Scotland, A history?
As the site grows we will be adding more and more anchors to our history page. If you are a history buff and would like to produce a document for the site we would be happy to look at it and add it once it has been checked. You will be credited as the writer and we can also produce a link to your history site if you have one. The site must relate to factual Scottish history.
We know that Scot's, willingly and unwillingly, travelled to the distant shores of all five continents in the past and now many of their descendants are wanting to visit the old country and reforge links of some kind with the homeland of their ancestors.
Scotland is steeped in centuries of history both at home and abroad. From the Picts to the Roman's to the Caledonians and the Scots, this nation of our's seems to have many origins. So how did this great nation of peoples come about?
Some books would have you believe that the original "Scots" were native people mixed with Irish Scots and that this was the origin of the Picts that the Roman's found so hard to beat that they built two walls to keep them back.
Another more fanciful story tells us something a little more different though. Scota, Egyptian queen of the Scot's by Ralph Ellis, builds on an earlier work by Walter Bower called, Scotichronicon. Bower believed that an Egyptian princess travelled with her people to southern europe and then, over generations, on to Ireland and finally Scotland. The land where they settled down and became the name behind the country when it was eventually unified by the Ard Righ, Cinaed mac Ailpin or King Kenneth McAlpine or simply Kenneth I, as he is more commonly known.
Bower's research was not taken seriously by modern researchers, however, Ellis seems to have found a bit more evidence to support the claims made by Bower.
Ellis claims that The Egyptian Pharoh's daughter, Scota, was actually called Ankhesenamun
The story is even mentioned in the declaration of arbroath. In a section of the declaration it states that; "the ancients" who "journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules … to their home in the west where they still live today". This piece of text is believed to have come from an even earlier work by an 8th century historian by the name of Nennius.
So how much truth can be found in these ancient writings. According to modern historians,not very much.Yet when you look at the evidence given by Ellis you have to wonder if it really is as made up as some historians might say. Lets look at Ellis's timeline and people.
Ankhesenamun was the daughter of king Akhenaton and Queen Nefertiti. Ankhesenamun was the wife of Tutankhamen.
Ellis claims that after the death of Tutankhamen, she married Aye, Tutankhamen's father. This doesn't seem to have gone down well and they left Egypt with approximately one thousand of their followers to start a new life.
Akhesenamun and Aye settled in southern Spain and had a son called Hiber. It is thought that he was the source of the name for Iberia and later for Hibernia. Four generations later, many of their decendents travelled to Ireland and then later on to Scotland. Where the rest, as they say, is history.
Fanciful or factual, you decide, it is your history after all.
The Saltire was officially adopted as Scotland's national flag in approximately 832AD. It may not be taught in schools but anyone doing a little research can find the origins of the flag fairly easily. There are two distinct versions of how the flag came to be. However, what is not disputed is who it was named after.
Saint Andrew, like his brother St Peter, was a disciple of Jesus. When he was crucified, he said he felt unworthy of dying in the same way as Jesus and asked that they use a different shape of cross. A diagonal cross was used instead of the standard cross used in and on church buildings, decoration and personal ornamentation. In this context, the flag on the right would therefore be the correct way to fly the Saltire.
The Saltire is recognised as the people's flag in Scotland and can be worn or flown by anyone who wishes to do so.
A description of the Saltire and it's dimensions by the Scottish Flag Trust..
"The national flag of Scotland is a white saltire (diagonal cross) on a blue background. The technical description is – azure, a saltire argent.
A Flag Code was prepared some years ago by the Heraldry Society of Scotland in conjunction with the Scottish Flag Trust and Saltire Society. This was submitted to the Scottish Parliament, and though the Code has no legal status it was accepted by the Parliament as general guidance.
In terms of colour, the blue field of the Saltire should be a bright azure in harmony with the legend, but not pale or weak. The Code states that the field of the flag should be blue and of a hue compatible with Pantone 300U.
