Site icon Random Scottish History

Art. IV. – THE CALDWELL PAPERS., vol. 7, Apr., 1886, pp.286-303.

Selections from the Family Papers preserved at Caldwell.

Three volumes. Privately printed. Paisley: 1883-85.

THE re-issue of this valuable series of Family Papers deserves more than a passing mention. Since their original publication by the Maitland Club, now upwards of thirty years ago, copies of them have become exceedingly scarce, and it is only at rare intervals that one can be met with at anything like a reasonable price. In appearance the volumes of the present issue are an exact reproduction of the original edition, and have been printed, it would appear, for private circulation. It may be questioned, however, whether so valuable and instructive a work does not deserve to be issued in a more popular and less expensive form. During the past quarter of a century the taste for such works has certainly spread over a wide area, and it is not at all beyond the bounds of probability that an experiment of the nature suggested would prove successful. But be that as it may, the multiplication of copies of these Papers in any shape, and not least in the exceedingly handsome form in which they are here presented to us, though it may prove a matter of some little jealousy to the professional book-collector, is to be hailed with satisfaction. 

The Papers ranger over a period of three centuries and a half, the first bearing the date January 22, 1496, and the last, that of April 11, 1853. Those belonging to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are comparatively few; only one falling in the first of these centuries, and some twenty in the following. When we reach the seventeenth century the Papers become more numerous; and more numerous still are those which belonged to the eighteenth and first half of the present [19th] century. 

The best part of the contents of an old and distinguished family’s charter chest, these Papers, as might be expected, are of an exceedingly diversified character. Without the volumes before him, it is difficult for the reader to obtain, or to have conveyed to him, anything like an adequate conception of the variety of topics with which they deal. They touch upon almost every conceivable subject, and always in an instructive way. Among other things they contain instruments of sasine, decretes arbitral, indictments, opinions of counsel, bonds of manrent, bonds of maintenance, bonds of friendship and alliance, contracts of marriage, royal letters, a papal dispensation, tacks, licenses, medical prescriptions, and lists of personal and household expenses. Later on we have ‘reflections’ both political and religious, notes of travel, catalogues of libraries, fragments of sermons, and letters dealing with the social, political, and military news of the day. When we reach the eighteenth century the correspondence possesses an interest and an importance which is scarcely surpassed by any similar collection of papers. Among those between whom it passed are some whose names have since obtained a world-wide celebrity. David Hume, Robert Simson, the editor of the Euclid, Dr. Robertson, the historian, the Marquess of Bute, Gilbert Elliot, Smeaton, the engineer, Hugh Blair, Erskine the Chancellor, Sir Ralph Abercromby, and Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna, – all these, not to mention Beaton and Carstairs, and various members of the Mure, Eglinton, and Sempill families, contribute to its pages. 

To pass all the Papers in review and note their contents is here impossible. The reviewer is met with a wealth of material which is simply embarrassing. Happily, however, an exhaustive review is not required. The Caldwell Papers have already been sifted both by the biographer and historian, and both have gleaned from them considerable fruit. What we propose in the present paper is to confine ourselves to the documents belonging to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and to examine them for the purpose of seeing what light they throw on the social and domestic history of the period. 

In passing we may remark that the Mure of Caldwell are directly descended from Sir Reginald More or Mure, of Abercorn, Lord High Chamberlain of Scotland in the year 1329, the first reign of David II., and belong probably to the same stock as the Irish Moores, Marquises of Drogheda, and Earls of Charleville, whose armorial bearings are the same as those of the Ayrshire Mures. The most ancient seat of the family seems to have been Polkelly, near Kilmarnock. A marriage with an heiress of the Comyns brought to the family the neighbouring estate of Rowallan. Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Adam Mure of Rowallan, was in the first half of the fourteenth century married to her cousin, Robert Earl of Strathern, Steward of Scotland, who as Robert II., was the founder of the royal house of the Stewarts. To his Queen Sir Reginald of Abercorn was grand uncle. For his patrimonial estates Sir Reginald had the lands of Cowdams, Comeskane, and others, situated chiefly in the counties of Renfrew and Ayr, – lands which still hold the Mures of Caldwell as their feudal superiors. In addition to these, Sir Reginald had the extensive domains of Abercorn, Erth, Torwood, the Dene, &c., in the Lothians and Stirlingshire, which came to him by his marriage with the daughter of Sir John Graham of Eskdale and Abercorn, whose sister, Isobel Graham, was the first wife of Walter Stewart, father of Robert II. After the battle of Dupplin he was further enriched by a royal grant of the lands of Tullybardine, and had the honour of being recognised as the richest subject in Scotland. The date of his death is uncertain, but he seems to have died some time prior to the year 1367.  His successor, William the elder of his two sons, died without male issue, and the estates of Abercorn, &c., passed with his daughter Christian to Sir John Lindsay of Byres, ancestor of the Earls of Crawford and Lindsay. His patrimonial estates passed to Godfrey Mure, the representative of his second son, Gilcdhrist, and the first to be designated ‘of Caldwell.’ The estates of Caldwell are understood to have been acquired by a marriage with an heiress of Caldwell of that ilk towards the close of the fourteenth century. It will thus be seen that the Mures of Caldwell can claim a remote connection with royalty. The Irish Moores are said to have come originally from Kent; if the assertion be correct, and the Scottish Mures are of the same stock, the Mures of Caldwell, like many another great Lowland house, had an English or Saxon origin. 

