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At the head of 16th century feudal society was the Sovereign. Under the Sovereign were the nobility, namely barons and earls, the Church represented by the abbots and bishops, and finally the burgesses of the Royal Burghs. These three classes constituted what was known as the Three Estates. Below them were independent freemen, who had acquired certain rights to their land, and the peasants who worked on the land. These latter two classes were both vassals of the Lord who held the land above them. The peasants were a Lord's labour force and his military strength, while the Lord was bound to administer the laws amongst them as well as protect them. The grant of a barony or earldom to a landowner made him the military leader of the land under him, the judge of the men under him, and gave him powers of life and death over his followers and peasants. Lord Huntly is a perfect example of how dangerous the nobility could be for the Sovereign. Under the feudal system, there was virtually no central government. Although their grants of land were tied to their liability to put men at the disposal of the Sovereign, the Lords would give and withdraw their support at will. Furthermore, the Border Lords were very often in the pay of England. Besides the lack of a standing army, the Sovereign also suffered from poverty, which was not alleviated by the primitive method of raising revenue and the practical difficulties of collecting taxes.
The burgesses held their trading rights directly from the Sovereign and formed a gradually growing balancing factor in the Scottish economy. The burghs were the beginning of civic organisation in Scotland. They were stable centres in touch with the more prosperous centres of the south and overseas. As an incentive to trading, the burghs only paid one-fifth of the levies on the general wealth of the country, and were exempt from custom dues. Merchants could therefore become extremely wealthy in goods and moveable assets. Guild Merchants were a privileged class who led a monopoly over foreign trade and markets. People who worked with their hands or foreigners were disqualified from becoming Guild Merchants. The establishment of the Royal Burghs had the effect of making trade flourish along the eastern seaboard and around castles and abbeys, but also slowed development in rural areas. The Royal Burghs also enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy. Although the Chamberlain was the royal supervisor of the burghs, the Mayor and Bailies, elected by the community of the burgh, were the real governors. The Chamberlain was also responsible for protecting the burgesses against foreign trade competition.
Unlike the Great Lords, the abbots and bishops were peaceful men. They treated their vassals better and only used their military services in self-defence, not against the Sovereign. They were considered a civilizing and international force, which linked Scotland to the outside world. They were valued for their knowledge of agriculture and the education which they brought with them. A number of the abbeys and priories were founded by Scottish Sovereigns, and their wealth encouraged by nobles. As a result, the extent of the lands owned by abbeys and monasteries was enormous. The Church also enjoyed freedom from tolls and shared other dues collected for the crown. They drew an income from lands rented as farms, owned granaries, brewing houses, mills, fisheries, salt-pans as well as flocks and crops. Furthermore, in Caithness and Sutherland, the bishopric established there under the Norse invasions eventually fell out of the ownership of the Sovereign. Some of the bishops were thus also richer than the Sovereign. However, the power of the Church was its own poisoned chalice. Annoyed with the influence of the mother Church in Rome, the Scots began to intervene in its government. High positions in the church became avidly sought after by lay nobles, and stewardships were granted to all and sundry. Three of James V's illegitimate children were given church positions while they were still infants. The official name for these stewards was "Commendator" . Unable to rely on the support of the nobility or the laity, the Church became a prey to raids and destruction.
Administration of the law itself was chaotic. The Justiciar was the supreme legal head, administering both civil and criminal justice. The nobility was accountable to him and judged at "justice ayres". Under him was the Sheriff who lived at the castle and administered law in the district. He was also responsible for the military organisation of the country under his control, and the collection of crown moneys and fines. Burgh courts dealt with both civil and criminal cases, and could administer the death penalty. To establish his innocence, an accused could produce the evidence of his friends as to his character. The Church, however, preferred the method of trial by jury. Land was a constant object of dispute, and although it was sometimes awarded by the court, peaceful possession did not necessarily follow. A more powerful neighbour might make it physically impossible for the grantee to occupy or use the land. Furthermore, burghs had more flexible succession laws than those under the feudal system. A feudal Lord was responsible for the lands and goods of all his vassals and tenants, and often used this as an excuse to pursue some private vendetta. The legislature thus fell into the hands of the ruling factions of the time, and the Lords abused their powers as administrators of the law and tax collectors.
Matters were further complicated by the fact that not all of Scotland regarded itself bound by the feudal model.
The feudal system had spread over all of the east and south of Europe, but it did not extend to the mountainous districts of Wales, Ireland, the Western and Middle borders of Scotland, and above all the Highlands. A fundamental difference was how property was passed on. Under feudal laws, this right belonged to the next heir but under Celtic laws, this right pertained to the successor of the Clan Chief. The relation who was closest to the lineal descendant of the first chieftain was the rightful successor, which meant that an illegitimate brother would precede a chieftain's son. However, if the rightful successor was under age, the next blood relation would take over for life. Land was distributed in specified proportions amongst the whole of the male branches of the clan according to the Law of Gavel. While this had the advantage of bringing the members of the clan closer together, it also caused an enormous amount of jealousy and animosity between lower and higher branches. Thus the lawful heir under feudal laws would receive the support of some of the clan. A further complication was that marriage laws under the clan system differed from feudal laws and were not recognised by central government. Therefore, men considered by their clan to be the rightful successors were totally disregarded by central government. The clan chief was an extremely powerful figure who, like the feudal Lord, owed other clan members protection against other clans. In exchange, the clan members had to follow him in war as well as supply him with the products of their crofts etc. Pride in one's clan name and honour were paramount in the life of a clan member, and the slightest insult by another clan member would lead to the most enduring and violent feuds. The clans were self-sufficient entities which, due to the nature of the Highlands themselves, had little opportunity to venture further than their district. They functioned like independent states with its own hereditary monarchy based on the consent of the clan rather than the rule of law. The influence of central government was ignored by the clans, and law-enforcement was virtually impossible in a remote territory dominated by an intricate web of unconditional loyalties. The policy of several Scottish Sovereigns which consisted in trying to control the situation by periodically siding with one clan against the other, only served to exacerbate internal feuds. Another feature of the clan system was a bond called "manrent". These bonds were given by clan members to their chief in acknowledgement of their obligation to pay him rent for the land they held under him. In exchange, they were legally entitled to cultivate the soil. This reciprocal agreement became yet another bone of contention when clan chieftains would acquire additional lands either by force or feudal inheritance. The unfortunate tenants of that land suddenly found themselves caught up in between two opposing clans, with the tragic result that they would lose their property and sometimes their lives. The same was true of the handful of peasants who did not belong to any particular clan. They at least had the option of paying their rent to the Lord who took over but did not thereby become part of the clan. They were mere hangers-on. The Sovereign's powerlessness to control the clans increased the spirit of revenge, and private individuals carried out their own ideas of justice.