In terms of dimensions, the Code states that the flag should be rectangular and of a height to length ratio of four to five (4:5). The flag that flies permanently at Athelstaneford – birthplace of the Saltire – measures 4ft by 5ft and is of these proportions. Note that Flag manufacturers also make flags that are of a height to length ratio of three to six (3:6) which reflect the naval tradition of flags at sea, being narrower.
Additional information can be found here: Scottish Flag Trust
The more traditional version is that when praying for victory against an overwhelming force of Saxons, the day before the battle of Athelstaneford, the leader of an army of Scot's and Pict's had a vision of victory. It is said that in this vision, King Angus saw the cross of St Andrew appear in the sky. Upon seeing this, he swore that if they were led to victory the following day, he would make St Andrew Scotland's patron saint.
The next morning as the sun rose, King Angus saw an Argent cross appear in the azure sky above the battlefield. They won the battle and from that day on, St Andrew has been Scotland's patron saint. Saint Andrew is also patron saint of Greece, Russia, Romania and the Ukraine. Argent (Silver) is usually represented by the colour White on flags.
A strange fact is that St Andrew himself never set foot in Scotland. However, some of his bones were said to have been brought here by St Rule (Regulus). The medieval city of St Andrews, now the Royal Burgh of St Andrews, is the seat of one of Scotland's Bishops and the home of the now ruined St Andrews Cathedral.
Additional information about St Andrew can also be found here. St Andrew.
The Lion Rampant on the other hand, Scotland's other national flag, came about during the time of King Alexander II. King David I is said to have had a lion as a pet. David I is also said to have used a Dragon symbol during a battle in 1138. Other countries have also used the lion as national symbols. Only royal residences can officially use the lion rampant, although it is a common site at sporting events in Scotland as well as other types of events and gatherings. To fly the lion rampant from a flagpole though requires special permission.
The Unicorn, the official animal of Scotland.
The Unicorn may seem like an odd choice for any country’s national animal, but not for a country famed for its long history of myth and legend. The unicorn was first used as a Scottish heraldic symbol around the 12th century, when it was used on an early form of the Scottish coat of arms by William I.
Today, many people associate unicorns with children, rainbow's and soft toys. However the unicorn has been around for a VERY long time and was once revered above every other animal, especially in Scottish history. Going a little further back, In Celtic mythology, the Unicorn symbolised innocence and purity, as well as being known for it's healing powers and was also seen as a symbol of masculinity and power.
Unicorn's are said to be proud and untameable, two words many people would use to describe the Scots people. Just ask the Romans. Unicorns though, aren't just unique to Scotland. They were also worshipped by the ancient Babylonians, and descriptions of them appear in writing's from the ancient Persians, Romans,Greeks as well as ancient Jewish scholars. They all describe a horse-like creature with a single horn which had magical properties and could heal disease.
To take this even further back, this magical animal has inspired people for over 3,000 years and it's popularity shows no sign of dropping any time soon. Unicorn's are also mentioned in two of the world’s oldest religious books: The Bible and the Quran. For a short time, the unicorn was used as a symbol for Jesus.
During the reign of King James III, gold coins were created featuring a Unicorn and at the time of King James VI of Scotland succeeding to the throne of England, the Scottish Royal Arms featured two unicorns as shield supporters. However, in a gesture of unity, James replaced the one on the left with the English lion. David I of Scotland is said to have had a pet lion and Alexander II is said to have been the first to use a lion on a coat of arms.
The symbolism though is very potent, as the lion and the unicorn were long thought to be enemies, vying for the crown of the king of beasts, with the unicorn ruling through harmony and the lion through might.
Today, the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still has the English lion on the left and the Scottish unicorn on the right. The Royal Coat of Arms for use in Scotland though has them the other way round. In depictions, the animal is often seen bound by golden chains wrapped around its body. The heraldic unicorn is pictured in chains because, according to folklore, a free unicorn was a dangerous beast. These chains are believed to signify the power of Scottish Kings in being able to humble the wild beast, although in modern times, some also see it as a symbol of Scottish oppression.