The earlier of the Papers fall within one of the stormiest periods of Scottish history, and bear ample evidence to the turbulent character of the times. When not engaged in war with the Regent or the Crown, and sometimes even then, the nobles and great landed proprietors were occupied with their private feuds. The Mures of Caldwell were no exceptions. They took their full share in both the political and private troubles of their times. During the fifteenth and following century as many of them seem to have died in battle or by the hand of their assailants as in bed; and not unfrequently they had to seek exemption at the hands of the King or from the penalties they had incurred by the unlawful slaughter of their neighbours or neighbours’ vassals. In October 1409, for instance, a remission was granted by the Regent Albany to John Mure of Caldwell and others for the murder in one of their local feuds of Mark Neilson of Dalrymple. Adam Mure, whom James the Fourth knighted, is described by Crawford as ‘a gallant stout man, having many feuds with his neighbours, which were managed with great fierceness and much bloodshed.’ With the Maxwells of Pollok the Mures had a long-standing feud, apparently about the lands of Glanderstone. How it arose does not seem to be exactly known. It was attended, however, with much trouble and bloodshed. Hector, the third son of Sir Adam, was killed near Renfrew in 1499 by John and Hugh Maxwell, eldest son and brother of the Laird of Nether Pollok. The following year the king granted them a remission for the crime, and an arrangement was come to about the lands of Glanderstone. There seems, however, to have been no intention on the part of the Caldwells to let the matter rest, for sixteen years afterwards John, who in the meantime had succeeded his father Sir Adam, and seems to have inherited somewhat of his character, laid hands on one of his brother’s slayers, and, as the following indictment shows, was only dissuaded from taking his life by many prayers:- 

   ‘John Mure of Cauldwell: 

   ‘Ye and your compliesses, servandis, and uthirs of your comand, assistens and ratihabitioune, are indycteit for ye greit oppressioune done be you at dyverse tymes to Johne Maxwell of Netherpollok thir xvi yeir bygane; And in tinkin yereof, and pastvewand, ye, in your creuell invyt and malice, sett upm ye said Johne, of sett purpoise, auld feud, and forthocht felloine, besyed ye brugh of Iruyne, with contestatioune of our sovrane’s liegis. The said Johne Maxwell of Pollok being ryedand, ane servand with himself, in quiett sober maner, doeand his lesum business, knawand na evill of ony persone, – ye and your forsaidis, haiffing spyell upon him, come furth of ye said burgh of Irvyne, and with greit manissing wordis, schowing ye said Johne andhis servand Andro Tempilton for to slay them perforce, and upon your wikit malice wranguislie and violentlie tuik ye said John and his servand, and maisterfullie brocht yame bak quhair they was rydeand to ye place of Eglingtone, ye beand dwelland yerintill and maister yrof for ye time; and held him and his said servand in captivitie, and opressit thame yerebye, – and had slane yame, and they had nocht obeyit your wikit will, – fra ye ane day att twa houres efter noine, quhill ye morne yairefter att ten houres befoir noyne, or thairbye; Quhille ye erlle of Eglingtone send his servandis, viz., Charlis Mowatt of Busbie, the laird of Cowdone, and uthirs, quhilk with greit instance and supplicatioune gat ye said Johne and his servand releissit agane, and brocht thame to ye said erle of Eglingtone his House of Ardrossane for yair saiftie, fre your maisterfull crueltie and tirannie; In manifest contemptioune of our sovranis aucthoritie, actis of Parliament, and lawis of yis realme; Usurpand therthrow, viz. to yourselff, mair nor aucthoritie royall. And yis ye did in ye moneth of . . in ye yeir of God M. D. . . yeiris, quhilk ye can nocht denye.’ 