Before the birth and kept secret from the males, the women of the family prepared a large "kenno", a rich cheese, which was cut up and served to all the matrons attending the future mother. Since ancient times, milk had been considered a symbol of fertility. When the child was born he or she was put in a large vessel of water with burning coal. This not only kept the water warm but also had magic significance. The newborn child was wrapped in a woman's petticoat if male, and in a man's shirt if female. After the birth the mother and child were "sained" in a ceremony where a fir candle was whirled around the bed three times, probably following an ancient Norse tradition. The child should not be praised to ward off bad luck, and a party known as the "gossip's wake" or "cummer-fialls" was organised as soon as the mother had recovered. It was an occasion for merry drinking where no drop was wasted in case this affected the prosperity of the child. Another tradition which took place before the baptism, was to hang the child in a basket above the fireplace, covered with a white cloth and with a bread and cheese, and to spin it three times to counteract the influence of any evil spirits. On her way to the church, the mother would offer portions of bread and cheese to the first person she met, and it was considered bad luck if those were rejected. Males were to be baptised before females lest the latter should grow a beard! The Reformers, with their usual hatred of fun and customs, soon tried to put an end to cummer-fialls and changed the name godparent to witnesses. Furthermore, they did not recognise catholic baptisms and even the Countess of Argyll was indicted in 1567 for having attended the baptism of Mary, Queen of Scots' son in a "papistical manner". Children's names were chosen from the Bible or at the whim of those who found them. Thus, a child found in a park could be blessed with the name of "Park". Many records were destroyed with the monasteries' documents and there is therefore no proper register before the middle of the 17th century. However, some parish clerks recorded events which they thought worthy of interest.
Funeral practices varied according to the rank of the deceased. The funeral cortege of a Highland chief was often miles long and accompanied by lamentations and the wailing of the pipes. Before the funeral, a wake which involved heavy drinking and dancing in the same room as the corpse. Even the most humble people were expected to offer whisky to those who attended the funeral. Richer persons were expected to stay unburied for at least a week to allow for vigils. A nobleman's funeral was a pompous affair in which a lavish procession made display of the coats-of-arms and wealth which he claimed to have in his lifetime. The Reformers of course passed laws against the enormous spending engendered by these events. For the poor peasants buried in the northern Highlands, there was no such grandeur but the danger of being dug up by hungry wolves. The method of burial in the north of Scotland was indeed very primitive, with bodies being interred only one or two feet deep in graveclothes only. In some parts, the head would be placed northwards, like in Caithness, while in others, like in the eastern Lowlands, the feet would rest towards the east. It was also believed that carrying the body round the church three times in the direction of the sun would keep it safe from evil influences. Before the Reformation, requiem masses were said annually and money given to the church by the relatives for this purpose. Unbaptised babies and suicides were buried between two counties, either on the mountain tops or on the beach at low tide. The earliest registers of death begin in 1561 in Aberdeen and 1565 in Edinburgh, at the Canongate. In the latter's register is an entry recording the murder of David Riccio. From 1576, the Reformers decided that burials should no longer be made in the Kirk under pain of excommunication. However, the lords and lairds who replaced the church princes continued to be buried in the churches attached to their land.
