26th of December – St Stephen’s (Boxing) Day

St Stephen, the first martyr. St Dionysius, pope and confessor, 269. St Iarlath, confessor, first bishop of Tuam, in Ireland, 6th century.

Born. – Gulielmus Xylander, translator of the classics, 1532, Augsburg.
Died. – Antoine Houdart de la Motte, dramatist, 1731, Paris; Joel Barlow, American author and diplomatist, 1812, near Cracow; Stephen Girard, millionaire, 1831.


We must not be too hard on the system of Christmas-boxes or hansels, as they are termed in Scotland, where, however, they are scarcely ever claimed till after the commencement of the New Year. That many abuses did and still do cling to them, we readily admit; but there is also intermingled with them a spirit of kindliness and benevolence, which it would be very undesirable to extirpate. It seems almost instinctive for the generous side of human nature to bestow some reward for civility and attention, and an additional incentive to such liberality is not unfrequently furnished by the belief that its recipient is but inadequately remunerated otherwise for the duties which he performs. Thousands, too, of the commonality look eagerly forward to the forth-coming guerdon on Boxing-day, as a means of procuring some little unwonted treat or relaxation, either in the way of sight-seeing, or some other mode of enjoyment. Who would desire to abridge the happiness of so many?

On this Day in Other Sources.

This year, 1251, King Alexander III had a solemn interview with Henry, King of England, at York, accompanied [by] a great many of the nobility of both kingdoms, about Christmas-time; on which day King Alexander received the order of knighthood from King Henry; and on the 26th of December, being St. Stephen’s day, he solemnly married the Lady Margaret, eldest daughter to King Henry of England, and there was Alan [Hostarius] Durward, Lord Chief [Justiciar] of Scotland, with diverse others [as] his accomplices, [were] accused of high treason, being reviled by the King of England. The chief point of his accusation was, that he being Lord Chief [Justiciar] of Scotland, and having married the King’s sister, that he had sent great gifts to the Pope, and had procured the children [had by] the king’s sister to be legitimate, to the end, that if anything should happen to the king [maliciously], then these legitimate children of his should succeed to the Scottish crown; and by this practise it was clear and evident, that the said Alan’s intention was to betray both king and kingdom. As conscious to this plot, were accused likewise, at this time, Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith, Uilleam Comyn, Earl of Mar, and Robert [de Keldeleth], Abbot of Dunfermline, Chancellor of Scotland, who accused that he had passed a legitimation under the great seal, to the King’s bastard sister, the wife of Alan [Durward], Earl of Atholll, Great Justiciar of Scotland, and being conscious to himself, he privily fled home to Scotland, and rendered up the great seal to the nobility, which they broke in pieces, until the King’s return, and delivered the privy seal until the great was made, to Abel [de Gullane], the new elected Chancellor, thereafter Bishop of St. Andrews. The [dismissed] Chancellor, Robert, not daring to abide the King’s justice, and homecoming, shaved his head, and rendered himself religious amongst the Cistercian monks in the Abbey of Newbattle in Lothian, in the month of January, 1252. 

– Historical Works, pp.57-77.

Dec. 26 [1590]. – A series of extraordinary trials for witchcraft and other crimes commenced at this date. 

One David Seton, dwelling in Tranent, suspected his servant-maid, Geilie Duncan, of a supernatural power of curing sickness, and, having subjected her to the torture of the pilniewinks (a screw for the fingers), soon extorted from her, not only a confession that the devil had given her the power of a witch, but information inculpating a number of persons in the like criminality. Among these were John Fian (alias Cunningham), schoolmaster at Prestonpans; Agnes Sampson, a midwife at Keith; Barbara Napier, the wife of a citizen of Edinburgh; and Eupham McCalyean, a lady of rank, daughter of a deceased judge of the Court of Session. The confessions of these persons, for the most part wrung from them by torture, form a strange jumble of possible and impossible, of horrible and ludicrous things. 