The result of this indictment, which, though undated, appears to have been drawn up about the year 1500, when the quarrel between the two families was probably at its height, seems to be unknown. For the purpose in hand, however, it is valuable. The great laird riding along on his lawful business, ‘in quiet sober manner,’ attended by his servant on horseback; his enemy, spying him out in the distance, coming forth out of the little town of Irvine with an armed force, accosting him with ‘great menacing words,’ seizing his person, carrying him back, incarcerating him in the strong room of Ardrossan House, threatening, yet hesitating, to put him to death; the news of his capture spreading, Eglinton sending ‘his servants and others’; Mure vowing vengeance, Mowatt of Busby, Cowdone and others, arguing, expostulating, entreating; and finally Maxwell’s release, and his riding away mentally vowing vengeance, – all this is graphically depicted, and throws a vivid light on that turbulent age, for the defendant, or, as he would be called in Scotland, the defender, was only one of a class. The West of Scotland, and in fact the whole of the Lowlands, and of the Highlands too, were at the time full of such men; and incidents, or outrages rather, such as that described in the indictment, were of perpetual occurrence. It deserves to be noticed, however, that the existence of the indictment is a sign of a tendency from the worse to the better. Pollok may have had the power to retaliate and seek redress by force of arms, or he may not; the probability is he had. But be that as it may, the intention to proceed against Caldwell by indictment, whether the document itself was ever presented in a court of law or not, is indicative of the growing strength of the law, and of a desire on the part of the injured, instead of seeking to avenge their wrongs by fire and sword, to obtain redress by legal means. Many years had to elapse before the latter method was fully established, yet the signs of the coming change are here. 

One effect the indictment, we may safely say, did not have. It put no restraint on the turbulent spirit of the Laird of Caldwell. In 1515 he joined the Earls of Lennox, Arran, and Glencairn, against the Duke of Albany, whom Parliament had after the death of James IV. appointed Regent, and on the 20th of February of that year, with his own forces, and probably with the assistance of those of his friends, he battered with ‘artalzerie,’ took, and sacked the ‘Castle and Palace’ of Glasgow, one of the principal fortresses in the kingdom. The owner of the place was James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow and Chancellor of the kingdom, one of the principal supporters of Albany. For a time Beaton gave no sign of retaliating, or of seeking redress; but he was only waiting for a favourable opportunity. In the following year, as soon as the Regent’s party had gained the ascendant and public affairs were reduced to something like order, he brought an action of damages against the Laird of Caldwell for the plunder and destruction of his palace. The finding of the Council in this process has fortunately been preserved, and is one of the most interesting documents in the collection. Further on we shall have to return to it. The fact to be observed now is that the indictment was followed by consequences of a much more serious nature to the family of Caldwell than Maxwell’s. Mure was condemned, and compelled to make good a large portion of the spoil he was said to have taken, to return ‘ane obligatioune, maid be umquhile Matho Earl of Levinax, contenand the soume of iic marks to the said maist reverend fader; ane uther obligatioune maid to him be the chanouns and chapter of Glasgow, contenand the soume of im merks, for reparation of the Kirk of Glasgow,’ and to pay ‘the soume of iic marks, for the scaith sustenit be the said maist reverend fader in the destruction of the said castell and palice of Glasgow.’ Imprisonment or any other species of punishment except that mentioned above, does not seem to have been inflicted upon the Laird, but the expense of the process and of complying with the decree appears to have involved him in serious pecuniary difficulties. Some time after he was compelled to mortgage his estate at Camseskane, and in 1527, in order to get rid of the mortgage, to borrow from Hugh first Earl of Eglinton the sum of eight hundred marks, and in consideration thereof to grant to him a bond of manrent, by which he bound himself and his heirs, as long as the money was unpaid, to do him military service, and as security to infeft him in the fortalice and five-mark land of Caldwell. The money it would appear was never repaid. A hundred and twenty years after the granting of the bond of manrent, the heirs of the Earl of Eglinton claimed the right of wadset over the fortalice and five-mark land, and two of the most curious papers here printed are opinions of counsel obtained by the Caldwell family anent the claim, and repelling it. One fact to which prominence is given in these documents and which is attested by the bond of manrent, is that the Laird of Caldwell, like many another laird of his time, could not write. Instead of signing his name to the bond, he simply touched the pen as the notary wrote it. For some reason or other the notary omitted to attest this, though the fact is stated in the body of the document, and on the absence of this attestation counsel based one of their arguments against the Eglintons’ claim. 