Before the 8th century there was no church marriage ceremonies but a Celtic custom of "handfasting". A young man and woman would engage themselves to live together for a year, and could decide then whether they wanted to marry or separate. This was sometimes done merely by moistening and pressing together the thumbs of the lovers or proposing over a stream of running water. The catholic church was quite tolerant of this custom and its interference was limited to sending friars to the fairs where these couples met, to persuade them to get married. The Reformers on the other hand, passed more laws to annihilate this custom without much success. Legally, it was not necessary to be married in church; a simple verbal or written acknowledgement preceded or followed by cohabitation, was deemed sufficient to constitute a marriage. To this day, the law in Scotland allows for the concept of a "common law spouse". The Reformers declared that such marriages should be declared before reliable witnesses who could verify the contract. During those civil marriages, it was not even required to have an official present, which is the reason for the survival of Gretna Green. Marriage laws were different in England and this explains the choice of location near the English Border. Betrothal ceremonies varied according to the wealth and station of the future bride and groom. Among the bourgeoisie, it was the relatives of the bride who decided whether a groom was a suitable husband, regardless of how old she was. The protection of property was of course a prime consideration. A mother who disapproved of her daughter's choice could withhold her dowry, and the Kirk forbade someone in financial difficulty to marry. After the betrothal known as the "booking", the bride was given two maids to attend her and two male kinsmen to protect her. For forty days thereafter, the bride was only allowed to see her relatives and old friends. After the Reformation, those who wished to marry had to submit their names to the minister or clerk, for the proclamation of the banns on three successive Sundays. In 1575, it was considered enough if a public official wrote the names down for a fee. This safeguard against casual betrothals was accompanied by a prohibition against cohabiting, dancing and all forms of fun in the true Reformation style. By 1579, catholic marriages were banned and invalidated, and any catholic wishing to marry had to convert to Protestantism first. That same year, it was decreed that no one could be married unless they could recite the Lord's Prayer, the "Believe" and the Commandments. An apprentice could not marry without the permission of his craft under threat of expulsion. January and May were considered unlucky months to marry, while a dog should not pass between the bride and the groom. Friends of the bride would rub shoulders with her after the booking to catch the matrimonial "infection". A groom would be visited by his friends a day or two before the wedding to have his feet alternately cleaned and dirtied with soot, until exhaustion followed and they were rewarded with a round of drinks. Presumably the ancestor of the infamous "Stag Night" of today. Although the bride's dress was costly, she was not allowed to wear it before the wedding, not even to see if it fitted. It was common for ladies of rank to gift the dress to those who had served them, just as Mary, Queen of Scots did for one of her ladies-in-waiting. Another custom was that all the knots in the couple's clothes had to be untied. The wedding feast was usually in the evening and once over, the newly-weds would retire to their home preceded by the bridesmaid and best man. The bridesmaid would break a piece of shortbread over the bride's head as she entered her new home. Pieces of the cake were given to the friends of the bride and groom. The bride would end the ceremony by sweeping the hearth. It was also customary for the bride to keep her maiden name, so as not to lose her clan origins. The Kirk tried to impose various restrictions on spending and rejoicings at weddings but again, they were faced with strong resistance.
The cruelty of the sentences applied in the 16th century must be gauged against the backdrop of general violence of the times. What today would seem like acceptable social behaviour attracted the most horrific punishments, while crimes as serious as murder were sometimes treated with biased leniency. The likes of John Knox, while condemning all and sundry for their lack of moral fibre, did not hesitate to applaud the dreadful murder of David Riccio and did not blink an eye when the life of a very pregnant Mary was endangered in the process. Theft was considered one of the worst crimes in a country riddled with poverty and was punishable by death or a large fine, depending on whether the theft was committed in a protected place such as a park or not. Infringement of the game laws could cost the offender his ear or right hand. Branding on the cheek followed by banishment was a common sentence for all sorts of crimes. The offender would not be allowed to return home for fear of hanging or drowning, while other burghs were reluctant to offer asylum to someone who had been considered unfit to remain in their own burgh. Personal insults, blasphemy and feuds were common and usually punished by subjecting the culprit to public humiliation. This would involve a public display of remorse and asking for forgiveness, huge fines, being nailed to the cuckstool and forced to parade through town in shame. The famous "not proven" verdict of the later Scottish criminal justice system was not yet in place, and "vehement suspicion" was enough to put the accused through a dose of flogging and banishment.
Night life was virtually non-existent as no one was allowed to linger in the streets or alehouses after the ten o'clock bell had been rung. The penalty was a fine in the first instance and banishment in the second. Drunkenness was therefore not widespread among the general public, especially as wine was very expensive. Immoral behaviour such as adultery, homosexual acts and other unchaste conduct was dealt with by severe reprobation, admonishment by the preachers, public repentance, the cutting of a woman's hair and nailing to the cuckstool and finally, banishment for the chronic offender. The joug, a hinged iron band for the neck usually attached to the market cross, the tolbooth or church doors, and the stocks were also used to punish the offenders.
Because of the continuing decline in Scottish currency, which was often further debased by the Scottish rulers as a means of raising revenue, counterfeiting was a crime to be seriously combated. A lot of people preferred to trade for goods or other foreign currencies, and counterfeiting jeopardised their livelihood even more. Counterfeiters would be hanged and have their property confiscated. Law and order was maintained by the various trade guilds, civic officers employed by corporations and soldiers in times of serious unrest. Each burgh had its own executioner who carried out corporal punishment, scourging, ducking and hanging as required. The burgh magistrates were empowered to repress crime by summary jurisdiction.
Finally, the ruthless persecution of witches and witchcraft was also a product of the 16th century. In 1563, an Act of Parliament was passed against the practice and knowledge of any form of witchcraft, sorcery or necromancy. The most harmless acts of magic or slightest accusation would lead to a confession of witchcraft extracted under torture. Greed and jealousy would also often incite unscrupulous individuals to denounce their neighbours in the hope of appropriating their property. Mary's son, James VI & I, was himself both fascinated and obsessed with witches and wrote a book on demonology.
Before the Protestant Reformation, the care of the sick and the poor had been dealt with by monasteries, but after the destruction of those, the burden fell on the burgh authorities. The poor were roughly classified into "sornares" (armed vagrants who took up residence in the houses they visited), "overlayers and masterful beggars", and "crooked folk, blind folk, impotent folk, and weak folk. Masterful beggars who had some means of subsistence were imprisoned or put into irons, but those without means had their ears nailed to the tron or a tree, then cut off after which they were banished and hanged if they returned. A number of laws were enacted to prevent beggars from asking for alms other than in the parish in which they were born. They would be given a badge which allowed them to become "professional beggars" or apply to the council for funds. By 1579, a new Act was passed which laid down that strong and idle beggars between the ages of fourteen and seventy should be apprehended and tried, and if found guilty they should be "scourged and burned through the ear with a hot iron". The only escape was if some respectable individual took the offender in their service for a year. Any occupation related to entertainment and fortune telling fell into the "idle beggar" category. It was also an offence to give alms to unlicensed beggars. Illegitimate children were treated as outcasts and beggar children were authorised by law to be sold into a lifetime of slavery.
