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Archive for the ‘Issue 12 (2021) – Communities & Margins’ Category:

Editorial ~ Recovering the Communities and Margins of Early Modern Scotland

Editorial: Recovering the Communities and Margins of Early Modern Scotland

Laura I. Doak and Rebecca Mason

​[1]​ This special issue of the Journal of Northern Renaissance examines the history and cultural production of early modern Scotland through consideration of its ‘communities’ and ‘margins’. These are notions that permeate the literature but have not yet been explored either individually, as analytical categories, or, until now, together as a defined theme. For this period, historians have frequently conceived of unique, Scottish communities, yet marginality is also ever-present. Work on pre-modern Scotland must negotiate unique tensions between communal Lowland identities and a Gaelic-speaking Highland ‘fringe’. Equally, it must also address a longstanding awareness that Scottish events, ideas, and experiences during this period have often been marginalized within ‘British’ and European narratives. The application of a theme specifically addressing community and marginality, therefore, holds obvious significance for early modern Scotland.

​[2]​ Moving past debates on the manifold meanings and theoretical conceptualizations of ‘community’ and ‘marginality’, recent scholarship on early modern Europe has demonstrated the benefits of using these seemingly disparate, but more often interconnected, concepts to examine pre-modern society.​[1]​ The following essays all benefit from these insights and adopt differing approaches to the overall theme. Before moving on to individual contributions, however, it is necessary to establish their historiographic context by synthesizing the most recent literature touching the communities and margins of early modern Scotland.


​[3]​ The history of early modern Scotland has often been told via the study of its regional, geographic communities. Often, this approach has been employed to frame socio-economic investigations of a particular burgh or region, such as Allan Kennedy’s recent study of the urban community in late seventeenth-century Inverness (2014).​[2]​ But local communities have also been used to examine broader concerns. Kirsteen MacKenzie, for example, has used a study of one particular burgh, Glasgow, to reflect upon ‘the politics of transnational authority’ (2016: quotation taken from title). J.R.D. Falconer has also examined the role that misbehavior played in defining social space in late sixteenth-century Aberdeen by focusing on the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in the burgh’s community (2013: 3). Increasingly attention is turning to analysis of multiple localities to better understand the history of Scotland as a whole. Chris Langley has used what he termed to be the ‘different rhythms and necessities of Scottish communities’ as a lens to study the interaction of conflict and nation-wide religious practice between 1638 and 1660 (2016: 1). Most recently, Alasdair Raffe has made extensive use of regional archival material to place local communities at the heart of a bigger, political narrative of Scotland’s experience during the 1688 – 1690 revolution (2018: especially 106-130). Research on the Scottish diaspora and the creation of communities of Scots abroad has also highlighted Scotland’s bleak involvement in the transatlantic slave trade (Devine 2015; McCarthy and Mackenzie 2016). The importance of Scotland’s communities to an understanding of its pre-modern history is thus a well-established concept.

​[4]​ The Scottish Highlands is a region that has been conventionally considered as both geographically distant and culturally distinct. As Alison Cathcart has noted, Gaelic-speaking areas, the Gàidhealtachd, in particular are discussed as ‘a realm apart’ (2006: 1). Such conceptualizations imagine the Highlands to be both internally cohesive and universally marginalized within a bigger Scottish polity, perfectly illustrating Scotland’s contradictory relationships with the notions of community and communal boundaries.​[3]​ Yet closer scrutiny also re-asserts the ambiguity of these concepts. No rigid boundaries existed between Gaelic and Scots or English-speaking regions (Withers 1984: 32, 37). No clear-cut lines can be drawn between the Highland’s political, religious, or cultural identities (Macinnes 1996: 56-87, 123-125). Cathcart’s own work, focusing largely on the sixteenth century, has helped to establish that ‘local, regional, and national politics in Scotland were inextricably intertwined’ across any Highland line, and anything north of such a perceived or imagined margin was wrought with ‘sub-divisions’(2006: 28-29, 209).​[4]​ Among work responding to this, Allan Kennedy has continued the re-integration of ‘the periphery’ into the political center through a study of Highland parliamentary commissioners (2016; 2017). Importantly, Martin MacGregor has also established how the advancement of the Campbells of Argyll, during the late medieval and early modern periods, relied upon their successful negotiation of cultural, as much as, political frontiers, once again illustrating the diverse permeability of what has often been assumed as an immovable boundary (2012: 121, 152-153).

​[5]​ The influence of the so-called cultural turn on the historiography of pre-modern Scotland​[5]​ has led to an exploration of social groups and divisions defined by cultural, rather than geographic delineations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the benefits of this approach are clearly visible in work examining cultural production. For example, Jamie Reid-Baxter has discussed the literary creation and poetic expression of a communal spiritual identity in eastern Fife (2017a; 2017b); an exploration that he has further developed in this present volume.​[6]​ Other analysts have even used literary works to explore the boundaries and tensions between different groups.​[7]​ Research on Scottish music and composition during the early modern period has revealed how Scottish songs and ballads were written and performed outside Scotland by musicians of other countries who had ‘Scotland in mind’, further pushing the boundaries of who can be considered a part of a Scottish community, or who, in fact, existed on the margins.​[8]​ A similar approach has also been taken to discuss discernible intellectual communities in early modern Scotland.​[9]​

​[6]​ Yet the extent to which pre-modern Scotland as a whole can be considered as a ‘national community’ must also be contemplated. Interpretations differ over which communal idea or ideal could prove capable of unifying the kingdom, largely dictated by individual scholars’ chronological and topical concerns. Jenny Wormald, in her seminal Court, Kirk, and Community, deployed the term thematically to imagine an emerging sense of Scottishness alongside a transforming monarchy and reforming church (2001). For Margot Todd, a Scottish community was both a more definable and notably less political entity; constructed through the cultural and religious transformation of the Protestant Reformation (2000; 2002).​[10]​ Laura Stewart, meanwhile, working on the mid-seventeenth century, has written of a new and revolutionary national community created almost self-consciously through the countrywide swearing of both religious and political allegiance to the reforms envisaged by the 1638 National Covenant (2018: 8-9, 221-222, 304).

​[7]​ However, work by those researching Scots and Scottish interests lying outside the dominant representation of Scotland at that time – be that courtly or covenanted – illustrates the opacity of any national ideal. Where one scholar constructs the idea of a community, another explores its consequential but often permeable boundaries. Jane Dawson’s examination of John Knox and other Protestant Scots in sixteenth-century Geneva forms a clear example. Geographically exiled but spiritually and culturally unified, these men and women perfectly illustrate the duality of both community and marginality to many early modern Scots (2010). Equally, however, they also prove the changeability of these labels, with Knox returning from exile to help fashion the Reformed Scottish community written of by Margo Todd and others, noted above. Parallels are also visible in the clusters of trading and dissenting Scottish émigrés based within Atlantic colonies, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe, during the seventeenth century.​[11]​ Depictions of any national, Scottish community, or social marginality, are arguably thus best considered as momentary representations. But this is not to leave either without analytical value. Indeed, it is arguably the moments of change and permeability within the inextricable co-existence of community and marginality that render the theme addressed by this edition as most rewarding. These are the moments that illustrate the realities and intricacies of pre-modern life in a way that is often otherwise unreachable.

​[8]​ The value of this collection’s multi-faceted theme is also illustrated by recent work on Scots who were marginalized from wider from society but still resident within national bounds. Criminality, for example, could incur marginalizing punishments like ‘horning’ or transportation, but Elizabeth Ewan’s recent work on the use of banishment in fifteenth-century burghs has emphasized the permeability of such social boundaries (2018: 238).​[12]​ This point is further supported by recent work on Scotland’s poor who, although quite obviously constituting a significant proportion of the overall population, are frequently conceptualized as marginalized from broader society; conventionally discussed as religiously disciplined or politically disenfranchised subordinates. John McCallum, for instance, understands the poor as socially connected to the wider community through charity, both within and without parish church structures (2012: 110; 2014; 2018). This is a claim also echoed by Chris Langley, albeit the community enthusiasm for poor relief was often strained by ongoing warfare in the cases he examined (2016; 2017).

​[9]​ The contribution that women made to many different aspects of Scottish society have been rediscovered and recognized. Narratives of women transgressing societal norms have permeated historical discourse, with much focus on how marginalized women attempted to navigate their subjugated status within the community. Julian Goodare’s work on Scottish witch-hunting has shown how those women who were suspected of witchcraft were compelled to defend their behaviour before their local communities and courts (2013).​[13]​ Rosalind Mitchison and Leah Leneman have also revealed how women who failed to adhere to social and moral norms faced imprisonment, or even banishment (1989; 1998a; 1998b). John Harrison has shown how the scold’s bridle, a Scottish implement attached to the town’s courthouse and jail (Tolbooth), was used to forcibly silence transgressive women, while serving as a constant reminder to those passing of the dangers of operating on the margins of the community (1998).

​[10]​ Yet whilst often collectively marginalized within a patriarchal society, Scotswomen willing and able to negotiate their gender and status within their own communities appear ubiquitously in contemporary sources. Research undertaken by Michael Graham and Alice Glaze has uncovered evidence of women giving and receiving charity within the kirk-sanctioned poor relief system, as well as policing their neighbours’ behaviour and defending their own (Graham 1999; Glaze 2016). Mairianna Birkeland has shown how women protected their church and religion during times of violence and dissent, with this active participation considered as community-sanctioned during times of social upheaval (1999: 45-48). Additionally, Cathryn Spence has uncovered how women in early modern Edinburgh were closely involved in cultivating credit and debt networks with their neighbours, and established themselves as formidable, respected members of their local communities (2016). The ambiguous position of women thus symbolizes the interconnected shades of marginality and community in early modern Scottish society.

​[11]​ Whether implicitly or explicitly, however, the wider field of Scottish history has continued to relegate women to the margins of historiography. Despite the expanding volume of new research, some corners of Scottish history still consider women’s history to be a distinct area of study that has limited relevance for mainstream history. Moreover, women’s history is repeatedly linked to ‘women’s issues’, such as sex or the family, whereas men’s history continues to be associated with political, intellectual, and theological issues. As well as dominating the field of women’s history, gender historians have also undertaken the laborious task of uncovering men’s history through a gendered lens. Lynn Abram’s and Elizabeth Ewan’s 2017 book Nine Centuries of Man – which traced the stereotypes of the medieval kilted warrior to the modern-day ‘hard man’ – provided a much-needed exploration on the diverse range of the multiple and changing forms of masculinities in Scotland from the medieval to modern period. Much work still remains to be done, however, to synthesize women’s history and gender history within the wider field.


​[12]​ Our contributors seek to challenge some fundamental assumptions about the communities and margins of early modern Scotland by providing new perspectives and uncovering some neglected voices. The over-arching goal of this collection is to develop a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which the communities and margins of pre-modern Scotland intersected within wider discourses concerning the formation and reformation of national identities during a period of pronounced social, political, and religious upheaval.

​[13]​ The first two articles within this collection, by Julian Goodare and Jamie Reid-Baxter, use literary sources as starting points for their exploration of early modern Scotland’s communities and margins. Goodare investigates narratives of witches’ prophecies, drawing distinctions between these paranormal prophets and the prophecies they made, which themselves reflect the cultural range within which Scottish witchcraft can be understood. Goodare shows how prophetic witches can be perceived as brokers between elite and popular culture; the surviving written narratives are predominantly elite in origin, but ordinary Scots also told stories of the downfall of prominent men through popular ballads and oral culture. Additionally, Goodare also notes that the charge of ‘witch’ was a label applied by those within the community, such as an aggrieved neighbour, to those operating on its fringes. Meanwhile, Jamie Reid-Baxter’s article grows from the study of two Scottish ministers’ tracts on dying a Christian death, written in 1596 and 1631, and considers how their authors’ relationships with their congregational community, or experience of its peripheries, impacted upon comprehension of mortality as the most physically marginalizing facet of early modern life. Both Goodare and Reid-Baxter use prose and poetry to explore the construction of communal identities and societal margins.

​[14]​ Contributions from Andrew Lind and Laura Doak both address the societal fissures caused by the mid-seventeenth-century covenanting revolution, archipelagic civil war, and overthrow of the Stuart monarchy. Exploring the ideological contours of community divisions in civil war Glasgow, Lind challenges the idea that the Scottish burghs were bastions of support for the Covenanting movement during the 1640s and 1650s, and contends that Glasgow was, in fact, ‘deeply divided’ and home to a strong Royalist faction. Lind’s study of Glasgow’s diverse political and religious factions highlights the dangers of interpreting allegiance solely through official records and offers a new perspective on Glasgow in the civil war period. Meanwhile, Doak’s analysis centres upon the construction of a communal, covenanting identity after the 1660 Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Using a micro-historical analysis of two prominent and extremist female covenanters of the early 1680s, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, Doak demonstrates how these transgressive women played an active role in constructing and disseminating a collective, militant identity on the margins of Scottish society, which was itself united by a communal sense of purpose and radical belief.

​[15]​ Jamie Kelly examines the early modern Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), an organization whose mission was to establish a network of charity schools in the Highland region to provide basic religious instruction and literary education to remote communities. While the established historiography tends to present the run-up to the Society’s foundation as a something of a crucible for Gaelic, following which SSPCK members conspired to exclude Gaelic from formal education, Kelly demonstrates that the picture is far more complex than previously realized. Although the organization depicted the Highlands as spiritually and educationally desolate, Kelly reveals that many – if not most – Highland districts had already contained a school for decades before the Society’s establishment. Furthermore, these schools prioritized instruction in English and Latin, with very little evidence suggesting that Gaelic was part of the curriculum; this suggests that while English functioned as a literary medium for Scottish Gaels, they continued to speak Gaelic as their mother-tongue. Overall, Kelly’s article demonstrates that the society’s initial hesitance to enforce a language policy on the ground reflects how the treatment of the Gaelic language continued to be dictated by local conditions and the attitudes of individual schoolmasters.

​[16]​ Finally, Andrew Bull investigates the Scottish musical community in London after the parliamentary union of Scotland and England in 1707. Focusing on James Oswald, a dancing tutor from Dunfermline who later became court composer to George III, Bull contends that networks of Scots resident in London aided one another in navigating their marginalized status and forged a distinctive community. Bull also analyses the marginalization of Scottish national music within a wider ‘British’ musical landscape. Linking the othering of Scottish national music as belonging to an ‘ancient’ past, Bull convincingly argues that the genre was seen as ‘Highland’ in origin and thus by the London elite as ‘uncivilized, barbaric, and reliant upon a natural state of being instead of achieving civility.’ In joining with Kelly’s exploration of Scotland’s post-1707 position on the discursive periphery of a newly minted ‘British’ polity, Bull thus completes this edition’s exploration of community and margins as entwined themes in the history and cultural production of early modern Scotland.

​Dr Laura Doak is the current Charlotte Nicholson Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on popular engagement and political communication in seventeenth-century Scotland. She is also ECR Editorial Fellow for History: the journal of the Historical Association.

Dr Rebecca Mason is the recipient of an Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Glasgow. She is a historian of women, property and law in early modern Scotland.


​[1] For a discussion of the theoretical concepts and debates surrounding the idea of community, and its margins, see: Alexandra Shepard and Phil Withrington and, ‘Introduction: communities in early modern England’ in A. Shepard and P. Withrington, eds., Communities in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000) 1-15. See also: Peter Burke, Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 5-7; J. L. Stevens Cranshaw, ‘Introduction’ in A. Spicer and J. L. Stevens Cranshaw, eds., The Place of the Social Margins, 1350 – 1750 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017) 1-18.​[back to text]​

​[2] See also Claire Hawes, ‘The urban community in fifteenth-century Scotland: language, law and political practice’, Urban History, 44, 3 (2017) 365-380. For an older but still relevant example, see also: T. C. Smout, ‘The Glasgow merchant community in the seventeenth century’, Scottish Historical Review, 47 (1968) 53-71.​[back to text]​

​[3] See Caroline Bingham, Beyond the Highland Line: Highland History and Culture (London: Constable and Company, 1991), 13-16; I. D. Whyte, Scotland’s Society and Economy in Transition, c.1500-c.1760 (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1997), 94-114; R. A. Dodgshon, From Chief to Landlords: Social and Economic Change in the Western Highlands and Islands, c.1493-1820 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), 7-15.​[back to text]​

​[4] For similar arguments addressing Highland diversity see: J. E. A. Dawson, ‘The Origins of the ‘Road to the Isles’: Trade, Communications and Campbell Power in Early Modern Scotland, in R. Mason and N. Macdougall, eds., People and Power in Scotland (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1992) 96; Aonghas MacCoinnich, Plantation and Civility in the North Atlantic World: The Case of the Northern Hebrides, 1570-1639 (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2015), esp. 3-11.​[back to text]​

​[5] For a discussion of the cultural turn’s impact upon Scottish historiography more generally see: Karin Bowie, ‘Cultural, British and Global Turns in the History of Early Modern Scotland’, The Scottish Historical Review 92 (2013) esp. 39-44.​[back to text]​

​[6]See also, J. Reid Baxter, ‘Rethinking the Melvillians: the Poetic Spirituality of the East Neuk of Fife, 1580 – 1620’, paper at The Future of Early Modern Scottish Studies Conference 13 January 2017 (University of St Andrews) [available online at: https://scottishhistoryconference2017.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/beyond-the-conference/media-and-resources/].​[back to text]​

​[7]See W. Michalski, ‘Creating Knightly Identities? Scottish Lords and Their Leaders in the Narratives about Great Moments in Community History’, in A. Pleszczynski, J. A. Sobiesiak, M. Tomaszek, and P. Tyszka, eds., Imagined Communities: Constructing Collective Identities in Medieval Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2018) 154 – 178; A. Steenson, ‘Writing Sonnets as a Scoto-Britane: Scottish Sonnets, the Union of the Crowns, and Negotiations of Identity’, Medievalia et Humanistica 41 (2016) 195-210.​[back to text]​

​[8] R. Fiske, Scotland in Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), quotation at ix. See also D. Johnson, Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, 2nd edition (Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 1972, 2003), esp. 3-19; J. Purser, Scotland’s Music: A History of the Traditional and Classical Music of Scotland from Early Times to the Present Day (Edinburgh and London: Mainstream Publishing, 2007); J. Reid Baxter, ‘James IV and Robert Carver: Music for the Armed Man’, in Medieval and Early Modern Representations of Authority in Scotland and the British Isles, eds. K. Buchanan and L. Dean with M. Penman (London: Routledge, 2016), 235-252.​[back to text]​

​[9] D. Allan, Virtue, Learning and the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), 29-78; A. MacDonald and K. Dekker, eds, Rhetoric, Royalty, and Reality: Essays on the Literary Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland, (Leuven, Paris and Dudley MA: Peeters, 2005); R. Carr, Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 73-101; D. McOmish, ‘A Community of Scholarship: Latin Literature and Scientific Discourse in Early-Modern Scotland’, in S. J. Reid and D. McOmish, eds., Neo-Latin Literature and Literary Culture in Early Modern Scotland (Leiden: Brill, 2016) 40 – 73.​[back to text]​

​[10] For a similar discussion see: K. P. Walton, ‘Scotland’s “City on a Hill”: The Godly and the Political Community in Early Reformation Scotland’, in M. J. Halvorsen and K. E. Spierling, eds., Defining Community in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 247-265.​[back to text]​

​[11] Ginny Gardner, The Scottish Exile Community in the Netherlands, 1660 – 1690: ‘shaken together in the bag of affliction’ (East Linton: Tuckwell, 2004); A. Grosjean and S. Murdoch, eds., Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period (Leiden: Brill, 2005); S. Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603 – 1746 (London: Brill, 2006); D. Worthington, ed., British and Irish Emigrants and Exiles in Europe, 1603-1688 (Leiden: Brill, 2010); E. Mijers, ‘Between empires and cultures: Scots in New Netherlands and New York’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 33:2 (2013) 165-195.​[back to text]​

​[12] Scotland’s royal burghs can be considered as largely self-determined communities, see: E. Patricia Dennison, ‘Urban Society and Economy’ in B. Harris and A. R. MacDonald, eds., Scotland: the Making and Unmaking of the Nation, c.1100-1707, ii (Dundee: Dundee University Press in association with the Open University in Scotland: 2007) 146.​[back to text]​

​[13] See also J. Goodare, L. Martin, J. Miller, eds., Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland, (New York, 2008).​[back to text]​


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Witchcraft and Prophecy in Scotland

Witchcraft and Prophecy in Scotland

Julian Goodare

Introduction: Prophecies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

​[1]​ In Scotland between about 1370 and 1690, numerous narratives told of prophecies made by ‘witches’ or witch-like prophetic women. This article examines both the prophetic witches themselves and the prophecies they made. The main protagonist of most stories was a male political figure who sought a ‘response’ from a witch or witches; the prophecy was embedded in a narrative of his downfall.

​[2]​ Let me begin with the most famous prophecies said to have been made by Scottish witches: those in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606). Although Macbeth is known today as ‘the Scottish play’, it is of course an English play, and is also fiction. My concern in this article is with Scotland and with non-fiction. However, Shakespeare provides a useful point of entry to the subject.

​[3]​ Macbeth narrates two relevant sets of witches’ prophecies. Early on, the witches tell Macbeth that he has become Thane of Cawdor, and that he will be ‘king hereafter’ (Shakespeare 2015: 141 (I.3, line 50)). Macbeth initially disbelieves, but, when he finds that the prophecy about Cawdor has come true, he realises that the ‘king hereafter’ prophecy will come true also – and hastens to bring it to pass.

​[4]​ Later, the witches give Macbeth a second set of prophecies, about his defeat and death. They conjure up apparitions that tell him that ‘none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth’, and that

Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him (Shakespeare 2015: 241-242 (IV.1, lines 79-80, 91-93)).

Macbeth believes the prophecies, later saying:

I will not be afraid of death and bane
Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane,


But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn,
Brandish’d by man that’s of a woman born (Shakespeare 2015: 283, 292 (V.3, line 60; V.7, lines 13-14)).

​[5]​ Shakespeare got this material (indirectly) from Scottish chroniclers giving non-fiction accounts of Scottish history, and his prophecies illustrate the structures that I shall be analysing. Shakespeare streamlined the story’s prophetic characters, even though he made the story much longer than his sources. In the Scottish accounts, and in Holinshed who used these accounts and from whom Shakespeare derived the bulk of his material, the first set of prophecies (about becoming king) was made by three weird sisters – fate women – who were not stated to be witches and who were probably not human, while the second set (about his defeat) was made by a separate witch or witches.

​[6]​ This article focuses on prophecies that were ascribed to witches or witch-like prophetic women. It will already be apparent that this will raise questions about the nature of a witch, about the status of witch-like figures for whom the sources do not use the word ‘witch’, and about whether these figures are human or not. It will also raise questions about the nature of prophecy, since the sources do not always use the word ‘prophecy’ for the predictions that they narrate. I shall come back to the Scottish Macbeth story, but Shakespeare brings out the main types of prophecy that I want to discuss.

Two Types of Narrative Prophecy

​[7]​ Narrative prophecies are embedded in narratives told in the past tense. They should be distinguished from ordinary written prophecies, which are not part of a narrative; they just sit, waiting for someone to solve the puzzle or identify the event to which they refer. The fulfilment of one of Nostradamus’s prophecies, though it may confirm his reputation as a sage, does not constitute a single narrative leading from him to the fulfilment. Numerous prophecies of the Nostradamus type circulated in Scotland, some distinctively Scottish like those of Thomas the Rhymer, others international like those of Merlin (Riordan 2020; MacDonald 2013; Moranski 2004; Lyle 2007: 18-26). There were also orthodox religious prophecies, mostly made by prophetic ministers (Todd 2002: 391-399). Related to these were scholarly studies of Biblical prophecies, particularly the vision of the future in the Book of Revelation (McGinnis & Williamson 2010; Thornton 2006). Such prophecies are only indirectly relevant to narrative prophecies.

​[8]​ The two principal characters in narrative prophecies are the prophet and the recipient of the prophecy. This article is concerned with the witch as prophet. But, for most of the stories themselves, the interest falls mainly on the recipient. The prophet is not always identified explicitly, but the recipient always is. The prophecies in these narratives are not like weather forecasts, usable by anyone; they affect, and are addressed to, a specific person or persons.

​[9]​ There are two types of narrative prophecy, with two distinct routes to the prophecy’s fulfilment. Fulfilment of the prophecy is an essential ingredient of the story of a narrative prophecy; as Richard Stoneman puts it, ‘Oracles in stories always come true’ (2011: 11). But they come true in different ways. The two types may be called inexorable and enigmatical. The Macbeth prophecies form good examples of these; the first set is inexorable, the second is enigmatical.

​[10]​ With an inexorable prophecy, the recipient is told clearly, but they either don’t believe it at all, or they think that they can get round it. The princess will prick her finger on a spindle, though her parents think they can get round this by destroying all the spindles in the kingdom. The wooden horse will be the ruin of Troy, though the Trojans think it’s a gift. Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then king. The inexorable prophecy makes its dramatic impact through the hearer’s disbelief in it. Shakespeare’s Macbeth initially says:

to be king
Stands not within the prospect of belief,
No more than to be Cawdor (Shakespeare 2015: 143 (I.3, lines 73-75)).

Only once Macbeth discovers that he has been made Thane of Cawdor does he conclude that he will also become king – ‘the greatest is behind’ (Shakespeare 2015: 146 (I.3, line 118)). In some ways, this prophecy is a variant, because it is a favourable prophecy for the recipient; inexorable prophecies are usually unfavourable. Inexorable prophecies add dramatic interest to a narrative for the readers or hearers.

​[11]​ So the trajectory of the inexorable prophecy can be summarised as follows:

1. The prophet makes an inexorable prophecy to the recipient.
2. The recipient reacts with disbelief, or with insufficient belief, to the prophecy. They either dismiss the prophecy entirely, or they try to get round it. Meanwhile they prosper in the short term.
3. The prophecy is fulfilled.

​[12]​ An enigmatical prophecy, by contrast, operates not through the hearer’s disbelief, but through dual meanings embedded in the prophecy itself (for the term see Thompson 1955-58: no. M305). There is a false meaning on the surface, which the recipient believes, and a true but hidden meaning, which the recipient discovers when it is too late. Macbeth believes that the prophecies about his downfall make him invincible. Disbelief forms no part of the narrative structure.

So the trajectory of the enigmatical prophecy is:

1. The prophet makes an enigmatical prophecy to the recipient.
2. The recipient believes in, and reacts to, the surface meaning of the prophecy. Meanwhile they prosper in the short term.
3. The hidden meaning of the prophecy is fulfilled.

Both inexorable and enigmatical prophecies function, dramatically speaking, as tales told after the event. The inexorable prophecy has to be fulfilled. The enigmatical prophecy impresses us when the surface and hidden meanings have been revealed. Neither kind of prophecy can be left hanging, waiting to be fulfilled. Indeed, it may be only after its fulfilment that we can be sure which kind of prophecy it was – though alertness to the narrative structure may enable us to see what’s coming next through the way in which the recipient reacts to the prophecy.

​[13] ​In both types, there may be an additional episode at the beginning of the story. Before the prophet makes the prophecy, the recipient may ask her or him a question. Narrative prophecies are rarely ancient; they are usually made in the recipient’s lifetime, or even just a day or two before their fulfilment. The recipient who seeks to know his or her fate is a common character in these narratives. Alternatively, the prophet may confront the recipient with an unsolicited warning. Either way, the prophet’s qualifications for their task are likely to be relevant. As we shall see, many of these prophets were witches or witch-like figures.

Sources and Methods

​[14]​ The principal sources for the main part of this article are Scottish narrative accounts of the past. Chronicles in narrative form are first found in Scotland in the late medieval period, and shade gradually into ‘histories’ during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Mason 2006). Most take an interest in prophecy until the later seventeenth century. The following survey covers most instances of narrative prophecies involving witches.

​[15]​ The survey takes in, not only prophecies and other such predictions attributed explicitly to witches, but also those attributed to witch-like figures. Similarities and differences between witches, weird sisters and other such figures are important. There was a fluid vocabulary available to designate such figures, so the actual word ‘witch’ is not necessarily crucial to the analysis. A distinction can be drawn between words designating people who were always bad, such as ‘witch’, and words designating people who might be bad or good, such as ‘divineress’ (Goodare 2016: 17-19). There was a similarly fluid vocabulary available to describe prophecies. As we shall see, some writers wrote explicitly of ‘prophecy’, but others wrote of ‘divination’, or described a prediction as a ‘response’. This fluidity of vocabulary will be discussed further below, but it should be considered as subsidiary to the structural patterns revealed by a survey of these various narratives.

​[16]​ The survey includes narratives presented as true. In principle, explicitly fictionalised narratives (as with Shakespeare) are excluded. In practice, though, the boundaries are blurred (cf. Roberts 1996). Many narratives believed to be true were shaped like narratives known to be fiction. Conversely, fictional narratives were also shaped like true ones, though that is less directly relevant here. The narrative itself possessed the power to compel belief and to shape action.

​[17]​ Witches, by and large, were assumed to be human. However, some beings described as ‘witches’ may in fact have been non-human folkloric figures (Goodare 2016: 133-135). Some of the prophets fall into this non-human category – notably the ‘weird sisters’ (‘weird’ meaning ‘fate’), who were not described as witches before Shakespeare. Some of the prophets had non-human aid; orthodox Christian prophets received foreknowledge from God, while, in demonology at least, human witches enlisted the aid of the Devil (though the Devil was usually held to lack genuine foreknowledge). Finally, the gender of the prophet could be significant. Most of those convicted of witchcraft were female, but there was a male minority – 15 per cent in Scotland (Goodare 1998). There was a similar preponderance of females among the prophets in the narratives that follow. Moreover, in the narratives, all the actual ‘witches’ who were given a gender were female. Comparing them with other female prophetic figures can be rewarding. To a survey of the narratives containing these figures we now turn.

Witches’ Prophecies in Chronicles and Histories

​[18] ​The earliest prophecies relevant to this study come from John Barbour (c.1330-95). In his epic poem celebrating King Robert Bruce written in the 1360s, Barbour related two enigmatical prophecies. The first concerned the Scottish king’s great enemy, Edward I, who had ‘a spyryt that him answer maid’ – a demon, rather than a witch-like figure (Barbour 1997: 161 (book 4, lines 201-20)). Barbour then added a long account of a similar prophecy given to Earl Ferrand of Flanders by his mother, who was a ‘Nygramansour’ and raised ‘Sathanas’ to foretell his fate (Barbour 1997: 165 (book 4, line 242)). The Devil was still involved, but so was a female necromancer. Both prophecies turned out badly for the recipients.

