24th of November

St Chrysogonus, martyr, beginning of 4th century. St Cianan or Kenan, bishop of Duleek, in Ireland, 489. Saints Flora and Mary, virgins and martyrs, 851. St John of the Cross, confessor, 1591.

Born. – Laurence Sterne, sentimental writer and novelist, 1713, Clonmel.
Died. – John Knox, Scottish Reformer, 1572, Edinburgh; Dr Robert Henry, historian, 1790, Edinburgh; Rev. Dr George Croly, poet, and romance writer, 1860, London.


Mermaids have had a legendary existence from very early ages; for the Syrens of the ancients evidently belonged to the same remarkable family. Mermen and mermaids – men of the sea, and women of the sea – have been as stoutly believed in as the great sea-serpent, and on very much the same kind of evidence… 

A writer in Notes and Queries, in November 1858, lighted upon an old Scotch almanac, called the Aberdeen Almanac, or New Prognostications for the Year 1688; in which the following curious passage occurs: ‘To conclude for this year 1688. Near the place where the famous Dee payeth his tribute to the German Ocean [North Sea], if curious observers of wonderful things in nature will be pleased thither to resort the 1, 13, and 29 of May, and in divers other times in the ensuing summer, as also in the harvest-time, to the 7 and 14 October, they will undoubtedly see a pretty company of MAR MAIDS, creatures of admirable beauty, and likewise hear their charming sweet melodious voices: 

“In well-tun’d measures and harmonious lays,
 Extol their Maker and his bounty praise;
 That godly honest men, in everything,
 In quiet peace may live, GOD SAVE THE KING!” ‘

The piety and loyalty of these predicted mermaids are certainly remarkable characteristics. In another part of Scotland, about the same period, a real mermaid was seen, is we are to believe Brand’s Description of Orkney and Shetland, published in 1701. Two fishermen drew up with a hook a mermaid, ‘having face, arms, breast, shoulders, &c., of a woman, and long hair hanging down the neck; but the nether-part from below the waist hidden in the water.’ One of the fishermen, in his surprise, drew a knife and thrust it into her heart; ‘whereupon she cried, as they judged, “Alas!” and the hook giving way, she fell backwards, and was seen no more.’ In this case the evidence went thus – Brand was told by a lady and gentleman, who were told by a bailie to whom the fishing-boat belonged, who was told by the fishers; and thus we may infer as we please concerning the growth of the story as it travelled… Something akin to this kind of evidence is observable in the account of a mermaid seen in Caithness in 1809, the account of which attracted much attention, and induced the Philosophical Society of Glasgow to investigate the matter. The editor of a newspaper who inserted the statement had been told by a gentleman, who had been shewn a letter by Sir John Sinclair, who had obtained it from Mrs Innes, to whom it had been written by Miss Mackay, who had heard the story from the persons (two servant girls and a boy) who had seen the strange animal in the water.*

*  For a Scottish Mermaid tale see Sir T. D. Lauder’s, ‘Tales of the Highlands,’ chapter, Water-Kelpie’s Bridle and the Mermaid’s Stone.

On this Day in Other Sources.

But soon after the potent Douglas died at Restalrig – in June, 1440 – and was succeeded by his son William, then in his sixteenth year; and now the subtle and unscrupulous old Chancellor thought that the time had come to destroy with safety a family he alike feared and detested. In the flush of his youth and pride, fired by the flattery of his dependents, the young earl, in the retinue and splendour that surrounded him far surpassed his sovereign. He never rode abroad with less than two thousand lances under his banner, well horsed, and sheathed in mail, and he actually, according to Buchanan, sent as his ambassadors to the court of France Sir Malcolm Fleming and Sir John Lauder of the Bass, to obtain for him a new patent of the duchy of Touraine, which had been conferred on his grandfather by Charles VII. Arrogance so unwonted and grandeur so great alarmed both Crichton and Livingstone, who could not see where all this was to end. 

Any resort to violence would lead to civil war. He was therefore, with many flatteries, lured to partake of a banquet in the Castle of Edinburgh, accompanied by his brother the little Lord David and Sir Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld. With every show of welcome they were placed at the same table with the king, while the portcullis was suddenly lowered, the gates carefully shut, and their numerous and suspicious train excluded. Towards the close of the entertainment a black bull’s head – an ancient Scottish symbol that some one was doomed to death – was suddenly placed upon the board. The brave boys sprang up, and drew their swords; but a band of Crichton’s vassals, in complete armour, rushed in from a chamber called the Tiring-house, and dragged forth the three guests, despite the tears and entreaties of the young king. 