But sharp as the lesson was which the powerful Chancellor taught the Laird of Caldwell, it was not sharp enough to restrain him from having recourse to arms and violence. The times were against it; so also was the bond of manrent. The same year in which the latter was signed, or early in the next following, the Castle of Eglinton was sacked and burnt to the ground by Cuthbert, Earl of Glencairn, and once more the unfortunate Laird of Caldwell was in the thick of the fight. His son and successor led the same turbulent life. In 1543, five years after his father’s death, he took part with the Earl of Glencairn in the bloody battle called the ‘Field of the Muir of Glasgow,’ against the Regent Arran. Six years later he was indicted for having ‘with his fyve brothers and twenty-six others, armed in warlike manner, invaded Robert Master of Sempill and his servands for their slauchter, near the place and tour of Cauldwell, and put them to flight’; and the next year, April, 11, 1550, Robert, one of his three sons, was slain by Sir Patrick Houston of that ilk. For this act, described in the records of the Justiciary Court as ‘a crewall slauchter, committed under silence of night, on antient feud an forthocht felony,’ Archibald Houston, the actual perpetrator of the deed was tried, condemned, and beheaded. This, however, was not considered by the Mures a sufficient satisfaction. The feud continued, and was not healed until some thirty years after, when the Mures bound themselves to submit the question of the amount of compensation due by Sir Patrick to the arbitration of eight of the landed proprietors of the counties of Ayr and Renfrew. 

The last of the fighting lairds of Caldwell seems to have been Sir John Mure, knighted by James V., and killed by the Cuninghams of Aitkett and the Ryeburns of that ilk in September 1570. His successor, Sir Robert Mure, is said to have used considerable violence towards Reid of Kittochside, but there is no documentary evidence in support of the story. He seems to have been on good terms with the King, James VI., and one or two curious letters from the King are here printed. Robert, his son and successor, is described in a decree of the Parliament of 1641 as having ‘dyed in his country’s service, and on that account certain immunities are granted to his heir. The sword was once more unsheathed by William Mure, who along with other West-country gentlemen of Presbyterian principles, irritated by the persecution to which they and their dependants were subjected on account of their religion, set out to join the Covenanters who were then marching on Edinburgh. Mure acted as their leader, but being intercepted by the King’s troops, and hearing that the Whig forces had been defeated at Pentland, they dispersed. Caldwell was attainted and fled, first to Ireland and then to Holland, where he died in the February of 1670. After his exile and death of his wife, ‘Lady Caldwell,’ was subjected to much harsh treatment at the hands of the Government. She and her daughters were imprisoned for three years in the Castle of Blackness, and on the forfeiture of the state she was not only plundered of the remains of her personal property, but deprived of her jointure provided for her out of the rental, notwithstanding a handsome offer on the part of the Earl of Eglinton, the superior of the lands out of which it had been provided. The estates were given over to General Dalzell of Binns, but were restored by special Act of Parliament in 1690. By this time a laird ‘having many feuds on his hands which were managed with great fierceness and bloodshed,’ was no longer possible; the old fighting, reckless, turbulent spirit of feudalism, ever ready to carry fire and sword among a neighbour’s vassals and homesteads, was utterly crushed; after a conflict of centuries the law had at last vindicated its authority and reigned supreme. 