​[19]​ Andrew of Wyntoun (c.1350-c.1422), who completed his chronicle of Scotland in about 1420, gave the first recorded account of the Macbeth prophecies (Farrow 1994). Macbeth was a real Scottish king (r. 1040-57) who featured prominently in histories. In Wyntoun’s time, he was seen as a significant king from whom the current royal line did not descend; it was important to the pedigree of later monarchs that they descended from Malcolm III (r. 1058-93) and his queen, St Margaret. Macbeth was portrayed negatively, as a usurper.

​[20]​ According to Wyntoun, Macbeth saw ‘thre werd sisteris’ in a dream; they prophesied to him that he would become Thane of Cromarty, Thane of Moray and then king. The story implied that he initially disbelieved: it was only when he received these two thanages that ‘Than thocht he nixt for to be king’. Macbeth himself was apparently ‘gottin on selcouth wiss’ (in an extraordinary manner), for his father was ‘a deuill’, who told his mother that ‘na man suld be borne of wif / Off power to reif him his lif’. Wyntoun was not committed to this tale of Macbeth’s parentage, however; ‘I wait nocht’ (I know not), he said, whether that story was true (Andrew of Wyntoun 1903-14: IV:272-281). Finally, Wyntoun related the Birnam Wood prophecy, but without giving it a provenance – Macbeth’s enemies simply knew that he ‘trowit ay in sic fantasy’ (always believed in such fantasy) (Andrew of Wyntoun 1903-14: IV:298-299).

​[21]​ So far, then, the prophets shown to us by Barbour and Wyntoun are a female necromancer, the three ‘weird sisters’ – evidently not human – and the Devil. The first of these might be a witch, though the word is not used. However, the rise of the intellectual idea of the witch during the fifteenth century would lead to increasing attention being paid to witchcraft (Bailey 1996; Kieckhefer 2006). It is thus significant that narrative prophecies in Scotland begin to be attributed more clearly to witches during this period.

​[22]​ Our next prophecies come from a contemporary Latin account of the assassination of King James I, in 1437, which survives in a translation by the English scribe John Shirley (c.1366-1456). The assassination was foretold by two prophecies, one of which came from a possible witch. The king was about to cross the Firth of Forth, on his way to Perth, when he was warned by ‘a womman of Irland, whiche clepid herselfe a sothesaiere’ that ‘and [i.e. if] yee passe this watur ye schulle neuyr turne ageyne onlyve’. The king was astonished, especially since he had ‘redde it in a prophesie that in the selfe same yer the kinge of Scottes schuld be slayn’. He crossed the water nevertheless, encouraged by one of his knights who told him that the woman was a ‘drunken foole’. Reaching Perth, James encountered another of his knights who was nicknamed the ‘King of Love’, and told him that ‘It is not long agoone sithe I redde a prophessie in a olde booke, that I sawe howe that this yere schulde a kinge be slayne in this lande’; he warned the nicknamed knight to take care, since he himself would ‘ordeyne for my seure keping sufficeauntly’ (Connolly 1992: 54-55).

​[23]​ Shirley thus related both an oral prophecy and one written in a book. Both were inexorable, though the second had enigmatical elements. Here we need to focus on the first prophecy, given orally by the ‘womman of Irland’. She was probably a Gaelic-speaking Highlander rather than an Irishwoman. Was she a witch? Later in the narrative, she came to Perth to make a second attempt to warn the king; Shirley said then that she ‘clepid herselfe a devinresse’ (Connolly 1992: 57). The Latin terms lying behind Shirley’s translation are unknown, and further vernacular terms may lie behind the Latin, but these terms, like ‘soothsayer’ and ‘divineress’, were probably distinct from the term ‘witch’ (or Latin ‘malefica’) understood as a worker of evil. They seem more likely to have been terms that a woman might plausibly have applied to herself – Shirley was explicit that she did so – or have allowed others to apply to her.

​[24]​ The assassination gave rise to a second story of prophecy, concerning the Earl of Atholl, one of the conspirators, who was among those executed for the deed. Shirley said that Atholl at his execution was ‘corowned with a corowne of iren’ (Connolly 1992: 65). He did not mention a prophecy, but here his account needs to be read alongside that of another contemporary, Walter Bower (1385-1449). At the end of his chronicle written in the 1440s, Bower also told the story of James I’s assassination. He mentioned that Atholl hoped to be king, ‘because (as is commonly said) he believed for a long time previously on the strength of a statement by a certain woman fortune-teller [‘mulieris sortilege’] that he ought to be crowned with the splendid crown of the kingdom’. Bower did not explicitly mention Atholl’s mock coronation, but he compared Atholl’s fate with two other stories (one English, one German) of people being led astray by the Devil’s false promises, the second of which involved a mock coronation, and concluded that ‘this earl had a wholly similar experience’ (Bower 1987-98: VIII:330-331 (book 16, ch. 36)). This was thus an example of an enigmatical prophecy by a ‘woman fortune-teller’.

​[25]​ John Mair (1469-1550) gave another account of Atholl’s prophecy in his History of Greater Britain published in 1521. According to this, ‘a certain witch [‘magice mulieris’] is said once to have declared to him that before he died he should wear the crown; and to her prediction he trusted not a little’ (Major 1892: 365; Major 1521: fol. 136v). This, however, was Mair’s only such story; he related the story of Macbeth without mention of witches or prophecy.

​[26]​ Two connected writers in the early sixteenth century provided a group of narrative prophecies. Hector Boece (c.1465-1536) published a History of the Scots in Latin in 1527, which in 1531 was translated into Scots by his younger contemporary John Bellenden (c.1495-1545×8); the freedom which Bellenden exercised in his translation gives both versions independent interest here (Royan 1998). Boece’s work included detailed accounts, probably invented by him, of Scotland’s legendary early kings. One of these, Natholocus, was the victim of an unusual witch’s prophecy. The king ‘turnit him to wicchis, divinouris and spa men [‘divinantium, auruspicium, præstigiatorumque opera’]’ to learn his fate. He sent a courtier to Iona, ‘quhair ane crafty wiche [‘anum quandam necromantica arte insigne’] was duelland for the tyme’. The witch told the courtier that the king’s fate would be to be slain by one of his own followers, namely himself. This horrified the courtier, but he soon realised that the king might suspect him if he heard the story, and so felt compelled to kill the king out of self-protection (Boece 1938-41: I:222; Boece 1527: fols. 92r-93r).

​[27] ​Bellenden’s phrase ‘wicchis, divinouris and spa men’ may include an element of pleonasm, but the ‘wicchis’ were presumably female, like the one on Iona, while the ‘divinouris’ may have been male, like the ‘spa’ (spae, i.e. prophetic) men. Boece’s Latin original began slightly differently, with three largely interchangeable masculine terms, all meaning ‘diviners’, before introducing a female figure, for whom a more literal translation would be an ‘old woman noted for the art of necromancy’. Her residence on Iona made her a Highlander, like Shirley’s soothsayer – an exotic figure for most of Boece’s readers. Her prophecy was unusual in containing within itself so much of the dramatic energy needed to bring it to pass; it was both more than a prediction and, in some ways, less than a prediction.

​[28]​ Boece and Bellenden told a detailed version of the Macbeth story. In the opening prophecy, Macbeth and Banquo encountered ‘thre weird sisteris or witches, quhilk come to thame with elrege clothing [‘tres apparvere muliebri specie, insolita vestitus’]’, telling Macbeth that he would be king and Banquo that he would be a progenitor of kings. Neither believed at first. ‘Nochttheles, becaus all thingis come as thir wiches divinit, the pepill traistit thame to be werd sisteris [‘Verum ex eventu postea parcas aut nymphas aliquas fatidicas diabolico astu preditas suisse interpretatum est vulgo, quum vera ea que dixerant evenisse cernerent’]’ (Boece 1938-41: II:150; Boece 1527: fols. 255-258). In translating Boece’s ‘parcas aut nymphas aliquas fatidicas diabolico astu preditas’ (which might more literally be translated ‘Fates or nymphs with some diabolical prophetic gift’), Bellenden may well have taken the phrase ‘weird sisters’ from Wyntoun. Bellenden’s phrase ‘elrege clothing’ emphasised magic more than Boece did; the word ‘eldritch’ meant something like ‘otherworldly’ (Hall 2007). Bellenden’s word ‘witches’ was an even freer translation, since the adjective ‘diabolico’ was the closest that Boece approached to the concept of witchcraft, and he had made it fairly clear that the apparitions ‘in the shape of women’ (‘muliebri specie’) were not human. As for the later Macbeth prophecies, concerning the king’s fate, Boece and Bellenden respectively attributed them to ‘muliercula futurorum prescia’ (literally ‘a little woman with foreknowledge of futures’) and to ‘ane wyche’ (Boece 1938-41: II:157; Boece 1527: fol. ccxlxi [sic; follows fol. cclx]). Again Bellenden was more confident than Boece that he was dealing with human witchcraft.

​[29]​ Boece closed his chronicle with the execution in 1437 of the Earl of Atholl. Here, Boece and Bellenden were closer together in their terminology. As part of the Earl’s ritual humiliation, ‘thai crounitt him with ane croun of haitt irne, becaus ane wyche [‘Saga’] sayid to him, he suld be crounit afoir his detth, throw quhilk he levitt all his life in vane hoipe, traisting ay be vane illusionis to conques the croun’ (Boece 1938-41: II:401; Boece 1527: fol. 368). Thus Atholl’s prophecy had not only become clearer than before, it had also been attributed more clearly to a witch.

​[30]​ A second translator of Boece, William Stewart (fl. 1499-1541), completed a metrical version of his chronicle in the 1530s. Like Bellenden, he adopted the newer vocabulary of witchcraft, though less comprehensively. The witch in the story of Natholocus, though in league with the Devil, was still not a conventional lower-class woman:

Baith Erss and Latyne scho culd reid and wryte,  [Gaelic
And in that craft wes cunning and perfyte;
Thingis to cum perfitlie scho culd tell,
So hamelie wes with the angellis of the hell.         [intimate
(Stewart 1858: I:518-519)

Stewart did not call Macbeth’s initial apparitions witches; they were three women with clothes ‘of elritche hew, / And quhat tha war wes nane of thame that knew’. They vanished and went to heaven or hell, and were thus not human. The Birnam Wood prophecy, however, came from ‘witchis’. The Earl of Atholl’s prophecy came from ‘ane fals propheit’ whose identity was unspecified (Stewart 1858: II:636-637; II:656; III:561).

​[31]​ John Knox (c.1514-72) wrote his History of the Reformation in Scotland mainly in the 1560s. His most detailed account of witchcraft and prophecy arose from the rebellion against Queen Mary by the Catholic Earl of Huntly in 1562. The royal forces, based at Aberdeen, fought Huntly’s at Corrichie. Defeated and captured, Huntly fell from his horse and died in his captors’ presence, perhaps from heart failure or apoplexy. So much is part of the historical record. Knox’s account continued:

The Earl, immediately after his taking, departed this life without any wound, or yet appearance of any stroke whereof death might have ensued; and so, because it was late, he was casten over-thorte [i.e. across] a pair of creels, and so was carried to Aberdeen, and was laid in the Tolbooth thereof, that the response that his wife’s witches had given might be fulfilled, who all affirmed (as the most part say) that the same night should he be in the Tolbooth of Aberdeen without any wound upon his body. When his Lady got knowledge thereof, she blamed her principal witch, called Janet; but she stoutly defended herself (as the devil can ever do), and affirmed that she gave a true answer, albeit she spoke not all the truth; for she knew that he should be there dead: but that could not profit my Lady. She was angry and sorry for a season, but the Devil, the Mass, and witches have as great credit of her this day [in margin: ‘12 June 1566’] as they had seven years ago (Knox 1949: II:61).

This was a remarkably circumstantial narrative of enigmatical prophecy. Since Knox had expertise in theology, it is appropriate to glance at its theological implications. The ‘principal witch’, Janet, was explicitly in league with the Devil. However, she was clearly presented as having had correct foreknowledge. Her prophecy was not a curse: she had not caused Huntly’s defeat and death, only known of them in advance. It could be argued that Janet had caused Huntly’s fate indirectly, luring him on with maliciously deceitful words. But a more straightforward reading would be that she was courteously attempting to avoid bearing bad tidings. Lady Huntly seems to have forgiven her, accepting her good intentions. There was even a suggestion of inexorable fate in the statement that Huntly was placed in the tolbooth ‘that the response that his wife’s witches had given might be fulfilled’. But in other writings Knox explicitly denied the existence of ‘fortune’, ‘adventure’ or ‘destinie’, which he regarded as pagan concepts (Knox 1848-64: V:32, V:119; cf. Kyle 1986: 409). So where did Janet obtain her information? Evidently from the Devil.

​[32]​ Yet it was a theological commonplace to deny that the Devil could foretell the future – or, more precisely, to point out (as Calvin did) that any foreknowledge he had could come only from God (Calvin 1583: 533-534; cf. Clark 1997: 189). God, of course, also shared His foreknowledge with His prophets, who very much included Knox himself. Knox had in 1548 implied that his own foreknowledge was superior to the Devil’s: ‘The head of Sathan shall be troaden down, when he beleeveth surely to triumphe’ (Knox 1848-64: III:10). Knox’s keen sense of his own prophetic vocation should perhaps have sensitised him to the falsity of the Devil’s claims in this department (Dawson 2015: 34-35, 47, 52, 288-291; Goodare 2005). He condemned the ‘Mervaillis of Merlin’ and the ‘dark sentences of prophane prophesies’ (Knox 1848-64: III:168). However, he seems to have accepted this particular prophetic narrative without question.

​[33]​ Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie (c.1532-c.1586), in the 1570s, wrote a continuation of Boece’s history of Scotland. This brought him into the reign of James III (r. 1460-88), concerning which he related a narrative prophecy. James’s courtier ‘Cochrane’, seeking to poison the king’s mind against his brothers,

caussit ane witche to come and pronunce to the king that he sould be suddenlie slaine witht ane of the neirest of his kin of the quhilk the king was werie effeirit and desyreit of the witche how scho had that experience of him or gif ony man had caussit hir to speik the samin, and scho denyit that ony man caussit hir bot that scho had the rewelatioun thairof be ane familiear spreit (Lindesay 1899-1911: I:166).

As a result James had his brothers arrested. However, he later faced a rebellion in which his son took part:

he rememberit the wordis of the witche that said to him befoir that he sould be distroyit and put doune be the neirest of his kin, quhilk he saw appeirandlie for to come to pase at that tyme; and be the wordis of the forsaid witch elustrine [i.e. illusion] and intisment of the dewill he tuik sic ane waine suspitioun in his mynd that he desyrit and haistalie tuik purpois to flie (Lindesay 1899-1911: I:207).

Pitscottie seems to have thought that the witch had real powers, although she had been suborned by Cochrane, and despite the phrase ‘waine suspitioun’; these powers came from a ‘familiear spreit’ (a personal demon), and James also experienced ‘intisment of the dewill’. He later moralised that the episode provided a lesson to kings not ‘by inchantment of sorcerie or witchcraft to seik knawledge or support of the devill as this febill king did’ (Lindesay 1899-1911: I:210).

​[34]​ John Leslie (1527-96), Bishop of Ross, made less use of prophecies in his History of Scotland, written in the 1560s and 1570s. He did relate the story of Natholocus, attributing the prophecy to ‘anum quandam nigromanticae artis peritam’ (an old woman skilled in the arts of necromancy), which his contemporary translator James Dalrymple rendered as ‘a certane alde witche’ (Leslie 1675: 111 (book III, ch. 30); Leslie 1888-95: I:181). However, Leslie omitted the prophecies concerning Macbeth and James III. He told the story of the Earl of Atholl’s mock coronation, briefly attributing the prophecy to ‘Sagæ’, which Dalrymple rendered as ‘the witches’; the definite article may be significant, as we shall see (Leslie 1675: 267 (book VII, ch. 101); Leslie 1888-95: II:46).

​[35]​ George Buchanan (1506-82), in his History of Scotland published in 1582, relied principally on Boece but added his own line of political analysis, particularly concerning tyrants and their relationship with the political community. According to him, the courtier who killed Natholocus wished to rid the land of a tyrant. However, Buchanan related the prophecy, attributing it to an ‘old woman’ (‘anum’), and adding that the story ‘bears a greater resemblance to fable than truth’ (Buchanan 1829-32: I:197; Buchanan 1582: fol. 35r).

​[36]​ Buchanan was also partially sceptical about Macbeth’s prophecies. The initial prophecy he related thus: ‘Macbeth, who had always despised the inactivity of his cousin [King Duncan], cherished secretly the hope of seizing the throne, in which he is said to have been confirmed by a dream’. In this, ‘three women appeared to him of more than human stature [‘tres foeminas forma augustiore quam humana’], of whom one hailed him Thane of Angus, another, Thane of Moray, and the third saluted him king’ (Buchanan 1829-32: I:338; Buchanan 1582: fol. 73r). Macbeth evinced no disbelief, and the prophecy merely encouraged him to put into effect a deed that mundane motives had already led him to contemplate. Buchanan rejected the later Macbeth prophecies altogether: ‘Here some of our writers relate a number of fables, more adapted for theatrical representation or Milesian romance than history, I therefore omit them’ (Buchanan 1829-32: I:343; by ‘Milesian romance’, he meant the stories of the sons of Míl, the legendary founders of the Irish nation).

​[37]​ Buchanan repeated Boece’s story about the execution of the Earl of Atholl, concluding: ‘Thus the prediction was either fulfilled or eluded [‘vel impletum, vel elusum est’]; and truly such predictions have often similar accomplishments’ (Buchanan 1829-32: II:52; Buchanan 1582: fol. 115v). By ‘elusum’ Buchanan meant ‘baffled’ or ‘foiled’ – the earlier sense of the English word ‘eluded’. This was an intriguing interpretation of the enigmatical prophecy: it could be said to have been fulfilled, or not to have been. Buchanan may have been drawing attention to the prophecy’s double meaning, or perhaps expressing scepticism about such prophecies more generally – though the logical clarity of his phrasing fell short of its rhetorical elegance. It is not entirely obvious that he wished to give his readers a single clear explanation of this prophecy.

​[38]​ Buchanan’s story of James III mentioned witches, but subordinated them to ‘One Andrews, a physician, who was reported to have great skill in astrological predictions’, who came to the Scottish court.

By this astrologer, it is said, the king was told, that he was in imminent danger of death from his own relations; and the oracle agreeing with a response of some witches [‘maleficarum mulierum’], – to whose arts he was immoderately addicted, – who had prophesied, that the lion should be killed by his whelps, he degenerated … into a most insatiable tyrant (Buchanan 1829-32: II:140-141; Buchanan 1582: fol. 138r).

However, neither astrologer nor witches appeared again, and the king’s downfall occurred without reference to prophecy. James’s tyranny was important to Buchanan, but he saw it as essentially political; James was wicked and dangerous, not weak and foolish.

​[39]​ Buchanan presented James III’s tyranny as leading up to the alleged contemporary tyranny of Mary Queen of Scots. He attributed few or no magical or prophetic motives to her. However, he related one curious episode of narrative prophecy, when Scottish and English witches commented on her proposed marriage to Lord Darnley, which would take place on 29 July 1565:

In order to accelerate the marriage, the predictions of some witches in both kingdoms [‘maleficarum ex utroque regno’] were likewise urged, who prophesied, if the nuptials were consummated before the end of the month of July, great advantage would arise to the kingdoms; but if delayed beyond that time, great loss and disgrace would be the consequence. Rumours were at the same time spread everywhere, respecting the death of queen Elizabeth, and the day even mentioned, on which she would die – a prediction apparently more portentous of a domestic conspiracy than of the art of divination [‘divinationem’] (Buchanan 1829-32: II:414-415; Buchanan 1582: fol. 208r).

Possibly Buchanan intended this as an enigmatical prophecy, but, if so, it was an unusual example of the genre. The story seems to have originated in a report circulated at the English court before the marriage (Parry 2012: 41). Buchanan may have failed, or been unwilling, to shape it into a fully retrospective narrative, in which the prophecy moved towards fulfilment. The prophecy was not obviously fulfilled – unless Mary’s overthrow in 1567, the climactic event towards which Buchanan’s whole History moved, could be interpreted as the ‘great advantage … to the kingdoms’. Ultimately, Buchanan seems to have kept his readers guessing.

​[40]​ In 1594, the Earl of Argyll received a royal commission to lead his Highland army against the rebellious Earl of Huntly (grandson of the rebel of 1562) in north-eastern Scotland, in which Argyll was defeated at the battle of Glenlivet. Alexander McQuhirrie, a member of Huntly’s army, wrote an account of the campaign that described a ‘witch’ (‘venefica’) or ‘enchantress’ (‘incantatrix’) employed by Argyll. She

delivered oracles to Argyle, worthy a Pythian spirit: One of her prophecies was, that, on the following Friday, which was the day after the battle, Argyle’s harp should be played in Buchan; and the bagpipe, which is the principal military instrument of the Scotish mountaineers, should sound in Strathbogie, Huntly’s seat. Nor were her vaticinations entirely vain; for both the harp and bagpipe sounded in Strathbogie and Turef; but the General was not there to enjoy their most agreeable music (Dalyell 1801: I:150-51; for the original Latin, see NLS, Adv. MS 33.2.36, fol. 51r).

This was a characteristic enigmatical prophecy, recorded by a writer who seems to have met the witch in person.

​[41] ​John Spottiswoode (1565-1639), Archbishop of St Andrews, in his history written mainly in the 1620s, gave a new and remarkable narrative prophecy. This came in his account of the killing of Captain James Stewart in 1596. Stewart’s enemy James Douglas of Torthorwald heard that Stewart was travelling nearby, having boasted that he would not leave his way for any of the name of Douglas.

He made after him with three of his servants, and overtaking him in a valley called Catslack, after he had stricken him from his horse, did kill him without any resistance. It is said that when Captain James saw the horsemen following, he did ask how they called the piece of ground on which they were, and when he heard the name of it, he commanded the company to ride more quickly, as having gotten a response to beware of such a part (Spottiswoode 1847-51: III:40).

This was a strikingly clear example of an inexorable prophecy. No prophet was named, but Stewart was clearly supposed to have consulted someone about his destiny, and to have received a ‘response’ from that person.

​[42]​ In the early seventeenth century, the poet and scholar William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649) revised the story of James III. When James’s followers deceived the king, they, ‘knowing him naturally superstitious, an admirer and believer of Divinations, suborn an aged woman one morning as he went a hunting to approach him, and tell, she had by Divination, that he should beware of his nearest kinsmen’. There was also ‘a Professor of Physick, for his skill in Divination brought from Germany’, who ‘told the King, that in Scotland a Lyon should be devoured by his Whelps’; the Archbishop of St Andrews, too, gave the king warnings through his knowledge of geomancy (Drummond 1681: 135). However, as with Buchanan, the story did not culminate in the prophecies’ fulfilment; instead the warnings petered out, and, when James was eventually overthrown, prophecy played no part.

​[43]​ What was new was that Drummond intended his readers to understand that the prophecy of the ‘aged woman’ was false, and that all such prophecies were ‘superstitious’. His concluding analysis of James’s character included a telling statement: ‘He was of a credulous Disposition, and therefore easie to be abused, which hath moved some to Record he was given to Divination and to inquire of future accidents: which if it be credible was the fault of those times’ (Drummond 1681: 179). This last phrase was crucial; he was in fact historicising the whole topic of prophecy.

​[44]​ Sir John Scott of Scotstarvit (1585-1670) was Drummond’s brother-in-law and occasional scholarly colleague. He compiled his book, The Staggering State of Scottish Statesmen, towards the end of a long public career. By turns racy and moralistic, it was a meditation on the mutability of fortune as illustrated in the careers of Scotstarvit’s contemporaries and recent predecessors in public office. In it he included two narrative prophecies. The first concerned the Earl of Morton, Regent of Scotland in the 1570s. Morton

got a response to beware of the Earl of Arran, which he conceived to be the Hamiltons, and therefore was their perpetual enemy; but in this he was mistaken, seeing, by the furiosity [i.e. insanity] of the Earl of Arran, Captain James Stewart was made his guardian, and afterwards became Earl of Arran, and by his moyen Morton was condemned, and his head taken off at the market-cross of Edinburgh (Scot 1872: 37).

What Morton had failed to realise was that James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran, was insane, and in October 1581 (shortly after Morton’s execution) Captain James Stewart would be made Earl of Arran in his place. Captain James briefly dominated Scottish politics in the mid-1580s. His countess, Elizabeth Stewart, was a flamboyant and much-resented figure in her own right, and several contemporaries accused her of involvement with witchcraft (Grant 1999: 98-99; Baer-Tsarfati 2019: 47-48). Scotstarvit told the following story of the pair:

His lady got a response from the witches, that she should be the greatest woman in Scotland, and that her husband should have the highest head in the kingdom; both which fell out; for she died, being all swelled in an extraordinary manner; and he, riding to the south, was pursued by the Lord Torthorald … and was killed, and his head carried on the point of a spear (Scot 1872: 43).

A clearer example of enigmatical prophecy could scarcely have been devised. Yet Captain James’s killing was the same event about which, as we have seen, Spottiswoode had related an equally clear tale involving an inexorable prophecy.

​[45]​ The last prophecy relevant to this survey comes from the natural philosopher George Sinclair (d. c.1696). In 1685, he published his Satans Invisible World Discovered, a collection of tales of witchcraft and demonism. He included an account of Major Thomas Weir, the notorious former covenanter executed for incest in 1670. Being told of a ‘Mr. Burn’, Weir ‘started back’ and ‘repeated the word Burn four or five times’. He was also said to have avoided the Liberton Burn. ‘Some have conjectured, that he had advise to be ware of a Burn, or some other thing, which the equivocal word might signify, as burn in a fire. If so, he has foreseen his day approaching’ (Sinclair 1685: appendix, unpaginated; emphasis in original). This narrative circulated in several versions, and James Fraser, minister of Wardlaw, was more definite in his: ‘men have conjectured and not a miss [sic] that he had been advised to beware of a Burn’ (Larner, Lee & McLachlan 1977: 262).

​[46]​ The idea of witches’ prophecies faded among the elites of later seventeenth-century Scotland. Reasons for this will be discussed later, but just now it can be noted that Sinclair’s interest was narrowly focused on the need for mutual reinforcement of science and religious orthodoxy; he was concerned to prove the existence of the Devil, not so much of witches. The period also saw a flurry of new, more recognisably scientific interest in the related phenomenon of second sight. Second sight was not normally attributed to witches (Hunter 2001a). In the early eighteenth century, Robert Wodrow amassed anecdotal material on ‘remarkable providences’; this ranged widely but included no recognisable witches’ prophecies of the kind that had been told and retold for the previous three centuries (Wodrow 1842-43; for providence more generally see McGill & Raffe 2020).

Structural Analysis

​[47]​ These narratives of witches’ prophecies form a rewarding group for structural analysis. This can be carried out in several ways: by character, by plot and chronology, by mode of narration, and by the function of the prophecy itself.

​[48] ​Claude Bremond has offered a classification of characters in narratives: the Hero, the Ally and the Adversary (Bremond 1980: 394-396). Anyone in a narrative can be treated as their own ‘hero’, but here it is most useful to consider the recipient of the prophecy – the central protagonist – in this way. The prophet thus becomes the ‘ally’. The ally may be motivated by benevolence towards the hero, or by reward, past or future. This is relevant because some of the witches’ prophecies, usually the inexorable ones, were unsolicited warnings, while others were commissioned by the recipient as patron of the witch. The ‘adversary’ is either a direct enemy of the hero, or else an alternative beneficiary if the hero’s preferred outcome does not materialise.

​[49] ​It is worth asking whether there is a further ‘ally’ in the form of the agent who brings about the prophecy: implacable Fate, or fickle Fortune? God, or the Devil? Then, if (for instance) it is Fate, does Fate merely know the future, or also cause it? The question of agency adds dramatic interest, although an agent is rarely specified in narratives of prophecy. Boece attributes Natholocus’s declining prospects to ‘unstable Fortune’ (‘instabilis fortuna’), but does not link this specifically with the prophecy (Boece 1527: fol. 92v). A clearer exception is William Stewart, whose witch in the Natholocus story says that her prediction is the ‘will of God’ (Stewart 1858: I:520). She is then called a liar, but at least the question is raised. In folktales, certainly, events do not occur by chance. Given the unfavourable outcomes of many of these prophecies, it might even be suggested that an agent who brings them about is actually an ‘adversary’. A similar suggestion might be made about the prophet herself, at least in the case of the enigmatical prophecies – though there is little evidence of moral condemnation of the witches who give such prophecies. Nevertheless, among the morals to be derived from prophetic narratives, the theme of women’s untrustworthiness should not be overlooked.

​[50]​ Bremond has also offered a classification of plot structure. His initial states for a narrative are ‘Amelioration to obtain’ or ‘Degradation expected’. This is then subdivided; the first may progress to either ‘Amelioration obtained’ or ‘Amelioration not obtained’. Progress may also be interrupted by an ‘enclave’ – a phase of reverse movement, such as a temporary setback suffered by the hero – which can then be analysed as a separate component of the plot (Bremond 1980: 390-394).

​[51]​ Most of the inexorable prophecies (which are usually unsolicited) are unfavourable, thus establishing for the recipient an initial state of ‘Degradation expected’. The enigmatical ones sometimes start that way too, when the prophecy is merely about avoidance of death, so that the hoped-for outcome is ‘Degradation avoided’. Sometimes, however, there is a more direct promise of success (such as victory in battle), and these can be categorised as beginning with ‘Amelioration to obtain’. There is then usually an amelioration of the protagonist’s position, followed by an ultimate phase of degradation.

​[52]​ Although the narratives are mostly very short, some of them employ what Gérard Genette calls ‘anachronies’, narrating events out of chronological order (1983: 35-48). Typically these occur when the chronicler begins, not with the prophecy itself, but in medias res, explaining towards the end that the protagonist had received an earlier ‘response’ – a warning against such a person or place. Anachronies are uncommon in folktales, but often encouraged in literature. This may help us to see these narratives as products of a literary culture.