In previous times, many monasteries would have had hospitals attached to them. The wards were clean and the sick were well looked after and treated with herbs grown in the monasteries' gardens. In Scotland, the Dominicans, the Carmelites and the Franciscans all ran hospitals. There were half a dozen hospitals around Edinburgh, as well as others in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling and in other establishments run by the Knights Hospitallers of St John, in Glasgow and Linlithgow. After the Reformation, some of these hospitals survived. However, hygiene remained very poor in the 16th century and diseases such as leprosy, plague, syphilis, smallpox, typhus and cholera decimated the population. Ways of controlling the spread of those diseases included the boiling of clothes and the cleansing of the houses of infected people. The penalty for concealing illness was branding on the cheek and banishment. In Aberdeen, any person found to help or harbour a plague victim, would be hanged if male or drowned if female. Due to the few hospitals available, many plague victims were moved into camps outside of the towns and left to die. Lepers were also isolated into special leper hospitals and only allowed into town to buy food three times a week, but not if the weather was good and the streets crowded. Lepers were forced to wear large hooded gowns which covered their faces and bodies, and to carry a bell to announce their approach. Game found dead or wounded and pork and salmon which had gone off were deemed fit for consumption by the lepers. The lepers spent their entire life within the confines of their hospital, quietly under threat of hanging if they infringed any of the rules.
Venereal disease is supposed to have been brought back from the East by the Crusaders and spread rapidly throughout Europe. Again, isolation was the primary method used, while offenders were branded on the cheek and banished.
This early national health scheme was financed by levying taxes on the healthy inhabitants of each parish according to their means. Sick people had to return to the parish in which they were born in order to be treated. Doctors were few and medical knowledge very limited. Mary, Queen of Scots recognised the need for better educated doctors and better hygiene but she was hindered by people like John Knox, who perpetrated suspicion of foreign doctors and remedies. Towns offered incentives such as fishing rights or monetary inducements to attract doctors. Surgeons were even scarcer and even James IV, Mary's grandfather, dabbled in surgery and paid his patients to undergo his scientific experiments. The lack of scientific knowledge was compensated by a belief in traditional pagan magic. Wells, rivers, stones and spells were all used to cure conditions ranging from childbirth and fertility to blindness and rejuvenation. A small attention was paid to diet, especially concerning the dangers of overeating among the rich. Other strange things were discouraged such as the nodding of heads, candle light, combing your hair at night, sleeping on the back and sleeping at noon.
Before the Reformation schools were split between the lecture schools, where children were taught in the vernacular, and grammar schools, where they were taught Latin and Humanities. The latter were more numerous and usually attached to monasteries. Most of the principal towns in Scotland boasted grammar schools which remained under the control of the Church after the Reformation. Emphasis was laid on religion and morals but students were also encouraged to develop disputation and argument skills. The Reformation promoted the spread of education and schools were established in individual parishes.
St Andrews was the first university to be founded in Scotland in 1512. Teachers were drawn from the monastery and studies included grammar, logic, theology, medicine, cannon and civil law, lectures on the Bible, ethics, physics and mathematics. After the Reformation, the Roman Catholic form of the religion was removed from the curriculum but other subjects remained the same. The length of study was generally four years and students were put under the tuition of a regent. In the middle of the third year, a student who had a certificate of regular attention and good behaviour from his regent and from the principal, was admitted to "trials for the degree of bachelor". The student then had to answer questions mainly in logic and morals before a board of three examining regents. The Reformation caused a great deal of disruption to universities, which was only partly rectified under Mary, Queen of Scots' rule. The Reformers were more concerned with keeping the morals and faith of the students than actual teaching. As a result, the standard of education declined. The children of many aristocrats were sent abroad to be educated, principally to the Low Countries and France which enjoyed a better reputation. Conversely, there were also many foreign teachers in Scottish universities. James Melville, nephew of Andrew Melville, was among the scholars who helped to restore learning in Scotland. By the end of 1593, a Royal Commission set up under the tutors of King James, had brought about a new grammar to replace the old defective one; this was the beginning of standardisation.