Turning now to the homes and domestic habits of these men, a pretty accurate conception may be formed of the first from the numerous ruins of castles and peels which crown the summit of many a hill, and overlook many a fertile strath. Few of them have any claims to architectural beauty, and all of them bear the impress of the spirit of feudalism. For the most part they are rough, rude buildings, not over commodious, built for defence rather than for comfort or elegance. Elegance and comfort, indeed, do not seem to have entered their builders’ thoughts. The one aim of their builders appears to have been to raise walls, turrets, and towers, for the single purpose of resisting or repelling attack. The Old Place of Caldwell, of which the small tower still standing was only an outwork, was demolished during the forfeiture, and seems to have been for the time a place of considerable size and strength. Among the papers here printed there is unfortunately no description of its interior, and little to show how it was furnished, or what it was in its palmy days. To a certain extent, however, we are able to supply this deficiency from the paper which had been preserved in connection with the action brought by Archbishop Beaton against John Mure of Caldwell in 1517. The inventory it contains of ‘insight guds, claithing . . . silkes . . . veschell, harness, vittales, and uther guds,’ furnishes a pretty clear idea as to what an Archbishop’s house was, and though a laird’s house may not have been furnished in all points like the Chancellor’s, we shall not be far wrong if we take it as indicating in a general way the manner in which the houses of the wealthier lairds were furnished. Among other things the paper mentions ‘fedder bedds,’ ‘verdour beds,’ ‘arress werk,’ ‘ruffs and courtings of say,’ ‘burd claiths,’ and ‘towellis of lynning,’ ‘brass chandelars,’ ‘twa lang sedles,’ ‘twa chyrs,’ ‘cusheins,’ ‘ane chekker of Evor,’ ‘ane hingand chandelar,’ ‘xii tunes of wynne,’ ‘salt hyds,’ ‘salmond,’ ‘salt herring,’ ‘pepir,’ ‘ginger,’ ‘clowis,’ ‘almods,’ ‘twa punds of cannel,’ ‘rasings of cure,’ ‘ix punds of sugar, price of the pund, iii. .s.,’1 and various articles of clothing. The Archbishop’s house, therefore, would seem to have been furnished to a certain degree of comfort. When he dined, his table would be covered with a table-cloth, and though the inventory mentions only pewter and tin vessels, the probability is that the table would be adorned with vessels of gold and silver, which the Archbishop would be in the habit of carrying with him whenever he went to stay at any other of his residences, and which escaped the hands of Caldwell for the simple reason probably that owing to the troublous state of the times they had been conveyed to a place of safety. At night the hall or sitting-room would be lighted by a chandelier hanging from one of the rafters in the ceiling, and probably by one or two made of brass ornamented and standing on the table. The wall would be hung with ‘arress werks,’ of which the Archbishop maintained Caldwell had taken away no fewer than sixteen, two of them being ‘of the gretest bynd, price of the pece x lib.’ Scattered about the room would be settles and chairs, the former with high backs to keep away the draught, and made to accommodate several sitters at a time, settles and chairs alike being provided with cushions covered with tapestry. In the bedroom the Archbishop and his friends slept on feather beds. Caldwell was charged with taking away or destroying ‘xxiii Fedder beds furnist, price of ilk bed viii lib.,’ but was ordained to restore only ‘xiii fedder beds furnist, price of ilk bed five merks.’ The bedsteads, like the walls of the chamber in which they stood, would be hung round with tapestry adorned with rustic scenes, or with plain woollen cloths. The beds were covered over with ‘compter claithes,’ and the mention of ‘four towellis of lynning’ would almost suggest that no very great provision was made for washing or bathing. The Archbishop seems to have fared sumptuously, and, like many another priest of the time, to have been fond of good living. For spices and luxuries he seems to have had an especial liking, as the mention of ‘xii punds of pepir, price of the pund vi. s. viii. d.,’ ‘twa punds of clowis, price of the pund xl. s.,’ ‘xxvi punds of almonds, price of the pund xvi. d.,’ and ‘half ane barrel of prune damais, price xl. s.,’ seems to show; while ‘xii tunes of wynne’ seems a pretty large supply even for an Archbishop. The kitchen, we need hardly add, was plentifully supplied with spits, ‘kettils,’ ‘pannis,’ ‘brasin morters,’ ‘laddillis,’ ‘pots,’ ‘culcruks,’ and ‘rostyn irnes.’ In the larder or storeroom were ‘vi dusane Salmon, price of the pece iiii. s.,’ ‘ane last of Salt herring, price of the barrel xxviii. s.’; also meal and flour in abundance. Among the Archbishop’s clothes mentioned in the list are a ‘goun of russit, lynit with furzies,’ another ‘of broune, lynit with mertriks,’ and valued at ‘xl. lib.’ The Archbishop’s palace being also a fortress and an arsenal, the munitions of war with which it was supplied are enumerated. These were not very extensive, consisting only of six barrels of gunpowder, eleven ‘gunnis,’ fourteen ‘halkirks,’ fourteen steel bonnets, as many pairs of ‘splynts’ (greaves), six halberts, and four crossbows, though it ought to be remembered that as the Archbishop was then engaged in supporting the cause of the Regent, he would in all probability have most of his arms with him. 