​[53]​ The narratives can also be analysed for the level of knowledge or interiority that they display about the protagonists (Genette 1983: 161-211). Do the narrators tell us what the protagonists are thinking? Wyntoun displays a high level of interiority. He knows Macbeth’s thoughts, and so do Macbeth’s enemies. Boece and other narrators of the story of Natholocus rehearse the courtier’s conflicting thoughts and motives in detail, just as a modern novelist might do. Indeed, most of the narrators assume the same omniscient stance towards their characters.

​[54]​ A few narrators take a different position. Barbour does not profess to know Edward I’s thoughts – the main reason that he brings in the story of Earl Ferrand is to explain Edward by analogy; but he does take the conventional position of knowing Ferrand’s thoughts. More distinctively, Shirley merely describes what James I does and says, and attributes no motives beyond those that James expresses. The fact that Shirley (or, strictly, the author whom he is translating) stops short of giving the whole story of the Earl of Atholl’s prophecy may also indicate his stance as an observer. McQuhirrie, similarly, positions himself as an observer of the Earl of Argyll’s witch. Sinclair’s account of Major Weir explicitly uses external observation of Weir’s behaviour to infer the prior existence of a prophecy. If Sinclair’s account indicates that the traditional omniscient position had become harder for narrators to maintain, this may go far to explain why the tradition died out at this point.

​[55]​ Several of the narrators include a framing phrase like ‘It is said that’. This does not prevent them from knowing the characters’ thoughts, but it may indicate a reluctance to commit themselves to the story. Wyntoun makes this explicit in his discussion of Macbeth’s parentage, though this appears to be unusual. Knox’s ‘as the most part say’ may also be unusual in suggesting a popular origin for the story. For most of these writers, ‘It is said that’ seems to do little more than to indicate that this is the story as they have it – which is, indeed, the normal epistemological status of their texts, none of which are burdened with much in the way of source citation or analysis. The growth of record scholarship in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries would eclipse this kind of narration of the past, as we shall see.

​[56]​ Some narrators, notably Spottiswoode, position their account of the prophecy at the end of the story to which it relates, making it a kind of optional extra. This practice, too, became unsustainable with Sinclair; he professed to document his sources, such that ‘It is said that’ was no longer a credible source. Overall, then, ‘It is said that’ is not a seriously sceptical phrase. The question of scepticism will be discussed further below.

​[57]​ The question of the characters’ point of view, related to the question of interiority, may shed light on the nature of the plot. Anne Wilson has argued that the pursuit of a ‘single point of view’ is characteristic of a ‘magical plot’ – a plot driven by a magical structure, as opposed to one that just uses magical devices (2001: 4-5, 9-10, 17-22 and passim; quotations at 17). There is no need to pursue the question of a ‘magical plot’ far here, but magical characters with no ‘point of view’ of their own are certainly noticeable in some of our narratives. The weird sisters appear before Macbeth for no obvious reason, and have no motive to deliver their prophecy to him. Macbeth has a point of view, but the weird sisters do not. Shirley’s soothsayer may wish to prevent a tragedy when she arrives to warn James I, but that hardly explains her function in the story. The witch on Iona may conceivably wish to supply accurate information about Natholocus’s future for the sake of her professional reputation, but the story certainly does not give her that or any other motive, and only the courtier really has a point of view. Not all the narratives have such a clearly magical structure; some of the witches seem to have distinct motives as they try to please their patrons. There is thus a gradation in the extent to which magical structures enter into these narratives.

​[58]​ How did prophecies actually work? A structuralist approach to this question might begin by considering whether the prophecies are ‘functional’, connoting action, or ‘indicial’, connoting mood and character (Barthes 1975: 247-250). Do they drive the plot, or explain it? This links back to the question of agency – whether, for instance, implacable Fate has decreed what will happen to the protagonist. On the whole the prophecies are ‘indicial’. The very fact that the outcome has been foretold means that interest must fall more intensely on the protagonist’s attitudes as the plot unfolds – their hubris, suspicion, jealousy and so forth.

​[59]​ One of the prophecies does drive the plot. Natholocus’s courtier has had no thought of killing the king until he hears the prophecy that he will do so. This prophecy is unusual in that it can be interpreted as psychological trickery – though the trick only works if Natholocus, at least, believes in prophecy. Comparable prophecies are hard to find; there may be material in Greek or Roman legend, but a detailed study of this topic is beyond the scope of the present article. There is at least one comparable Scottish story, related by Robert Kirk in 1692 in his treatise on second sight. A man in Killin, Perthshire, entered an alehouse in which a seer was sitting. The seer rose hurriedly and was about to leave, when he was asked the reason for his haste. He ‘told, that the intrant man should die within two dayes, at which news the named intrant stabb’d the seer and was himselfe executed two dayes after for the fact’ (Hunter 2001b: 89). This is not a psychological trick – which suggests that trickery is not essential to the Natholocus story; but the prophecy does drive the recipient’s subsequent behaviour in the same way.

​[60]​ The Natholocus story bears comparison with the weird sisters’ prophecy to Macbeth. These two narratives have been linked as instances of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ (Royan 2000: 80-81). To some extent they are, but the weird sisters’ prophecy is unusual in being a positive prophecy. And Macbeth, unlike Natholocus’s courtier, is not placed in an inescapable dilemma. Here it should be mentioned that the weird sisters really know that Macbeth will be king; they are not just putting a policy proposition to him. Buchanan, unusually, presents the story in the latter way, but even this still gives the prophecy an illustrative role in the development of Macbeth’s character.

​[61]​ One narrative adds an additional detail about causation and contingency, and in doing so illustrates the seemingly inescapable logical contradictions implicit in narrative prophecies. Shirley says of James I that ‘fortune was to hym aduerse’ when he finds himself without a weapon when the assassins burst in (Connolly 1992: 61). But to infer that this is a personified ‘Fortune’ who has impelled the soothsayer to warn him, and has impelled his knight to counsel him to disregard her warning, would be erroneous. The king’s predicament is simply, as we would say, ‘unfortunate’. Shirley means his readers to understand that James might well have happened to have a weapon with which he could have fended off his attackers. Yet this would have nullified the prophecy, which is illogical; it is not a valid prophecy if it can be nullified. Although it is couched in conditional language (‘If you cross this water …’), it is still not a practical warning (‘Make sure you have a weapon …’). Indeed, to be a prophecy, it cannot be a practical warning. Whether inexorable or enigmatical, it has to be fulfilled. The logical contradictions are obscured only because when we reflect on the story we already know that James’s adverse fortune did, in fact, leave him without a weapon. This exercise in partial deconstruction of Shirley’s narrative illustrates the extent to which prophecy narratives, like narratives of time travel, are hard to articulate in a consistently logical fashion from the point of view of causation.


​[62]​ A simple model of how the prophecy stories changed over time might be that their hearers moved from belief to disbelief. At the beginning of our period, the stories were thought to be true, while, at the end, they were thought to be untrue, or were moved to a realm of fiction. This model is acceptable as a broad outline, but it requires qualification and development. Throughout the period, there were sceptical currents of thought (Stephens 2013; Bailey 2013).

​[63]​ The earliest line of scepticism was theological – which we find articulated in the fifteenth century by a poet, Robert Henryson (c.1420-c.1490). His ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ included a passage against foretelling events ‘quhilk [i.e. which] nane in erd [i.e. earth] may knaw bot god allane’, and attacking ‘wichcraft, spaying and sorsery / and superstitioun of astrology’ (Henryson 1906-14: III:85-86 (‘Orpheus and Eurydice’, lines 576, 588-589)). Beside this, Wyntoun’s doubts about Macbeth’s parentage look positively credulous; he had no doubts about prophecies as such, merely an objection to a particularly unlikely one.

​[64]​ Renaissance Scots were well aware of the idea of the enigmatical prophecy, and sometimes used this to criticise prophecies in general. The Complaynt of Scotland, an anti-English political tract of c.1550 probably written by Robert Wedderburn (c.1510-1555×60), attacked the English for giving ‘ferme credit to diuerse prophane propheseis of merlyne and til vthir ald corruppit vaticinaris’, and said that ‘al propheseis hes doutsum and duobil expositionis’. Wedderburn cited four examples: Caiaphas (from John 11:49-52); Croesus, King of Lydia; Pyrrhus, King of Epirus (this and the last from the Delphic oracle); and Ferrand, Earl of Flanders (whom we have already encountered from Barbour). However, any actual scepticism was subordinate to Wedderburn’s political purpose. He argued that the English prophecies of Anglo-Scottish union would take effect, ‘bot nocht to their intent’; rather the Scots would conquer the English (Wedderburn 1979: 64-67).

​[65] ​In the later sixteenth century, Buchanan tried to present himself as a more sustained sceptic. He reduced the role of prophecy as a motor in his narrative. He was, among other things, a dramatist, so it is interesting that he rejected part of the Macbeth story because it was like a drama. His contemporary, Leslie, was less open in his scepticism, but his omission of so many prophecy stories is surely significant. Also noteworthy is his translator Dalrymple’s attribution of the Atholl prophecy to ‘the witches’ – an abstract phrase rather like ‘the weather’ or ‘the midges’. Whoever Atholl’s witches were, Dalrymple did not think that they were identifiable individuals. Scotstarvit, too, wrote of ‘the witches’ in an abstract way.

​[66]​ King James VI, in his book Daemonologie (1597), displayed firmer theological scepticism. He wrote that the Devil’s predictions were ‘parte true, parte false: For if all were false, he would tyne [i.e. lose] credite at all handes; but alwaies doubtsome, as his Oracles were’ (James VI 1982: 15 (book I, ch. 6)). This echoed the Complaynt of Scotland in its statement that all prophecies were ‘doutsum’, though it perhaps lacked the philosophical sophistication of a scholar like Martin Delrio who discussed in detail how demons could use their natural skills and experience to make predictions with a ‘degree of probability’ that partly made up for their lack of true foreknowledge (Del Rio 2000: 153-154 (book IV, ch. 2, q. 2)).

​[67]​ James’s main discussion of prophecy came when he wrote of witches and fairies. Witches, he thought, experienced visits to fairy hills (which were, in his view, demonic illusions); from the fairies they gained knowledge, ‘fore-telling the death of sundrie persones’. James, knowing from theology that the Devil lacked true foreknowledge, was uneasy, but did his best to explain:

I thinke that either they haue not bene sharply inough examined, that gaue so blunt a reason for their Prophesie, or otherwaies, I thinke it likewise as possible that the Deuill may prophesie to them when he deceiues their imaginationes in that sorte, as well as when he plainely speakes vnto them at other times[,] for their prophesying, is but by a kinde of vision, as it were, wherein he commonly counterfeits God among the Ethnicks (James VI 1982: 52 (book III, ch. 5)).

James thus thought that witches could prophesy, that they believed that they received the power to do so from fairies, and that their main purpose in doing so was to foretell people’s deaths.

​[68]​ With Drummond, in the early seventeenth century, we enter a new and more fundamental phase of scepticism. He historicised prophecies: people believed in them in those days, but we don’t believe in them now. Ironically, Drummond’s contemporary and brother-in-law Scotstarvit did believe in them – but Scotstarvit was among the last to use narrative prophecies as clear motors for his stories. Euan Cameron has argued that the discourse of ‘superstition’ shifted in this period from being false and demonic to being false and ignorant (2010: 247-269). This is the fundamental difference between James VI and Drummond: it was only Drummond who portrayed witches’ prophecies as false and ignorant.

​[69]​ The classical manner of historical writing, as a continuous narrative without citation of sources, declined during the seventeenth century. Newer styles of history engaged with disciplines like law and philology (Grafton 2007: 189-254; Hicks 1988: 120-131, 150-165). The value and methods of history were debated, with increasing concern to establish veracity. To distinguish history from fiction and to avoid charges of bias, historians increasingly cited documentary evidence and displayed a critical attitude towards their predecessors (Burke 2012). A Scottish contribution to this debate came from the theologically-minded mathematician John Craig, who in 1699 formulated mathematical equations and axioms to measure the amount of ‘suspicion’ attaching to various ‘witnesses’ to history (Craig 1964; see in general Allan 2012).

​[70]​ Drummond, writing in the 1640s, was the last Scottish representative of the older tradition of historical narration. He invented speeches, cited no sources, and derived his material from previous narratives rather than documents (Rae 1975: 26-27, 36-37). Narratives of witches’ prophecies had flourished in this genre. After its decline, there was no natural home for the prophecy narratives. News reporting, which increased in the later seventeenth century and might have included prophecy narratives, did not in practice do so. In Restoration England there was increased elite scepticism about prodigies, portents and prophecies (Walsham 1999: 218-224). Scottish witches’ prophecies were not argued out of existence, but it seems to have been similar scepticism that caused their decline.


​[71]​ This discussion of contemporary scepticism can be followed by a question that may seem paradoxical in the extreme. Could some of these narratives of witchcraft and prophecy, after all, be true? Or at least partly true?

​[72]​ Most of the stories, of course, are not remotely credible today. Their very use of standard narrative patterns is an indication that they have been fictionalised. The two different foretellings of the killing of Captain James Stewart – an inexorable prophecy according to Spottiswoode, an enigmatical one according to Scotstarvit – cannot both be right; but they indicate how this process of fictionalisation occurred. People saw the hand of Providence (or Fate or Fortune) in Stewart’s precipitate rise and fall, and sought to construct a prophetic narrative that would express their feelings about it and give meaning to it. Unusually, they failed to reach a consensus as to what the precise meaning was, so we have two alternative narratives. We know a good deal about how narratives could be shaped and reshaped by people with an interest in a particular version of a story, so it is not surprising to find such a process occurring in these prophecy narratives – and to find the results being treated as credible (Davis 1987; Rosenthal 2003).

​[73]​ Yet this last point is a reminder that these narratives of witches’ prophecies were told as true, or as probably true, and evidently carried some credibility at the time. No doubt they had moralistic or entertainment value, like media reports about today’s ‘celebrities’, and were not necessarily read primarily for their veracity. But, again like media reports, they may well have had some connection with reality; reports that were completely incredible would not have been valued. Narratives of the defeat or downfall of a prominent political figure – Atholl in 1437, Huntly in 1562, Argyll in 1594 – were definitely news (Pettegree 2014: 4). Thus, individual stories may have been just stories, but behind them may lie a general pattern. With this in mind, it may be argued that a few of the narratives stand out: they were written by contemporaries, and have at least some possibility of connection with reality.

​[74]​ The first contemporary narrative is Shirley’s account of James I’s assassination. This is full of circumstantial detail that is usually corroborated by other sources. Some details are missing from his account of the Highland soothsayer – the names of the two knights involved, the title of the old book – and these parts of the narrative may well be retrospective inventions. But his story of Atholl’s prophecy is much more credible. Both Shirley and Bower gave lengthy accounts of the conspirators’ elaborately-staged and gruesome public executions, and Atholl’s mock coronation surely did occur as they described it. We also know from other sources that the assassination had been planned with care and in detail (Brown 1992). From this, it is not a large step to infer that the planning, like that of some other conspiracies, could really have included the enlisting of prophetic aid, and that the authorities could have learned of the prophecy of Atholl’s coronation either from his own confession or from the confessions of the other conspirators.

​[75]​ Knox’s narrative of Lady Huntly’s witches is also contemporary. Knox did not participate in the Corrichie campaign, but he was in touch by letter with the English ambassador, who did, while the royal army was led by several of his Protestant confidants who might well have provided him with information (Thomas Randolph to Sir William Cecil, 24 Sept. 1562, Bain 1898-1969: I:653-4; Knox 1949: II:60). Tellingly, there is further, independent evidence of Lady Huntly’s reliance on prophecy. Shortly before Mary’s return to Scotland, in August 1561, the Countess circulated a prophecy that the queen would never set foot in Scotland (Randolph to Cecil, 24 Sept. 1561, Bain 1898-1969: I:555). The final point in Knox’s account of Lady Huntly was that ‘the Devil, the Mass, and witches have as great credit of her this day [in margin: ‘12 June 1566’] as they had seven years ago’. This indicates that Knox had further, more recent information about her. Knox seems also to have had earlier episodes of prophecy in mind, since Corrichie had been less than four years ago. Probably, therefore, Lady Huntly did consult women, whom others called ‘witches’, for prophetic purposes.

​[76]​ Another credible contemporary narrative is McQuhirrie’s account of Glenlivet. The fact that he was on the spot gives it high credibility. He evidently did not hear Argyll’s witch deliver her prophecy, but she was presumably interrogated after her capture, with enough information being obtained from her to establish that she should be considered to be a witch. She is stated to have died, and there is no suggestion of a trial, so she may well have been killed out of hand; Lowlanders did not always recognise Highlanders as deserving legal protection. Her anonymity, similarly, fits with Lowlanders’ known reluctance to record Highlanders’ barbarous and unfamiliar names (Goodare 2004: 233-236). Overall there is nothing particularly incredible about this story.

​[77]​ Several other members of the elite are known to have consulted witches, or people likely to have been known as witches, though a desire for foreknowledge is not specified in the sources. Archbishop Patrick Adamson in the 1580s repeatedly consulted Alison Pearson, a reputed witch, for purposes of healing (Parkinson 2003; Maxwell-Stuart 2001: 98-107). Katherine Ross, Lady Foulis, in about the same period, consulted magical practitioners in order to make away with her stepson; these practitioners were described as ‘witches’ at their trial, and may have been identified as such even before then (Sutherland 2009: 29-58).

​[78]​ If people known as ‘witches’ were really making prophecies, how does this relate to our perception of witchcraft as an imaginary crime? Scholars studying witch-hunting have generally argued that people did not call themselves witches; ‘witch’ was what their aggrieved neighbours called them. ‘Witch-hunting always began with the pointing finger extending away from the self’, as Christina Larner wrote (1981: 135). Scholars have also assumed that, when someone was called a witch, this was likely to lead to that person being arrested, tried and eventually executed for witchcraft. But the narratives in this study focus on the comeuppance received by the recipient of the prophecy; they rarely involve the prosecution of the witch. The witches executed in early modern Scotland form a largely separate group from the prophetic witches in these narratives.

​[79]​ There were, however, prophecies made by magical practitioners, usually called ‘charmers’ in Scotland. Charmers’ work in folk healing often involved the giving of prognoses. Prophecy also entered into love-magic when people wanted to know the identity of a future spouse (Miller 2002; Davies 2008). Many cases that the authorities treated as ‘witchcraft’ involved magical practitioners who had ‘foreknowledge’ and gave ‘responses’. John Stewart, in Irvine in 1618, was interrogated ‘upon quhat foreknowledge he had forespokin’ a person’s death (Trial c.1855: 4). The presbytery of Deer in 1624 ratified an act against charmers, diviners and ‘seekares of responses’ (Cramond 1930: 11). Various accused witches claimed foreknowledge that came from fairies (Henderson and Cowan 2001: 182). John Fraser, minister of Tiree, recorded in about 1700 that an old woman in his parish ‘was accustomed to give Responses … which were found very often true, even in future contingent events’ (Hunter 2001b: 196).

​[80]​ It seems likely, therefore, that some members of the elite really consulted magical practitioners about their future, and that the prophecy narratives studied in this article provided a cultural framework within which these consultations were recognised and discussed by others. Some of these practitioners were recognised as ‘witches’, or allowed themselves to be thought of as ‘witches’. And some of the practitioners’ advice was recognised as ‘prophecy’, or looked like ‘prophecy’ (a term that was used in some, but not all, of the narratives surveyed above). The use of the evocative but perilous appellation ‘witch’ may well have been a fluid issue, subject to negotiation – and, perhaps, to evasion and circumlocution. The modern magical practitioners and their clients studied by Jeanne Favret-Saada rarely used direct words like ‘witch’, and habitually spoke of the subject with circumlocutions (1980: 98-99). Overall, then, these narratives of prophecies by witches display connections to real magical practices.


​[81] ​In most of the narratives analysed in this article, the main protagonist was a male political figure like King Macbeth who sought a ‘response’ from a witch or witches or other prophetic figures. The narrative told of his downfall, and of how this had been ominously foretold. A structural analysis shows that the prophecies embedded in these narratives were of two contrasting types: ‘inexorable’ – which the recipient disbelieved in – and ‘enigmatical’ – which the recipient believed in, but misunderstood.

​[82]​ As for the ‘witches’ themselves: the older stories told of female figures with magical powers, but these figures were not unequivocally called witches, and sometimes they were not human. Over time the prophecy narratives show a rise of the ‘witch’, so called. Yet these ‘witches’ were rarely presented simply as evil. This article extends the cultural range within which late medieval and early modern witchcraft can be understood.

​[83]​ The cultural dynamic of these prophecy narratives lies in their interaction between elite and popular culture. As Peter Burke has argued, the upper classes also participated in popular culture, at least until the later seventeenth century. They attended popular festivals and listened to folksongs. Elite men, those with most education, were connected to much popular culture by their womenfolk – mothers, wives and female servants (2009: 49-56). This interaction between cultures is built into the narratives themselves, in two related ways.

​[84] ​The first point of interaction concerns the social class of the protagonists. In narrative after narrative, an elite man obtains a prophecy from a lower-class woman. He could have sought foreknowledge in some more erudite way (astrology and geomancy are occasionally mentioned), but he chooses to consult an uneducated woman with witch-like special powers. The woman speaks her prophecies, with their oral delivery prominent in the narrative. This contrasts with the textual nature of prophecies like those of Merlin.

​[85]​ The second point of interaction between elite and popular concerns the narratives themselves. Juliette Wood has argued that ‘folkloric patterns are an integral part of the chronicle form’. She finds a variety of ‘traditional’ material in Scottish chronicles, including ‘anecdote, legend, personal-experience narrative and accounts of portents’. She distinguishes portents from written prophecies, which are uncommon in folklore – but narrative prophecies also require to be distinguished from these written ones (1998: 130, 131; cf. Hancock 1999/2000). Such prophecies overlap with portents in some traditional tales (Bruford 1979: 163). Prophecy narratives exemplify the diachronic interconnectedness also found in popular proverbs predicting future weather. In these narratives, past and future are interconnected (Fox 2000: 154-158; Wood 1989: 60-62).

​[86]​ People at all social levels told stories of prophetic witches. The surviving written narratives are from the elite, but the common folk often told stories of downfalls of prominent men – stories that might well incorporate narrative prophecies. Popular ballads were interested in downfalls of prominent figures (e.g. Child 1884: nos. 178, 181, 195, 196, 203). Most of these stories were forgotten once the downfalls faded from the headlines, but a few survived to attract wider attention. And the tradition could generate new prophecy stories. Buchanan repeated stories from previous authors, but Spottiswoode’s and Scotstarvit’s stories were new.

​[87]​ The written prophecy narratives are also likely to have influenced popular culture directly. This is hard to demonstrate from the Scottish evidence, but a case-study from northern England illustrates the likely processes. The prophecies of Mother Shipton, which seem to have originated in print in the 1640s, were being spoken among the common people of Westmorland in the 1680s (Fox 2012: 337). Mother Shipton is also notable as being a prophetic woman, often described as a witch, who was not considered straightforwardly evil (Oldridge 2010: 220-222).

​[88]​ This leads to a crucial point about the idea of the ‘witch’. In these narratives, the witch is rarely an evil figure. The great man who listens to her prophecy, and whose downfall ensues, usually gets his just deserts. Macbeth, the Earl of Atholl, the Earl and Countess of Arran, Major Weir and numerous others: they are the bad guys. The witch occasionally attracts a mildly disapproving adjective like ‘crafty’, but she is rarely condemned outright. Nor is she ever brought to trial. Readers of these downfall stories regarded the fulfilment of her prophecy with satisfaction.

​[89]​ On the other hand, the witch in the narratives is not a good figure. She is still a witch, or (in the earlier stories) a woman employing magical means that are probably unacceptable in orthodox religion. The very fact that she consorts with bad characters like Lady Huntly connotes moral dubiety. She may have told her patron the truth (directly or indirectly), but that hardly makes her a mouthpiece for divine providence.

​[90]​ There were two kinds of uncertainty or perhaps ambiguity in these prophecy narratives. Firstly, there could be uncertainty as to whether a given prediction came from God or not. Secondly, even if the prediction was certainly not from God, there could be uncertainty as to where it did come from. Theologians recognised that the Devil had some predictive ability, even if this derived merely from his superlative natural skills and experience. Thinkers influenced by folklore, or more versed in the classics than in theology, might be willing to admit a wider range of predictive abilities, with ideas such as oracles, Fate or Fortune being hard to ignore. It could in theory have been argued that all predictions other than divinely-inspired prophecy were simply ‘vain’ and empty, but in practice almost all writers in this period recognised a range of genuine predictive powers – and were often prepared to leave open the question of how these powers operated. But one thing was clear: the predictions in the narratives mostly came from women. How should those women be understood?

​[91]​ Over time the prophecy narratives show a clear rise of the ‘witch’, mainly occurring in the early to middle years of the sixteenth century. The older stories told of female figures with magical powers, but these figures were not unequivocally called witches, and sometimes they were not human. Boece, who did not usually write about witches, exemplifies the older tradition; his younger translator, Bellenden, who did, exemplifies the newer one. Before Bellenden, there were hardly any explicit witches in the prophecy narratives; after him, most of the narratives were explicitly about witches, or were about ‘responses’ that seem to have come from witches. This is what we might expect, given that this period was one of increasing witch-hunting. But this was not just about witch-hunting, and Lyndal Roper has called for witchcraft to be studied within a broader cultural range. Roper’s own study shows how demonologists used humour and fantasy to create ideas that were both horrifying and entertaining (2006). Here we see that witchcraft ideas were taken up by writers in further genres – chronicle and history writers.

​[92]​ To recognise a prophetic woman as a ‘witch’ was one thing, but the narratives that do so do not take one further step that was theoretically available to them at that point. They do not comment in a generic or analytical way on what a ‘witch’ is, or on witchcraft generally. Pitscottie’s ‘familiear spreit’ and McQuhirrie’s ‘Pythian spirit’ may allude to the best-known woman diviner in the Bible, the so-called witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-25; for discussion see Zika 2005). The witch of Endor was well known to demonological writers in Scotland, who used her to comment on witchcraft generally, but Pitscottie and McQuhirrie are the only narrative writers who even allude to her. This vagueness about the theory of witchcraft is linked to the vague way in which the prophetic women in the narratives are characterised as individuals; hardly any of them have names, for instance. In this the ‘witches’ of the later narratives may well retain some of the otherworldly attributes of the earlier prophetic females who are not called witches.

​[93]​ Narratives of witches’ prophecies, therefore, arose in Scotland out of an earlier tradition of narrative prophecies ascribed mainly to non-human beings – either the Devil or magical females. How far back that tradition goes is unclear. The models of inexorable and enigmatical prophecy seem already familiar to Scotland’s earliest narrative chroniclers in the fourteenth century. However, this tradition may be less likely to have been accompanied by the seeking of ‘responses’; the earlier stories, by identifying non-human figures as the normal source of foreknowledge, offered fewer opportunities for their characters to seek out a human magical practitioner for this purpose. The prophetic women in these stories have affinities with the late medieval ‘lady’ who makes prophecies for Thomas of Erceldoune in the romance of that title: she is a composite figure, part fairy queen and part classical Sibyl (Malay 2010; these are not narrative prophecies, however). There were at least some real prophetic women at this time, since the Earl of Atholl seems to have consulted one in 1437. But late medieval conspiracies more often employed male necromancers or learned magicians (Harris 1996; Kittredge 1929: 79-84). During the sixteenth century, narratives about human witches making prophecies became normal, and stories of downfalls shifted to incorporate human female witches as prophets.

​[94]​ Were there patterns in the vocabulary used for prophecy itself, as opposed to the vocabulary used for prophetic women? Not all the writers denominated individual prophecies by a definite noun, and the choice of a specific noun does not seem to have been important. Buchanan and McQuhirrie used the terms ‘prophecy’ and ‘oracle’ interchangeably, with Buchanan also using ‘prediction’. Shirley too wrote of ‘prophecy’. The single most common term was ‘response’, used by Knox, Spottiswoode and Scotstarvit (Barbour’s ‘answer’ and Sinclair’s ‘advice’ may also be taken as equivalent to ‘response’). Other terms included ‘revelation’ (Pitscottie). Some writers used generic terms like ‘divination’ (Drummond). Overall, the fluidity of vocabulary for prophecy in the narratives displays fewer patterns than the transition towards ‘witchcraft’ in the vocabulary for prophetic women.

​[95]​ Some points may be made about the role of witches’ prophecies specifically in elite culture. Renaissance themes emerged in some of the narratives; Wedderburn and McQuhirrie mentioned the Delphic oracle. There is a contrast in register between Boece’s elaborate Latin vocabulary – ‘auruspices’, ‘præstigiatores’, and so on – and the demotic terms preferred by his translator Bellenden – ‘spae men’, ‘weird sisters’. But Boece also used the non-classical term ‘necromantica’. There may be more to be discovered about these narratives’ use of classical sources.

​[96]​ Philosophical considerations also present themselves, since some of the narratives’ authors were distinguished thinkers. Mair, Boece and Buchanan had European reputations, and several others had high intellectual attainments. If they had been asked how witches’ prophecies worked, how would they have replied? Knox’s and Buchanan’s narratives tried hardest to address this question, but it can hardly be said that their answers were entirely clear or consistent. Knox hinted at an abstract force shaping events, but it looked less like divine providence than it should have done; while Buchanan hedged his bets. Overall, the question of how prophecies worked was conspicuously left open. Which perhaps it had to be, given the magical nature of prophecy and the strong intellectual tradition of hostility to magic.

​[97]​ By about 1700, prophecy narratives had disappeared from educated discourse, and elite men no longer consulted magical practitioners about their future. Popular stories about prophetic witches may well have continued, but the cultural link across the classes traced by this article had been severed. The link seems to have been strongest in the sixteenth century. The earlier narrative prophecies had concerned magical women who were not necessarily human, and thus did not offer such a plausible model for action. If the growing interest in witchcraft led to more narrative prophecies being ascribed to witches, perhaps this could be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

​University of Edinburgh



National Library of Scotland (NLS), Adv. MS 33.2.36


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A Spiritual Community on the Margins: James Melville and William Murray singing of Holy Dying in the East Neuk of Fife

A Spiritual Community on the Margins: James Melville and William Murray singing of Holy Dying in the East Neuk of Fife

​Jamie Reid Baxter


In the 1590s and 1600s, the East Neuk of Fife, a long way both geographically and ideologically from the seat of royal power in Edinburgh, was home to a strikingly creative spiritual community of clerical and lay Presbyterians. At its centre was the Francophile poet-pastor James Melville (1556-1614), minister of Kilrenny. Melville would be torn from his beloved parish by the Crown for reasons of state in 1606, like several other clerics associated with the East Neuk community. One who survived was Melville’s colleague and neighbour William Murray (fl.1596-1633), minister of Crail. But in 1624, he was deprived of his charge on moral grounds, and fell into near-fatal melancholy. This essay looks at how these two pastors made use of poetry and song in their respective (and related) writings on how to die a Christian death.