The monks did much to promote agriculture in Scotland, but little progress was made until the advent of new scientific methods in the 18th century. The landscape at the time was bleak and wild with few trees and very little corn. The labour force of the abbeys consisted of serfs bought by the monks but slavery had been almost abolished by the 16th century. Their tenants were divided into three classes, the freeholders, the abbey administrators and the labourers. Tenants still had to provide quite extensive services and comply with numerous rules in exchange for a lease. Some of the duties required were to preserve trees, keep open ditches, watch the orchards, repair hedges and stone fences, keep the watercourses clear, cultivate specific herbs and vegetables, plough and dig, supply fishing tackle, provide the abbot's carriage with horses, furnish fuel, dig peat etc. Rent was usually paid in kind with oxen, calves, sheep, lambs, hogs and kids, as well as oats, barley, straw, corn, capons, hens, eggs and butter. Leases were usually granted for nineteen years and could be forfeited if the tenants broke any of the rules or were of dubious morality. The leases were granted to husbands and wives jointly and could be passed on to the eldest son, failing whom to the daughter through her husband. A tenant could also name somebody else as assignee of the lease. However, women had to obtain permission to marry and pay a fee for the transfer of the lease to the new husband. Wages were paid in part with second-hand clothes as cloth was expensive. Tenants were expected to perform military services but only in self-defence against attacks from Highlanders who preferred helping themselves to others flocks than putting in the effort. Tenants were subject to a sort of inheritance tax which involved relinquishing their best beast on their death. The abbeys also employed craftsmen by the year, such as masons and carpenters. They would receive a cottage, money, and a daily allowance of fish, meat, convent ale and white cake. Life in the country was harsh with cold weather and frequent famine caused by poor harvests and wolf devastation. People lived in badly insulated stone hovels with only an ox-hide for a door. The land was divided into ploughgates (roughly 104 to 120 acres) and infield and outfield. The infield was the most fertile, very often held by one tenant and sometimes in common, and farmed in strips. The outfield was mostly pasture but sometimes reserved for crops. A ploughgate was usually held in common by several tenants who each contributed an ox and their labour. The cultivation was rotated from place to place to allow overworked soil to recover its fertility. Heavy ploughs driven by oxen were used as well as footploughs, a shaft fastened to a sole. Grain was ground with wooden mallets or a handmill. Some of the monasteries owned water-mills and allowed their tenants to grind their grain in exchange for five percent of their corn.
Things were quite different in the burghs. There were several classes of citizens, which caused a lot of aggravation. The merchants had monopoly of exports and imports and were the richest people in the towns, as well as the only people allowed to hold a public office. They were also the ones permitted to trade in skins, hides, wool and fish, and luxury goods from abroad. The craftsmen came under them and had to employ at least two hired hands to qualify. They included weavers, butchers, hammermen, masons, coopers, slaters, goldsmiths, armourers, furriers, glovers and saddlers. After them came those tradesmen who worked for themselves and finally, the journeymen who worked by the day and the apprentices who usually worked for seven years before being admitted to their trade. Agriculture was closely linked to trading in town as not only did burgesses own small holdings which they cultivated for subsistence, but the main exports were hides, wool and salted fish. Merchants were encouraged to enforce the extensive laws protecting them as this made collecting dues from them easier. They were taxed individually as opposed to craftsmen who were taxed collectively. Besides taxation, merchants had to keep a good horse and be prepared to defend the burgh when necessary. A Dean of Guild was formed to supervise the loading of ships, uphold the town's laws, settle disputes about boundaries and buildings, supervise weights and measures at the "Tron" and tax merchants to provide a contingency fund for those who had fallen on hard times. Shipments in particular were at the mercy of storms and Scottish, English and Dutch pirates, so it was customary for cargoes to be purchased in common. The Tron was the public weighing place as well as the spot from where official proclamations and dissemination of news happened.
Craftsmen were marginally smaller in numbers than merchants, as the latter supplied manufactured goods all of which had to be imported. There were fourteen main crafts, each having its own altar at the local church and banner. Tailors dominated the scene, followed by hammermen and bakers. The numbers engaged in making cloth were considerably smaller, while goldsmiths were surprisingly few. Craftsmen were the only ones allowed to do their selling from stalls in the burghs, except on market days. Because they also were liable to pay taxes, have the standard of their work regulated and bear arms, they were protected from unfair competition from strangers who did not have to shoulder the same responsibilities. In times of dearth though, many of them were found guilty of profiteering by pushing their prices up. The burgh authorities tried to put a stop to that by imposing fixed prices and banning the export of certain foodstuffs. Those who wished to enter a craft had to stick to a seven-year apprenticeship and pay a fee, although the period and amount were reduced for the sons of craftsmen. Craftsmen understandingly were keen to have a say in the government of the burghs, and to join foreign trading. This led to violent quarrels with the merchants and the burgh authorities. The Common Good fund included fishing rights, mills, tolls and general land around the burgh which was farmed in common, and was supposed to be re-invested for the benefit of the towns. However, as years went by, more and more of that money disappeared into the pockets of the burgh authorities. Foreign trade was mainly by way of barter with the Low Countries. Dues were collected at the port of export, so the staple port was merely a centre for actual trade and the protection of Scottish merchants abroad. A Scottish Conservator was established to oversee the trade at the staple port and decide disputes between Scots. Scottish merchants were provided with a house rent-free, a chapel and chaplain, and restitution could be obtained from the Emperor if Scottish ships were robbed or spoiled. The idea behind this staple port was to have a central trading post in the Low Countries, the great cloth-making district. Among imports were timber from Scandinavia and Germany; swords from Germany; wine, prunes, walnuts and chestnuts from France; flax, hemp, iron, pitch and tar from Baltic ports; and wheat, oats and beans from England. The export of fish was extremely important to Scotland, especially at a time when eating fish was encouraged to counteract the lack of meat products and famine. However, the salt necessary for curing the fish had to be imported and sometimes at a high price, only in exchange for timber or silver. The Scots also seem to have had a few altercations with Dutch and German fishermen exploiting their waters.
Goods were carried from the ports by the chapmen, who often travelled in convoys of pack horses and armed to defend themselves against attacks from Highlanders. Pedlars carried their goods on their backs and also faced numerous dangers on the precarious roads. Rivers were crossed by using women to wade across with a man or bundle on their backs. But poor communications, piracy, harsh weather, wild animals and raids were not the only problems facing international trade. The value of money declined incessantly and various measures were put in place to remedy this. Currency was not allowed to be taken out of Scotland, foreign currency was exchanged for wool, the export of gold and silver forbidden. Even gold mining was attempted but soon abandoned as uncommercial. It was not until the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots' son, James VI & I, that Scottish currency recovered with the union of Scotland and England.