It is scarcely probable, however, that the Scottish lairds of the sixteenth century would be housed, or that they lived in precisely the same style as an Archbishop and Chancellor. Still it is not improbable that the Archbishop’s house or palace formed something like the ideal at which his contemporaries amongst the Scottish nobility and gentry aimed. Their way of living would in all likelihood be somewhat rougher; and the chances are they would have fewer ‘fedder bedds,’ and not quite so large a store of ‘peces of damas,’ ‘steiks of say,’ fur-lined gowns, or ‘draucht claithes,’ and few of them, we imagine, could enumerate among their goods and chattels ‘ane chekker of Evor’ (‘price x. lib.’), or number among their accomplishments an acquaintance with the game of chess. 

Among the Papers belonging to the seventeenth century, are the slightly abridged accounts of the estate of Caldwell during the years between 1644 and 1654. The books were kept by Hew Mure as ‘Tutor of Caldwell’ during the minority of his two nephews James and William Mure, the latter of whom we mentioned a little ago as suffering exile for marching to the assistance of the Whigs, and contain many interesting particulars respecting the ordinary habits, occupations, and amusements of a young Scottish laird of the time, the cost of his dress, the materials of which it was made, and the charges for his schooling, boarding, &c. The clothes of the young Laird of Caldwell were made, it would appear, of ‘Londoun claithe,’ and silver lace and buttons, and set off with ‘Frenshe taffetie’ and Northland tueill, the former costing eight pounds the ell, and the latter fourteen shillings. The charges for making the suit of clothes, including ‘drink silver,’* and important and frequently occurring item, amounted to eight pounds four shillings. He owned a sword, which cost twenty pounds, two pairs of gloves, a pair of ‘gray buitts and a pair of gray shoine,’ and among the purchases were ‘twa elnes ribens to his shoine.’ From time to time the young laird’s clothes were mended, as were also his ‘gray buitts.’ Eleven pounds four shillings were paid ‘to the schoilmaster and doctor in Paslay for Wm. Mure his candilmes waidg and offering 1648.’ For schoolbooks the charge during the same year was nine pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence. The first entry for the year 1650 is ‘for claith yt was doill claithes to ye lard and his broyr Wm to yr mother’s buriall fifty three pounds.’ In December of the same year the young laird while riding a horse belonging to the laird of Nether Pollok, ‘quhilk was ane hundred punds pryce,’ was set upon by a number of Englishmen who made off with the horse, the owner of which accepted fifty pounds as an indemnity; ‘so the lard of Neyr Pollok lost 50 lib.’ Later on the two brothers were set upon by the same or other Englishmen and stript of their clothes. During the year 1650 William Mure received in all the sum of twenty one pounds eleven shillings and fourpence ‘to keip his purse.’ On entering college he paid in fees fifteen pounds, eight pounds five and fourpence for books, and ‘his buirding in Glasgow’ from Feb. 9, 1651, to Feb. 9, 1652, cost one hundred and eighty five pounds. His sisters, of whom he had two, are mentioned in the accounts but twice; from one of the entries we learn that ‘seventeen elnes of sarge’ were bought for them in Edinburgh. 

We have by no means exhausted the items of interest. There are many others, some of which throw considerable light on the troubled condition of the times in consequence of the English invasion. Several of them are payments made to tenants as compensation for the quartering of troops upon them; others are allowances for ‘great losses,’ for ‘publick burdings,’ for ‘mantynance outriks and quarterings,’ and one is to a widow whose husband had ‘dyeit of the plague.’ To cite more or to dwell upon those already cited is not necessary. They are sufficiently explicit to suggest how ayoung laird of the seventeenth century yet in his teens was clothes, and educated, how he lived and what dangers he ran. The following extract will give some further insight into the social and domestic life of the period:- 