​[1]​ This article draws attention to two short early modern devotional works that make considerable use of verse, and were produced by pastors working in neighbouring coastal parishes in the East Neuk of Fife. Ane Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death was published in 1597 by James Melville (1556-1614), and in 1631, William Murray (fl.1596-1633), brought out his Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters.​[1]​ Melville was at Kilrenny from 1585 to 1606, and Murray at Crail from 1596 to 1624. At the start of the seventeenth century, both men were active members of a Fife-based, resolutely Presbyterian spiritual community in which poetry was actively cultivated: an initial exploration of this community was published in 2017 (Reid Baxter: 2017b). Melville and Murray’s little books on good dying were born of highly specific personal circumstances, as will be shown, but each exemplifies the way these ministers employed verse and song as integral elements in instructional texts.

​[2]​ The East Neuk was a long way from the seat of royal government in Edinburgh, but St Andrews University was a thriving, international Calvinist metropolis of the intellect and the spirit (Reid 2011; Mason and Reid 2014). Between 1580 and 1606, when James Melville’s uncle, the poet and Presbyterian ideologue Andrew Melville, was principal of St Mary’s College, St Andrews was far from being marginal to Scottish royal thinking and policy (Mason and Reid 2014: Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5). During that quarter-century, the crown twice sought to establish royal supremacy over a Kirk possessed of energetic and articulate defenders of an autonomous Presbyterian ecclesiastical polity – a polity in which James VI was ‘nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, but a member’, as Andrew Melville famously told him in Falkland Palace in September 1590, while tugging the royal sleeve (Pitcairn 1842: 370).

​[3]​ Intellectual and spiritual life in Fife (and elsewhere) in this period was not limited to academics in university colleges, thanks to the regular ‘exercise’ held week by week in a different parish kirk by each presbytery. Two ministers, ‘according to the order of the roll, delivered each a discourse at the weekly meeting of presbytery. The one explained a passage of Scripture, and the other stated and briefly explained the doctrines which it contained; after which the presbytery gave their opinion of the performances’ (McCrie 1819: I, 339). The listeners at the exercise included interested laity; instruction was thus ‘given to laymen and clergy, and a check was maintained on the abilities and theological direction of presbytery members’ (Smith 1985: xii).

​[4]​ It was in the spirit of the ‘exercise’ that James Melville circulated the manuscript of his catechetical work, A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh, 1598), amongst his clerical colleagues before putting it to the press. Melville tells us as much in the first lines of his own sonnet ‘to the Reader anent the Commendatorie sonnets’ in the printed volume:

​I pat my papers in sum Pastors hand
To be perus’de and censur’d sikkerlie.
When they returnd, I luike on them and fande
Them weill be-deckt with Sonnets, as you sie.

The seven commendatory poems in question, and Melville’s response to them, are key to the case recently made for the existence of a literary-minded spiritual community of committed Presbyterians in Fife, centred not on the scholarly Andrew Melville at St Mary’s College, but on his exemplarily pastoral nephew James of Kilrenny (Reid Baxter 2017b). Further evidence, not noted in 2017, is to be found in the epistle dedicatory of Melville’s Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death, published in 1597, a year before the Propine.​[2]​ The dedicatee was the terminally ill James Lumsden, laird of the large estate of Airdrie near Crail. On his death in 1598, Airdrie passed to his merchant brother Robert and his wife Isobell Cor.​[3]​ After July 1605, Isobell Cor found herself in real and deepening spiritual and material distress.​[4]​ Her sufferings are central to another major argument made in 2017 for the existence of this spiritual community: the fact that in order to provide Cor with suitable comfort and support, the distinguished spiritual poet Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, put together a large manuscript collection of her own verse, which she dedicated to Cor (Reid Baxter 2017a: 66-77).

​[5]​ Elizabeth Melville’s gesture in assembling a long sequence of spiritual poems and dedicating it to a suffering coreligionist by prefacing it with two specially composed lyrics, which embody Cor’s name, is touching evidence of human solidarity. So too is James Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, dedicated to a dying coreligionist, and embodying both the creativity and the warmly personal, humane religious practice of the Presbyterian spiritual community around the minister of Kilrenny. Melville’s own concise Scots-language contribution to the Europe-wide ars moriendi (‘craft of dying’) genre is formulated in easy, almost conversational prose, and is full of accessible, attractive and singable verse. This use of verse to highlight and meditate on specific points within a prose discourse is also found, thirty-odd years later, in William Murray’s Short Treatise. Melville and Murray’s kirks of Kilrenny and Crail respectively are barely four miles distant from each other, and the two men worked together: their names sometimes appear in direct conjunction in the St Andrews Presbytery Minutes and elsewhere.​[5]​

​[6]​ That one tiny rural area should produce not one but two tracts on the subject of good dying is remarkable, for Scotland has a very small indigenously-printed repertory of such writings.​[6]​ It includes two works by English authors. A Fruitfull treatise, full of heauenly consolation, against the feare of death, written by the Tudor Marian martyr John Bradford (?1510-1555) as he awaited burning at the stake for his beliefs, was printed by Andro Hart in 1616 and James Bryson in 1641.​[7]​ There were also three Scottish printings, by Vautrollier (1584), Waldegrave (1600) and Andro Hart (1613), of the English best-seller The Sicke Mannes Salve (1560), by the militantly Protestant cleric and prolific polemicist Thomas Becon (c.1511-1567). This last, written (but not published) in the reign of Edward VI, had by 1631 achieved twenty extant editions in England.[8] In 1970, Nancy Lee Beaty devoted the whole third chapter of her compendious work The Craft of Dying to Becon’s huge volume, and in 2007, Mary Hampson Patterson subjected the Sick Mannes Salve to further lengthy scrutiny (Patterson 2007: 101). In 1980, David Atkinson noted that ‘[w]orks focusing on preparation for death are among the most numerous instructional books produced in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, and in 1992, he illustrated this by publishing a volume of extracts from fourteen selected English publications (Atkinson 1980: 3; Atkinson 1992).[9] Fifty years earlier, Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor’s seminal and eminently comprehensive book, The Art of Dying Well: the Development of the Ars Moriendi (1942) did not name either Melville or Murray.[10] The two little books on good dying produced a few miles apart in the East Neuk have not fared much better since.[11]

​[7]​ John McCallum (2010) discussed the pastoral practice of both Melville and Murray in illuminating detail, but  virtually ignored the Exhortatioun anent Death and the Short Treatise of Death. McCallum warmly acknowledged Melville as ‘an unusually creative and prolific minister’, describing his Spirituall Propine as ‘one of the most fascinating “catechisms” of the period’ and the author as ‘the minister who applied the most creativity to the task of educating the laity’ (2010: 96, 101). McCallum devoted several pages to setting out the first-ever detailed survey and assessment of the contents of the Propine‘s second part, A Poeme for the practise of pietie, in deuotion, faith and Repentance, intituled A Morning Vision, wherein the Lords prayer, Beleefe and Commands, and sa the whole Catechisme, and right vse thereof, is largely exponed. [12] Nearly all the verse in A Morning Vision is explicitly designed for singing, and McCallum has interesting things to say about the rôle of non-liturgical sung texts in the lives of the faithful. [13] Yet Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, which also makes considerable use of verse and indeed music, receives only two sentences (2010: 97). In the first of the two footnotes in which Murray’s Short Treatise of Death makes its only appearances, McCallum adds that the ‘teachings of Fife ministers on death’ are ‘traditional and unsurprising’ (2010: 103, n.34; 110, n.71).

​[8]​ McCallum’s discussion of William Murray is focussed on his other publication of 1631, the compendiously-titled Nyne Songs collected out of Holy Scripture of Old and New Testament: drawne foorth of the pure fountaines of Hebreuu and Greeke. Translated, Paraphrased in prose, Summed, Analysed, notted vpon, grounds for vse and doctrine observed in every one of them, and finally paraphrased in English meeter. McCallum notes that a psalm tune is specified for each of the metrical paraphrases, indicating that Murray, like James Melville, ‘thought there was a chance that people might wish to sing these texts in informal situations’.[14] Murray’s intention in Nyne Songs, McCallum writes, was ‘to introduce some familiar and not-so-familiar biblical texts in a very detailed and logical way, providing paraphrases, summaries and even textual annotations. The paraphrases performed a valuable interpretative function’ (2010: 98; 96-97). McCallum sets out Murray’s systematic approach to explicating Biblical texts by applying logical subdivision, and comments that ‘though no diagram of this is given in Murray’s book, the division and subdivision of material in this way calls to mind Ramism’, adding that ‘reading becomes an almost mathematical exercise’ (2010: 107). Murray’s penchant for logic, numbering and subdivision is evinced in the very title of A Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters, and within those chapters, he punctiliously numbers his points. James Melville’s writing, on the other hand, is never reminiscent of mathematical exercises; his Exhortatioun anent Death features only one enumeration.[15]

​[9]​ The remainder of this essay falls into two halves. The first concerns Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, rather than its comparatively well-known author, whose highly readable 800 page autobiography has been in print for nearly two hundred years.[16] For that reason, biographical detail is eschewed as far as possible, as is reiteration of political and literary material already set out in the present writer’s ‘New Light from Fife’ (2017) and ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ (2013). The latter part of this article focuses on William Murray’s closely-related but rather different Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters (1631). Since Murray, like his Treatise, has been all but ignored by posterity, the presentation of the Treatise necessarily involves a certain amount of fully referenced biographical material.

1. James Melville: Ane Fruitfull and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death

​[10]​ In its short span, Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death features no fewer than sixteen pieces of poetry, five in Latin and eleven in the vernacular. All of the latter, bar one, are by Melville himself, and several are explicitly designed to be sung. Poetry and music associated with it seem to have come easily to Melville — his Autobiography is full of poems, which arise quite naturally out of the flow of the prose, distilling and intensifying the focus, exactly as they do the Exhortatioun anent Death. For example, speaking of King David ‘in the difficulties of this prison’ of earthly life, and his longing to be with God, Melville writes on page 30:

​But againe, Psal. 17. he sweitlie comforts him selfe in the ende of ane vther Psalme, with an assurance of the jnjoying of the blessed light, as our Poet [George Buchanan] hes expressed the sam in these verses.

Puritas vitae mihi te tueri […]

The quhilks, for their pleasand comfort, are maire largelie paraphrased in this Dixiane [sic] following.

Cleanes of life sal mak me to behold,
Thy schyning face, when lousd ar bodies bands […]

Melville’s book, which runs to 112 pages of large print totalling some 21,000 words, begins and ends with verse. On the title-page we read:

Gif thou wald lead a godly life,
Think daylie thou man die:
Gif thou wald die a blessed dead,
Liue weill I counsell thee.

This will be echoed by the conclusion of the book’s final postliminary poem, ‘Let this precept be thy preacher plaine, / Liue heir to die, and die to liue againe’. The title-page quatrain is a paraphrase of this couplet:

Pour mourir bien-heureux, à viure faut apprendre
Pour viure bien-heureux, à mourir faut entendre.[18]

Melville had found this printed on the title-page of Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort, a best-seller first published in 1576 by the Huguenot nobleman and lay theologian Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis-Marly (1549-1623), a close friend of Henri de Navarre, later Henri-Quatre (1553-1610). Mornay’s markedly neo-Stoical Discours was not only frequently reprinted in France, but thrice translated into English, in 1576, 1592 and 1593. The 1592 translation, made by Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), was repeatedly reissued. Melville, however, read the Discours in French: the English translations all lack the title-page couplet.

​[11]​ It was Melville’s standard practice to incorporate blocks of borrowed text: his troped verse paraphrase of the Song of Songs incorporates his prose translation of great swathes of Immanuel Tremellius’ Latin edition (Reid Baxter 2015: 216-17). Likewise (though never yet noted in print), considerable stretches of his late manuscript narrative poem The Wandering sheepe, or, Davids tragique fall are direct translations from a Latin sylva (1548; revised text 1569) on the origins of Psalm 51 by Théodore de Bèze, and from the poem that Rémy Belleau based on it, Les Amours de David et Bersabée (1572).[19] Melville read widely in French, though he never lived in (or even visited) France or Geneva, unlike his uncle Andrew and so many other Scottish intellectuals.[20] If no wholesale block-appropriation of material from Mornay’s Discours can be detected in the Exhortatioun anent Death, there are plenty of hints at a diffuse influence. Two examples will suffice. Mornay’s very opening, ‘C’est un cas estrange, & dont ie ne me puis assez esmerueiller’ and what follows, is echoed by Melville on page eight, but far from exactly, in the passage beginning ‘Anent death, there is twa things even amongst Christians to be marueyled at’. Secondly, Mornay’s four pages on the successive ages of man, beginning ‘A peine est-il sorty des mains des nourrices, que le voila entre les mains de quelque maistre d’escole’, find a parallel in Melville’s passage on pages 24-26, beginning ‘[h]owe soone the Infant comes into the world…’.[21]

​[12]​ The Exhortatioun anent Death, its entire tenor explicated by its title-page quatrain, falls into four parts. First, a brief but important and informative epistle dedicatory; second, the ‘exhortatioun’ itself, incorporating several poems; third, a prose account of the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1572; and fourth, a short collection of appropriately ‘comfortable’ postliminary verse, both strengthening and consoling. The epistle dedicatory, a total of 664 words, is dated ‘at Anstruther, 17 December 1596’, and directed ‘TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE AND HIS DEARE Brother in the death of the Lord Iesus, IAMES LVMMISDEN of Airdrie’. By 1596, Lumsden was incurably ill; the title A Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death was surely intended as a reminder of John Bradford’s Fruitfull treatise, full of heauenly consolation, against the feare of death, written on the eve of his martyrdom. Melville’s initial spur to reflect on mortality was not Lumsden’s illness, however, but the apparently imminent death of his own beloved wife. Melville wished both to strengthen himself against his impending loss, and to provide the sick woman with consolatory teaching.[22] He had found inspiration in some ‘minutes’ of an earlier sermon, preached ‘in the hearing of ane honourable and frequent Auditorie’ which included both Lumsden and another local Presbyterian landowner, Sir George Douglas (1544-1625) of Helenhill, a property a few miles to the south-east of St Andrews.[23] Lumsden and Douglas had subsequently assured Melville that the preaching of this sermon ‘was the first motion of our coniunction and affection in Christ’.

​[13]​ Melville’s wife recovered, but Melville decided to write up the material he had gathered and shared with her. He tells his dedicatee that:

​because of the estate of your disease, I daylie langed and purposed quhiles ye wer heir at home, to come and spend some peece of time with you, and to bestowe as it suld please the Lord to giue, some spirituall gift by conference, for your strengthning sic in the truth, and that ready resolution to dye in Christ, quhilk I haue often reioyced in sa gude a measure to be graunted vnto you. (sig.2v, 3)​

But since the sick man has now removed to Edinburgh, Melville has created the Exhortatioun anent Death, to make good ‘some part of the inlack of my Christian dewty, in visiting of you’ (ibid). The ‘saide Sermon’ is being presented to Lumsden ‘for a plaine and comfortable example and practise thairof, and all for furthering of that gude wark, where about I wot ye are maist occupied; that is, after a reformed and sanctified life, to make a gude and godlie end’.[24] Melville immediately adds ‘[h]ow farre thir litle things may serue for so great a wark, I remit that to the cheife Master of the warke, the haly Ghaist …It is aneuch for mee, that I haue testified in some sort my affectionat remembrance of you in the tender bowels of his loue, quha hes dyed once for vs, to make vs liue with him for ever’ (sig.3 and 3v).[25]

​[14]​ Melville’s commendation of the dedicatee’s ‘ready resolution to dye in Christ’ indicates that Lumsden was consciously preparing for his death with considerable self-possession, though he would survive for another eighteen months. He died on 23 August 1598, at home in the East Neuk, where he signed some legal documents as late as 15 August (Reid Baxter 2017a: 63). His wall-tomb in Crail kirkyard was decorated with a large amount of inscribed verse in both Scots and Latin, including a pair of Scots sonnets, each with its own panel (Reid Baxter 2017a: 64; Erskine 1893: 134). The striking place occupied by poetry in the design of Lumsden’s tomb and in Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death is typical of the practice of the spiritual community around James Melville.

​[15]​ Verse also features in the second and principal part of Melville’s book, ‘the saide Sermon’ itself, which runs to c.13000 words. The first thirty-six of its seventy-two pages include four passages of Latin poetry, accompanied by Melville’s own Scots paraphrases. Eight lines from George Buchanan’s version of Psalm 144 appear on page nine, a couplet by a so far absolutely unidentifiable ‘learned man’ on page twenty-four, and eight lines taken from the end of Buchanan’s Psalm 17 on page thirty.[26] This last is immediately followed on page thirty-one by the first half of the final stanza of John Hopkins’ metrical paraphrase of Psalm 39, as printed in the Kirk’s psalm-book. The metrical psalter of 1564 was central to the lives of devout Scots, such as James Lumsden, and Melville would have expected his readers to read the half-stanza with its noble tune sounding ‘in their mind’s ear’ at the very least.[27] Finally, between pages thirty-three and thirty-six, the reader reaches no fewer than twenty-six lines from Buchanan’s Psalm 36, paraphrased as fourteen quatrains ‘translated… to the tune of the CX Psalme’, a stirring French melody, as the reader can hear in this stanza describing the music-filled heavenly afterlife:

All want and dolour there ar far exyld,
No man sal mis mair then his hart can wis,
In everie place ar pleasures vndefyld,
Sweet melodie in heavenly ioye and blis.

The ‘sermon’ also contains numerous and occasionally rather substantial prose quotations, mostly taken from Scripture. Melville’s message is that earthly life is a toilsome pilgrimage through a vale of tears, temptations and suffering, towards man’s true, heavenly destination, as he had stated on page twenty-four:

This life to me is death, but death to mee is life but blame: [without]
This life to me is bannishment, but death returns me hame.

As John McCallum wrote, the message is ‘traditional and unsurprising’ – but the epistle dedicatory states that it is based on a sermon, and the book therefore lets us hear how Melville spoke from the pulpit.[28] Blessed indeed were his hearers – this is no mathematically constructed pulpit homily, full of numbered heads and subdivisions.[29] Though a sermon text is ‘given out’ at the outset (Revelation 14:13, ‘Blessed ar [sic] they that die in the Lord, yea sayis the Spirit, for they rest from their labours’), it will be reiterated in full only once, on page twenty-three. Melville had already used the phrase ‘die in the Lord’ in the epistle dedicatory, while the ‘sermon’ proper is permeated by Rev.14:13. Parts of its wording can be found early and late: ‘die in the Lord’ is used twice on page twenty-nine, and on page fifty-six, we encounter the phrase ‘our text, They that dyes in the Lord, are pronounced blessed’. Yet Melville closes his sermon not with his ‘text’, but ‘Come Lord Jesus’, i.e. the final words of Revelation 20:22, immediately followed by an emphatic repetition, ‘Even cum Lord Jesus, hasten Lord and tarrie not’, followed by Numbers 23:10, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his’.[30] Below the word FINIS, the words ‘Come Lord Iesus’ reappear, as the title of six rime couée stanzas beginning

Come Christ our king, come we thee pray,
Withoutin any mair delay
We lang to see thee on that daie
appeir in maiesty.[31]

​[16]​ The whole poem is shot through with allusions to Revelation, and celebrates the bliss that will be enjoyed by the faithful on that day ‘when all deid, sall thee sie’: the preceding sermon had mentioned the resurrection of the dead no fewer than twenty times, while specific reference had also been made to the Second Coming, the Last Trumpet and the Last Judgement.[32] All these links to the ‘sermon’ notwithstanding, the postliminary ‘Come Lord Jesus’ breaks new ground. The first three stanzas strike a public, polemical note absent from what has gone before, where we had nowhere read of ‘allarums’ to alert Scotland to the threat posed by ‘thy haters hearts’ and the fact that ‘That man of sinne is manifest / That nowe thy Kirk hath long opprest’.[33] The ‘man of sinne’ is the Pope, and this paratextual lyric can in fact be read as rather topical:

in the monethe of August [1596] the King was movit … to decerne the recaveing [sic] haim the excommunicated and forfalted traitoures, apostat Earles, then to make choise of eight persones … quhairof the chieffe were much suspected of Papistrie, called OCTAVIANS, quho schould have the chieffe matters and effaires of the Kingdome haillie concredited to thaim ; and thairwithall the Countesse of Huntly, ane professed obstinat Papist, to be resident at the Court, and haiff the government of the Queine’s persoune … These things effectuat in the moneth of October (Pitcairn 1842: 508).

However, for the East Neuk, there was an additional, more local source of disquiet, namely the king’s desire to punish the St Andrews minister, David Black, for reportedly voicing treasonable sentiments in a sermon. Black and his fellow Presbyterians, not least James and Andrew Melville, denied that the secular arm had any right to censure preachers of the Word, and saw the king’s attitude as essentially caesaro-papal.[34] Melville’s opening stanza pointedly calls Christ ‘our king’, asking Him to ‘appeir in maiestie’, and his third stanza asks ‘Sall aye the proude blaspheme thy name, / And put thy Gospell unto shame’. The doctrine of the ‘twa kingdomes’ adhered to by Andrew Melville and his nephew James distinguished between the earthly civic realm of James VI, and the kingdome of Christ, i.e. the Kirk, whose governors were the clergy, ‘the quhilk na Christian King nor Prince sould controll and discharge, but fortifie and assist’ (Pitcairn 1842: 370).[35]

​[17]​ Melville’s stanzas are ominously prophetic of persecution to come.[36] A few years later, references to persecuted saints and raging tyrants would feature in Lady Culross’s mini-epic of 1603, Ane Godlie Dreame, ‘compylit in Scottis metre at the requeist of her freindes’ – who may well have mostly lived in the East Neuk.[37] Melville dated his epistle dedicatory to James Lumsden ‘the 17. of December. 1596’, and by the time the Exhortatioun anent Death appeared in 1597, the book’s readers would have been keenly aware that the 17 December Edinburgh ‘riot’ against the Octavians had resulted in the flight of four of the capital’s ministers, whom the king blamed for the uproar.[38] Two of them in fact found refuge with James Melville in the East Neuk (Calderwood, v, 521; Pitcairn 1842: 374). From that date onward, the Presbyterian party was on the back foot, and the king and his royal supremacy were in the ascendant.

​[18]​ The remaining stanzas of Melville’s apocalyptic poem also break new ground, insofar as much of the imagery is furnished by the hitherto uninstanced parable of the Five Wise Virgins, always vigilant and ready to greet the divine Bridegroom at the unknown hour of His arrival.[39] Nonetheless, Melville’s artistic instinct is such that the poem, for all its fresh material, is not entirely unlinked to the ‘sermon’. There are, first, its two references to the heavenly bridegroom of the Song of Songs, who had been cited on page fifty-nine. Secondly, Christ’s ‘shining face’ and ‘countenance that shines sa bright’, echo the statement on page forty-nine that the godly dead will enjoy ‘the fruition of the face and light of the countenance of the God of immortalitie’. The final lines describe heaven filled with music, as in Revelation:[40]

Where thy Redeemd makes melodie,
Thy Martyrs ane sweit harmonie,
Where angels sings continuallie

Thus, the poem’s conclusion chimes with the earlier references to angelic and heavenly music on pages twenty-three and forty-one.

​[19]​ The third part of the Exhortatioun anent Death is entirely in sober prose. It had been announced in the epistle dedicatory; Melville told Lumsden that besides ‘a copy of the saide sermon’ on good dying, he is sending ‘a little historie of the departure of Iean d’Albret, vmquhile mother of this present king of France, for a plaine and comfortable example and practise thairof’ (sig.3). ‘Translated out of French in Scottes’, the 7000 words of the ‘little historie’ of the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1572 occupy pages seventy-three to 109. Melville’s exact source-text is now untraceable, but it was evidently largely identical with the narrative found in the pages of the well-known Genevan pastor, historian and poet Simon Goulart.[41] The fourth and final section of Melville’s book is a little collection of five short postliminary poems, running to seven hundred lines in total. The first, ‘Christianus ego’, one of Andrew Melville’s few purely devotional lyrics, is followed by a translation to which James has appended his initials, as he does to the other three poems. The third and fourth poems are paraphrases of Psalms 23 and 121, designed to send the reader, singing joyfully, out across the book’s threshold back into the world. We saw earlier that Melville had specified the tune of Psalm 110 for the Psalm paraphrase on pages thirty-four to thirty-six. Here, he stipulates that his psalm paraphrases are written ‘to the tune of Solsequium’ — a long, complex, irresistibly joyful and dancing melody.[42]

The Lord most high, I know will be, ane hird to me
I can not long haue stresse, nor stand in neede:
He makes my leare in fields sa feare, that I but ceare
Repose and at my pleasure safely feede.
He sweetely me convoyes, to pleasant springs,
Where na thing me annoyes, but pleasure brings:
He giues my minde, peace in sik kinde
That feare of foes, nor force, cannot me reaue,
By him I am lead, in perfite tread,
And for his name, he will me never leaue.

Melville’s psalm paraphrases are an intertextualist’s paradise.[43] They draw on the Geneva Bible, on the texts in the Scottish and English metrical psalters, and on one of Melville’s favourite resources, Immanuel Tremellius’ lavishly glossed Biblia Sacra, first published between 1575 and 1579. Used by King James when making his version of Psalm 104 and by John Donne when creating his Lamentations of Jeremiah, Tremellius was the ‘New International Version’ of the Protestant Churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

​[20]​ Melville’s choice of Psalm 23 is self-explanatory; the psalm remains a regular feature of funeral services to this day. Anent Psalm 121, however, more needs to be said. Melville’s entire first stanza is not Scriptural paraphrase, but a free invention which takes what at first glance seems an extraordinary slant on the Geneva Bible’s words ‘I will lift my eyes unto the mountaines’ or, in the metrical paraphrase, William Whittinghame’s ‘I lift mine eyes to Sion hill’ — whence, according to the Geneva Bible and the Authorised Version, ‘mine helpe shall come’:

When I behold, These montaines cold,
Can I be bold To take my journey through this wildnernes,
Wherein dois stand, On eyther hand, A bloudie band,
To cut me off with cruell craftines:
Here, subtill Sathans slight, Dois me assaill:
There, his proud warldly might, Thinks to prevaill.
In every place, with pleasant face,
The snares of sinne besets me round about;
With poysone sweete, to slay the spreit,
Conspyrit all to take my life but doubt.

Melville has gone back to the Hebrew, and to what he found in Tremellius:

Attollerem oculos meos ad istos montes?
unde veniret auxilium meum?

‘Should I lift my eyes to these mountains? Whence might my help come?’ Not from the mountains: Tremellius had already stated in his prefatory rubric that in the psalm, King David sets out conflictum animi sui in periculis [the conflict of his spirit amid dangers] and that ad Deum conversa oratione se committit ei et confirmat in fide promissionum ejus [by his prayer directed to God, he commits himself to Him and strengthens himself in his trust in His promises]. Melville, like Tremellius, sees the mountains as dangers — whence no help will come. In the first edition text of 1580, Tremellius’s ‘Annotatio’ glosses the first verse as follows: frustra huc illuc circumspectarem ad consequendam opem: nam rationem habet Cenahanaeae, quae montosa est, [in vain do I look hither and thither all around me, to find succour; for he knows his Canaan, which is mountainous]. Melville has taken over huc illuc with his ‘Here subtill Sathans slight … There his proud wardly might’. Furthermore, in the 1590 and later editions revised by Tremellius’s collaborator Franciscus Junius, we find an inserted comment explaining the interrogatory nature of the two sentences that make up the first verse: quodcunque me convertero, nulla ex parte nisi a Deo salutem consequuturus sum [whithersoever I turn, from nowhere but God shall I obtain safety].[44] The scale of Melville’s poetic extrapolation of the ‘dangers’ represented by the mountains is entirely in keeping with his purpose here: to remind the dying that their faith cannot be shaken by the spiritual enemies, visible and invisible, that are ‘conspyrit all to take my life’, in a reinforcement of his statement in Psalm 23 that ‘feare of foes, nor force, cannot me reave’.

​[21]​ Melville’s book concludes with one of his forty surviving sonnets, this one ‘sounding a warning to die well’.[45] The words of the title recall references to warning sounds mentioned early on in the ‘sermon’ proper, viz. ‘the sound of the Archangels trumpet’ on page twelve and St Jerome’s constantly imagining ‘the hearing of the sound of that Trumpet’ on page fifteen, but in sonic terms, the mind’s ear of the reader will be filled with the sound of the dancing ‘Solsequium’ melody, something which affects the mood in which we read the sonnet. Its lines are shot through with echoes of the closing pages of Mornay’s Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort, where we read of earthly life that ‘Nous ne la deuons point aimer pour ses plaisirs: car c’est sotise & vanité. Mais nous nous en deuons seruir, pour en seruir Dieu‘ (69-70).

Set not thy heart on warldlie vanitie
Whose pleasures are with paine sa dearly bought,
Yet presse to play thy part with honestie
And use this warld as gif thou usde it nought.

The sonnet’s last words, ‘Liue heir to die, and die to liue againe’, clearly allude to the final words of Mornay’s Discours – ‘Mourir pour vivre, & vivre pour mourir‘. In other words, both the Scot and the Frenchman end by echoing the epigram found on their title-pages.