Court ladies wore simpler dresses than those worn in England. The dress consisted of a fitted bodice and a tight sleeve, possibly detachable, with a trailing edge. A white shirt was worn under the dress and sometimes a small white collar. On their heads, court ladies wore a small velvet cap, sometimes trimmed with gold embroidery or jewelled. The middle classes wore a hat instead, while the peasantry simply draped their plaids over their heads. Quantities of jewellery were the status symbol of the time, and Mary, Queen of Scots was world-famous for her parures of jewels which would accompany her every dress. Among these were three sets of diamonds; one of rubies, diamonds and pearls; one of sapphires; black pearls which were sold to Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Moray; gold ornaments; diamond crosses and the "Great Harry", an enormous faceted stone, set with a large cabochon of ruby, which was a gift from Henry II of France. Mary had it mounted on the Scottish crown but it later ended up in the clutches of the Earl of Moray's widow, Agnes Keith, who had to hand it over to Parliament. Under the Commonwealth it disappeared without trace. Mary's wardrobe included dresses of all colours, cramoisie, blue, grey, carnation, silver and gold, a mantle bordered with ermine, and a dressing gown of chestnut velvet trimmed with silver cord, and she is also known to have owned a Highland costume. The lower classes however strove to follow the fashion of the rich, and trains were even worn by servant girls. In the cities, merchants wore English or French cloth of pale colour, or mingled black and blue, while peasants and Highlanders had to make do with coarse cloth made of grey or sky colour. Cloth was a luxury and formed part of a servant's wages. From what we know of the dress of the Highlanders, it seems that it was strictly utilitarian and that the complicated tartans associated with different clans or districts, did not make their appearance until the eighteenth century. Dyes were imported and expensive and weaving was done by cottagers on a small scale. The native dyes used was Devil's Bit Scabious which produced a blue colour, and shirts were sometimes dyed yellow using saffron or grease. Highland clan chiefs wore a different costume than the rest of their followers, who wore large and loose coarse linen shirts flowing to their knees. Deerskin was used as a covering and a plaid, which was a type of blanket made of coarse chequered material of two or three colours, was used as a cloak. The Reformers took a grim view of fashion and instituted various orders banning the wearing of colourful and sophisticated clothing. They were against embroidery, jewellery, taffeta, satin and silk and recommended clothes of grave colour, such as black, russet, sad grey or sad brown! This is evident in the portraits of notorious Puritans such as James Stuart, Earl of Moray.
A great disparity also existed in the dwellings of the top and lower classes. The nobility and the Sovereign lived in castles built at points offering extensive views of the surrounding countryside. The height and thickness of the walls made those buildings impregnable before the age of gunpowder, and starving the occupants was often the only way of driving them out. The courtyards inside the castles were used for stabling and also provided refuge for the peasants living around the castle in times of danger. From the 16th century to the union of Scotland with England, architecture was heavily influenced by the French. What is known as "Scottish Baronial" is a blending of Gothic and French styles. The rounded turrets are a reminder of the more elaborate French châteaux of the Loire Valley; Falkland Palace is a good example of this Renaissance style. Some of the castles comprised large reception chambers while others had more modest private rooms. There was no glass and the walls were damp, which made it necessary to hang tapestries. Castles usually had a "garderobe" or "privy closet" (wc) with a primitive method of drainage attached to an underground sump. Many castles also had dovecotes within their walls, as doves were considered a delicacy. On the other hand, clan chiefs and lairds stayed in towers or "mottes" built in the Scottish defensive style. The ground floor of those square towers was a large hall or assembly room, also used to protect cattle from reivers; the central section served as living quarters for the family and the upper floors, which could only be accessed by a ladder, were used as look-outs. The windows were mere openings in the walls from which the occupants could target any attackers with bows and arrows or muskets. Borthwick Castle is a good example of a more sophisticated tower type castle. In the castles of the nobles there was the lord's table called the "Hie Burd", because it was raised above the level of the common herd. The lord sat on a carved chair denoting his status. The privileged people sat at the high board and kept their hats on, while the servants wore no hats. The high board was set with pewter plates while the lower level had wooden platters. Guests were expected to bring their own cutlery. Even at court, it appears that trestle tables were also used.
The houses of the bourgeoisie were either huddled in a few streets surrounding the castles or in alleys and wynds as in Edinburgh. Rooms were small and built in the English Elizabethan style, although not so richly decorated. The town bourgeoisie, consisting of rich merchants, was often wealthier than the lairds and lords. But their houses did not reflect this wealth being built of wood and undressed stone, and consisting of only two or three rooms. The ground floor served as a shop, office or workshop and storage room for farming implements, while an outside staircase led to the living quarters of the family. Wooden balconies protruding into the narrow streets and roofs made of thatch, straw or heather were a constant fire hazard. Windows were not glazed but half covered with wooden shutters in which decorative holes were cut to watch passers-by. The centre of town was more upmarket than the smaller streets in which lesser merchants lived, while alleys and wynds were left for the lower artisans and tradesmen. Towns were very unsanitary: butchers would throw their offal in front of their shops and rotting rubbish was left everywhere in the streets. The lack of indoor sanitation meant that the citizens would get rid of their domestic waste by simply chucking it out into the street below. In Edinburgh, this was done by shouting the warning "Gardyloo" (from the French "Garde à l'eau", mind the water). Cows, horses and pigs were kept in the street in front of the houses or on common land beyond the walls. The filth of the towns was what brought the plague to Scotland and slow-moving measures were eventually taken by the authorities to try and clean up the environment. The furnishing of the bourgeoisie's houses was heavily influenced by Flanders and Holland with whom they traded. An aumrie (from the French "armoire", cupboard) was a much sought-after piece of furniture used for displaying silverware and bowls. Ordinary plates and dishes were made of pewter, but wooden platters were widely used. Drinking vessels and cutlery were made of horn, and guests were expected to bring their own spoons and knives. Forks were unknown and some of the silver spoons were engraved with the arms of the family. Glass was almost never used for drinking vessels and cups were a rarity. Salt was a ceremonial item often used on the long trestle table as a focal point to divide the family from the hired hands. Tapestry work rugs and carpets began to replace rushes for the floor. Other luxury goods such as mirrors and clocks were imported too. Apart from the rich merchants, the many abuses of the Church led to some churchmen living in the lap of luxury. There was some evidence of hostelry in the Lowlands, but these were private householders who entertained passengers.