Since the 15th Century, many monarchs of Scotland have used the unicorn in their coat of arms. Kings favoured the mythical beast because they considered it to be the best representation of power. In fact, unicorns were believed to be so strong that only Kings and virgin maidens could keep them captive. Kings were able to do this due to their divine right to rulership, while virgins are as pure and innocent as the unicorns themselves.
So when is national Unicorn day? Yes, there really is such a thing - it’s celebrated on the 9th of April. While many people are happy to simply don their favourite sparkly horned headband, Scotland has been known to take a more reverent approach. On national Unicorn Day in 2017, artist Woody Fox created a seven-foot sculpture of a unicorn made
from willow for Crawick Multiverse in Dumfries and Galloway.
Even the Scottish navy wasn't immune to the unicorn's influence. The HMS Unicorn resides in the Port of Dundee and was launched in 1824. It is one of the six oldest ships in existence in the world. It bears a majestic unicorn figurehead at its prow and is a symbol of the Scots navy.
Some may ask, what’s the difference between a unicorn and a kelpie? Since both are integral to Scottish folklore, and both are also horse-like. A unicorn is land-based with a single horn upon its head. A kelpie is an evil water-spirit which haunts Scotland’s lochs. While it usually takes on the shape of a horse, the kelpie can also pose as a human. So now you know a bit more about Scottish culture and the history of our favoured animal. Did they ever really exist? History seems to think so but is it more myth than fact? You decide.
Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.
You can read the full text of the Declaration here..
It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
In 1314, at the battle of Bannockburn, just to the south of Stirling castle. Robert de Brus (The Bruce), later king Robert I of Scotland, defeated an English army five times larger than his own to regain Scotland's independence after it's sovereignty was given away in 1292 by his rival John Balliol, to the king of England, Edward I.
In return for making Balliol King of Scots instead of the Bruce, Balliol was willing to be subservient to the English king and pay him homage. Balliol's son, John Comyn, died alongside the English at Bannockburn trying to regain the throne and repay his family's subservience to Edward II.
Union of the Crowns
In March 1603, Elizabeth I of England, daughter of Anne Boleyn, Died in her bed after 45 years on the throne. With no heir, the throne passed to James VI of Scotland. Son of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Elizabeth had been at war with Spain and feared that Catholic Spain would put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. She had Mary taken prisoner and after 20 years in captivity, had Mary executed at Fotheringhay castle on the 8th February 1587
James VI great-grandmother was Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. This therefore made him the legitimate heir to the English throne.
On the 4th April 1603, James left Scotland to unite the two royal lines and only returned once to his native Scotland. He reigned for a further 22 years and thus the crowns were united.
The Darien Scheme
In 1698, five ships set sail from Scotland to set up a new trading route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This was not a colonial takeover but designed to be a trading centre in Panama. A sort of precursor to what would bring about the more recent, Panama Canal.
However the then king, William III, completely ensconced in England and no longer interested in his ancestors home country of Scotland. Decided, upon pressure from the East India Trading Company and also not wanting to antagonise the Spanish, to decree that no English ships were to trade with or give aid to the Scot's traders.
By the time a second lot of ships arrived in what had been named Caledonia, the original settlement, named New Edinburgh, was in ruins due to the King's embargo against his own people. The Spanish navy was allowed to attack the settlement unhindered and removed the remaining Scots from the land.
Even during the return journey, the embargo was kept in place and no ports would accept the Scots or aid them by order of their own king. Aid was eventually given in New York but even then, the Scots were not allowed to set foot on the land. Over 2000 Scots died and less than 300 returned. The kings response; The colony was a threat to peace with Spain.
A very good piece written by Wings over Scotland about the expedition and it's reason for failure. The plan had many flaws but the killer was the blockade put in place by their own king. Wings over Scotland
The following thesis from 2016 "The Darien Scheme: Debunking the Myth of Scotland's Ill-Fated American Colonization Attempt" by Kimberly Michelle Miller of Wright State University. Makes for some very interesting reading and talks in great detail of how the Darien settlement was not only flourishing but could easily have survived any later setbacks had it not been for the sabotage of their own King who cared more about his England than his ancestors homeland of Scotland which he saw as nothing more than an outlier of his domain.
