly, or tak away without knowledge, and eat them, and the younger they were, esteemed them the mair tender and delicious. For the whilk cause and damnable abuse, he with his wife and bairns were all burnt, except ane young wench of a year old, wha was saved and brought to Dundee, where she was brought up and fostered; and when she cam to a woman’s years, she was condemned and burnt quick for that crime. It is said that when she was coming to the place of execution, there gathered ane huge multitude of people, and specially of women, cursing her that she was so unhappy to commit so damnable deeds. To whom she turned about with an ireful countenance, saying, “Wherefore chide ye with me, as if I had committed ane unworthy act? Give me credence, and trow me, if ye had experience of eating men and women’s flesh, ye wold think it so delicious, that ye wold never forbear it again.” So, but [without] any sign of repentance, this unhappy traitor died in the sight of the people.’3**

1  Quoted in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.
2  Wyntoun’s Chronicle, ii. 236.
3  Lindsay’s Chronicles of Scotland. Edition, 1814, p. 163.
*  I have this poet’s trilogy, Dante’s Visions; ‘Inferno,’ ‘Purgatory’ & ‘Paradise.’
**  Strange that the 16th century Sawney Bean and his family aren’t mentioned. Even if fictional, the story is interesting enough to merit mention within this article.

On this Day in Other Sources.

This year, 1435, Alexander [Stewart], Earl of Mar, [bastard] son to Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, 3rd son to King Robert II., departs this life, and was interred in the cathedral church of Dunkeld, 27th of May; after whose death the earldom of Mar fell to the crown, in respect he died illegitimate. 

– Historical Works, pp.153-166.

Although the College of Justice was instituted by James V., and held its first sederunt in the old Tolbooth on the 27th of May, 1532, it was first projected by his uncle, the Regent-Duke of Albany. The Court originally consisted of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President, fourteen Lords Ordinary, or Senators (one-half clergy and one-half laity), and afterwards an indefinite number of supernumerary judges, designated Extraordinary Lords. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.166-173.

[The infant prince Robert] departed this life at Dunfermline, [on] the 27th day of May [1601], and was interred there. 

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.

With his last breath [the Marquis of Argyle] expressed abhorrence of the death of Charles I., and on the 27th May [1661] his head was struck from his body by the Maiden, at the west end of the Tolbooth. By patent all his ancient earldom and estates were restored to his son, Lord Lorne, then a prisoner in the Castle, where on one occasion he had a narrow escape, when playing “with hand bullets” (bowls?) one of which, as Wodrow records, struck him senseless. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.47-66.

May 27 [1661]. – ‘At two afternoon, the Marquis of Argyll was brought forth of the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, fra the whilk he was conveyed by the magistrates to the place of execution; the town being all in arms, and the life-guard mounted on horseback, with their carabines and drawn swords. The marquis, having come to the scaffold, with sundry of his friends in murning apparel, he made a large speech; after whilk and a short prayer, he committed himself to the block. His head was stricken from his body, and affixed upon the head of the Tolbooth, where the Marquis of Montrose[‘s] was affixed of before. It was thought great favour that he was not drawn and quartered.’ – Nic.

– Domestic Annals, pp.302-321.

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