At the bottom of the social ladder was the peasantry living in cottages. These were mere hovels of clay covered with turf or thatched with straw, with stones held down by heather ropes holding the roofs in place. The floor was the bare ground with a fireplace in the middle and a simple hole in the roof as ventilation. There was no furniture and the family slept on peat covered with coarse blankets, and kept their cattle in the cottage for warmth and to protect it from marauders. These cottages were usually clustered around a castle or in small townships. These simple dwellings constructed from materials freely available in the countryside had the advantage of being quickly rebuilt if destroyed during raids. In the modest dwellings of the peasantry, only the bare necessities for cooking and tilling the land existed. Beds were unknown and cupboards and stools a luxury.
Although there were some regional variations, the Scottish diet in the 16th century consisted mainly of seafood, seaweed, meat and game and oatcakes. The main beverages were ale, whisky and wine. Aberdeen was famous for its speldings (small haddocks, salted and dried on the rocks), finnan haddock and smoked haddock. Salmon, funnily enough, was so abundant that it was looked down upon by the upper classes. Herrings from Loch Fyne were also famous and exported abroad. Other seafood included oysters, crabs, winkles, limpets and mussels, which came from Musselburgh. Court cookery was French, especially desserts and more refined dishes. Soupe à la Reine, an old Scottish white soup, Veal Flory, a veal stew with herbs and mushrooms, Almond Flory and Prune Flory, complicated desserts, are all examples of this French influence, the latter dishes having originally been imported from Italy. Many of these recipes were developed by the monks and nuns of France and Italy, who were reputed for their good living. Shortage of food was constant in Scotland due to bad summers. The government tried to remedy this by imposing rationing according to rank, with special allowances being made for religious holidays, marriages and banquets in the honour of foreigners. On the other hand, feasting was of a considerable nature with mammoth quantities of numerous different kinds of meats, game and groceries being used.
The fare of the peasants and lesser classes was much more frugal, consisting mainly of oatcakes made of barley and oats. This bread varied according to the part of the country. The finest white bread was called "manchet"; the second quality, "trencher"; the third "ravelled bread" and the fourth "mashloch". Apart from fish or meat, there were many kinds of milk dishes and skink (soups) including the traditional cock-a-leekie. One of the Scottish specialities was wind-blown fish, which was made by hanging fresh salted fish in a draught overnight. The next morning the fish was broiled over a slow fire. Beef was also salted to help preserve it. The Scottish diet was amazingly poor in vegetables which were only eaten in the form of broth or stews. This was limited to kail, seaweed soup, and sea moss jelly. Wine was drunk pure and not with sugar as in England, but comfits were added to the wine after the French manner at feasts. Scottish ale was also much stronger than the ale brewed in England.
To the war faring Scots of the 16th century, excelling at sports of all kinds was considered very important. Among those were of course golf, which although it might have originated in the Low Countries (Netherlands) was developed in Scotland; football, which seems to have engendered as much post-match violence in those days as present hooliganism; cockfighting; stow ball ( a game similar to stool ball played in Sussex); pall mall, an early form of croquet; bowls; catchpole, where a leather ball was bounced against a wall with the hand; kiles, a game similar to skittles; curling, an ice sport which may also have originated in the Low Countries; riding at the ring and running at the glove, during which the rider would either try to make off with a suspended ring on their spear or pick up a glove from the floor; tennis and of course, hunting. Numerous statutes were put in place to protect species and regulate the hunting season. By 1600 the prohibition extended to the sale or purchase of wild fowls. Doves in particular were the object of special laws. If a man bought land with a legalised dovecote, he could maintain it, but if it fell down he was not allowed to rebuild it. Other laws covered the killing of deer, rabbits and hares and penalties were stiff. Hawking and hunting was the prerogative of the nobility, but the ordinary people also took part clandestinely. Besides, wolves and foxes abounded and it was often a condition of land leases that these should be hunted. This kind of clause later became the reason behind the contemporary hideous practice of fox hunting.