Union of Parliaments
Treaty of Union courtesy of the Scottish Parliament Web Site.
During the 1600's, after the union of the crowns, a number of attempts were made to bring the Scottish parliament into line with the English parliament and create a single body.
After several failed attempts, The Darien project became the catalyst that would bring about the union. With most of the landowners in Scotland with very little money due to the embargo put in place by their own king, who had worked against them and made them bankrupt, they eventually capitulated.
To make matters worse, in 1705, the English parliament had ordered the English markets were to refuse to trade with the Scots and barred Scots from trading with their colonies to try and force them into the union.
Two years later, the Scottish parliament, mainly the landowners and bribed poorer members, had sold it's soul for English gold. Voting with 110 for to 67 against on the 16th January 1707. The common people who didn't have the vote at that time were furious and when they found out what had been done, riots and civil disobedience broke out all over Scotland
So ended the Scottish parliament. It's last meeting was on the 25th March 1707. Only the Legal system, Education and Religion was to be left for the Scots, along with the privileges of the Royal Scottish Burghs.
The Jacobite Rebellion
Following failed uprisings in 1715 and 1719 to put James Stuart, Son of King James II & VII back on to the Throne of Scotland, England and Ireland. On the 19th August 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised his royal standard at Glenfinnan. This was the rallying call for the Scots to march to meet him.
After a slow start, the Princes army gathered more men and following a victory at Prestonpans they marched for England. The army gathered more men in England from various towns and cities then eventually stopped at Derby. 125 miles from London. It is rumoured that the king was already preparing to flee the country and that ships had been made ready for his escape.
After a heated debate it was decided to return to Scotland as two large armies were said to be approaching the Scots from opposite sides. The army shrunk in size while returning to Scotland but reinforcements meant that they were able to defeat an army led by General Henry Hawley at Falkirk. by the time they reached the highlands they were in a bad way and were defeated. Charles escaped with the help of Flora McDonald, posing as her handmaid. Thus came about the Skye boat song.
The White Rose of Scotland
(The White Cockade)
Rosa spinosissima (Syn. Rosa pimpinellifolia), family Rosaceae
Throughout The UK, Europe and Asia it is found on coastal sand dunes and limestone heaths. Next to the thistle, Rosa spinosissima is probably our most emblematic native plant. It has been used as a Scottish emblem since Charles Edward Stuart or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' (1720-1788) and is believed to be the source of the Jacobite white cockade.
The Burnet Rose has become a symbol of Scotland, celebrated in song and poetry. Under the pen name Hugh MacDiarmid, Christopher Murray Grieve (1892-1978) wrote these poignant words from
'The Little White Rose':-
The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland.
That smells sharp and sweet - and breaks the heart.
This tough reliable rose is the parent of many good garden hybrids which have a strong fragrance. One particularly old variety with double purple-lilac flowers named 'Mary Queen of Scots' is said to have been brought to Scotland by Mary Stuart (1542-1587) from France in 1561.
Roses also have a long history as an emblem and are regularly seen in heraldry. For example the white rose is the plant badge of the Clan Keith which dates back to the time Malcolm II (died 1034) and the Battle of Barrie in 1010. David I (c.1080-1153) granted the family lands in Lothian in 1150. Later Robert The Bruce (1274-1329) granted the hereditary Marischal Earldom to Sir Robert Keith after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
George Keith, the 4th Earl Marischal (c.1553-1623) founded Marischal college in Aberdeen and negotiated the marriage of James VI to Anne of Denmark. However Earldom and much of the land was lost following the clans support of the Jacobite cause.
The plant is associated with tartan - the small black hips grown each autumn produce juice which provides a peachy dye if used on its own, and a beautiful purple shade when mixed with alum.
Origins of the NHS in Scotland
Historical Musings of a retired Physician on a Part story of the National Health Service in Scotland.