Fian, who was a young man, confessed to some wicked arts which he had practised for obtaining the love of a young woman of his neighbourhood. There was nothing in them or their effects but what is easily reconcilable with natural fact, even to the striking of a rival with a sort of madness, under which, when brought into the king’s chamber, where Fian was under examination, he fell a-bounding and capering with an energy which it required many persons to restrain, and this for an hour together, at the end of which he declared that he had been in a sound sleep. But Fian also admitted, though only under torture, his having had conferences with the devil; he had attended various meetings of witches with the Enemy of Man, some of which took place in North Berwick kirk, and on these occasions he had acted as registrar or clerk of proceedings. He had also been one of a party of witches which went off from Prestonpans one night to a ship at sea, which they sunk by their incantations. He had chased a cat at Tranent, with the design of trowing it into the sea, in order to raise storms for the destruction of shipping; and in this chase it was alleged that he was borne above the ground, and had leaped a wall, the head of which he could not, but for witchcraft, have touched with his hand. Fian soon after contrived to escape from prison, but was retaken and brought back, when, being found to deny his former confession, the king expressed his belief that he must have entered into a new compact with the Prince of Darkness. His person was searched for marks, but in vain; and he was then subjected to tortures of the direst kind, with a view to bringing him back to his confession. The nails of the poor wretch were torn away with pincers; needles were thrust up to the heads in his fingers, and his legs were crushed in the boots till ‘the blood and marrow spouted forth.’ He resisted all, and thus only impressed the king and others with the conviction that the devil had entered into his heart. He was then arraigned, condemned, and burned. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.99-123.

Dec. 26 [1629]. – In the fertile district between Falkirk and Stirling, there was a large moss with a little loch in the middle of it, occupying a piece of gradually rising ground; a highly cultivated district of wheat-land lay below. There had been a series of heavy rains, and the moss became overcharged with moisture. After some days, during which slight movements were visible on this quagmire, the whole mass began one night to leave its native situation and slide gently down to the lower grounds. The people who lived on these lands, receiving sufficient warning, fled and saved their lives; but in the morning light they beheld their little farms, sixteen in number, covered six feet deep with liquid moss, and hopelessly lost. 

The singular nature of this calamity, and the sad case of the poor people who had by it lost their all, drew general attention. The Privy Councillors sent commissioners to the place to ‘give order where and in what places draughts sall be casten, levels and passages made, and what else is fitting to be done, for securing the neighbouring lands from inundation and skaith.’ Therre was also a general collection of money throughout the kingdom for the relief of the sufferers. – P. C. R. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.228-256.

Dec. 26 [1637]. – This day, in consequence of the late inundation and storms, a bar made its appearance athwart the mouth of the river Dee, ‘mixed with marble, clay, and stones.’ The contemplation of so fatal a stoppage to their harbour threw the citizens of Aberdeen into a state of the greatest anxiety. ‘They fell to with fasting, praying, preaching, mourning, and weeping all day and night. Then they went out with spades, shools, mattocks, and mells, in great numbers, men and women, young and old, at low-water, to cast down this dreadful bar; but all for nought, for as fast as they cast down at a low-water, it gathered again as fast at a full sea.’ The people had resigned themselves to despair, when ‘the Lord, of his great mercy, without help of mortal man, removed and swept clean away this fearful bar, and made the water mouth to keep its own course, as it was before.’ – Slightly altered from Spalding

– Domestic Annals, pp.257-277.

Dec. 26 [1683]. –  A dismally tragical incident occurred at the Hirsel, the seat of the Earl of Home, near Coldstream. The earl having been long detained in London, the countess, to beguile the time during the Christmas holidays, had a party of the neighbouring gentleman invited to the house. Amongst these were Johnston of Hilton, Home of Ninewells, and the Hon. William Home, brother of the earl, and the sheriff of Berwickshire. Cards and dice being resorted to, and William having lost a considerable sum, a quarrel took place among the gentlemen, and Johnston, who was of a haughty and hot temper, gave William a slap in the face. The affair seemed to have been amicably composed, and all had gone to bed, when William Home rose and went to Johnston’s chamber, to call him to account for the affront he conceived himself to have suffered. What passed in the way of conversation between the two is not known; but certain it is that Home stabbed Johnston in his bed, giving him nine severe wounds. Home of Ninewells, who slept near by, came to see what cause the disturbance, and, as he entered the room, received a sword-thrust from the sheriff, who was now retiring, and who immediately fled into England upon Johnston’s horse. 