The first plays were invented by the Roman Catholic hierarchy to educate their parishioners. The themes were invariably taken from the Scriptures but afterwards degenerated into parody. The crowd was encouraged to make fun of the characters and this often led to riotous behaviour. Plays of this nature included "The Abbot of Bon Accord", "The Abbot of Unreason" and "The Lord of Misrule". A popular play was Robin Hood and Little John, at which time it was compulsory for all to take part and dress up in green and yellow. Sir David Lindsay's play, "Pleasant Satire of the Three Estates", was the first real play containing a political message, namely criticism of the Church. These plays were much longer than today's, lasting some nine hours. Pageants were taken very seriously by the council and prepared well in advance. All traders were required to contribute to the costumes etc. However, all this joviality was heavily frowned on by the Protestant Reformers and in 1555, they passed an Act of Parliament to curtail all those sinful activities. They had not reckoned with the fury of the crowd which caused a major riot, and forced them to rethink their policy for the time being. When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, emphasis was once again laid on entertainment. Nevertheless, after the demise of their Queen, the Scottish people found themselves subjected to a joyless society where even Christmas celebrations were banned and church-going turned into a compulsory daily chores. This repression of entertainment was not completely lifted until hundreds of years later. Since then though, Scotland has more than made up for this with its world-famous annual International Festival. John Knox eat your heart out!
Much of the literature in Scotland was written in Latin and therefore only read by the educated class. In 1507, James IV granted a patent to Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar to print law books, Acts of Parliament and mass books. Chepman was a merchant and Myllar a bookseller. They started their own printing presses in Blackfriars Wynd in Edinburgh. After their death though, books were again imported from England until a Thomas Davidson started printing again. The 16th century owes him the publication of Bellenden's translation of Boece's "History of Scotland". Another early work, "The Complaynt of Scotland" whose author is unknown, was dedicated to Mary, Queen of Scots' mother, Mary of Guise. The Complaynt of Scotland is a critic of the state of the realm and its three estates, namely the nobility, the clergy and the burgesses. David Lyndsay, Killor (a friar burnt for heresy) and James Stewart, son of Lord Methven, all wrote against the Church. The Church was also the target of popular street literature, in the form of rude ballads. Poetry was considered an accomplishment and many dabbled in it, including Mary, Queen of Scots who had benefited from being brought up at the court of France surrounded by poets like the "Pléiade" authors. However, court poets wrote for entertainment purposes and did not think of publishing their works. The largest collection of Scottish poems of the time was collated during the plague in Edinburgh in 1568 by George Bannantyne. John Knox produced his own brand of obnoxious literature such as "First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women", in which he displays his usual misogyny. George Buchanan, Mary's former classical tutor, wrote many Latin works both in prose and poetry, as well as a "History of Scotland" in twenty volumes. He was Mary's interpreter of foreign documents and also wrote several poems to Mary. However, Buchanan joined the Reformers and turned against Mary in his book "The Tyrannous Reign of Mary Stewart". Mary's Privy Councillor, Richard Maitland of Lethington also wrote and collected early Scottish poems. Sir James Melville left us his memoirs which throw a contemporary light on the course of history. In 1551, the Reformers passed a law against the press, making it compulsory to obtain a licence from the Queen and the Governor. Writing was restricted to soul matters and frivolity banned. Winzet, a defender of the Old Faith and staunch enemy of John Knox, wrote "Is John Knox a Lawful Minister?" and "Last Blast of the Trumpet of God's Word against the usurped Authorities of John Knox and his Calvinistic brethren intruding Preachers etc. put forth to the Congregation of the Protestants in Scotland by Ninian Winzet a Catholic Priest born in Renfrew". Although Mary had given him permission to publish this work in July 1562, the printer was imprisoned. Winzet then escaped to Antwerp and died in 1577 after having been made Abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Ratisbon.
Music was taught throughout Scotland before the Reformation and even in 1561, when Mary returned to Scotland, she was serenaded by the people of Edinburgh. Mary who loved music, took an interest in Highland music, of which the most ancient instrument was the harp. Other popular instruments were the fiddle, the whistle, the flute and pipes of several kinds. Even the Lords of the Exchequer enjoyed a little music when they met to edit the accounts, and minstrels and players were provided at the public expense. Dancing was also a popular pastime and dances usually started with two low bows and a kiss. All this frivolity was of course not to the taste of the Reformers who only encouraged the singing of psalms and hymns unaccompanied by the organ. Pipers at weddings were prosecuted and dancing was considered a sin. As a result, musical education came to be neglected and music schools fell into disrepair although by 1579, some efforts in the direction of a music revival were made.
There are no portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots painted while she was in Scotland. In fact, there are very few portraits of that period and those that can be seen at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, are either by Arnold von Bronkhorst or unknown artists. They were probably painted in France or the Low Countries or in Scotland by painters originating from those countries. Corneille de Lyon did a portrait of Mary of Guise, Hans Eworth painted the Earl of Moray and his wife, and Pieter van der Heyden did twin engravings of François II and Mary Stuart. The black and white portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots supposedly painted by a Scot during her captive years in England, are quite crude. Rich merchants, who were more in touch with what was happening on the Continent, imported paintings from Flanders to replace hangings in their houses. Woodcarving was an art confined to the church and monasteries due to the scarcity of oak. The few panellings which remain were severely damaged by alterations and rough handling. Some of the scenes depicted, like in the ballads, are satirical representations of the church. Embroidery on the other hand, flourished. Mary, Queen of Scots was very keen on needle work and left a fairly large collection on which she worked whilst in prison in England. Charles Plouvert was Mary's "imbroderer" who drew patterns for her on canvas, and who was removed by her last jailor, Sir Amyas Paulet. The embroiderer or "brodstar" at the court was responsible for maintaining and repairing chapel vestments, tapestry hangings. During the Reformation, many churches were vandalised and embroideries destroyed as these were considered popish nonsense. Embroidered panels to lighten the darkness of wood panelling in private houses became popular. These panels were also used as bed hangings and often formed part of a series designed to run around the room like a frieze.
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