They were immediately beheaded – on the 24th of November, 1440 – according to Godscroft, “in the back court of the Castle that lyeth to the west” (where the barracks now stand); in the great hall, according to Balfour. They were buried in the fortress, and when, in 1753, some workmen, in digging a foundation there, found the plate and handles of a coffin all of which were pure gold, they were supposed to belong to that in which the Earl of Douglas was placed. Singular to say, Crichton was never brought to trial for this terrible outrage. “Venomous viper!” Exclaims the old historian of the Douglases, “that could hide so deadly poyson under so faire showes! unworthy tongue, unelesse to be cut oute for example to all ages! A lion or tiger for cruelty of heart – a waspe or spider for spight!” He also refers to a rude ballad on the subject, beginning – 

“Edinburgh Castle, towne and tower,
God grant thou sinke for sinne,
  An that even for the black dinner
Earle Douglas got therein.”

Old and New Edinburgh, pp.26-31.

The irrepressible Angus, backed by the Douglases, seized the government in the following year, scaled the city walls on the night of the 24th November, [1525,] beat open the ports, and fairly capturing Edinburgh, made a Douglas Provost thereof. And such was the power he possessed, that the assassins of McLellan of Bombie – who was slain in open day at the door of St. Giles’s church – walked with impunity about the streets; while the queen herself deemed his safe-conduct necessary while she resided in Edinburgh, though Parliament was sitting at the time; and so the king returned again to honourable durance in the dilapidated palace of the Castle, or only put in an appearance to act as the puppet of his governor. 

At this crisis Arran and his faction demanded that Parliament should assemble in the Castle-hall as a security against coercion; but Angus vowed that it should continue to meet in its usual place; and as the king was retained within the Castle, he cut off all communication between it and the city with 2,000 men, on whom the batteries opened; but eventually these differences were adjusted, and their luckless young king was permitted to attend Parliament in state. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.32-47.

On the 24th of November, 1567, about two in the afternoon, the Laird of Airth and Sir John Wemyss of that ilk, “met upon the Hie Gait of Edinburgh,” according to Birrel, “and they and their followers fought a bloody skirmish, when many were hurt on both sides by shot of pistol.” 

On this the Privy Council issued, but in vain, an edict against the wearing of culverins, dags, pistolets, or other “firewerks.” 

The latter seem to have been adopted or in use earlier in Scotland than in the sister kingdom. At the raid of the Redswire, the English archers were routed by the volleys of the Scottish hackbuttiers; and here we find, as the author of “Domestic Annals” notes, “that sword and buckler were at this time (1567) the ordinary gear of gallant men in England – a comparatively harmless furnishing; but we see that small fire-arms were used in Scotland.” 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.191-198.

Nov. 24 [1567]. – ‘… at 2 afternoon, the Laird of Airth and the Laird of Wemyss met upon the Hie Gait of Edinburgh; and they and their followers faught a very bluidy skirmish, where there was many hurt on both sides with shot of pistol.’ – Bir

– Domestic Annals, pp.35-44.


Overlooked, then, by the great cruciform church of St. Giles, and these minor ecclesiastical edifices, the first burying-ground of Edinburgh lay on the steep slope with its face to the sun. The last home of generations of citizens, under what is now the pavement of a noisy street, “there sleep the great, the good, the peaceful and the turbulent, the faithful and the false, all blent together in their quaint old coffins and flannel shrouds, with money in their dead hands, and crosses or chalices on their breasts; old citizens who remembered the long-haired King David passing forth with barking hound and twanging horn on that Rood-day in harvest which so nearly cost him his life; and how the fair Queen Margaret daily fed the poor at the castle gate ‘with tenderness of a mother;’ those who had seen Randolph’s patriots scale ‘the steep, the iron-belted rock,’ Count Guy of Namur’s Flemish lances routed on the Burghmuir, and William Wallace mustering his bearded warriors by the Figgate-burn ere he marched to storm Dunbar.” 

There lie citizens who have fought for their country at Flodden, Pinkie, and a hundred other fields; and there lies one whose name is still mighty in the land, and “who never feared the face of man” – John Knox. He expired at his old manse, near the Nether Bow, on the 24th of November, 1572, in his sixty-seventh year, and his body was attended to the grave by a great multitude of people, including the chief of the nobles and the Regent Morton, whose simple éloge over his grave is so well known. It cannot but excite surprise that no effort was made by the Scottish people to preserve distinctly the remains of the great Reformer from desecration, but some of that spirit of irreverence for the past which he inculcated thus recoiled upon himself, and posterity knows not his exact resting-place. If the tradition mentioned by Chambers, says Wilson, be correct, that “his burial-place was a few feet from the front of the old pedestal of King Charles’s statue, the recent change in the position of the latter must have placed it directly over his grave – perhaps as strange a monument to the great apostle of Presbyterianism as fancy could devise!” Be all this as it may, there is close by the statue a small stone let into the pavement inscribed simply 

“I. K., 1572.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.148-157.