   ‘Before the Union, and for many years after it, money was very scarce in Scotland. A country without Trade, without Cultivation, or money to carrie on wither of them, must improve by very slow degrees. A great part of the gentleman’s rents were payd in kind. This made them live comfortably at home, tho they could not anywhere ellse. This introdused that old hospitality so much boasted of in Britan. No doubt we had our share of it according to our abilitys; but this way of life led to manners very different from the present. Nothing could affect them more than the restrent young people were under in presence of their parents. There was little intercours betwixt the old and young; the parents had their own guests, which consisted for the most part of their own relations and near neighbours. As few people could affoard to go to town in the winter, their acquaintance was much confin’d. The Children of this small Society were under a necessity of being companions to one another. This produced many strong friendships and strong attachments, and often very improper marriages. By their society being confined, their affections were less diffused, and center’d all in their own small circle. There was no enlargement of mind here; their manners were the same and their sentiments were the same; they were indulgent to the faults of one another, but most severe on those there were not accustomed to; so that censure and detraction seemed to be the vice of the age. From this education proceeded pride of understanding, Bigotry of religion, and want of refinement in every useful art. While the parents were both alive the mother could give little attention to her girls. Domestick affairs and amuseing her husband was the business of a good wife. Those that could affoard governesses for their children had them; but all they could learn was to read English ill, and long catechisms, in which they were employed an hour or more every day, and almost the whole day on Sunday. If there was no governess to perform this work, it was done by the chaplan, of which there was one in every family. No attention was given to what we call accomplishments. Reading or writing well, or even spelling, was never thought of. Musick, drawing, or French, were seldom taught the girls. They were allow’d to rune about and amuse themselves in the way they choiced even to the age of women, at which time they were generally sent to Edinr for a winter or two to learn to dress themselves, and to dance and to see a little of the world. The world was only to be seen at Church, at marriages, Burials, and Baptisams. These were the only public places where the Ladys went in full dress, and as they walked the street they were seen by everybody; but it was the fashion when in undress allwise to be masked.’ (Vol. I. p.261-3.) 

The above was written by Miss Elizabeth Mure, who for some time had principal charge of the Caldwell property, and died at Caldwell in the year 1795, at the age of eighty one. In passing, we may remark that the Papers contain several notices of brides’ ‘tochers’ or dowries. In the middle of the sixteenth century a fair ‘tocher’ for a young lady of family was reckoned at about five or six hundred marks (£30 to £40 sterling). But in 1583 that of Lady Anne Montgomerie was six thousand. In 1613, Jean Hamilton, the Vicar of Dunlop’s daughter, brought her husband five thousand; ten years later the tocher of Jean Knox of Ramphorly, was eleven thousand; Jean Mure’s of Glanderstoun, who married in 1671, eight thousand; and Margarett Mowatt’s of Inglistone, who was married eleven years later, twelve thousand marks. From which it may be inferred that the wealth of the country was growing with the times. 

The following is Miss Mure’s not altogether attractive description of a paterfamilias of the second half of the seventeenth century:- 

   ‘Every master was revered by his family, honour’d by his tenants, and aweful to his domestics. His hours of eating, sleeping, and amusement, were carefully attended to by all his family, and by all his guests. Even his hours of devotion was mark’d, that nothing might interrupt him. He kept his own sete by the fire or at table, with his hat on his head; and often perticular dishes served up for himself, that nobody else shared off. Their children approach’d them with awe, and never spock with any degree of freedom before them. The consequence of this was that except at meals they were never together; tho the reverance they had for their parents taught them obedience, modisty, temperance.’ 

‘Nobody,’ she adds, ‘helped themselves at table, nor was it the fashion to eat up what was on their plate, so that the mistress of the family might give you a ful meal or not as she pleased; from whence came in the fashion of pressing the guests so far as to be disagreeable.’ 

Of habits of thought peculiar to the times, the Caldwell Papers contain but few indications. The following is a specimen of Scottish medical science in the seventeenth century, and is very suggestive respecting the ignorance and superstition which prevailed. It is headed ‘’Dr. Johnstone to the Laird of Glanderstoun, directions for Margret Polick, Pasley Oct. 28, 1692.’ 

   ‘SIR, – The bearer labours under the common weakness of being now more feard yn is just. As she was formerlie a little to confident in her own conduct. The spinal bon head hath never been restor’d intirly, qch will make her sensible all her days of a weakness in descent; but will be freed from all achin paines if she nightly anoint it with the following oyl, viz: 

   ‘Take a littl fatt dogg, take out only his puddings, and putt in his bellie 4 ounces of Cuningseed; roost him, and carefullie keep the dropping, qrin boyl a handfull of earth wormes quhill they be leiklie; then lett it be straind and preserved for use, as said is 

‘My humble duetie to you Ladie. I am 


                                                                                       ‘Your most humble servitor, 


One or two other specimens of a similar nature occur. In a letter recently printed by Mr. Fraser from the Eglinton Papers,2 Sir John Mure of Caldwell writes to Hugh, third Earl of Eglinton, from St. Andrews under date Oct. 10. 1569. 