2. William Murray: A Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters. Together with the aenigmatic description of old age and death, writen Ecclesiastes 12 chap. exponed and paraphrased in English meeter

​[22]​ The motto ‘I live to die, that I may die to live’, reminiscent of Mornay and Melville, appears on the title-page of a publication which looms in vast bulk between Melville’s concise and poetic Exhortatioun anent Death and William Murray’s Short Treatise of Death.[46] The book in question, which we shall see William Murray implicitly criticising, is Scotland’s most tremendous and least concise Reformed ars moriendi, the 1270 pages of The Last Battell of the Soul in Death (1628, repr. 1629) by the Glasgow minister Zachary Boyd (1585–1653). It is the only Scottish ars moriendi work to have merited any sort of monograph.[47] The Last Battell has only a tenuous connection with easternmost Fife: Boyd’s ‘To the Reader’ pays grateful tribute to two East Neuk landowners whom he met in Edinburgh, Dr George Sibbald of Giblistoun and Sir William Scot of Elie, both linked to the Melville circle.[48] Nonetheless, The Last Battell, born of Boyd’s experience of protracted, near-fatal illness in 1626, needs to be mentioned here, for whether or not Boyd ever read Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, the sheer scale of his own Last Battell is not unconnected with the brevity of William Murray’s Short Treatise. Boyd states in his preface that after moving from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1626, he fell ill and ‘was like Epaphroditus, sicke unto deathe’. The result of his recovery, The Last Battell, is modelled on Thomas Becon’s oft-reprinted Sicke Mannes Salve, in which Epaphroditus, ‘sicke nigh unto death’, is visited by his friends for a series of six ‘conferences’ on successive days. In 1970 Nancy Lee Beaty described Becon’s book as ‘a curious blend of Job, the classical dialogue, and perhaps genuine drama as well’: the dying man’s friends ‘quote the Bible, the Fathers, and the Stoics with awesome ease and in overwhelming abundance; and when they do not quote, they paraphrase’.[49]

​[23]​ In the Last Battell, Boyd out-Becons his model, and does so in not six but eight days’ conferences. Interestingly, while Becon’s rabidly anti-Catholic Salve merited little commendation from Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor in 1942, the staunchly Calvinist Last Battell received two pages of wellnigh undiluted praise, inter alia for Boyd’s ‘combination of learning and eloquence and vivid figure’, and the fact that, unlike Becon, ‘never is he the bigot or zealot or pious dreamer or anything other than the good pastor standing by his flock in their last battle with death’.[50] Both impressive and moving, Boyd’s thousand pages deserve better than David Mullan’s 1990 comment that ‘one suspects that if sickness had not finished him [i.e. the dying man], discourse like this must surely have done so’.[51]

​[24]​ William Murray, however, would have loudly applauded Mullan’s condemnation of The Last Battell. Boyd’s and Becon’s vast books were in Murray’s sights, when he tells his dedicateee that his own ‘naturall gift … of vtterance’ was ‘more Laconick than Atticke’, adding that he has striven for ‘shortnesse not only of sentences, but of purpose’, labouring ‘to bee plaine’:

for I think that if either information, or consolation concerning death
might be well contryved in as few short aphorismes, as there be
letters in an A, B, C: it were the better both for the mynd and
memory of the patient in that agonie.[52]

​[25]​ Murray’s entire Short Treatise occupies only forty-seven pages of large print, and amounts to fewer than 8500 words. Murray’s dedicatee was Dame Agnes Murray, ‘Mistresse of Stormonth’. Firstly, he says, because he is her kinsman, secondly because ‘for honour, vertue; viz.Pietie, charitie, sobrietie, I esteem more of your L. than any one of my kinsfolk and surname’, and thirdly because

your L. is not ashamed to professe, I was the man who first taught
you the rudiments of religion, to make you thinke of the way how to
liue well. Now I pray GOD that the reading, and meditation of this
treatise may be a meane to helpe your L. to die well. … I thinke it
needlesse to put a longer Epistle before so little a Booke, least the
head should bee bigger than the bodie, and so the birth monstrous.
So I rest, Your H. Cousine to serue you in the LORD.

Neither Murray nor his Treatise has hitherto garnered interest or comment; in 1925, the twice-published Treatise was so obscure it was not even noted in William Murray’s entry in Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, unlike his Nyne Songs.[53] He was almost entirely overlooked by Scottish historians until 2000.[54] In the great 19th century Wodrow Society editions of no fewer than four major contemporary histories of the period, Murray is actually indexed as his namesake and polar opposite, the royalist-conformist minister of Dysart (whose son William would be created Earl of Dysart by Charles I in 1643).[55]

​[26]​ The minister of Crail came of landowning stock, and by January 1604 was ‘portioner of Ardet’ (modern Airdit), near Balmullo in west Fife.[56] His father, David, originally a ‘pensioner of Brechin’, had bought Ardet in 1584 from his nephew Sir Andrew Murray (d.1590) of Balvaird, head of an important landed family in lowland Perthshire.[57] Murray of Balvaird also owned land at Crail, inter alia.[58] Dame Agnes Murray, Mistresse of Stormonth, was Sir Andrew’s daughter, and William’s words about instructing her in the rudiments of religion suggest that he had some rôle in the Balvaird household after graduation. He began his clerical career in Crail on 12 August 1596, where he assisted the new minister Andrew Duncan, married the widow of the previous incumbent, and was confirmed in the ‘second charge’ in 1600 (Smith 1985: 205).

​[27]​ In 1607, his cousin Sir Andrew Murray (d.1624) of Balvaird, Dame Agnes’s brother, presented him to the first charge, Andrew Duncan having been deported into exile in mainland Europe.[59] Duncan was a perfervid Presbyterian and disciple of Andrew Melville, and from July 1605 until November 1606, he and five other clerics had been imprisoned in Blackness Castle on a charge of high treason, for defending the legitimacy of the abortive General Assembly at Aberdeen on 2 July 1605. Spared the gallows, all six were banished abroad. In 1604, William Murray himself, like James Melville, had been a member of the St Andrews Presbytery delegation sent to Aberdeen to attend a General Assembly scheduled for 31 July, which did not take place (Pitcairn 1842: 561-64).

​[28]​ Murray was likewise amongst the forty-odd ministers who attended the show-trial of Andrew Duncan of Crail and his five fellow-prisoners at Linlithgow in January 1606 (Calderwood vi, 457, 476). Murray’s presence on the eve of the trial was specifically recorded by one of the imprisoned ministers: ‘Mr James Melville came to Blaknes, with Mr John Dikes [his brother-in-law and assistant] and Mr William Murray’ (Forbes 1846: 455). There is a hint that Murray remained a Presbyterian at heart: in February 1620, he was one of several Fife ministers cited before the Court of High Commission ‘to heir and sie themsels deprived for not observing holie dayes, and not ministering the Communion according to the order prescrived at Perth’ (i.e. in keeping with the Five Articles of Perth, and therefore, giving it to kneeling communicants); the ministers refused to conform, but Murray may have done so in due course, since he does not appear to have been deprived.[60]

​[29]​ In 1607, when he took on Duncan’s mantle at Crail, Murray initially had difficulties in obtaining his stipend from those responsible for paying it.[61] But he became an appreciated and diligent pastor of Crail, at least according to liminary verses by an unidentifiable ‘Rob.Crafordus, alias Lunnaeus’ prefixed to Murray’s two publications of 1631. The first of the liminary poems begins:

Bis denos cum laude gregem, & sex insuper annos
Pavisti, illustris praeco, liquore sacro.

[With distinction for twice ten years and another six you nourished
your flock, illustrious preacher, with holy liquor].[62]

​[30]​ The poet addresses Murray as ‘preacher of the Word God amongst the people of Crail’ (verbi divini apud Caralienses praeconem).[63] ‘Minister of Gods Word in Crail’ is how Murray describes himself as on the title page of his second publication of 1631, Nyne Songs, collected out of the Holy Scripture.[64] However, the fact is that on 7 April 1624, after those twenty-six years of illustrious service, the Synod of Fife suspended Murray from his ministry,

pairtlie be his scandalous conversing with Helen Wood, in his awin
wyffis lyftym, [sic] and pairtlie be his precipitating his intendit mariage
with her soon efter the death of his said wyff, quhairby that suspition
hes bien michtelie increased (Kinloch 1824: 100).

The Archbishop and the ‘brethren assemblit’ at the Synod declared that if Murray ‘sal happen at any tym hierefter, to mary sic the said Helen Wood, he sal no wayes be permitted to continow minister at Craill, but salbe depryved theirof’ (ibid 101). Murray appealed against his suspension, and in October 1624, the Synod lifted it, restoring him to the ministry ‘quhairever it sal pleis God to open vnto him a door, excepting only in the kirk and paroche of Craill’ (ibid 204). Other than his publications of 1631, the sole traces of him after this date are found in documents concerning his daughter Margaret, and a mention of him as ‘parson and vicar’ at Eassie and Nevay (in Angus) on 10 December 1633.[65] Since he had been recorded as ‘rector et vicarius’ of Eassie as early as 20 March 1606, it is not clear what, if any, his pastoral connection with the Angus parish actually was.[66]

​[31]​ The epistle dedicatory of Murray’s Short Treatise may end laconically, but it begins in deadly seriousness, and reveals just how personal were the origins of the Treatise:

After that I had receaved some woundes in the house of my friends, I
contracted much melancholy, which brought vpon me so great
sicknesse and weaknesse, that I receaved in my selfe the sentence of
: In the which estate your L. may easily consider, that such a
man as I, both should and would haue deepe meditation of death, and
so indeede I had, being resolved to die at that tyme: yet it was the goodwill
of GOD to continue my life, which hath continued since that tyme, some
sixe yeares or more: therefore I thought it was good for me to make
better preparation against the next assault of that enemie.[67]

Murray explains in a marginal note that ‘some woundes in the house of my friends’ is a quotation from Zechariah 13:6. The wounding and ‘melancholy’ (depression) had happened ‘some sixe yeares or more’ earlier, that is, in 1624, the year of his marital misfortunes and loss of his parish. The richness of what Murray is saying by means of the Biblical quotation cannot be better illuminated than by quoting what Calvin wrote about this verse:[68]

Zechariah … says generally, that false teachers … were worthy of death; and that if they were treated more gently they should yet suffer such a punishment, that they would through life be mutilated and ever bear scars as proofs of their shame. We may at the same time gather from the answer what proves true repentance … ‘What mean these wounds in thine hand? Then he will say, I have been stricken by my friends.’ The Prophet shows that those who had previously deceived the people would become new men, so as patiently to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in itself severe, would bee counted mild, for they would be endued with such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected.[69]

The import of the Zechariah quotation is that Murray now confesses he had been a false teacher, who had betrayed his calling and ‘deceived the people’ by his affair with the woman who became his second wife. The quotation from Corinthians II, 1:9 underlines the suicidal nature of Murray’s depression. Calvin expounded ‘I receaved in my selfe the sentence of death’ thus:

This is as much as to saye, as ‘I determined, and decreed wyth my selfe to dye.’ But he borroweth a similitude of those which being condemned to dye, looke for nothing but for the houre of death. Notwythstanding he sayth, that he receyued the sentence in himselfe, that is, he pronounced the sentence of death against hymselfe, and in his owne conceyt iudged hymselfe to die: lest he myghte seem to have had the same by Revelation from God.[70]

In the light of this, we can hardly be unmoved by what Murray writes at the end of his fifth chapter, entitled ‘Remedies and comforts against the feare of death, which proceedeth from ignorance, infidelitie, or despaire’:

If Sathan or thy owne conscience trouble thee with these doubts and objections following, answere thus.

Object. 1.

My sinne is so great, that it can not bee pardoned.


No sinne in it selfe is so great but it is pardonable, to everie one that can repent: No cryme so great, but GODS mercie is greater: yea, the sinne against the holy Ghost can not bee forgiven, only because these that fall therein, can not repent. Hebr. 6.

​[32]​ Modern readers of the Treatise, comparing it with Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, will be struck by just how frequently the former quotes non-Christian Graeco-Roman sources. But it is Melville, rather than Murray, who is unusual for the time: Early Modern Scottish schooling left its products so steeped in Classical (pagan) literature, that it came to the lips of the clergy as naturally as did the Scriptures.[71] Murray begins the first of his opening chapter’s four tiny sections with the words ‘The oft meditation of death is both necessare, and profitable to make vs liue well, and die well’, whereupon he successively quotes and translates three Romans: Seneca (Thyestes, lines 619-20), Horace, and Martial. Next comes a reference to the famous story (also cited early on in Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death) about Philip of Macedon’s page-boy with his constant reminder ‘Thou art mortall’. Only then do we reach the Treatise‘s first Christian reference, to ‘that holy man Hieronimus’ keeping a skull and hourglass in his study. Murray’s title-page features the skull and hour-glass, yet typically, the words ‘Vive memor lethi, fugit hora’ printed below them come not from St Jerome, but the Roman poet Persius.[72]

​[33]​ The quotations in the second of the chapter’s four sections are all Judaeo-Christian, while those in the third are a mixture, and include, immediately after Ecclesiastes 11:9, the opening lines of an immensely popular anonymous song, devoid of overt religious content, but dismissing all earthly achievement and joy because of their inherent transience.

What if a day, or a month, or a yeare,
Crowne thy delights with a thousand wisht contentings?
Can not the chaunce of a night, or an houre
Crosse thy delights with as many sad tormentings?[73]

Given Murray’s active interest in music, he presumably expected his readers to ‘sing’ these words to their memorable tune (compare James Melville’s quoting of John Hopkins’ Psalm 39). In the final, fourth section of this chapter, Murray cites both the Song of Simeon and the words, ‘into Thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Psalm 31:5), quoted by Christ on the Cross. Good preacher that he was, Murray will reiterate this sentence in his fourth, fifth and sixth chapters.

​[34]​ The second chapter’s opening statement of the three senses in which Death is taken ‘in holy Scripture’ is followed by their systematic exposition. This chapter contains no verse, and the only non-Scriptural quotation is from one of Seneca’s epistles, a favourite resource for the entire Reformed ars moriendi tradition. In the third chapter, ‘Of the feare of death’, Murray not only quotes the Old and New Testaments, but also recites and then paraphrases the Emperor Hadrian’s well-known little poem to his soul, ‘Animula, vagula…’.[74] The chapter had begun by stating that ‘there is a twofold feare of death, wherevnto wee are subject’, and having dealt with the lawful ‘naturall’ feare, he says there is

another kynd of feare of death, which is vnlawfull and sinfull, and therefore to be corrected, striven against, and resisted: this feare of death proceedeth of ignorance, infidelitie, or of despaire. […]

He then, characteristically, proceeds to expound this threefold division.

​[35]​ The start of the fourth chapter on fear of ‘naturall death’ is bracingly direct:

there is no sort of feare of death without paine and trouble to the
patient, as witnesseth the Apostle Iohn, (I.Joh.4.18) saying indefinitly or generally of feare, feare hath torment: Therefore consolations and remedies are to bee sought against all sorts of feare of death.

Murray numbers six remedies, illustrated with the help of quotations overwhemingly Scriptural in origin. But he does also cite Menander (‘hee dyeth young whom God loueth’), Cicero, Seneca and Horace’s famous ‘Pallida mors…’, elegantly translated thus:

With equall foote, death knocks at doors
Of poore mens shoppes, and Princes towres.[75]

​[36]​ The fifth chapter, on fear of ‘unnatural death’, is twice as long as any other; after all, Murray was not unacquainted with the reality of that fear. He begins by referring back to Hadrian’s uncertainty as to his soul’s fate. In defence of the immortality of the soul, two couplets from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and a barrage of Scriptural sources are quoted, before Murray returns to the ‘verie Ethnicks’ – Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch and Plato (on the death of Socrates) — and points out that ‘Christians should be ashamed to feare death through ignorance … seing death is inevitable: the feare of it argues want of fortitude’. He then sets out ‘remedies and comforts’ against the fear of death caused by ‘infidelitie or despaire’, stressing that the sufferer must ‘aboue all things studie to know CHRIST, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings’; Christ, Murray writes, calls death ‘a sleepe, to teach vs that the nature of death is changed to those that beleeue in him’, and ‘in the true knowledge of CHRIST is our comfort, both in life and death’. Another barrage of recommended Scripture reading precedes the closing passage, already quoted, listing six ‘doubts and objections’ and giving lapidary answers to them. In his sixth and final chapter, on ‘the desire of death’, Murray deals directly and succinctly with suicidal desires:

GOD hath put vs in a warrefare, and hath appointed everie one of vs a station, which wee should keepe as obedient Souldiers … those Ethnicks who commonly are accounted magnanimus, that for miscontentment slew themselues … are truely to bee accounted verie cowards, that left their station, not keeping their place, vntill hee that had placed them there had called them from it.

A final prose quotation from Seneca, and then one in verse from that schoolroom standard staple, Disticha Catonis, lead into the final paragraphs, packed with Scripture. The very last of Murray’s quotations, on the subject of how the dying should cope with ‘great paine’, reiterates advice from chapter two: ‘say with the Prophet DAVID, I will hold my tongue O LORD, because thou hast done it: This was Mr. Calvins practise, when hee was dying’.[76] Murray concludes with a simple prayer:

GOD grant we may so liue
that in the houre of death
we may rejoice through

The final consideration of how to deal with ‘great paine’ encapsulates Murray’s ultimately victorious struggle to outface the life-threatening pain of his expulsion — however justified – from the living parish community that had been in his care for two and a half decades. His concentrated, unsentimental and eminently practical Treatise was printed at least twice, which indicates that it found readers at the time.[77]

​[37]​ But, as the latter part of his book’s full title tells us, Murray ends his Treatise with a paratext, namely a brief exposition of ‘the aenigmatick description of old age and death written Ecclesiastes 12’ – a chapter he had thrice quoted in the Treatise proper.[78] The ‘aenigmatick description’ is the famous series of metaphors for old age and death that occupies Ecclesiastes 12: 2 to 7 – a strangely gloomy choice of postliminary material, since while ‘the spirit shall return to God, who gave it’ (verse 7), there is no celebratory promise of the joys of heaven, as there is in Psalm 23, for example. As with the Nyne Songs, Murray provides first a Scriptural text from the Authorised Version (albeit already lightly paraphrased), and then sets out a verse-by-verse prose interpretation of the metaphors, and then forces them into a metrical paraphrase, using the complex ‘solsequium’ song-stanza we encountered earlier in Melville’s psalm-paraphrases of 1597. The choice of this melody in 1631 cannot be a coincidence.

​[38]​ As we have seen, Murray, like James Melville and Lady Culross, appreciated the power of the sung word, even if some of the verses in his psalm-tune equipped Nyne Songs are marred by horrendously contorted syntax (and none of them are outstanding). The tiny verses in the body of the Treatise, however, are competent and sometimes rather appealing. Most of them translate lines from Roman poets, e.g. Horace:

Inter spem, curamque, timores inter & iras,
Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum.

That is to say.

Amidst thy hope, thy care, thy feare, thy wrath,
Thinke everie day thy last, looke for thy death.[79]

​[39]​ But whether read or sung, Murray’s metrical paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12’s beautiful poetic metaphors is much less agreeable, and indeed rather grotesque. Murray was an intelligent, educated and music-loving man, and paragraphs 44 and 45 below will offer a suggestion as to why he chose to end his Treatise with this distinctly unpoetic song-text. For example, verse 3’s words ‘The grinders cease, because they are few’ become

Our teeth which were, as Milstones faire, gin then to spaire
As broken, loose, and in part lost their store.[80]

The same verse’s words ‘They that looke out at the window are darkned. | The doores are shut in the streets’ become

Also our Opticke vaines,
—–That looked throw
Our eyes broken with paines,
—–Leaue their window.
Then faile[s] our speach, whereby wee teach,
Our hearers for to vnderstand our minde,
That doore is close where throw came voice,
And wee of dumbe men made another kynd.

The last four lines quoted above cannot but remind us that the full Scriptural title of Ecclesiastes is actually ‘Ecclesiastes or the Preacher’. Preaching was central to a minister’s calling. The ageing and now silenced preacher of Crail may well have been implicitly lamenting the loss of his pulpit, not as part of the inexorable decay inherent in this sublunary mortal existence, but as the result of his own folly and the intransigence of his archbishop. And at the same time, by publishing his Treatise and his Nyne Songs, he was showing that he had not abandoned his vocation to ‘teach our hearers’.


​[40]​ The East Neuk’s two artes moriendi were composed on opposite sides of a great watershed in Scottish history. Whether or not Melville’s paratextual poem ‘Come Christ our king’ in the Exhortatioun anent Death voices his awareness of the coming persecution, his abundant late poetry, written in English exile between September 1606 and his death, has much to say about the persecution of the church by tyrants. As does his Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ libellus supplex of 1610.[81] These late writings are very different in tone from the Exhortatioun and the Spirituall Propine; and yet, the pastoral motivation behind them remained unchanged. Melville, now prevented from preaching in Kilrenny, was still writing for ‘the Church of Scotland in generall, the people of the paroch of Kilrennie in speciall, and everie faithfull member of the bodie of Jesus Chryst there, or else where in particular’.[82]

​[41]​ Even as the shades of persecution fell in the second half of 1605, the ‘Solsequium’ psalms, which Melville had applied to such comfortingly pastoral and joyous effect in 1596, reappeared in print, now incorporated into a spectacular sequence of fifteen psalms, plus the Song of Simeon and the Doxology, printed anonymously as The Mindes Melodie. Contayning certayne Psalmes of the Kinglie Prophet David, applied to a new pleasant tune, verie comfortable to everie one that is rightlie acquainted therewith. The booklet was a ‘comfortable’ (i.e. strengthening and uplifting) gesture of support for Andrew Duncan of Crail and the five other Presbyterian ministers imprisoned in Blackness Castle under threat of execution, and it was reprinted in 1606.[83] In November 1606, the Blackness prisoners sailed into exile, after Melville and seven leading Presbyterian clerics had already been summoned to London and placed under house-arrest. James Melville never saw Scotland again.

​[42]​ William Murray was a friend and colleague of the sufferers of 1605-1608. In 1631, the year of Murray’s Short Treatise, Charles I tried to impose the new metrical ‘Psalms of King James’ on the Kirk – a foretaste of other liturgical changes and a new Book of Canons to come from London later in the 1630s.[84] Murray’s choice of the ‘Solsequium’ tune and stanza surely alludes to the passing of all the youthful hopes of the 1590s and the combative energy of the 1600s, which he and others had known in the distant days of the flourishing spiritual community of the East Neuk. Murray will not only have known Melville’s Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death, but been personally acquainted with its dedicatee James Lumsden, who died two years after Murray is first recorded as working in Crail. Furthermore, as an active supporter of the six ministers imprisoned in Blackness Castle, Murray must have been familiar with the ‘comfortable’ Scriptural paraphrases of The Mindes Melodie, using the Solsequium stanza and melody. Some at least of Murray’s readers will also have known The Mindes Melodie and its associations with the doomed struggle against King James’s onslaught on the Kirk’s autonomy. The original metaphors that comprise Ecclesiastes 12 are of great beauty, unlike Murray’s prose exposition. His verse paraphrase is positively ugly, so that the poem’s beautiful melody and all its various existing associations are rendered incongruous. (Mutatis mutandis, the jarring effect that Murray has created is not unlike that of the incongruous and often distorted popular melodies and waltz rhythms found in the music of Mahler and Shostakovich.) At the very least, we can suggest that the strange, limping, grotesque song that ends Murray’s Treatise was actually intended as the laconic minister’s idiosyncratic elegy for, and oblique homage to James Melville and the East Neuk’s spiritual community.[85]

​[43]​ Murray’s final stanza may even contain a coded warning to followers of the royal establishment which had persecuted Melville and Murray’s other colleagues:

And that round Wheele, which once did reele, as we now feel
—-Is broken downe, even right aboue the Well:
I meane the head, when wee are dead, stands in no stead,
—-To draw vp foode from livers stell.
——-Earth doth then to earth returne,
———Even man to dust;
——-His Spirit to GOD is borne,
———Who is most iust.

Murray begins by paraphrasing verse seven’s ‘wheel broken at the cistern’, and then the whole of verse 8 is covered in just three lines; whereupon Murray himself adds that, at death, the God to whom the spirit is borne ‘is most just’, the adjective making a deft allusion to the Last Judgement. The poem ends by paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 12:1:

Remember man, thy Maker then,
When thou art young and strong, before these dayes:
For thou wilt wearie, and cannot tarry,
To serue thy God, and sorrow for thy sinnes alwayes.

That last line, however, is Murray’s own contribution: ‘Serve thy God’ — rather than thy king, perhaps?

​[44]​ In 1631, Murray could not know whither the policies of King Charles and Archbishop Laud would lead.[86] Nor could he even dream that as early as 1634, his long-dead friend Melville’s voice would be heard again, with the publication (in Holland) of an abbreviated text of the devastating poetic attack on royal tyranny, The Black Bastell, written by the banished pastor of Kilrenny in 1611.[87] Yet even in 1631, William Murray seems still to have retained something of his own early radicalism, writing in Nyne Songs that ‘Kings, Princes and potentates have neede to be exhorted to make the judgements of God upon their Peeres, for pride so blinds their mindes, that they mis-ken both God & man’.[88] Nyne Songs was not reissued, but the Short Treatise was. The original ‘Solsequium’, its subject the perennial impermanence of both night and day, was ‘perhaps the most ubiquitous Montgomerie song’ and ‘also the most ubiquitous of his poems’.[89] Murray’s Ecclesiastes paraphrase, therefore, must have reminded at least some of its readers of the fact that since all things under the sun pass, so too would the episcopal and political order imposed by James VI and reinforced by his son. For, as the Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 8:9-12:

There is a time when one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had done so […] Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God.


School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow

Acknowledgements: I would like to voice my thanks to Laura Doak and Rebecca Mason for their extreme patience, to the anonymous readers for their comments, and to the editors of the JNR.


​[1]: English Short Title Catalogue (hereafter ESTC) (2nd ed)/18167 and 18168. I have followed modern practice in using the form ‘Murray’, but his printers spelled his name ‘Morray’, ‘Morrey’ and ‘Moray’, and only under ‘Morray’ can he be found in EEBO (Early English Books Online). In the copy of STC 18167 used for EEBO, a contemporary hand (the author’s own?) has made a dozen small manuscript emendations. These concern marginal references, four tiny textual corrections, and a single rhyme-word in the closing poem (see note 80 below). However, with the exception of ‘in’ for ‘into’ in the second line of the epistle dedicatory, no corrections were made in 1633 for STC 18168, even though the text had been re-set, as both the last page and the orthographical variants show. ​[back to text]​

​[2]: ESTC (2nd ed.)/17815.5.​[back to text]​

[3]: The process of putting Robert in possession of the estate began well before 1598; see Erskine Beveridge. 1893. The Churchyard Memorials of Crail (privately printed: Edinburgh), 132-55, at 149.​[back to text]​

[4]: J Reid Baxter. 2017. ‘New Light from Fife’, The Innes Review, 68:1:38-77, at 65-66 and 73-74. An important, hitherto unnoticed contributory factor to the spiritual malaise afflicting Isobell Cor has subsequently come to light. In The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne, 4 vols. (Edinburgh, 1824), i, 398, we read that in 1596, Isobell’s husband Robert Lumsden, in partnership with his wealthy merchant father-in-law Clement Cor, charged exorbitant prices for a great stock of ‘wictuall of all sortes’ that they had bought up cheap, whereupon ‘the ministers throughe all the shyre pronuncid the cursse of God aganist them, as the grinders of the faces of the poore; wich cursse [sic] too manifestly lighted on them befor ther deathes’ — in the shape of their being utterly bankrupted by their heavy investment in the failed Second Plantation of Lewis, 1605-07.​[back to text]​

[5]: Smith, ‘Presbytery of St Andrews’, passim. See also no’d paragraphs 29 and 30 for their joint-activities in 1604 and 1606.​[back to text]​

[6]: Gordon Raeburn, ‘Rewriting Death and Burial in Early-Modern Scotland’, Reformation & Renaissance Review, 18:3, 254-272, provides a useful list, to which can be added

(a) the earliest Scottish post-Reformation publication concerning good dying, a Scots verse paraphrase of Clément Marot included by Robert Norvell at Edinburgh in 1561 in his book The Meroure of ane Chrstiane [sic], STC 18688: ‘How death doeth answer maike and send: to them that do him vilipend, Translated forth of frainshe’, i.e. a Scots translation of the twenty-one rhyme-royal stanzas headed ‘Comment la mort sur le propos de republicque parle à tous humains’, which constitute the penultimate of the four sections of Marot’s long poem, ‘La déploration de Florimond Robertet’;

(b) William Cowper’s treatise A Defiance to Death. Wherein, besides sundry heauenly instructions for a godly life, we haue strong and notable comforts to vphold vs in death (London, 1610, republished in 1616), STC (2nd ed.) 5917, c.32 500 words written for and dedicated ‘to Sir Thomas Stewart of Gairntilie [i.e. Grandtully] and his vertuous Ladie, Grizzell Mercer’, in the wake of Stewart’s near-fatal illness. Cowper’s treatise expounds 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (which is quoted complete on page 32 of Melville’s Exhortatioun);

(c) William Struthers’ treatise (so called at the head of its list of contents),  A RESOLVTION FOR DEATH, written vnder the sentence of Death, in the time of a painfull Disease. And now published for their comfort who studie to approue themselues to God: And to assure all that liue the life of the Righteous, that they shall die the death of the Righteous. This is the second, separately paginated part of Struthers’ Christian observations and resolutions, or, The daylie practise of the renewed man, turning all occurrents to spirituall uses, and these uses to his vnion with God I. centurie. First published at Edinburgh in 1628, it was reissued  in 1629 both at Edinburgh and London. Struthers (c.1579-1633), minister of Edinburgh,  had fallen ill in December 1627. His treatise runs to some 14 400 words, and although laid out as sixty-six generally very short numbered sections, is in fact a single impassioned prayer, packed with purely Scriptural allusions and quotations. Its literary quality can be judged from these two paragraphs, in which Struthers is addressing his soul:

[27] Will thou know what is this noyse about thee, it is the hand of thy Lord softlie loosing the pinnes, and slakening the coards of thy Tabernacle, it is the noyse of his Chariots that hee hath sent from Heauen to bring thee to him: Olde Iakob reuiued when he saw Iosephs Chariots to bring him to Egypt, though his posteritie were thereafter in thrall, shall thou not bee glad to goe vp in these Coaches to Heauen, where thou shalt euer bee with Ioseph, and vnder a good King, who knoweth Ioseph, and will neuer die.

[28] This noyse is nothing but the sound of Christs key opening thy prison and fetters: Lift vp thine head and rejoyce, for thy Redemption is at hand, hee that is to come, will come and not delay: Behold hee commeth, and his reward is with him. Thou shall heare in due time the voyce of thy beloued crying, Arise my spouse, my beloued, arise, and come away, for the winter of thy calamitous life is gone, the raines of thine affliction are passed. Cant 2.