During his last illness, which endured about a fortnight, he was visited by many of the principal nobles and reformed preachers, to all of whom he gave much advice; and on Monday, the 24th of November, 1572, he expired in his sixty-seventh year, having been born in 1505, during the reign of James IV.

From this house his body was conveyed to its last resting-place, on the south side of St. Giles’s, accompanied by a mighty multitude of all ranks, where the newly-appointed Regent Morton pronounced over the closing grave his well-known eulogium.

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.212-218.


JOHN KNOX’S towering monument. The inscription on one side reads: 

















As soon as Huntly ascertained that the Grants and Clan-Chattan, who were his own vassals, had put themselves under the command of these earls, he assembled his followers, and, entering Badenoch, summoned his vassals to appear before him, and deliver up the tutor and his abettors, but none of them came. He then proclaimed and denounced them rebels, and obtained a royal commission to invade and apprehend them. To consult on the best means of defending themselves the earls of Moray and Atholl, the Dunbars, the Clan-Chattan, the Grants, and the laird of Cadell, and others of their party met at Forres. Two contrary opinions were given at this meeting. On the one hand Mackintosh, Grant, and Cadell advised the earls, who were pretty well supported by a large party in the north, immediately to collect their forces and oppose Huntly; but the Dunbars, on the other hand, were opposed to this advice, and endeavoured to convince the earls that they were not in a fit condition at that time to make a successful stand against their formidable antagonist. In the midst of these deliberations Huntly, who had received early intelligence of the meeting, and had, in consequence, assembled his forces, unexpectedly made his appearance in the neighbourhood of Forres. This sudden advance of Huntly struck terror into the minds of the persons assembled, and the meeting instantly broke up in great confusion. The whole party, with the exception of the earl of Moray, left the town in great haste, and fled to Tarnoway. The earl of Moray had provided all things necessary for his defence in case he should be attacked; but the earl of Huntly, not aware that he had remained behind, marched directly to Tarnoway in pursuit of the fugitives. On arriving within sight of the castle into which the flying party had thrown themselves, the earl sent John Gordon, brother of Sir Thomas Gordon of Cluny, with a small body of men to reconnoitre; but approaching too near without due caution, he was shot by one of the earl of Moray’s servants. As Huntly found the castle well fortified, and as the rebels evacuated it and fled to the mountains, leaving a sufficient force to protect it, he disbanded his men on the twenty-fourth day of November fifteen hundred and ninety, and returned home, from whence he proceeded to Edinburgh. 

– History of the Highlands, pp.213-232.

   “On Wednesday several potions of the statue of the great Scottish reformer, John Knox, arrived in Glasgow. they were contained in six carts, and the remaining parts of it will occupy the other three. The weight of the entire statue is calculated at between nine and ten tons. Its height is 12 feet. It is composed of nine pieces. The height of the column on which it is fixed is 55 feet. Thursday two of the pieces were fixed upon the pedestal. One of them, weighed at the Gallowgate toll, was found to be 27½, and the other 26 cwt. Mr Forrest, the ingenious artist, superintends in person the placing of the statue. The remaining pieces arrived on Friday morning.”

– Aberdeen Press and Journal, Wednesday 8th February, 1826, p.4. 

Glasgow’s Cathedral & City Necropolis.

On the 24th of November, [1572,] John Knox died in the sixty-seventh year of his age, worn out and exhausted by bodily labours and mental anxiety. 

– A History of Scotland, Chapter XV. 

Nov. 24 [1601]. – The pest was declared to have at this time broken out in the town of Crail in Fife, and in the parishes of Eaglesham, Eastwood, and Pollock in Renfrewshire. Orders for secluding the population of those places were, as usual, issued. – P. C. R. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

Mr. Brown was an accomplished draughtsman, and the etching may be accepted as a faithful representation of what the old bridge was twenty-five years before the end of the last century.


I have mentioned that before 1776 the bridge had become so insecure that carts and heavy carriages passed the river by a ford. The order by the magistrates was that only “coaches and chaises” should pass by the bridge, and Mr. Brown’s drawing is valuable as confirming this. It shows the coaches crossing the bridge and the carts crossing by the ford above. It shows also that there was a ford below the bridge as well as the one above it mentioned by Mr. Reid, and this is confirmed by a minute of the town council (24th November, 1767), which mentions “the foords above and below the bridge of Glasgow.” 