There are those who believe that the NHS sprang into the light, after the Second World War, in 1947 fully formed, ab initio. Of course, this is not true, and, like most other developments, stood on the shoulders of giants.
In 1852, my College, The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, recognising that the provision of medical services to remote, rural communities, populated by crofters and fishermen, none of whom were well off in money terms, was a problem. It responded with The Coldstream Report. In 1884, the Napier Report appeared. It was a Royal Commission into the condition of crofters and cotters in the Highlands and Islands.
The next two, almost simultaneous, were the Dewar (yes, whisky!) Report of 1912 into the Highlands and Islands Medical Services, which, in part, was set up to deal with the inability of the National Insurance Act, 1911 (the second, although not effected in Scotland until 1912 and 1913, I believe) to provide the sickness treatment aspects in the crofting and fishing communities of remote and rural parts of Scotland. Essentially, it recommended a centralised system which, within twenty years, transformed the quality of provision.
It should be remembered that Lloyd George did not dream his Act up, with its provisions of Panel patients, GPs’ Lists of patients, and limited Sick Pay, off the top of his head; he was inspired by von Bismarck, the conservative (and somewhat anti-democratic) Iron Chancellor, who having unified Germany, invented the first European State Security system (mostly for entirely political reasons!). Lloyd George did bring in British Summer Time, however, which was not universally popular. My own Grandfather used to speak of “Lloyd George’s time, and God’s time”. It was clear from his tone which he preferred! With the State Pension provisions, Lloyd George made two fundamental mistakes. The first was assuming the average age at death would remain around 70 years; the second was that the system was not fully funded. Errors of judgement from which we are still suffering!
One digression, if I may. Again, my Grandfather taught me about the “Turra Coo”, and her significance. She was a lovely, white, short-horn cow, resident on the farm of one, Paterson, outside Turriff. When the National Insurance Act brought in ‘Stamps’, to be paid by employed men and their employers, but not by or for their wives, children, or the self-employed, which produced Benefits, particularly, care by General Practitioners and some Sick Pay, both Paterson and his men refused to pay (never being sick themselves), as they knew perfectly well that all this money would simply go straight to the indigent poor of Aberdeen! To cut a long story short, the ‘coo’ was taken to Turriff Cross for a poinding. She could not be auctioned, as Paterson had links with both the local cattle auction houses! By mysterious ways, she was ‘liberated’ and returned to a farm field, where she died of old age and rests in a lair under a grave slab, suitably inscribed. Her statue stands in Turriff to this day. She is a monument to the Law of Unintended Consequences. (For details, see “The Turra Coo: A Legal Episode in The Popular Culture of the North-East of Scotland” by Alexander Fenton. Aberdeen University Press 1989, updated 2013.) Shades of the “Poll Tax”!
The National Insurance Act produced also a major structural reform of the British Medical Association, but that’s another story.
The next “shoulders” are those of William, Lord Beveridge. A Liberal Civil Servant, who spent the Second World War years in an Oxbridge backwater, whence he produced three Reports. One was “Full Employment in a Free Society”. Just pause to let the total implications of that title sink in! It is of interest to me that his grave, together with that of his Lady wife, are in St. Aidan’s Kirkyard in Throcklington, Northumberland. The village is no more, as a sailor returned to it bearing Cholera, which wiped out the village residents. Oh, where art thou, Sir John Simon, first MOH of the City of London, and, I believe, like John Snow, (and me!) a graduate of Durham Medical School?
During the Second World War, in response to the fear of German bombing of cities, and to provide a country into which resistance to German invasion could retreat from England, the Emergency Hospital Service (Scotland) was established. In short order it increased the hospital capacity by 60%, and directed hospital staff to serve in the new buildings, mostly prefabricated and out of town. These hospitals became part of the estate of the new Scottish NHS after the War, and very flexible they proved, many providing valuable service into the 21st Century. Not least at Stracathro and Ballochmyle Hospitals, the latter being where the Plastic Surgery Unit started that became Canniesburn.