​[back to text]​

[7]: STC 3482 and Wing B4104. See under those years in the online National Library of Scotland site Scottish Books 1505-1700 (Aldis Updated). <https://www.nls.uk/catalogues/scottish-books-1505-1640>.​[back to text]​

[8]: The publication of so furiously anti-Roman a tract in these specific years may reflect Scottish historical circumstances and the Presbyterian belief in the threat of a return to Rome underpinning the establishment of any form of church hierarchy. In 1584, the Huguenot Vautrollier could have been motivated by the Black Acts and the episcopalising Crown’s persecution of Presbyterians, cf. his 1584 publication of Henrie Balnaves’ Confession of Faith. In 1600, the puritan Waldegrave may have been responding to rapidly growing suspicion of James VI’s hierarchising reorganisation of the Kirk. Finally, the Kirk’s problems with Catholics in 1613 may have motivated the Presbyterian stalwart Andro Hart – see Alan R. MacDonald. 1998. The Jacobean Kirk 1567-1625 (London: Routledge), 153.​[back to text]​

[9]: I would like to thank Prof. Atkinson for his kindness in supplying me with the texts of various inaccessible articles.​[back to text]​

[10]: In fact, O’Connor, discussing ‘the England of Elizabeth and the Stuarts’ on page 191, ignores both Melville and the kingdom of James VI, describing the unattributed Exhortatioun as a book of ‘the Elizabethan age’.​[back to text]​

[11]: Margo Todd’s The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale: Yale University Press, 2002) is not a literary study, and makes no reference to Melville’s or Murray’s treatises.​[back to text]​

[12]: Work on James Melville has been hampered for decades by the fact that A Morning Vision was not photographed for the microfilms underpinning EEBO.​[back to text]​

[13]: McCallum. 2010. Reforming the Scottish Parish, 108-13. For the tunes, see Timothy Duguid. 2014. Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c.1547-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate), 213-14.​[back to text]​

[14]: McCallum, Reforming the Scottish Parish, 119. With Murray’s book, compare e.g. Dudley Fenner, The Song of Songs, that is, the most excellent song which was Solomons, translated out of the Hebrue into English meeter with as little libertie in departing from the wordes, as any plaine translation in prose can vse: and interpreted by a short commentarie (Middelburg, 1587, reprinted 1594), where each metrical chapter is assigned a psalm-tune. As early as 1543, Clément Marot had published a singing version of the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29–32) that was immediately incorporated into the French Protestant psalter, while the long-lived English metrical paraphrases of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis were first printed as early as 1556 (see Beth Quitslund. 2008. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603 (Aldershot: Ashgate), 279). Theodore Beza assigned psalm tunes to the singing versions of no fewer than seventeen Scriptural cantiques he published in 1595, seven of them paraphrasing texts later found in Murray’s Nyne Songs. By 1631, Scottish metrical psalters included a certain number of canticles and hymns taken from the English Whole Booke of Psalmes, including the 1556 Magnificat and Nunc dimittis texts. Whether these ‘canticles’ were ever sung in kirk is as yet unascertained. From 1615, some Scottish psalters also featured James Melville’s ‘Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32’, to the tune of Psalm 3. Nonetheless, Murray made his own metrical versions of all three of these texts.​[back to text]​

[15]: See pages 17-19, where successive paragraphs begin ‘next’,’thirdly’, ‘fourthlie’, and ‘And last’.​[back to text]​

[16]: See also John McCallum. 2014. ‘”Sone and Servant”: Andrew Melville and his Nephew, James (1556-1614)’, in R. A. Mason and S. J. Reid, eds. Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Writings, Reception and Reputation (Farnham: Ashgate), 201-14. A full bibliography of the exiguous writing on James Melville’s poetry (up to 2016) is given in note 1 to J. Reid Baxter, ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule: a Scottish presbyterian Song of Songs?’ in Medievalia et Humanistica no.41 (December, 2015), 209-28.​[back to text]​

[17]: These lines are also found at the end of an eye-witness account of Melville’s death on 19 January 1614, which survives in a copy made in 1649; see National Library of Scotland Adv.MS.34.7.10, pp. 195-207. A transcript was printed in Pitcairn 1842: lvi-lxiv.​[back to text]​

[18]: A translation of the epigram Ut tibi mors felix contingat, vivere disce, / ut felix possis vivere, disce mori by the Ferrarese humanist Celio Calcagnini (1479-1541). Paschal de l’Estocart’s polyphonic settings of the Latin and the French texts, published in Sacrae Cantiones (1582), are tracks 10 and 24 of the CD Deux coeurs aimants RAM0703 (2007).​[back to text]​

[19]: NLS, Adv. MS. 19.2.7, ff.42-58v. The present writer first addressed this discovery in his unpublished paper ‘King David, Charles IX and James VI as tyrants: Beza, Belleau, Melville and the Miserere’ at the University of Kent conference ‘New Perspectives on the Auld Alliance’, 21-22 June 2016, and revisited it in four unpublished presentations on James Melville given at the universities of Glasgow (2016), Aberdeen (2018), Edinburgh (April 2019) and Durham (May 2019).​[back to text]​

[20]: See Sally Mapstone. 2013. ‘James Melville’s Revisions to A Spirituall Propine and A Morning Vision’ in David J. Parkinson, ed. 2013. James VI and I, Literature and Scotland: Tides of Change (Leuven: Peeters), 173-92, at 183-88; see also Melville’s dixain recommending to James VI that he translate Dubartas’ La Sepmaine, in J. Reid Baxter, ‘The Nyne Muses, an unknown Renaissance Sonnet-Sequence John Dykes and the Gowrie Conspiracy’, in K. Dekker and A. A. MacDonald (eds.) 2005. Royalty, Rhetoric and Reality (Leuven: Peeters), 197-218, at 202 and n.17.​[back to text]​

[21]: 1576 edition, 20-24; Mornay reprises the ages of man more concisely on 53-54.​[back to text]​

[22]: Exhortatioun, sig.2v (unnumbered). The page-numbering, however, begins with the title-page itself, since the main text’s second page is numbered 8.​[back to text]​

[23]: Exhortatioun, sig.2v. For Douglas’s active commitment to the ‘Melvillian’ cause in the town in 1593, see Pitcairn 1842: 314.​[back to text]​

[24]: It is worth noting the parallels with William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death. Cowper tells Sir William Stewart that he has offered ‘the Treatis following … partly to testifie my vnfeined affection toward you in the Lord ; for that unfeined and incorrupt loue … ye haue alway carried toward the truth of the Gospell … and partly that ye may be remembered of these instructions concerning life and death : which ye receiued from vs by hearing … and vnto the practise whereo shortly ye must be called, for albeit it is not long, since it pleased the Lord beyond all expectation of man to deliuer you out of the handes of the Sergeants & officers of death [i.e. sickness and disease], which had violently seased vpon you, and threatned to slay you both, your selfe by sickenesse, your Ladie by the sorrow of desolation, more heauie then death vnto her: yet are yea to knowe (and I doubt not, are preparing you for it) that the same battell will shortly be renued against you, wherin both of you must bee diuorced from other, and diuided from your owne bodies’ (sig.A5 rv). As minister of the second charge at Perth since 1595, and until 1608 a militant presbyterian, Cowper may well have known Melville’s Exhortatioun; his senior colleague John Malcolm, minister of the first charge, was a lifelong presbyterian and friend of Andrew Melville. See the liminary verses to Malcolm by Melville and John Johnston in his Commentarius in Apostolorum Acta (Middelburg, 1615).​[back to text]​

[25]: Again, there are parallels at the end of Cowper’s epistle: ‘if these little fruites of my Ministery may serue any way to confirme you in the end, as some way they haue comforted in the iourney: and if for your sake they may bee profitable to others, who constantly keeps with you the same course toward the face of Iesus Christ, it shall be no small comfort vnto me, knowing thereby that I haue not runne, nor laboured in vaine’.​[back to text]​

[26]: Buchanan is never named, but simply described as ‘the prince of Christian poets’ on 9 and ‘our poet’ on 30.​[back to text]​

[27]: That is, the Anglo-Genevan ‘proper tune’ for Psalm 29, appointed for Psalm 39 in 1564, rather than the proper tune for Psalm 15, as suggested in Charteris’ CL Psalmes of 1596. See Timothy Duguid. 2014. Metrical Psalmody, 145. For private as well as public psalm-singing, see ibid., 205-206​[back to text]​

[28]: Exhortatioun, sig.2 and 2v:  ‘I fell upon the minutes of a certaine Sermon… I recognosced the heads of the samin, and fostered a peece of meditatioun upon the pointes thairof’.​[back to text]​

[29]: Melville’s warmly intimate, conversationally flowing pastoral discourse can usefully be contrasted with Ninian Campbell’s stilted, rigidly structured Treatise upon Death first publickly delivered in a funerall sermon, anno Dom. 1630 And since enlarged By N.C. Preacher of Gods word in Scotland at Kilmacolme in the baronie of Renfrew of 1635 (ESTC 2nd ed.) / 4533), on Hebrews 9:27, with a hyperabundance of quotations in Greek and Latin, both Christian and pagan; and indeed with the unstilted and virtually pagan-free, but eminently well signposted, systematic, phrase-by-phrase exposition of 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 that constitutes William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death.​[back to text]​

[30]: William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death of 1610 concludes with the same verse, slightly recast: ‘If our life be the life of the righteous, out of doubte wee shall dye the death of the righteous’ (381); the coincidence, if such it be, is rather striking.​[back to text]​

[31]: Melville’s poem appears to indicate his familiarity with an earlier poem (first printed c.1582) which uses this verse-form to discuss the Last Days at colossally greater length: see J. Reid Baxter ‘James Anderson and His Poem The Winter Night‘ in Luuk Houwen (ed.). 2012. Literature and Religion in Late Medieval and Early Modern Scotland: Essays in Honour of Alasdair A. MacDonald (Leuven: Peeters), 145-165.​[back to text]​

[32]: See Exhortatioun, 12,15, 16, 60 and 61.​[back to text]​

[33]: Melville had earlier used the phrase ‘man of sinne’ in the quite different Pauline sense (Ephesians 4 :22): ‘we sall finde na losse at all, vnlesse thou wald esteeme the losse of thine enemie to be losse: for indeed, that olde man of sinne by death is destroyed, and alluterlie mortified and vndone.’ (48).​[back to text]​

[34]: For Melville’s account and interpretation of ‘the 17 December’, as it became known, see Pitcairn 1842: 516-22.​[back to text]​

[35]: Robert Rollock, friend and former St Andrews colleague of both Andrew and James Melville, had voiced this doctrine in ‘Patria alloquitur Regem suum’, his third liminary epigram to George Buchanan’s Rerum Scotorum Historia (1582). Rollock writes of two sceptres: that of King James rules Scotland, but Christ’s sceptre rules both Scotland and King James.​[back to text]​

[36]: See Thomas Thomson, ed. 1842-49. History of the Kirk of Scotland by David Calderwood, 8 vols (Edinburgh), v, 174, and Reid Baxter, ‘New Light from Fife’, 63-64.​[back to text]​

[37]: Poems of Elizabeth Melville, ed. J. Reid Baxter (Edinburgh, 2010), 72-91, lines 28-48, 386, 425-26. For Lady Culross’s East Neuk friends, see ‘New Light from Fife’, passim.​[back to text]​

[38]: See Julian Goodare. 2008. ‘The Attempted Scottish Coup of December 1596’, in J. Goodare and A. A. MacDonald (eds.) Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch (Brill: Leiden), 311-36.​[back to text]​

[39]: Melville loved this parable. On his deathbed in 1614, ‘Quhen the fyve wyse virgines wer rememberit … he putt his hand to his heart, and chaped thryse on it’ (Pitcairn 1842: lxii).​[back to text]​

[40]: Revelation 4 :8-10, 5 :9-13, 7 :11-12, 14 :2-3, 19 :1-3, 6-7.​[back to text]​

[41]: See Simon Goulart, Mémoires de l’estat sous Charles IX, 3 vols,  Seconde édition […]. Meidelbourg [i.e. Geneva] H. Wolf [i.e. E. Vignon], i, 221-32.  Goulart’s text, identical in all editions of his Mémoires de l’estat,  draws heavily on the anonymous Brief discours sur  la mort de la Royne de Navarre advenue à Paris le IX jour de juin 1572, (np),  but the latter is not Melville’s source either. In the short sample below, the differences from the French are highlighted in bold in the Scots:

Goulart f.225v

Et adiousta ceste similitude, que tout ainsi qu’vn Roy voulant grandement honorer quelq’vn, luy monstroit sa Cour, ses princes, ses estats, ses maisons, & ses ioyaux plus precieux: ainsi, que Dieu vn iour desployeroit sa gloire, & sa Maiesté, voire tous ses thresors à ses fideles & esleus, lors qu’il les auroit attirez à soy, & qu’il les embelliroit, & enrichiroit de lumiere, incorruption & immortalité. Au moyen de quoy, puis qu’ell ne se deuoit beaucoup soucier de quitter ce monde, veu que pour vn Royaume terrien qu’elle delaissoit, elle heritoit le Royaume des cieux, & pour les biens qui ne faisoyent que passer, & s’escrouler, elle iouyroit à tousiours de ceux qui estoyent eternels.  Et ce d’autant qu’elle auoit ferme fiance en nostre Seigneur Iesus Christ, & qu’elle s’asseuroit de son salut par luy. Et sur ce mot, il s’addressa particulierment à elle, luy demandant si elle ne croyoit pas que Iesus Christ fust son sauueur, & que par son sang il eust fait la purgation de tous nos pechez. 

Melville, p.88

There he added therevnto this similitude, that even as a potent and magnifick rich King, willing to honor gretly some stranger, he shewes him his Court, his Princes, his Estates, his store-houses, and his most precious Iewels, he intertaines him delicately, he feedes his eies with pleasant spectacles, his eares with sweet musick, his taste and smelling with fragrant odours, &c. Even so, God wald some day display and laye open his Glory and Majestie; yea, even all his treasures vnto his Elect and Faithfull: even then, when he sall retyre them from this miserie vnto himself, in his heuenlie Kingdome of glory; where he sall highlie honour them, and decore them with Light, incorruption, and immortalitie. Wherefore, seeing that sik was the felicitie of the happie and glorified, shee suld not greatly care to quyte the warld, in sa far, as for ane earthly Realm, quhilk she left, she suld inherit the Kingdome of Heaven: and for goods and ritches corruptible, shee suld enjoye for ever sik, as culd not wither nor passe away: omission  & thereafter he addressed himselfe particularlie to her, demaunding of her, gif she beleeued that Iesus Christ was her Saviour, quha had by his bluid made a purgation for all her sinnes.

​[back to text]​

[42]: See J. Reid Baxter, ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ in J D McLure and J Hadley Williams (eds.). 2013. Fresche Fontanis: Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Conference on Mediaeval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 363-73. Melville’s example of how to send the readers of a very serious book away singing cheerfully may well have been Lady Culross’s inspiration to append an equally tuneful postliminary song to the apocalyptic conclusion of Ane Godlie Dreame. See Poems of Elizabeth Melville, 94-95. James Melville’s Psalm 23 is track 16 of the CD Thus spake Apollo myne, GAU 249 (2002).​[back to text]​

[43]: For Melville and intertextuality, see ‘The Releife of the longing soule’, 216-22.​[back to text]​

[44]: See the 1593 London print of the 2nd edition, f.48v of Pars tertia (STC (2nd ed.) / 2061.5; EEBO image 257).​[back to text]​

[45]: See Roderick Lyall. 2005. Alexander Montgomerie: Poetry, Politics and Cultural Change in Jacobean Scotland (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Tempe), 296-98. Most of Melville’s sonnets await scholarly consideration, but see Lyall, ibid., 303-306, and Sarah C. Ross, in ‘Elizabeth Melville and the Religious Sonnet Sequence in England and Scotland’, in Susan J. Wiseman (ed.). 2014. Early Modern Women and the Poem (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 42-59, at 52-55.​[back to text]​

[46]: William Cowper had likewise written near the start of A Defiance of Death: ‘It is therefore a special point of wisdom, so to liue, that by liuing wee may learne to die, that a godly life may prepare the way to a happy death’.​[back to text]​

[47]: David W. Atkinson. 1977. ‘Zachary Boyd and the Ars Moriendi tradition’, Scottish Literary Journal, 4, 5-16.​[back to text]​

[48]: See McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, ii, 277-78 and 422-23 respectively.​[back to text]​

[49]: Beaty, Craft of Dying, 113, 114.​[back to text]​

[50]: O’Connor, The Art of Dying Well, 205.​[back to text]​

[51]: David George Mullan. 2000. Scottish Puritanism 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 122. Melville’s Exhortatioun is briefly quoted on the same page and elsewhere, e.g. 41.​[back to text]​

[52]: Short Treatise, second and third pages (unnumbered).​[back to text]​

[53]: Volume V, 192.​[back to text]​

[54]: See the index entries for Murray in Mullan, Scottish Puritanism, and in McCallum, Reforming the Scottish Parish. The earlier lack of serious scholarly interest in Murray is amply demonstrated in the English Short Title Catalogue’s suggested date of ‘1634’ for the Nyne Songs, the only extant title-page having had its date trimmed off. In fact, the book’s dedication and liminary poem conclusively prove that the real date is 1631. The dedicatee of Nyne Songs is the ‘Right Honorable the Vicount [sic] of Stormont, Lord of Scone and of Balwhidder, Stewart of Fife, &c’, who, as Murray says, had been ‘Captaine of the guard’ and was now in ‘old age’. This is David Murray of Gospertie, who would die on 27 August 1631, when he was succeeded by Mungo Murray, hitherto Master of Stormont. Robert Crawford’s liminary poem tells us the author has ‘not long since’ (non ita pridem) published his ‘other’ little book (libellus) ‘de morte’, i.e. A Short Treatise – in which Agnes is addressed not as ‘Lady’ of Stormont, but as ‘Mistresse’ thereof, i.e. her husband was still only the Master (Scots Peerage, Sir James Balfour Paul, Scots Peerage, 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1904-1914), viii, 191-97). 1631 had been suggested in the standard Scottish bibliographical tool, Harry G. Aldis’ List of Books printed in Scotland before 1700 (1904), twenty years before the creation of the Short Title Catalogue in 1926. But the latter’s attitude to Scottish facts is insouciantly high-handed: James VI, for example, can be found only as ‘James I, King of England, 1566-1625’, while Elizabeth Melville is called ‘Colville’ after her husband, in unscholarly, flat denial of Scottish reality.​[back to text]​

[55]: Calderwood’s History, edited by Thomas Thomson, JMAD, edited by Robert Pitcairn, and An Apologetical Narration … by William Scot, and Certaine Records … by John Forbes (Edinburgh, 1846), edited by David Laing. Laing did distinguish between the two men in his later Original Letters, relating to the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1851). See ‘New Light from Fife’, 72, fn.121. For William Murray of Dysart, see Scots Peerage, iii, 398-99.​[back to text]​

[56]: Register of the Great Seal of Scotland [hereinafter RMS], 11 vols. (Edinburgh: General register house, 1882-1914), vi, item 1500.​[back to text]​

[57]: Scots Peerage, viii, 186-97.​[back to text]​

[58]: RMS, v, items nos.661 and 1776.​[back to text]​

[59]: Fasti, v, 192. Duncan was permitted to return to Crail after eight years’ exile (Calderwood, History, vii, 181), only to fall foul of the Court of High Commission in 1619 due to his defiance of the Five Articles of Perth (ibid. 377, 443, 470, 511).​[back to text]​

[60]: Calderwood, History, vii, 413. Contrast the fate of his associate, Andrew Duncan.​[back to text]​

[61]: See the actions raised by Murray and his wife Janet Moncreiff between February and May 1609, NRS, CS 7/242, fol. 29; CS 7/241/165r-167v, 186r-187v, 187v-189r. My thanks to Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich for supplying me with this information.​[back to text]​

[62]: Short Treatise, first page (unnumbered); Crawford’s liminary poem to Nyne Songs affirms that Olim voce gregem pascebas sedulus (Of old you would zealously feed your flock by the spoken word). Translations mine.​[back to text]​

[63]: The second poem, headed ‘to the same, and to the reader’ praises the practical usefulness of the book in the highest terms. The author was one David Maxwell, presumably the Crail notary (and ‘reader’ in the kirk) – see National Archives (London), SP 46/129/fo142, obligation by Andrew Wood, maltman, bgs of Crail, 4 February 1624: ‘David Maxwell notary and writer hereof’. John Durkan. 2013. Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633, (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society), 258, notes that a David Maxwell, notary and ‘reader’, is recorded as schoolmaster in Crail between January 1585 and May 1605.​[back to text]​

[64]: STC (2nd ed.) 18166.​[back to text]​

[65]: Inquisitionum Ad Capellam Domini Regis Retornatarum … Abbrevatio, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1811- 1816), I, no. 343; RMS, viii, item 1179; Fasti, v, 259.​[back to text]​

[66]: RMS, vi, item no.1726.​[back to text]​

[67]: Short Treatise, first page (unnumbered).​[back to text]​

[68]: We cannot know whether Murray knew this particular commentary, but A Short Treatise, on pages 12 and 41, reveals his familiarity with Calvin’s writings.​[back to text]​

[69]: Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, tr. John Owen, vol.5 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849), 392-93.​[back to text]​

[70]: A commentarie vpon S. Paules epistles to the Corinthians. Written by M. Iohn Caluin: and translated out of Latine into Englishe by Thomas Timme minister (London, 1577), fol.207 rv.
​[back to text]​

[71]: See J. Reid Baxter. ‘Mr Andrew Boyd (1567-1636), Bishop of Argyll: a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his Writings’ in Julian Goodare and Alasdair A. MacDonald, (eds.) Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, 395-426, passim, for the bishop’s love of quoting from Lucian of Samosata and Seneca, amongst others, even in his funeral sermons. Ninian Campbell also lavishly quotes pagan writers in his Treatise upon Death of 1635. However, William Cowper’s A Defiance of Death, packed with quotations from the Church Fathers including St Bernard, rarely mentions Graeco-Roman pagan writers, and this is even truer of Zachary Boyd’s Last Battell, for all its length. William Struthers’ Resolution for Death  eschews non-Scriptural quotations entirely.​[back to text]​

[72]: ‘Live mindful of death: time is flying’, Satire 5, 153.​[back to text]​

[73]: For an attempted Scottish contrafactum sacrum of this song, often wrongly attributed to Campion, see (and hear) paragraphs [12] and [13] here:
[https://]{.ul}[www.northernrenaissance.org/the-apocalyptic-](http://www.northernrenaissance.org/the-apocalyptic-)[muse-of-francis-hamilton-of-silvertonhill/]{.ul}​[back to text]​

[74]: William Cowper had quoted this poem in his Defiance to Death, 12, as an instance of how pagan philosophy has no answer to death.​[back to text]​

[75]: Odes, 1.4.13-14; on the fifth (unnumbered) page of the Treatise, lines 9-10 of David Maxwell’s liminary poem had quoted Horace’s original Latin. ‘Doors’ in Scots was pronounced with a long ‘u’ sound, and therefore rhymes perfectly with Scots ‘towres’ (pr. ‘toors’).​[back to text]​

[76]: Psalm 36:9: Treatise, 12, 41​[back to text]​

[77]: ESTC (2nd ed.) / 18168.​[back to text]​

[78]: Melville and Cowper had discussed this passage early on in their respective treatises: Exhortatioun, 15, A Defiance to Death, 38-42. Murray may very well have known Cowper’s Defiance, just as William Struthers may well have known both Murray’s and Cowper’s treatises, but reasons of space preclude any proper investigation of the many parallels and possible influence.​[back to text]​

[79]: Epistularum Liber Primus, IV, 12-13; the Scots rhyme ‘wraith / daith’ is one of several instances of Murray’s use of Scots pronunciation (cf. ‘doores’ and ‘towres’). His usage is inconsistent: the Ecclesiastes 12 paraphrase includes both ‘that doore is close where throw came voice‘ (i.e. ‘voce’), and ‘And then our voice, which made sweete noyse’.​[back to text]​

[80]: The printed rhyme word in both 1631 and 1633 is ‘skaire’, i.e. ‘share’, in the sense of ‘allotted part or rôle’ (see Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue). However, in the 1631 print copy used for EEBO, a contemporary hand has forcefully blacked out ‘skaire’ and added the correct rhyme-word for line 2’s ‘though strong before’, namely ‘store’, in the sense of ‘abundance’ (See Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, acceptation 3). ​[back to text]​

[81]: Published at London in 1645; the far from identical manuscript text of 1610 is in Edinburgh University Library, Melvini Epistolae, MS. Dc6.4, where it is entitled Oratio apologetica vel libellus supplex ad Regem.​[back to text]​

[82]: National Library of Scotland, Adv.Ms.19.2.7, f. 16 For a discussion of the late poetry, see J. Reid Baxter, ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule.’​[back to text]​

[83]: ESTC (2nd ed.) / 18051, 18051.3. See ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘, 365-74.​[back to text]​

[84]: For the new psalter of 1631, see Millar Patrick, Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody (OUP, 1949) 80-88.​[back to text]​

[85]: Murray’s Treatise and Nyne Songs are not the only posthumous tribute to James Melville’s inspiring example. Five years after the former minister of Kilrenny’s death in January 1614, his ghost had been the protagonist of a polemical ‘dialogue’ set in Edinburgh in January 1619: see J. Reid Baxter. 2017. ‘Posthumous Preaching: James Melville’s ghostly advice in Ane Dialogue (1619), with an edition from manuscript’ Studies in Scottish Literature, 43: 1, 41-71, https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/ssl/vol43/iss1/9/.​[back to text]​

[86]: The 1631 first edition actually ends with a visual image that could in fact indicate that Murray hoped things would change, namely, the wheel of fortune, inscribed ‘OMNIA SVBIACENT VICISSITUDINI’ and ‘SOLA VIRTUS CADERE NON POTEST’. Falconer Madan’s The Early Oxford Press (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1895), 289, notes this as a printer’s device known from Oxford prints of 1592-93, 1620 and 1629. The device, however, takes on quite particular significance when juxtaposed with the conclusion of Murray’s Ecclesiastes 12 paraphrase. The 1633 reprint of Murray’s book omits the device, though the page offered the same amount of blank space; perhaps it was felt that this juxtaposition of words and image would be inappropriate in the year of Charles I’s coronation visit, accompanied by Archbishop Laud. The latter’s major rôle in arousing the active opposition of the hitherto passive majority within the Kirk is charted in Leonie James’s ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland, 1617-1645, reviewed in JNR in April 2019.[back to text]​

[87]: STC (2nd ed.) / 17815, available in EEBO; the anonymous editor has cut Melville’s original 93 stanza dream-vision down to 39 stanzas and anglicised the language. See See McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, ii, 456-58.​[back to text]​

[88]: Nyne Songs from the Holy Scripture (Edinburgh, 1631), 57, cited by Mullan, Scottish Puritanism, 284.​[back to text]​

[89]: David Parkinson. 2005. ‘Alexander Montgomerie: Scottish Author’ in Sally Mapstone, ed. Older Scots Literature (Edinburgh: John Donald), 493-513, at 508.​[back to text]​



Primary Sources

Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh
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National Archives, London
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A commentarie vpon S. Paules epistles to the Corinthians. Written by M. Iohn Caluin: and translated out of Latine into Englishe by Thomas Timme minister (London, 1577)

Dudley Fenner, The Song of Songs, that is, the most excellent song which was Solomons, translated out of the Hebrue into English meeter with as little libertie in departing from the wordes, as any plaine translation in prose can vse: and interpreted by a short commentarie (Middelburg, 1587, reprinted 1594)

Erskine Beveridge. 1893. The Churchyard Memorials of Crail (Edinburgh: privately printed)

Falconer Maden. 1895. The Early Oxford Press, 1468-1640 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press)

Inquisitionum Ad Capellam Domini Regis Retornatarum … Abbrevatio, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1811- 1816)

Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, 11 vols. (Edinburgh: General register house, 1882-1914)

Robert Pitcairn (ed.). 1842. The Autobiography and Diary of Mr James Melville, Minister of Kilrenny, in Fife, and Professor of Theology in the University of St Andrews. With a Continuation of the Diary. Edited from Manuscripts in the Libraries of the Faculty of Advocates and University (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society)

Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage, 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1904-1914)

The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne, 1824. 4 vols. (Edinburgh)

William Cowper. 1610. A Defiance to Death. Wherein, besides sundry heauenly instructions for a godly life, we haue strong and notable comforts to vphold vs in death (London, 1610, republished in 1616)

William Murray. 1631. Nyne Songs from the Holy Scripture (Edinburgh)

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Atkinson, David W. 1992. The English ars moriendi (Peter Lang: New York)

_____. 1980. ‘Erasmus on Preparing to Die’, Wascana Review (University of Regina), Fall: 3-21

_____. 1977. ‘Zachary Boyd and the Ars Moriendi tradition’, Scottish Literary Journal, 4: 5-16

Beaty, Nancy Lee. 1970. The Craft of Dying: A Study in the Literary Tradition of the Ars Moriendi in England (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Duguid, Timothy. 2014. Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c.1547-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Durkan, John. 2013. Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society)

Goodare, Julian. 2008. ‘The Attempted Scottish Coup of December 1596’, in Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. by J. Goodare and A. A. MacDonald (Leiden: Brill), pp. 311-36

James, Leonie. 2017.  ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland, 1617-1645 (Woodbridge: Boydell)

MacDonald, Alan R. 1998. The Jacobean Kirk 1567-1625 (London: Routledge)

Mason, R. A. and Reid, S. J. (eds.). 2014. Andrew Melville, Humanist and Reformer (Farnham: Ashgate)

McCallum, John. 2010. Reforming the Scottish Parish: The Reformation in Fife, 1560-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate)

_____. 2014. ‘”Sone and Servant”: Andrew Melville and his Nephew, James (1556-1614)’, in Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Writings, Reception and Reputation, ed. by R. A. Mason and S. J. Reid (Farnham: Ashgate), pp. 201-14.

McCrie, Thomas, 1824. Life of Andrew Melville, 2 vols. 2nd edition (Edinburgh : Blackwood)

Mullan, David George. 2000. Scottish Puritanism 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Parkinson, David. 2005. ‘Alexander Montgomerie: Scottish Author’ in Older Scots Literature, ed. by Sally Mapstone (Edinburgh: John Donald), pp. 493-513.