– Old Glasgow, pp.162-175.

On the 24th of the same month [November], [1770,] before Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court, and a distinguished audience, [Samuel Foote] produced his comedy of The Mirror, in which the characters of Whitefield and other zealous ministers are held up to a ridicule amounting almost to blasphemy, particularly in the case of the former, who figures under the name of Dr. Squintum. On the following day Dr. Walker of the High Church, from the pulpit, made a keen and bitter attack upon Foote “for the gross profanation of the theatre on the preceding evening.” The difficulty of managing two theatres so far apart as one in London and another in Edinburgh, induced Foote to think of getting rid of his lease of the latter, prior to which he had a dispute with Ross, requiring legal interference, in which he had the worst of it. Ross’s agent called on Foote in London, to receive payment of his bill, adding that he was about to return to Edinburgh. 

“How do you mean to travel?” Asked Foote, with a sneer. “I suppose, like most of your countrymen, you will do it in the most economical manner?” 

“Yes,” replied the Scot, putting the cash laughingly into his pocket; “I shall travel on foot (Foote).”*

And he left the wit looking doubly rueful and angry. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.340-348.

*  I have a copy of ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson’, J. Boswell (1908), in which a poem playing on Foote’s name is reproduced. It was written by James Boswell and Hester [Thrale] Lynch Piozzi who styled themselves “Bozzy and Piozzi”:
“When Foote his leg by some misfortune broke, 
Says I to Johnson, all by way of joke, 
“Sam, sir, in Paragraph, will soon be clever, 
And take off Peter better now than ever”: 
On which says Johnson, without hesitation, 
“George will rejoice at Foote’s depeditation.” 
On which, says I – a penetrating elf – 
“Doctor, I’m sure you coined that word yourself.” 
On which he laugh’d, and said, I had divined it; 
For, bona fide, he had really coin’d it: 
“And yet, of all the words I’ve coin’d,” says he, 
“My Dictionary, sir, contains but three.” – p.34.

In 1782 the Tolbooth was visited by the philanthropist John Howard, and again, five years subsequently, when he expressed his horror of it, and hoped to have found a better one in its place; and in 1783 there occurred one of the last remarkable escapes therefrom. James Hay, a lad of eighteen, son of a stabler in the Grassmarket, was a prisoner in November, under sentence of death for robbery, and a few days before that appointed for his execution, the father visited the condemned cell, apparently to condole with his unhappy son. When night was closing in and visitors were compelled to retire, old Hay invited the keeper of the inner door to partake of some liquor he had brought with him. He did so, and became rather tipsy about the time for finally locking the gates – ten o’clock. Hay expressed some regret to part just at a moment when they were beginning to enjoy their liquor, and proposed that his companion should run out and procure a bottle of good rum from a neighbouring tavern. The turnkey consented, and staggered down the turnpike stair, neglecting to lock the inner door behind him. As had been concerted, young James Hay followed close behind him; but the outer warder closed the outer door when the panting prisoner was about to spring into the street! At that dread moment old Hay put his head to the great window of the hall, and gave the authoritative order then in use, “Turn your hand!” The usual drawling cry which hourly brought the outer warder to unlock the external gate. Mechanically the man obeyed; the young culprit sprang out, and while his father and the turnkey were jovially discussing the rum, he fled like a hunted hare down Beith’s steep wynd, that lay opposite the Tolbooth, and, according to a preconcerted plan, scaled the walls of the Greyfriars churchyard near the lower gate, a feat impossible to one less agile; but so well had every stage of the business been arranged, that a large stone had been thrown down to facilitate the act. James Hay had been provided with a key that opened the long-unused gate of the gloomy-domed mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie, a place still full of terror to boys, as it is supposed to behaunted by the blood-red spirit of the persecutor, and there he secreted himself, while the following advertisement appeared in the Edinburgh Advertiser of the 24th November, 1783:- 


“James Hay, indicted for highway robbery, aged about 18 years, by trade a glazier, 5 feet 10 inches high, slender made, pale complexion, long visage, brown hair cut short, pitted a little in the face with the small-pox, speaks slow with a haar in his tone, and has a mole on one of his cheeks. The magistrates offer a reward of Twenty Guineas to any person who will apprehend and secure the said James Hay, to be paid by the City Chamberlain, on the said James Hay being re-committed to the Tolbooth of this city.” 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.123-138.

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