After the Second World War, Clement Attlee’s Government brought in a raft of Social Security Legislation, including the National Health Service. It was not universally popular! Indeed, it was described (accurately) as Not National (the NHS (Scotland) Act is embedded in quite different Legal underpinning to England and Wales); Not Health (it’s a Sickness provision); and Not Service (it’s an Entitlement). However, amongst many General Practitioners it was widely popular, because it removed from them the responsibility of deciding which of their patients could afford to pay their fees, and which could not. Besides provision by Friendly Societies, Churches and some Unions, a number of General Practitioners were, in fact, operating a sort of private Robin Hood scheme, using their fees from more affluent patients to fund their care of poorer people. I do not think many young Doctors nowadays are aware of those times, when thrifty housewives would set aside a penny a week to accumulate the necessary half a crown (2 shillings and six pence --- 12.5p in ‘new’ money) to pay if one of their children was judged, by them, sick enough to “Send for the Doctor!”
It is little wonder, to me, that the forerunners of a collective effort to provide Health Care free at the point of use, has many roots in communities like (but not restricted to) the Crofting Counties, where neither the population nor their Doctors had sufficient spare resources to fund what may be thought by some to be non-essential items, particularly the care of the Elderly and Very Elderly, for trade, rather than as a Public Good. In Lord Beveridge’s Third Report “Voluntary Action”, he observes that the recommendations of his first two Reports will not be effective unless the recommendations of the Third Report are implemented. In present times, his three Reports would repay careful re-reading.
In days when the monetisation of everything, and Neo-Liberal Economists seem to rule the World, it is worth pondering whether there is added value in collective provision against life’s harsher blows. The titles of “National Insurance” and “Social Security” have meaning. Words mean what words say!
Dr. David. Bell, MBA, FRCPE. 10 November 2016, revised 2 July 2017.
The Importance of the Voluntary Sector (Third or Charitable Sectors) for the Social Health of Society.
Just after the Second World War, William, Lord Beveridge published his Third great Report. The first Two Reports (Social Welfare and Health, 1942, and ‘Full Employment in a Free Society’, 1944, --- just think about that Title for a moment!) formed the basis on which the Attlee Government was able to build, with the Housing and Education Acts, and extend the Social Security system, arguably started by Asquith and Lloyd George before the First World War, which we used to have in the United Kingdom, until the passion for “small and cheap Government” became fashionable.
Lord Beveridge called his Third Report “Voluntary Action”, and he reviewed the history of such action in the British Isles. The first he could find was the Incorporation of the Carters of Leith, in 1555. Sadly, the Third report is not much regarded nowadays. However, in the context of a population revealing increasing needs for Social Security and diminishing abilities to pay for it, it may be worth revisiting some seminal themes. It is great interest to me that, towards the end of the Third Report, Lord Beveridge comments that “if the lessons of this Third Report are disregarded, the impacts of both his first Two Reports will be much diminished”.
The importance of Third Sector bodies, it seems to me are that they are small; they are run by ‘volunteers’ or ‘not for profit’; they respond to locally perceived needs; they are nimble and reactive; they are autonomous; they are locally accountable. One must doubt whether some of our modern Charities, like Barnardos, Christian Aid, Save the Children or Oxfam still fulfil their founders’ principles.
At a time when many of us have grown up in a World where Statutory Sectors could be trusted to provide a Social Security net, for both the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ poor, we are beginning to realise that that may not be true much longer. We need to debate how we are going to manage ‘self-help’ so that it remains with the desirable characteristics of the Third Sector, while removing some of the managerially undesirable characteristics of top-down, dirigiste control, and assures individuals of equity and ‘fairness’.
A temptation, to be resisted, is that only top-down management can guarantee good provision. Sadly, this is a default position for many who have known nothing but Statutory Sector provision all their working lives.
Dr. David. Bell, July 2017.
Article by the Guardian newspaper.; Map of Scots women accused of witchcraft published for first time
A map that tracks more than 3,000 Scots women who were accused of being witches in the 16th and 17th Century has been published for the first time.
The interactive document has been created by data experts at the University of Edinburgh.