Patterson, Mary Hampson. 2007. Domesticating the Reformation: Protestant Best Sellers, Private Devotion and the Revolution of English Piety (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Presses)

Quitslund, Beth. 2008. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603 (Aldershot: Ashgate)

Raeburn, Gordon. 2016. ‘Rewriting Death and Burial in Early-Modern Scotland’, Reformation & Renaissance Review, 18.3: 254-272

Reid, Steven J. 2011. Humanism and Calvinism: Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland 1560-1625 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Reid Baxter, Jamie. 2017a. ‘Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross: new light from Fife’, The Innes Review, 68.1: 38-77

_____. 2017b. ‘Posthumous Preaching: James Melville’s ghostly advice in Ane Dialogue (1619), with an edition from manuscript’, Studies in Scottish Literature, 43.1: 41-71

_____. 2015. ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule: a Scottish presbyterian Song of Songs?’, Medievalia et Humanistica, 41: 209-28

_____. 2013. ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ in Fresche Fontanis: Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Conference on Mediaeval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, ed. by J D McLure and J Hadley Williams (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), pp. 363-73

_____. 2008. ‘Mr Andrew Boyd (1567-1636), Bishop of Argyll: a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his Writings’ in Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. by Julian Goodare and Alasdair A. MacDonald (Brill: Leiden), pp. 395-426

_____. (ed). 2010. Poems of Elizabeth Melville (Edinburgh: Solsequium)

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Militant Women and ‘National’ Community: The Execution of Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, 1681

Militant Women and ‘National’ Community: The Execution of Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, 1681

Laura Doak

​[1]​ Militant nonconformists in late seventeenth century Scotland defined themselves as a distinct community. Discussed as ‘covenanters’, these men and women professed adherence to the Presbyterian and constitutional reforms envisaged by the 1638 National Covenant and 1643 Solemn League and Covenant, which they considered indissoluble oaths to God (Smart 1980: 167, 178; Cowan 1976: 17-18). These statements formed the ideological cornerstones of Scotland’s mid-seventeenth century covenanting revolution. After 1660, however, with the restoration of Episcopal kirk government and a Stuart monarch, Charles II, who repudiated the covenants, these Scots were left at odds with the idea of a ‘national’ Scottish community (Erskine 2014: 155). A ‘spectrum’ of covenanting opposition formed in consequence (McDougall 2017: 2, 26). This network of factions remained self-consciously isolated and represented themselves as the lone, true heirs of Scotland’s earlier reformers of church and state (Shields and Renwick 1707: [frontispiece]; GUL MS Gen 450v; Shields: 1687; NLS Wod. Oct. IV f.221r; True and Exact Copy 1680: esp. 9).

​[2]​ This article considers female nonconformists through the detailed case study of two women, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, who were condemned for treason in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket on 26 January 1681. Women played an equal role in constructing and disseminating collective, militant identities and fulfilling the idea that this godly ‘remnant’ must detach from mainstream Scottish society. Preaching at Glenluce in 1682, Alexander Peden (1982: 171) declared: ‘Where is the Kirk of God in Scotland the day? It is not among the great clergie folk. Sirs, I’lle tell you where the Kirk of God is, wherever there is a praying lass or lad at a dyke-side in Scotland’. In the pamphlets, sermons, and letters that circulated at illicit conventicles (field meetings), female associates were described, by both themselves and others, as the ‘sisters’ and ‘daughters’ of their cause (StAUL MS38977/6/4/2/12; NLS MS Adv. 34.6.22; GUL MS Gen 1769/2/2/1). Women also wrote of each other as bound to a communal calling. In May 1680, when one Stirlingshire woman, Margaret Garnock, secretly wrote to fellow covenanter, Margaret Home, from inside Edinburgh Tolbooth, she repeatedly referred to her as a ‘Loving comorad [comrade]’. The original letter is still extant and its address demonstrates that, when directing the letter to its recipient, Garnock even specifically deleted the more generic word ‘friend’ and replaced it with comrade once more (NLS Wod. Qu. XXXVI f.121r). Such evidence suggests that women played an integral role in the construction of their militant nonconformist communities.

​[3]​ Current scholarship demonstrates an awareness of female activity across the spectrum of covenanting opposition. Laura Stewart (2016: 56 – 62) has illustrated women’s role and prominence in popular activity during the mid-seventeenth century covenanting revolution. Alasdair Raffe (2014: 63) has established how moderate female lay activists held what he terms a tangible ‘moral authority’ within nonconformist culture after 1660, which proved fundamental to its survival under a suppressive government that often left it undefended by male authority figures. Raffe has also explored the strong female influence within separatist sects such as the Gibbites and ‘Coat Muir Folk’ into the early eighteenth century (ibid) and, writing with Karin Bowie (2017: 808), has noted women’s presence elsewhere in other popular agitations and protests. For prior decades, Alan McSeveney (2005: 205-206) has shown how women could exhibit genuine leadership, drawing particular attention to events like the June 1674 ‘women’s petition’ to the Privy Council in favour of Presbyterian worship. Jamie McDougall (2017: 193) has also examined this petition to conclude that covenanting ‘women were not simply the helpers of male nonconformists, but were themselves leading dissenters who helped to form the public face of the conventiclers through petitioning and rioting’.

​[4]​ Alison and Harvie, however, are yet to be adequately considered. As the only two females among at least eighty covenanters publicly executed in Edinburgh between 1660 and 1688, ​[1]​ their deaths are often noted as a curiosity by historians, but never explained (Harris 2006: 337; Jardine 2009: 216; Greaves 1992: 75). This article presents the first detailed examination of Alison and Harvie.

​[5]​ These two women were not unique. Women were ubiquitous in militant circles and could act independently on their extremist principles. At Kirkcaldy on 18 June 1674, during a proclamation holding heritors responsible for their tenants’ nonconformity, a local woman named Margaret Miller aggressively tore the text of the proclamation from the herald’s hands in an attempt to prevent its publication (Register: IV: 48, 604). Another woman, Christian Fyfe, was arrested in March 1682 for attacking a minister in St Giles’ Kirk, Edinburgh. Fyfe’s execution is commemorated on Edinburgh’s Grassmarket monument as having been carried out that April, but it is clear that it did not take place. She was, indeed, tried and sentenced to death but official records reveal that her condemnation was periodically postponed (Register: VII: 390) and she was certainly still alive as late as 29 July 1685 when she was transferred, along with several other long-term female prisoners, from Edinburgh Tolbooth to Dunnotter Castle, Kincardineshire (Fairley 1938: XII: 167). Following this, however, Fyfe’s long-term fate remains unknown and she falls into obscurity amongst a veritable regiment of active, militant women who have yet to be studied or researched.

​[6]​ The extent of female involvement is illustrated by militant field preachers’ recurrent efforts to seek out women as a specific audience in their lectures and sermons. An early 1680 preface on Isaiah 8 by the leading preacher Richard Cameron, for example, deliberately reassured listening women that although it may be terrifying for them to accompany their husbands to field conventicles, to do so was part of her duty to God (StAUL MS 38977/6/4/2/8). On 5 May 1681, another leading militant, Daniel Cargill, held a field meeting at Loudon Hill, Ayrshire, where he delivered a lecture and two sermons in which he praised his female followers and their pivotal role in assisting their men (GUL MS Gen 1769/2/2/1 No. 4). Another sermon by Cargill (1744: 13) from 1678, instructed listening women to ‘hold up with your Husbands in God’. At a communion sermon given at a conventicle in Carrick, southern Ayrshire, the following year, Archibald Riddell (1678: 6, 9-10) repeatedly referred to ‘Men and Women’ and his depiction of God as the communicants’ ‘King and Husband’ must have held additional currency with female listeners. Notably, Riddell also excluded from the rite of communion ‘all the Men and Women in Scotland, that wittingly and willingly are Enemies to the persecuted’ (ibid: 10). By demarcating the conventicling community in this way, Riddell clearly illustrated that it was seen as one in which men and women participated equally.

​[7]​ Official sources also provide evidence of female militancy. A 26 June 1679 Proclamation ‘Against the resset of the Rebels’, or sheltering outlaws, was one of many such official statements that specified its application to ‘all our Subjects, Men or Women’. Additionally, both print and manuscript lists of fugitives frequently included the names of women pursued for seditious activity, including Margaret Norrie and Margaret Dennie in Fife and Dumfries-shire widow Agnes Scot, who were all outlawed for sheltering rebels (Proclamation 1684: 18-19. See also: StAUL Hay Fleming, MS dep. 113/57/50; NRS JC39/12/1-3). Writing to the earl of Lauderdale in 1665, the earl of Rothes even remarked that ‘if it were not for the women we should have little trouble with conventicles’, blaming their seditious sentiments and subversive activities on ‘fanatic wives’ (Airy 1884: 233).

​[8] ​Yet although the law dictated that female nonconformists were as guilty as their male counterparts, it appears they were treated far more leniently in practice. As already noted, they present as an acute minority among those executed at Edinburgh in the Restoration era. McSeveney (2005: 205-206) contends that women were also treated with notable clemency when faced with other criminal punishments, such as scourging and fining. Furthermore, women regularly proved able to transgress physical and cultural boundaries despite membership of an outlawed community. In biographies and letters, women like Helen Alexander (1869: 11) describe being allowed into prisons to visit male associates, delivering food and clothes. Alexander herself was imprisoned in early 1683 for assisting known outlaws, but was eventually released after of an acquiescent petition was submitted in her name to the Scottish Privy Council, although councilors were apparently well aware that her friends had forged her signature upon the document (ibid: 14). This perfectly illustrates authorities’ apparent reluctance to enforce the law against Alexander, and many other female covenanters, in the same way that they did against men.

​[9]​ But this ambiguity could only stretch societal boundaries so far. Many women were punished. Significant numbers were removed from the national community through banishment to Barbados and other overseas territories. In the summer of 1685 alone, six women were sentenced to permanent banishment on 28 July (Register: XI: 117), closely followed by twenty-six more on 18 August (ibid: 155). A hurried letter from two further women prior to their deportation, dated 21 August and seemingly written aboard a transportation ship at Leith, also survives (NLS Wod. Qu. XXXVI, f.219). The letter is signed only with the women’s intials, ‘K. G.’ – described as ‘aged’ – and ‘J. D.’, which match none of the women known to have been deported that year. Arguably, this hints at larger numbers of banished women than is appreciable from surviving records. Others faced long-term imprisonment and were only released after the collapse of the Stuart regime in 1688-89. During a 1685 rising led by the earl of Argyll, privy councilors gave orders for covenanters held in Edinburgh to be sent north to Dunnottar Castle away from potential rescue attempts by those sympathetic to the rebels. An extant list of 157 prisoners names at least 32 women. The list comprised those whom the authorities considered to be their most significant prisoners, and included Christian Fyfe and one Margaret Miller, who may have been the same woman noted above for disrupting an official proclamation (StAUL MS dep 113/37/50). In these records, a sizeable and formidable group of militant women can be glimpsed.

​[10]​ The first part of this article will examine how two particular women, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, conceived of themselves as part of an extremist, conventicling community. By defining community in deliberately broad terms, analysis here follows work on other parts of early modern Europe that has convincingly demonstrated the benefits of this approach in order to appreciate the complexities of intra-community relationships (Spierling and Halvorsen 2008: 1-2; Shepherd and Withrington 2000: esp. 2, 10; Scribner 1996: 320). In choosing to focus on one specific, albeit very unusual, case study, this article also adapts a methodological approach that is well established in studies of early modern communities. Karen Spierling (2008), for example, has used one particular family, the Lullins, to successfully explore the intricacy of relationships in sixteenth-century Geneva. Likewise, Elisheva Carlebach’s (2014: 5-33) study of the Jewish midwife community in the early modern Netherlands has provided valuable insights into how far they were able to stretch or transgress social, economic and religious boundaries.

​[11]​ Analysis will then fall upon Alison and Harvie’s expulsion from the ‘national’ Scottish community, which can be investigated through their condemnation and execution. Ritual has long been established as a ‘useful tool’ for studying communities (Halvorsen and Spierling 2008: 8). It is demonstrated here that public executions are doubly effective for this purpose as, whilst superficially appearing as the ultimate means of exclusion, they also incorporated elements of reconciliation (Klemp 2011: 323-345). For Alison and Harvie, however, these conciliatory elements simply provided further opportunity for them to subvert the Stuart state, and re-state their membership of an alternative and godly remnant.

​[12]​ A remarkable number of contemporary sources connected to Alison and Harvie survive. The National Records of Scotland contain many judicial documents relating to their trial, including their joint indictment and accounts of their confessions. Until now these records have been largely unstudied and, in the case of their ‘Verdict of Assyze’ (jury), even unopened. The National Library of Scotland’s Wodrow collection contains a corroborating account of Alison’s appearance before the justice lords at the women’s trial on 13 January that is catalogued as written in her own hand (NLS Wod. Qu. XCIX f.244). This collection also contains manuscripts written from Harvie’s point of view: an account of her appearance before the Privy Council on 5 December 1680 (NLS Wod. Qu. XXXVI, ff.109-110) and an extremely detailed narrative of the two women’s January 1681 meeting with Archibald Riddell (ibid: f.111).​[2]​ The handwriting of these manuscripts appears to match that of a third item containing Harvie’s ‘final testimony’, which is signed ‘sic sub[scribi]ter maren hervie’ to suggest that it is also an original document (ibid: ff.104-108r). In spite of a widely acknowledged dearth of female voices within the early modern archive, it is possible in this instance to hear these two ordinary Scotswomen in their own words

Militant Women

​[13]​ Marion Harvie was around twenty years old and came from Bo’ness, a small town on the south coast of the Firth of Forth. Isabel Alison was twenty-one and lived near the burgh of Perth, Perthshire. Both women could read and write (NRS JC26/56: ‘Confessions’) but were described by contemporary lawyer and diarist John Lauder of Fountainhall (1840: 26) as ‘of ordinarie rank’. Harvie, a domestic servant, was taken prisoner in early November 1680 (Walker 1827: II: 13). Alison was captured in Perth the following month. Exactly what Alison did to draw the authorities’ attention is unclear but it was significant enough that the order for her arrest came direct from the Privy Council (Fairley 1912: VI: 150; Cloud 1714: 76-77). There is no evidence that the women were acquainted prior to their first appearance together in official sources: they lived some fifty miles apart and were arrested separately. However, their shared connections and use of familial language toward one another demonstrate they identified as part of the same militant community.

​[14]​ Both women were associated with the militant group known as ‘the Cameronians’, after the leading preacher Richard Cameron. Members of this faction assassinated James Sharp, archbishop of St Andrews, on 3 May 1679. On 22 June 1680, Cameron and twenty armed followers publicly proclaimed the Sanquhar Declaration at the Mercat cross of Sanquhar, a town north of the burgh of Dumfries. This statement disowned Charles II as ‘a Tyrant and Usurper’ whose breach of the covenants had ‘denuded’ him of his kingship (True and Exact Copy 1680: 9-10). Cameron was killed in a skirmish with government troops at Aird’s Moss, Ayrshire, on 22 July, and at this point his close associate Donald Cargill came to lead the group. Cargill oversaw what was arguably this faction’s most radical phase, including the public excommunication of Charles II at Torwood, Stirlingshire, that September. Fountainhall (1840: 26) describes Alison and Harvie as ‘of Cameron’s Faction’ and both women admitted direct contact with its members, including Cargill himself.

​[15]​ The extent of Alison and Harvie’s involvement with this militant network can be easily established. Both women openly acknowledged the first charge levied against them in their indictment, that they had regularly committed treason by knowingly ‘oft and diverse tymes recept maintained supplied Intercommuned [fraternised] & keeped correspondence’ with proclaimed rebels and outlaws (NRS JC26/56: ‘Indytment’). When brought before the Privy Council on 5 December 1680 and asked by John Paterson, bishop of Edinburgh, if she had met with Cargill, Alison defiantly answered ‘I have seen him, and I wish that I had seen him oftner’ (Cloud 1714: 70-71). Harvie made a similar admission (NRS JC26/56: ‘Confessions’). Outside of official sources there is further evidence about the extent of their connections. Travelling with Harvie at the time of her arrest was Archibald Stewart, who freely confessed to being present with both Cameron at Aird’s Moss and Cargill at the Torwood excommunication (NRS JC26/55/3/A; NRS JC26/55/2/1). Harvie and Stewart were taken during a failed government attempt to capture Cargill (Walker 1827: II: 14). Meanwhile, one of archbishop Sharp’s assassins, James Russell of Kingskettle, left a detailed account of his activities in 1679 that makes specific mention of Alison as ‘an honest las’ who had helped him escape across the country (NLS Wod. Oct. XXIX f.154).

​[16]​ During their examination by the Privy Council, Alison and Harvie declared their ideological membership of this militant ‘Cargilite’ faction (NRS JC26/56: ‘Indytment’). Both women repeatedly disavowed the legality of Charles II’s kingship and asserted their adherence to the Sanquhar Declaration (NRS JC26/56: ‘Confessions’). This was a point that Harvie expanded upon by refuting Charles’ authority because he had ‘brake his oath’, meaning the covenants sworn at his 1651 coronation (NLS Wod. Qu. XXXVI, f.109r). In consequence, the women were declared guilty of breaching an act of 1584 that confirmed the authority of the monarch and declared the expression of contrary opinion as treasonous (NRS JC26/56: ‘Indytment’).

​[17]​ Alison and Harvie also refused to declare that the killing of archbishop Sharp had been unlawful. In addition to Kingskettle, already noted, Alison admitted personal contact with four more of Sharp’s assassins: brothers Andrew and Alexander Henderson, John Balfour of Kinloch and David Hackston of Rathillet (NLS Wod. Qu. XCIX f.244v). Before privy councillors, Alison described Rathillet as a ‘godly pious youth’ and, when asked whether or not she considered Sharp’s death to have been murder, twice deployed the same telling retort that, ‘if God moved and stirred them up to execute his righteous judgement upon him, I have nothing to say to that’ (Cloud 1714: 72). Meanwhile, Harvie took a more explicit stance, criticising Sharp at her trial as a ‘as miserable & perjured wretch as ever betrayed the kirk of Scotland’ whose death was sanctioned ‘when the Lord raised up instruments for that effect’ (NRS JC26/56).

​[18]​ Most importantly, however, both women considered themselves to have been an active and integral part of their extremist community. Both women repeatedly used the word ‘members’ to describe their allegiance to Christ’s true kingdom. At her trial, Alison told the Lords of the Justiciary that ‘ye have nothing to say against me, but for owning of Christs truths, and his persecuted members’ (NLS Wod. Qu. XCIX f.244v) and made a similar statement to the jury (Cloud 1714: 74-75). Likewise, Harvie told how she ‘protested’ at her trial that ‘they had nothing to say against me, as to matter of fact; but only because I owned Christ and his truth, and persecuted gospel and members’ (ibid: 81). During her earlier examination by privy councillors, Harvie used the phrase ‘our covenants’ (ibid: 80) to imply that she shared in the extremists’ sense of communal ownership of these ideological cornerstones. During this same exchange, Harvie also spoke of conforming Presbyterians and more moderate nonconformists as distinct from herself and this community. When asked about another nonconformist minister, George Johnstoun, who had since agreed to work with the Stuart regime, for example, she dismissed his trustworthiness because he had ‘joined in a confederacy’ with the crown (ibid: 81).

​[19]​ This is particularly telling within Harvie and Alison’s exchange with Archibald Riddell. The erstwhile militant Riddell appears to have been persuaded over to the government side when arrested and threatened with his own execution (Register: VI: 553, 602). Riddell already knew both women. Asked by the Privy Council if she had heard him preach, Harvie replied that she did ‘bless the Lord, that ever I heard him’ (Cloud 1714: 74; See also: NRS JC26/56: ‘Confessions’). Meanwhile, Alison was specifically asked by the Lords of the Justiciary whether Riddell was one who had ‘taught’ her seditious principles (NLS Wod. Qu. XCIX f.244v). Clearly, this was a man whom they had considered part of their community. However, by the time of their re-encounter, during the first week of January 1681, both women were well aware of his duplicity. When Riddell attempted to persuade them to pray with him, they refused. Alison remarked that she was ‘not Clear to Joyne wt him in prayer’ as his ‘Prayer would be Lyke his discours’ and Harvie remarked that ‘noe forsed [forced] prayers had vertue’ (NLS Wod. Qu. XXXVI f.111v). Forbidden from leaving the room, however, the women’s exchange with Riddell became increasingly heated as Riddell challenged their adherence to the idea of ‘legitimate’ assassination. Harvie details how, at one point, Riddell ‘came to me & laid by his coat & said would yee stob in a knife even now’? When finally permitted to go, Harvie warned Riddell that he would not ask her about the ‘faults’ of ministers who conformed with the crown ‘if ye knew what I have to say’ (ibid: r). This account shows how Harvie and Alison saw themselves as members of a ‘little handful’ of the ‘true Church’, and Riddell as a ‘scandalous person’ and an outsider to their militant community (ibid).

‘National’ Community

​[20]​ Following the 1660 restoration of the Stuart monarchy, the crown sought to protect itself from the contractual obligations that had been suggested by the covenants sworn nationally in 1638 and 1643 and by Charles II at his coronation in 1651. It also aimed to counter what it saw as the disruptive and deliberately populist elements of Presbyterianism (Stewart 2016: 23-6, 96, 116-21) by re-establishing Episcopalian church government (Raffe 2012: 3). In official discourse, described by Clare Jackson (2003: 1) as ‘the apogee of royalist sentiment’, the covenanters were presented as a dangerous, outside threat to a national community that was united and protected by the Stuart monarchy. By the mid-1660s, covenanters were portrayed in official proclamations as the ultimate enemy within: ‘seditious and ill-affected persons’ desperate to ‘infuse the principles of rebellion in the minds of many good Subjects’ through the circulation of seditious pamphlets and books (Edinburgh 1664). By 1679 their field meetings, branded ‘Rendezvouzes of Rebellion’, were described as places where innocent subjects were routinely ‘debauched’ by the enemy within (A Proclamation Offering a Revvard 1679).

​[21]​ Alison and Harvie were depicted as enemies to both Stuart monarchy and Scottish society. Both women were consistently described in the same, ostracizing terms as their male counterparts. Their legal indictment, for example, castigated them as ‘seditious & wretched instruments’ and ‘enemies to his hynes [highness] & the common well of this realme’. The women’s crimes were stated as ‘punishable with forfaulture of lyff Lands, heretages & esheat of movables’ (NRS JC26/56: ‘Indyctment’): the ultimate act of exclusion. Fountainhall (1840: 26-27), despite expressing muted sympathy for other condemned covenanters and, indeed, at times even suggesting his own veiled criticisms of the Stuart monarchy, unflinchingly describes Alison and Harvie as ‘verie obstinat’ and ‘bigot and sworne enemies to the King’. Thus, Alison and Harvie were presented as an outside threat to a ‘national’ community reliant upon the stability of Stuart and episcopal rule.

​[22]​ The clearest illustration of the extent to which Alison and Harvie were excluded from Scottish society was, of course, their execution. Yet before considering their execution itself, it is important to address why Alison and Harvie were executed when so many other women were released or received lesser punishments. The eighteenth-century Presbyterian historian Robert Wodrow (1722: II: 182) would later claim that, at the women’s trial, on 13 January 1681, Alison and Harvie’s jurors ‘trembled’ with reluctance. This claim appears to be based upon an account of the trial allegedly written by Harvie but surviving only in a later, edited form within Cloud of Witnesses, a curated collection of extremist tracts. This account alleges jurors had ‘fell on trembling’ and that a dispute had erupted between members of the jury, who had described Alison and Harvie as ‘not guilty of matters of fact’, and the King’s Advocate, George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh, who had stressed that although ‘it is but treason in their judgment’ the women were still guilty of breaking the law (Cloud 1714: 82). This later narrative also claims the trial proved so controversial that its verdict was delayed by several days. This can be proven by the ‘Verdict of the Assyze’, which is dated 17 January, four days after the trial itself. However, this key document also reveals that the jury had unanimously voted ‘in one voice’ to condemn the women as guilty for ‘treasonous speeches’ and adherence to the Sanquhar Declaration (NRS JC26/57 ‘Verdict of Assize’). What remained a point of controversy and ‘not proven’ was the women’s guilt ‘as [en]acters or Resetters of the Rebells’; whether or not they had aided or sheltered known outlaws (ibid). This is a fact of immense significance. Alison and Harvie were not considered guilty simply because they had dutifully aided members of an outlawed community, but were condemned for autonomous espousals of militant ideology before representatives of the crown. The elasticity afforded to other women because of their gender could only stretch so far. As Rosehaugh (1691: 20) would later emphasize, the women were guilty of ‘most hainous Crimes which no Sex should defend’. Alison and Harvie’s personal crimes had directly breached the accepted behavioral and ideological boundaries of Scotland’s national community and could not be left unpunished.

​[23]​ Alison and Harvie’s fate was decided by the Court of Justiciary but it was the Scottish Privy Council who dictated how the execution was to be staged. This appears to have presented them with a significant challenge because no precedents or cultural conventions for the execution of low-ranking female traitors existed in Scotland at this time. The men arrested with Harvie were executed at Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross, the location conventionally associated with political treason, but Harvie and Alison were hanged in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. This was the burgh’s secondary execution site routinely used for female criminals. Thus, Alison and Harvie were executed with five other women ​[3]​ who had been convicted of infanticide (Fountainhall 1840: 27; Fairley 1912: VI: 156). Infanticide was a common ‘female’ crime in the late seventeenth-century British Isles (D’Cruze and Jackson 2009: 2) and this represents the first known occasion when covenanting ‘traitors’ were killed alongside other, lesser criminals. Writing in 1722, the Presbyterian historian Robert Wodrow (1722: II: 182) considered this a designed insult, but it may have reflected improvisation by the Privy Council. That Alison and Harvie were executed in spite of these difficulties, however, reinforces the gravity of their crimes and fully emphasizes the determination of both privy councillors and justice lords that the women be publicly condemned for their crimes against the kingdom. By staging executions at mid-afternoon in busy, prominent parts of the city, Scottish authorities also ensured the physical representation of this national community through a large crowd of witnessing spectators.

​[24]​ Yet even within what must appear as the ultimate act of exclusion from the national community, there were visible shades of ambiguity. As James Sharpe (1985: 150, 160, 163) has shown, a criminal’s ‘last speech’ upon the scaffold was meant to confirm an execution’s legitimacy via a confession of guilt and display of penitence. Paul Klemp (2011: 329-330) has further shown how when a condemned individual adhered to ‘rigidly defined themes and structures’ acknowledging their sentence and forgiving those who had sentenced them, they received a measure of social reconciliation in return. However, Alison and Harvie subverted these conciliatory elements, willfully rejecting any chance of reconciliation to maintain their self-exclusion from an uncovenanted kirk and community. This was done through the words they spoke and sang upon the scaffold, and also by penning lengthy ‘testimonies’, which were designed to serve as insurance against any censorship they might expect to receive. Alison’s testimony referred to James Duke of York, the heir to the throne, who was then resident in Scotland, as a ‘limb of Antichrist’ and described the Stuart administration as ‘profane wretches’, ‘the bloody council’ and ‘declared enemies of God’ (Cloud 1714: 77-78). Harvie’s testimony in particular is arguably one of the least reticent of all such statements, cursing the Privy Council, all fifteen of her jurors, and eleven other named individuals, including Charles II and the wife of one John Blair who had offended her by saying that Harvie ‘had ne more grace nor her old shoes’ (NLS Wod. Qu. XXXVI f.107r). Cloud of Witnesses (1714: 88) details how, in her final moments, Harvie made a direct threat toward the Stuart administration and exclaimed that she left her ‘blood on the council’. It was at this moment she was interrupted by soldiers, both physically and by the sound of their drums. Cloud contends that, following this, the soldiers ‘would not allow her to speak any: But She cried out “I leave my blood on all ungodly and profane wretches”’.

​[25]​ Both women used their written testimonies and final words to re-state their membership of the extremist, covenanting community. Alison poignantly described her associates as ‘a remnant both of sons and daughters’ and bade ‘farewel ye real friends in Christ’ (Cloud 1714: 79). Likewise, Harvie said goodbye to the ‘wanderers, who have been comfortable to my soul’, and cried out ‘Farewel brethren, farewell sisters, farewell christian acquaintances’. Harvie also addressed this group as the ‘faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ’, advising them to ‘Keep up your societies, and the assembling of your selves together’, and noting that ‘Many times hath it been found comfortable to me, to hear of the few in Scotland, which Christ was delighting’ (ibid: 85-86). Both women asserted their shared ideology by affirming the Sanquhar Declaration and Archbishop Sharp’s assassination and declaring their love and admiration for Cameron, Cargill, and other prominent militants (ibid: 77, 83). The women singled out Archibald Riddell for further condemnation as a traitor to their community. Harvie described him as a ‘servant to the bloody lords’ of the Privy Council (ibid: 83) and Alison condemned him ‘for his obeying these wicked men to insnare us’, before lamenting how she had ‘many times rued, that I bare so well with him’ (ibid: 78).

​[26]​ The women’s self-conscious identification with a militant, covenanted community was also mirrored in the psalms they chose to sing upon the scaffold. Jane Dawson (2009: 143; 2007: 226-227, 244, 311) has traced the use of psalm singing as ‘a political statement’ by Scottish Presbyterians back to demonstrations by reformer John Knox against the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in the early 1560s. Alison and Harvie’s choice of psalms reflects an awareness and use of this same dissenting tradition. Harvie sang the 74th psalm, which asked God to ‘call to thy rememberance thy congregation which thou hast purchased of old’ and lamented how ‘enemies’ had appeared to ‘roar’ ‘amidst thy [i.e. God’s] congregations’, before warning;

Unto thy covenant have respect:
for earths dark-places be
Full of the habitations
of horrid crueltie:
O let not those that be opprest
return again with shame:
Let those that poor and needy are
give praise unto thy Name (Psalms of David 74.1-2, 4, 20-21).

Meanwhile, Alison emphasized her willingness to stand at odds with the Stuart state when she sang the 84th psalm: ‘For God the Lord’s a sun & shield: he’ll grace and glory give; And will withhold no good from them that uprightly do live’ (ibid: 84.10). The women’s psalms, along with their words and testimonies, undermined the rehabilitative potential of their execution, by reasserting their own oppositional, extremist community.