The unfortunate Hilton died in a few days. Ninewells recovered. The sheriff – of whom it was shudderingly remarked that this bloody fact happened exactly a twelvemonth after the execution of a Presbyterian rebel whom he had apprehended – was never caught. He was supposed to have entered some foreign service and died in battle. In advanced life, he is said to have made an experiment to ascertain if he could be allowed to spend the remainder of his days in his native country. A son of the slaughtered Johnston, while at a public assembly, ‘was called out to speak with a person, who, it was said, brought him some particular news from abroad. The stranger met him at the head of the staircase, in a sort of lobby which led into the apartment where the company were dancing. He3 told young Johnston of Hilton that the man who had slain his father was on his death-bed, and had sent him to request his forgiveness before he died. Before granting his request, Johnston asked the stranger one or two questions; and observing that he faltered in his answers, he suddenly exclaimed: “You yourself are my father’s murderer,” and drew his sword to stab him. Home – for it was the homicide himself – threw himself over the balustrade of the staircase, and made his escape.’ 

– Domestic Annals, pp.322-337.

Venison Ham.


“LOOKEE here, Sir. Here’s a rum story out o’ the Forres Gazette:- 

“Venison. – We have had an abundant supply of deer in the new markets for the last month. MR. TURNBULL, game dealer, has had a weekly display of a dozen of these noble-looking animals, the hinder parts of which have been readily purchased for hams, at 6d. a pound; while the other portions of the carcase were quickly disposed of at 5d. We understand they were sent from the forests at Glenfiddich.” 

“They must be preshus bad off for pigs, I should think, up there in Scotland, to be bliged to meak their hams out o’ deer. How much fat, I wonder, is there on them Scotch deer hams? I don’t suppose there’s no acorns nor beech-nuts in the Scotch vorrests, zo I dwooan’t know what med be the case thereaway; but this I’ll be bound vor – if there’s any deer left in the New Forest, and people hereabouts was to begin turnun of their hindquarters into hams, I warnd there’d zoon be a precious row tween they and the pigs as be turned out to ‘ood in the fall. The hogs ‘ood veel twas a ninterverance wi their vested rights, and what a gruntun and a squeakun we should head among um! 



Snoutbury, Hants, Dec. 1857.” – December 26, 1857., p.259. 
[When ‘Punch’ wanted to get ridiculous they did so by publishing the article in the format of a letter sent by someone of a lesser class, as shown by the spelling which was in the style of how the imaginary correspondent would speak. The article quoted, however, is correct and was reiterated, after its publication in the ‘Forres Gazette’, by papers such as the ‘Dumfries and Galloway Standard’, ‘Windsor and Eton Express’, London’s ‘Morning Post’, and the Norwich Mercury, among others. 
The reason for the “abundant supply of deer” was already given by ‘Punch’ in the 3rd article before this one (p.234), which is supported by the huge amount of information found in ‘Gloomy Memories‘.] 






   As most people know, North Bridge Street is doomed to early demolition. With it will disappear not a few houses of antiquarian and historic interest, including the old Veal Market Inn, which stands in the passage way leading to Cockburn Street. Here it was that the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland was signed in 1707. Appropriately enough, considering the amount of bribery and corruption attending the transaction, the apartment where the Commissioners met is now utilised as a cellar of the Inn. It is claimed for this historic hostelry that it is the oldest in Edinburgh, albeit only six landlords have reigned in it from the commencement. There is a tavern, however, in West Cross-causeway which shows the date 1622 over its portals. Only the other say the license was transferred from father to son, when it was stated that it was the first public-house planted outside the walls of Edinburgh. There is probably no other place of business in the city that can claim so long and so unbroken a descent – a fact that speaks volumes as to the continuity of thirst throughout the ages.”  

– Alloa Journal, Saturday 26th December, 1896. 

– Treaty of Union Articles, 1875-1900.

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