It builds on the university's breakthrough work on the Scottish Witchcraft Survey which brought to life the persecution of women during the period, with many burned at the stake or drowned.
Now, users can move through a map of Scotland to see where the accused witches lived as well as the towns and villages where they were detained, punished and executed.
Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, said: "The map is a really effective way to connect where we are now to these stories of the past.
"There is a very strong feeling out there that not enough has been done to inform people about the women who were accused of being witches in Scotland There is still this Halloween concept surrounding them.
"The tragedy is that Scotland had five times the number of executions of women. The idea of being able to plot these on a map really brings it home. These places are near everyone.
"There does seem to be a growing movement that we need to be remembering these women, remembering what happened and understanding what happened."
Intern Emma Carroll worked for three months collating the historical information and plotting the locations on the map of Scotland.
Mr McAndrew added: "It took quite a lot of detective work to create this map as a lot of these places don't exist anymore."
To view the map, visit https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk/
Witches in Scotland
James VI and the Pestilence 1585.
King James tells us in his Basilicon Doron that ‘the pest always smites the sickarest such as flies it furthest and apprehends deepliest the peril thereof.’ See his own conduct on this occasion. About the end of September, while he was hunting at Ruthven, ‘word came that there were five or six houses in Perth affected with the plague, where his majesty’s servants were for the time. Whereupon, his majesty departed the same night with a very small train to Tullibardine, and next day to Stirling, leaving his whole household servants inclosed in the place of Ruthven, with express command to them not to follow, nor remove forth of the same, until they saw what became of them upon the suspicion.’ – Moy. R.
The pest on this occasion remained in Perth for several months, working great destruction. It was ordained by the kirk-session, May 24, 1585, that ‘hereafter during the time of the plague, no banquets should be at marriages, and no persons should resort to bridals under pain of ten pounds… forty pounds to be paid by them that call more than four on the side to the banquet, or bridal, during the pest.’
In the ensuing February, under an apprehension about the arrival of the pestilence in their city, the town-council of Edinburgh adopted a highly rational sanitary measure, ordering the ashes, dust, and dirt of their streets to be put up to auction. We do not learn that any one undertook to pay for the privilege of cleaning the streets of the capital, and Maitland remarks in his History, that many years elapsed before the movement was renewed, not to say carried into effect.
Dec. 2. – ‘… a baxter’s boy, called Robert Henderson – no doubt by the instigation of Satan – desperately put some powder and a candle in his father’s heather-stack, standing in a close opposite to the Tron of Edinburgh [the public weighing-machine], and burnt the same, with his father’s house, which lay next adjacent, to the imminent hazard of burning the whole town. For which, being apprehended most marvellously, after his escaping out of the town, he was on the next day burnt quick at the cross, as an example.’ – Moy. R.
May 7. – The pest, which had commenced in Perth in the previous September, was believed to be now brought thence by a servant-woman to the Fishmarket in Edinburgh (Moy.), where it ‘was first knawn to be in Simon Mercerbanks’s house.’ (Bir.) From accident or otherwise, the king acted on this occasion exactly as he had done at Perth, when the plague first declared itself there. On the very day when the disease appeared in Edinburgh, he left the city, and ‘rode to Dirleton to a sumptuous banquet prepared by the Earl of Arran.’ (Cal.) The pest continued in the capital till the subsequent January, sometimes carrying off twenty-four people in a single night.
‘The hail people whilk was able to flee, fled out of the town: nevertheless there died of people which were not able to flee, fourteen hundred and some odd.’ (Bir.) It was at St Andrews in August, ‘and continued till upwards of four hundred people died, and the place was left almost desolate.’ (Moy.) Duns is cited as a place where this pestilence ‘raged extremely.’ (Mar.) In Perth, between 24th September 1584 and August 1585, when it ceased, it carried off fourteen hundred and twenty-seven persons, young and old, or thereby. (Chron. Perth.) This could not be less than a sixth of the entire population.
Courtesy of Jenny Eeles of the Random History of Scotland. Additional text here; RSH Site