   ‘As to novillis I haif na vderis bot as I haif vriting, except Niknevin thollis ane assyiss this Tysday; it is thovcht scho sall suffer the detht; sum vderis belevis nocht. Gif scho deis it is ferit scho doe cummer and caus mony vderis to incur danger; bot as yit for no examinatione me Lord Regent nor the ministeris can mak scho will confess no wytchcreftis nor gilt, nor vderis, bot saysis to me Lord Regent and the examineris that it is nocht that hes cavsit her to be taen bot the potingaris; and that for invy, be ressone she vass the help of thame that vass onder infirmate; and spakis the most crafte spakein as is possibill to ane woman to be sa far past in yeiris quha is ane hundrit yeris.’ 

The fact that this poor old woman had acquired the name of Nicknevin, would seem to justify the author of the History of King James the Sext in calling her ‘crafte spakein’ was of no avail with her judges, the Regent Murrray and the ministers. She was condemned and burnt in St. Andrews a few days after the above letter was written. 

In these days of easy and comfortable travelling, one letter in the section of these Papers to which we have confined ourselves will be read with a curious interest. It was addressed by James VI. in October, 1590, ‘to our richt traist friend the Laird of Caldwell,’ and is as follows:- 

   ‘Richt traist freind we greit you hertlie weill. Having directit our other lettres unto you of befoir, desyring you, according to the custome observit of auld be our maist nobill Progenitours in sic caisis, to haif directed hither to the Queine our Bedfallow ane haiknay, for transporting of the Ladies accumpanying her; Quhareupon we, upoun Zour stay, haif tane occasioun to mervell; zit, thinking to try forder the conceipt quhilk we haif of zour affectioun in furtherance of sic honnorable adois as ony wayis concerne ws We are movit as of befoir to visie zou be thir presentis Requeisting zou maist effectuuslie to deliver and direct hither with this berair ane haiknay, to quhom we haif given our commissioun for the samyn effect. In doing quhareof ze will do ws richt acceptable pleasour, to be rememberit in ony zour adois quhare we may gif zou pruif of our remembrance of zour gude weill accordinglie. Othervise, vpoun the informatioun we haif ressavit of sic as ze haif, we will caus the reddiest ze haif be taine be our auctority and brocht in till ws. Hoping rather,’ &c. (Vol. I. pp. 83-84.) 

The knight might well hesitate to obey the royal commands; for the business he was asked to perform was attended with no small amount of risk, trouble, and expense. Twenty-two years later, the Countess of Linlithgow wrote to her sister the wife of Alexander, the sixth Earl of Eglinton: ‘Quhairas ye haif writtin for sum carage hors to bring your carage out of Craigiehall heir; I haif spokin me lord for that effect and thair will be ane doson of hors thair on Thursday tymouslie at morne. As for tumeler cairtis thair is nan heir. As for my cairt it is broken bott I haif causit command thame to bring hrochemes [horse collars] creills and tedderis with thame.’ About the same time the Earl of Eglinton writes to his wife to be sure and not fail to send her ‘kotche and horsis’ to him, and adds ‘kaus sax of the eblest tennentis coum with hir [the coach] to Glasgou topout hir by all the stratis and dangeris.’3

Of the life of the people during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Caldwell Papers say next to nothing. They are occupied almost solely with that of the upper classes. For indications of the town-life and farm-life of the period, for the habits and customs of the common people, for their tendency after the first excitement of the Reformation to revert to Roman Catholicism, for their addiction to sports and pastimes and pilgrimages, for their conflicts with and their submission to the clergy, for their persistence in observing Yule and Beltane and other festivals – for the traces of all these and of many other features in the popular life of the period, we must look elsewhere. We must remind the reader, however, that we have touched but the outer edge of the Caldwell Papers. The documents which belong to a later period than that with which we have here been concerned, possess an interest yet more varied, and will amply repay perusal. Much that they contain has already been embodied in histories and biographies, and out object here has been to dwell upon those only which, so far as we know, have hitherto been unused.


1  The money here and afterwards, it need hardly be remarked, is Scots money. 
2  Reports of the Historical MSS. Commission, 1885, pp.42-43. 
3  Report of Hist. MSS. 1885, pp. 43-44. 
*  The Dictionary of the Scots Language has ‘Drink silver’ as a budget for drink, “Drink-silver, -sylver, n. Also: -silvir, -sylvyr. A gratuity given to be spent in drink. (Very common in 16th c.)” 
Exit mobile version