​[27]​ Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie considered themselves an intrinsic part of a godly ‘scattered remnant’: a militant community upholding a divergent vision of the true national kirk and kingdom. The women played an active role within their immediate network and used familial and communal terms to articulate their relationships with other extremists. In particular, both women admitted personal contact with many that the crown considered among their most significant opponents, including leading preacher Donald Cargill and the assassins of the archbishop of St Andrews. They also shared in their extremist principles, such as the disavowal of Charles II and the idea of a ‘justified’ assassination. It would be their own, independent espousal of these ideological arguments for which they were condemned.

​[28]​ Far from being mere anomalies, it is clear that Alison and Harvie were two figures among a far larger female presence in this militant community. The fact that they were executed affords them a heightened historic visibility, but many other militant women also emerge from contemporary sources, such as Margaret Miller, Margaret Garnock, ‘K. G.’, and ‘J. D.’. These women exercised something significantly more than the ‘moral authority’ identified by Raffe (2014: 63) and their extremism excluded them from the judicial leniency shown to female covenanters that McSeveney (2005) has depicted.

​[29]​ Alison and Harvie excluded themselves from the Stuart monarchy’s ideal of a Scotland united by their rule. The staging and location of their execution demonstrates the point at which covenanters, even if female, had to be permanently excluded from Scottish society in order to maintain an appearance of legitimacy and stability. A ‘last speech’ conforming to conventional expectations of contrition would have symbolically reintegrated these women into Stuart society. This was not just an imagined community but a physically present one represented by spectating crowds. But Alison and Harvie consciously chose to subvert these elements in order to confirm their disavowal of Charles II’s legitimacy and restate their membership of extremist networks. Clearly, both women were aware of the tension and incompatibility between these two perceived ‘communities’, evidenced by their treatment of Archibald Riddell as an erstwhile ally.

​[30]​ The surviving sources for this case, including several by Alison and Harvie themselves, provide a rare glimpse into the thoughts and ideas of two seventeenth-century Scotswomen who, although ‘ordinary’ in social stature, were clearly extraordinary in their extremist principles and personal tenacity. They remain, however, just two of many women alluded to throughout and it is hoped that, above all, this article serves as a springboard for future research about militant women in seventeenth century Scotland.

University of Glasgow


I am extremely grateful to Linda Ramsay, at the National Archives of Scotland, who arranged for sources used within this article to be opened for the first time since they had been sealed in 1681, and Rachel Hart, of St Andrews’ University Library Special Collections, for her associated advice. I would also like to thank Karin Bowie and Thomas Munck for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this article.


​[1] Two other women, Margaret Wilson and Margaret MacLauchlan, are believed to have been executed at Wigtown on 11 May 1685. However, there are no known extant primary sources relating to this case and some have even questioned whether these women were really executed at all. Because of this controversy and problematic lack of contemporary evidence, Wilson and MacLauchlan are not discussed in this article. For more information on them see MacRobert (2010: 121-129).​[back to text]​

[2] ​The final third of this manuscript is written in a different hand.​[back to text]​

[3] The other women executed that day were: Elsa Morrison; Helen Girdwood; Marion Donaldson; Sibella Bell, and her daughter Jean Hendersone.​[back to text]​



National Records of Scotland (NRS) JC26/55, JC26/56, JC26/57; JC39/12

National Library of Scotland (NLS) Wod. Oct. IV, Wod. Oct. XXIX, Wod. Qu. XCIX, Wod. Qu. XXXVI; MS. Adv. 34.62.22

University of Glasgow, Special Collections (GUL) MS Gen 1769/2/2/1, MS Gen 450

University of St. Andrews, Special Collections (StAUL), MS dep. 113/37/50; MS38977/6/4/2/12


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Diasporic music and musicians: Scottish national music in later eighteenth-century London

​Diasporic music and musicians: Scottish national music in later eighteenth-century London.​

​Andrew Bull​

​[1]​ The interaction of Scottish national music within the wider British musical community during the later eighteenth century provides plenty of areas for discussing this special issue’s theme of ‘communities and margins’. This article will interrogate two lines of inquiry regarding Scottish national music following this theme. Firstly, it will use the life and career of James Oswald to look at how networks of Scottish musicians aided each other in London, and how they then interacted with the wider population. Secondly, it will then look at how Scottish national music was written about during this same time, finding parallels with how Highland society was also discussed. These two strands show the complexity of Scottish national music’s relationship to the wider British musical community. Scottish diasporic networks were critical to Scottish musicians setting themselves up in a new city and gaining popularity. They of course also interacted with English theatre, court, and military in varying ways and with varying degrees of success, yet it was often the Scottish connections and contacts that were used first, providing a stable base in London from which to further develop.

​[2]​ Throughout this article, the term ‘Scottish national music’ will be used to describe what would now more commonly be labelled as ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ music. This follows how writers of the time classified this kind of music, avoiding the anachronism of terming one category of music as ‘folk’ during the eighteenth century. It also allows us to avoid attempting to categorise Oswald as either ‘traditional’ or ‘folk’ in some of his works. By composing his own Scottish national music he participated in a long-standing oral tradition. However, much of this music was disseminated through the mass media of the day, print, and he himself aimed these collections at a wide, even international, audience. This would move him, according to McKerrell and West’s definitions of ‘traditional’ and ‘folk’, away from ‘traditional’ and into ‘folk music’ (2018: 9; see also McGuinness 2018: 129, for a discussion over the importance given to orality nowadays for traditional music compared to eighteenth century views). The use of the eighteenth century’s term of ‘Scottish national music’ is more useful for our foray into literary descriptions of what this music should be and sound like, rather than as an active descriptor for all music printed during this period in collections termed as ‘Scottish’ music. Once one delves into the sources for the tunes found in these collections, one finds English music as well, along with Irish; even Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion contains Irish and English music (Purser 2007: 207; see also John Walsh’s Collection of Original Scotch Songs of ca. 1732, which contained songs created by Englishmen – Farmer 1943: 250). However, the idea of a distinctly Scottish national music, one that was especially old or ancient, will be shown to have had a strong impact in writings about Scotland’s musical outputs.

​[3]​ The growth of Scottish musicians in London brought about an increase in Scottish national music being played in the city, and an increasing interest in its origins. In writings regarding these origins, earlier narratives regarded David Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots’ secretary, as the originator of Scottish national music (see Beattie 1779: 174 quoted below, and Farmer 1943: 124). As will be shown, this was replaced over the course of the eighteenth century with an early-Romantic, pastoral ideal, with Scottish national music’s origins placed in a hazy ‘ancient past’. Its supposed natural pleasure and method of expression was contrasted to the complexity of current musical compositions; whilst becoming a site of increased academic and literary interest, it was nevertheless marginalised. The methods of discussion used to describe Scottish national music take on similar ideas from how Highland society was described during and after the 1745 Jacobite Rising – uncivilised, barbaric, and reliant upon a natural state of being instead of achieving civility (see the several anonymous writers, Duick 1746, and references from Clyde 1995 quoted below). Whilst Scottish national music moved into being discussed by a wider community of musicians, the result of this was a marginalisation of Scottish national music – one that still holds today in our divisions between ‘traditional’ and ‘classical’ music.

​[4]​ General histories of eighteenth century Scotland often pay little attention to the musical output of Scottish musicians (if they remark upon music at all). Indeed, one well-regarded historian of Scotland in a chapter on ‘Academics and Artists’ from the mid-eighteenth century to around 1830 asked: ‘has there been a Scottish composer of outstanding merit in any generation?’ (Smout 1998: 455). The answer is yes – if we broaden our field of view to what counts as ‘outstanding merit’. Such a phrase is suggestive of the notion of the individual genius with a distinctive art music voice, part of the ‘mythologisation of dead, male, white composers in the art tradition’ that privileged an elitist and hegemonic idea of what music ‘should’ be (McKerrell and West 2018: 5). This is, of course, to the detraction of composers that did not fit within a highly romanticised view of what a composer ‘should’ be (often women, ethnic minorities, and even those that simply did not devote their whole lives to music). If we instead allow the ability to compose in a variety of styles and fit into multiple musical communities as ‘merit’, then James Oswald is indeed a contender for such an accolade. The rise of his career, from dancing tutor in Dunfermline to court composer to King George the Third, would seem to be in support of his ‘outstanding merit’.

​[5]​ James Oswald was the son of a town musician in Crail, Fife, whose early career had him giving dancing lessons in Dunfermline (Purser 2007: 205-6). He then moved to Edinburgh, where he published a collection of minuets in 1736 (now lost), A Collection of Musick by Several Hands of ca. 1740, and his first Curious Collection of Scots Tunes, dedicated to the Duke of Perth (Oswald 1740; Johnson 2003: 61). Despite his successes in Edinburgh, he moved to London in 1741, resulting in Allan Ramsay penning An Epistle to James Oswald, rueing ‘London, alas! which aye has been our bane, / To which our very loss is certain gain’ (Ramsay 1741: 144). There he worked for a time with the publisher (and Scotsman) John Simpson, and after Simpson’s death in 1747, set up his own shop in St. Martin’s Lane (Farmer 1943; 333; Purser 2007: 207). His publishing and composing career was highly successful, and he enjoyed the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, alongside a strong connection with the London Theatres. He died at the grandiose Knebworth House, having become acquainted with John Robinson Lytton over the years and then marrying his widowed wife Leonora (Purser 2007: 215; Purser and Parkes 2007: 19).​[1]​

​[6]​ Oswald’s musical output highlights how skilful he was in switching between different styles. He published marches for militias, serenatas for violin and bass, love songs, satirical songs, music for theatre, and almost proto-programmatic music in his Airs for the Seasons. Yet the style he was composing and producing the most was Scottish national music, such as his Caledonian Pocket Companion which ran to twelve books (Purser 2007: 207). This sort of music, now commonly termed ‘traditional music’, was yet to be divided from ‘art music’ (on this, see Gelbart 2007).

​[7]​ At first glance, Oswald’s move to London is doubly marginalising, distancing him as a Scot from both his homeland and the sources of Scottish national music. But on further inspection, Oswald’s move is far less marginalising than one might think. A growing amount of Scots had moved to London to make their fortunes, and Scottish music was growing in popularity, as evidenced by its inclusion in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and the publication of William Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius (Flood 1921: 150-5; Alburger 2010: 188). Oswald was still taking a risk here, however the image being presented from London was one that Scottish music was of interest. The sale of such music sends the message north that publishing music in London may be financially viable, causing a greater influx of musicians down south. Perceptions of the target destination for the migrant is just as important as the perception of the receiving country after all (Wood and King 2001: 1). Oswald was also able to compose in more than one style, so even if Scottish national music had not proven to be as successful as it did, he could rely upon his ability to compose in a more cosmopolitan Italian style (Purser 2007: 206).

​[8]​ As a Scot living in England, yet printing Scottish national music, Oswald counted amongst what is now termed ‘the Scottish diaspora’. He actively promoted his Scottish-ness in this way, showing a desire to remain connected to his homeland and forming an ethnic identity in relation to his home, though perhaps not wishing to return (Bueltmann 2014: 12; Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 9-10). However, Oswald’s relationship with Britain was not an oppositional one between Scottish and British identities. He composed Fifty-Five Marches for the Militia in response to the new militias being raised in English counties (yet occasionally showed Jacobite sympathies in his choice of music for the Caledonian Pocket Companion); possibly harmonised God Save the King when still working for John Simpson; and was patronised by the British royal family, showing a certain amount of assimilation into his new home (Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 25; Purser 2007: 216-7). Still, his interactions with other members of the Scottish diaspora are informative as to how diasporic connections help build business communities; whilst this has been briefly discussed in an edited collection studying Scots in London (Alburger 2010), this can be expanded further, to provide a more detailed account of his interactions with Scots and other diasporic communities.

​[9]​ Oswald was not the only Scottish musician active in London. A community of musicians appears to have formed around the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, which then turned into what was grandiosely termed ‘the Society of the Temple of Apollo’ (first appearing as a term in the printing licence for Oswald of 23rd October 1747 – Purser and Parkes 2007: 18-9). This group primarily comprised Scottish musicians – alongside Oswald, there was certainly John Reid and Charles Burney. Assertions by Frank Kidson that other Scots were involved run primarily on their geographical location in London, rather than any textual record of their being involved with each other, noticeably claiming Thomas Erskine, the Earl of Kellie, as a member (1910: 41). Erskine is also remarked upon by Alburger to have been a member, presuming that Oswald could help him find a publisher for his music; yet why would the publisher Oswald send Erskine to another publisher, Robert Bremner? (Alburger 2010: 192 and 202 n. 17). Bremner was another Scot, yes, but there is little reason for Oswald to not have published Erskine’s compositions himself. This would suggest that Erskine was not in fact a member of the Society; whilst it would be tempting to place the introducer of Mannheim-style symphonic music to Britain as part of the Society, evidentially we have no known link between any Society member and Erskine.

​[10]​ We do however have clear evidence of Temple membership for the career military man John Reid (later General), who had two collections of flute sonatas published by Oswald, one in 1756, and another in 1762 (Ford 2016: 228). The first set, Six Solos for a German Flute or Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord, are ‘Inscrib’d to the Countess of Ailesbury By I. R. Esq. A Member of the Temple of Apollo’ (GB-GU Ca9-y.35). The dedication by Reid to the ‘Countess of Ailesbury’ is one that opens a door into the community of Scottish soldiers that were making their way in British politics at that time. The aforesaid countess, one Lady Caroline Campbell, was the only daughter of (the then Colonel) John Campbell, later the 4th Duke of Argyll who had served in various British army regiments, as well as Member of Parliament for several Scottish constituencies (Cockayne et al 2000: 62, 209). Her brother John Campbell, the 5th Duke of Argyll, had a similar career of military and political positions (Cockayne et al 2000: 209). Lady Campbell first married the aging Charles Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury and Elgin, on 18 June 1739; however, after his death on 10 February 1747, she then remarried in December that year to one Henry Seymour Conway (Cockayne et al 2000: 62-3). Conway was similar in his mix of political and military roles throughout his career, and was also cousin to Horace Walpole (Towse 2004). Despite her remarriage, Lady Campbell clearly was allowed to continue to use her title of ‘Countess of Ailesbury’ until the time when the Earldom was re-established in 1776 for Charles Bruce’s nephew Thomas Bruce with the title therefore moving to Bruce’s wife, Susanna Hoares (Cockayne et al 2000: 63). All this adds up, then, to a world of polite musical patronage between members of Scottish military families in England.

​[11]​ The second definite member of the Society was Charles Burney, who appears to have first met James Oswald in June 1748 (Klima, Bowers, and Grant 1988: 87, fn 3). Oswald published several of his works – firstly reprinting Burney’s Six Sonatas for Two Violins, with A Bass for the Violoncello or Harpsichord, Most humbly dedicated to the Rt. Honble. The Earl of Holderness in July that year; Six Songs Compos’d for the Temple of Apollo, To which is added A favourite Cantata of ca. 1750; Lovely Harriote. A Crambo song, the words by Mr. Smart (certainly published after 1751, when the text first appeared in The Midwife – a ‘crambo song’ is one in which verses are capped with clever rhymes); and Six concertos in seven parts for four violins, a tenor, a violoncello, and thorough bass, for the organ, or harpsichord (Klima, Bowers, and Grant 1988: 86-8, fn 1, 3, and 5; Rizzo 1981: 65, 71 fn 12; Schlager 1971: 454-5).

​[12]​ Burney’s relationship with Oswald is an intriguing one. Late in his life, in a letter to his daughter Madam d’Arblay, he called himself ‘the WHOLE Society of the Temple of Apollo‘, (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 89 n. 2). Whilst his earlier memoirs admit that Oswald was also publishing under this patent, the publications of other members such as Reid appear to have gone unnoticed by Burney (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 88). His memoirs claim that he provided the music for both Queen Mab and The Masque of Alfred, two successful Drury Lane productions under David Garrick (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 98-9). The music for both of these appeared in Oswald’s shop under the guise of the Society of the Temple of Apollo. Burney took ill in 1751, and moved to King’s Lynn that year, which appears to have paused his theatrical ambitions (Klima, Bowers and Grant 1988: 105, 107 n. 1). He only published a single song with Oswald during this time, Lovely Harriote. A Crambo song, the words by Mr. Smart, which could only have been published after 16 June 1751, as the words by Christopher Smart were from The Midwife: or, The old woman’s magazine (Rizzo 1981: 65, 71 fn 12). Upon his return to London, Burney only successfully achieved two further theatre works: providing some of the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (23 November 1763) which was cancelled after its first show due to bad reviews; and translating Rousseau’s Le Devin du Village as The Cunning Man, A Musical Entertainment (21 November 1766), both for Garrick’s Drury Lane (Lonsdale 1965: 59, 72; Nicoll 1952: 241). After this, his focus turned towards the history and theory of music.

​[13]​ Meanwhile, Oswald appears to have had greater success with the theatre. Even if we accept Burney’s claim to being entirely behind Queen Mab and Alfred, other theatre productions had music provided by the Society of the Temple of Apollo, after Burney had left London (Fiske 1973: 231; Lonsdale 1965: 54). This, presumably, was Oswald, as no other known member was involved with theatre music. Attributable to Oswald after Burney’s leaving are: Harlequin Ranger (26 December 1751, Drury Lane); The Old Woman’s Oratory (27 December 1751, Haymarket Theatre); The Genii (26 December 1752, Drury Lane); The Gamester (7 February 1753, Drury Lane); Fortunatus (26 December 1753, Drury Lane); The Reprisal; or, The Tars of Old England (22 January 1757, Drury Lane); Douglas (14 March 1757, Covent Garden); and Cleone (2 December 1758, Covent Garden) (Greene 2011: 570; Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1987: 123; Nicoll 1952: 257, 272, 288, 308, 317, and 338). Oswald also published many tunes from these productions, and was involved in producing Storace’s version of Pergolesi’s La serva padrona in 1758 and 1759 (publishing the ‘Favourite Songs’ from the burletta with Storace’s translations) (Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1987: 123-4; Schlager 1976: 352-3).

​[14]​ Looking at this list of productions that Oswald was involved with during the 1750s, and the connections that he clearly had in the theatre world, it is odd that Burney is only to be found working at Drury Lane upon his return, and not elsewhere (such as the highly fashionable Covent Garden). Oswald and Burney may still have been working together for publishing purposes – Burney’s Six concertos in seven parts for four violins, a tenor, a violoncello, and thorough bass, for the organ, or harpsichord appear to be circa 1760, and published by Oswald. Yet Burney’s lack of mention of Oswald in his memoirs, and his lack of success in his later theatrical music, makes one wonder if the musical genius behind the successful Queen Mab and The Masque of Alfred was in fact Burney, or whether Oswald’s role in their creation was muted in Burney’s recollection of events. Oswald and Burney’s relationship, then, stands as a reminder that diasporic business relations do not necessarily mean that they are always positive ones.

​[15]​ Surprisingly, despite Murray Pittock’s assertion that music could be used ‘as monikers of identity in response to the metropolitan pressure of London’ (Pittock 2002-3: xii), the output of the Society is remarkably cosmopolitan. Aside from Oswald, and a little of Reid’s output (The Garb of Old Gaul is still used as a slow march for Scottish battalions – Purser 2007: 227, along with Canadian regiments and the Royal Gurkha Rifles), the Society’s publications seem to have been primarily run-of-the-mill music for theatre and drawing rooms in a European style, rather than holding any national tendencies. Perhaps Oswald felt the most pressured by London to keep his own identity – Reid, after all, was already heavily involved in the British military, and had married into wealth so publishing was less critical to him; Burney had dropped the ‘mac’ from MacBurney and seems to have held a strong interest in journeying throughout Europe and sampling its many musical delights (Purser 2007: 215 and 226). Oswald comes across as holding the most interest in his homeland, shown in his consistent publishing of Scottish national music.

​[16]​ Overall, however, the Society does not seem to fit within the common aim of later diasporic societies to promote their homeland’s own culture (Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 122-3). Instead it comes across as a sensible business group – diasporic to an extent in its members’ composition, but pragmatic in its outputs. Whilst it follows the three core criteria of diaspora (orientation to homeland in its membership; boundary maintenance in its newcomers; and residency in a location outwith Scotland), it appears surprisingly neutral to any notion of promoting Scottish musical culture (Bueltmann, Hinson and Morton 2013: 128). Though the Society’s most obvious members were diasporic, its activities did not actively promote Scottish national music, but promoted instead Scottish musicians, who published and performed varieties of music. Scottish musicians were not marginalised into only playing Scottish national music; so whilst the outputs in terms of printing of the Temple are not decidedly Scottish, the output of a successful group of Scottish musicians in London is a strongly diasporic outcome. Scottish musicians helped other Scottish musicians, forming a community outside of their musical homeland, perhaps even obscuring their heritage under the cover of Apollo himself.

​[17]​ Another diasporic community was also involved with the Society – that of Italian musicians living and working in London. One of these was Giuseppe Sammartini, whom Oswald may have first met during his time working for John Simpson, as Simpson published several of Sammartini’s works from the late 1730s to 40s (Schlager 1978: 326-8). With Oswald, Sammartini’s Six sonatas or duets for two german flutes compos’d for the Temple of Apollo was published, circa 1750 (Schlager 1978: 329). Two other Italian musicians had music published by Oswald around this time as well, though not as standalone works, but as part of Apollo’s Collection. These were twelve duets by Francesco Geminiani, and six sonatas by Giuseppe Tartini, though neither composer appears to have had any further work published by Oswald (Albrecht and Schlager 1980: 320-3; Purser 2007: 367 n. 19; Schlager 1972: 208-15).

​[18]​ Much of the Society’s outputs appear to have stemmed from two Scots – Oswald and Burney – with other composers having occasional works published under the aegis of the Society. After Burney’s departure from London, Oswald seems to have continued the pretence of the Society – perhaps because his printing licence was linked to this name (Purser and Parkes 2007: 18-9). The Society seems to have been an authorising force for new composers, providing an air of respectability to a new composer’s work. For Scottish musicians coming to London, this was a lifeline, allowing them to print their music and establish themselves in the city’s musical community. Oswald, having been aided by the Scottish diaspora when first arriving in London, now aided newcomers.

​[19]​ We now turn to our second line of enquiry – how Scottish national music was written about, and its parallels to how the Highlands were discussed. Throughout later-eighteenth century discussion around this music, two main themes arise – that this music has an ancient past, and that it is more natural than other types of music. These themes are not unique to discussions of Scottish national music however. They find remarkable parallels in how Highland society had been discussed during and after the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

​[20]​ One of the most common places at this time to find discussion of Scotland, and particularly the Highlands, was in relation to its populace’s military abilities. The reason that the Highlanders held a particular interest at this point was due to their ‘clear and recent evidence of militarism in the form of the 1745 uprising’ (Mackillop 2000: 51). Reasons for the uprising were discussed and debated even during the Jacobite Rising; themes that arose from these discussions, primarily the perception that the Highlands ran on a militaristic, and therefore feudalistic (at best), society, and the Highlander’s supposed ‘natural’ abilities at fighting, find parallels in how Scottish national music was discussed and theorised later in the century (Mackillop 2000: 6, 216).

​[21]​ A common trope in writings regarding Highland society post-’45 was that the Highlands were stuck in a feudalistic stage of development, which was actively maintained by power-hungry lairds. The anonymous writer of The Rise of the Present Unnatural Rebellion Discover’d of 1745 presented the regular Highlander as an unfortunate victim of a clanship-based system of heritable jurisdictions that allowed abuses of power by chiefs to take place. They argue that instead of condemning the rebellious Highlanders, ‘we must Pity their Misfortune, and regret that so many brave Men are Slaves to Arbitrary Power’ (Clyde 1995: 3). The agency of the Highlander, in their eyes, had been removed over generations of unthinking reliance upon their ‘despotic chiefs’. A similar view was espoused by John Duick in his polemical verse of 10 September 1745, printed in the London Courant. The Highlander had been ‘Nurtur’d in Climes where Pow’r Despotic reigns / And shackles the free Mind in slavish Chains‘ (Duick 1746, emphasis in original). Whilst he also calls them miscreants and ‘Tools of Rome’, his objections are tempered by a similar idea to that of the anonymous writer of The Rise – that the Highlands were areas that allowed for abuses of power by those in charge. Another anonymous writer shared similar views. In their post-’45 Some Remarks on the Highland Clans, and Methods proposed for Civilizing them, it is ‘the Exorbitant lawless power Exercised by the Gentry over the Commoners’ that caused the issues Highlanders now faced, who have fallen ‘prey to the Merciless tyranny and Government of their Lawless Leaders, and Oppressive Taskmasters’ (Clyde 1995: 10).

​[22]​ This anonymous writer further ‘others’ the Highlander though, by noting the need to ‘civilize’ them from their ‘Barbarous inclinations’ and ‘General Savage Character’ (Clyde 1995: 10-11). This is a common theme found in commentaries on the Highlanders, labelling them as little more than savages, harkening back to an almost pre-historic time. Lord Reay, writing after Culloden in September 1746, similarly characterised the Highlanders as a ‘wild’ and ‘barbarous’ people that required civilising ‘free of tyrannical masters’ (Clyde 1995: 13). It was due to the length of time that these people had been forced into this unbalanced relationship with their chiefs, he argued, that caused them to be so unthinking in their choices of political causes. Edmund Bruce’s The Highlands of Scotland in 1750 talks of ‘the Disaffected and Savage Highlanders… those unhappy and infatuated People will still Continue Savages if nothing else is done to recover them from their Ignorance and Barbarity’ (Clyde 1995: 15). The attempts to introduce industry to the Highlands were seen as a ‘civilising’ influence, though one report on linen manufacture dated 21 January 1763 warned that if the funding for this ceased, the Highlands ‘will soon relapse into its former Sloth & Barbarity’ (Clyde 1995: 24).

​[23]​ These views of Highland society as still being centred on ancient clanships and a feudalistic society continued through into the late eighteenth and start of the nineteenth century in some quarters. John Knox in his 1785 edition of A View of the British Empire, more especially Scotland, with some Proposals for the Improvement of that Country, the Extension of its Fisheries, and the Relief of the People still makes mention that ‘The idea of feudal aristocracy, and of feudal subordination should be utterly extinguished’ (Clyde 1995: 36). Introduction of roads and infrastructure to the Highlands was viewed as a ‘civilizing’ measure even into the 1790s, which allowed for the commoner to no longer be tied to clan and laird (Clyde 1995: 24-5). A proposal in February 1797 of a Highland corps still pulled on the notion of ‘Ancient Customs’ being of the utmost importance to the Highlander, and that the Highlander wished ‘to see the Ancient order of things restored’ (Clyde 1995: 161). John Home, writing in 1802, still portrayed the Highland lairds as taking advantage of their populace, alongside an overarching barbarity colouring the general populace. Despite the English and Lowlanders disarming after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, ‘the Highlanders continued to be the same sort of people they had been in former times’ with clanship and fighting still prevalent, and their lords keeping ‘their people upon the old establishment’ (Clyde 1995: 16). Overall, then, the Highlander was perceived as barbaric and backward in their society, one whose chiefs ‘behave[d] like feudal tyrants’ (Clyde 1995: 17). A perfect backdrop, then, to claims to Scottish national music’s supposed antiquity.

​[24]​ James Oswald himself appears to have made no claim regarding the age of the music he published. However, commentators mentioning him, and his musical colleagues in the Scottish diaspora in London, do make claims towards Scottish national music’s supposed ancient qualities. To begin with, though, we may start with a general view of the music of antiquity, as shown in The Musical Magazine of 1760, ‘By Mr. Oswald and other Celebrated Masters’. It is unclear who precisely wrote the section labelled ‘Historical Account of the Rise and progress of Musick’ – it may have been Oswald himself, or one of the other Society of the Temple of Apollo members such as Burney. Either way, Oswald had at least been exposed to such ideas as presented in the Historical Account, which progresses through pre-historical suppositions about the beginnings of music, biblical mentions of musical activity, and then onto Egyptian, Greek and Roman musical theory. During this, the Historical Account uses the lyre to comment on the likelihood of counterpoint in ancient times:

​The lyre with three of four strings was not susceptible of any symphony. … The more the number of strings increased upon the lyre, the easier was it to compose airs, with different parts upon that instrument. But whether the ancients availed themselves of this advantage: in other words, whether they understood what is now called Counterpoint, or concert in different parts, is a question which hath been warmly agitated by the partizans of the ancient and modern music, though, in truth, it seems more probable that they did not. (Oswald et al 1760: 29)

This Historical Account elsewhere similarly links ancient musical ability to a performance that is strictly monophonic (i.e. music consisting of a single line), stating in the section on biblical music ‘Nor does it appear, that they had a harmony of consorts, or many parts at the same time, which is one of the greatest improvements musick ever received’ (Oswald et al 1760: 7-8). This was a perfectly common conception of ancient music at this time and could be found in many a treatise on music’s origins such as Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie of 1751-66; and in Burney’s General History of Music (Didier 1985: 45 and Burney 1776: 131). Jean-Jacques Rousseau was also explicit regarding this in his Dictionnaire de musique of 1768, where he also claims that ancient music had reached an ideal in expressivity that had since been degraded. Previously, in his Lettre sur la musique française of 1753, he had also claimed that ‘it is from melody alone that the particular character of a national music must be derived’ (Didier 1985: 45; Scott 1998: 292; and Verba 1989: 314-5). Following these ideas, commentators within the British Isles looked to the often similarly single-line music of Scottish national music, and began to make parallels between the music of ancient times, and the Scottish national music they were hearing.

​[25]​ One notable commentator was none other than Benjamin Franklin, who, in a letter of 2 June 1765 to Lord Kames after reading Kames’ Elements of Criticism, wrote at length on music, and specifically on the apparent ancient-ness of Scottish national music. This letter gained fame due to its inclusion in Encyclopaedia Britannica editions from 1778-83 to 1823-4 (Gelbart 2007: 114). In it, Franklin first decries the complexity of modern music, which gives little listening pleasure to those who do not understand the compositional methods used, stating that ‘Many Pieces of it [music] are mere Compositions of Tricks’ (Franklin 1765). In contrast to this, there stands ‘natural Pleasure arising from Melody or Harmony of Sounds’ (Franklin 1765). He then gives an example of the differences in reaction to complex and simpler music:

​I have sometimes at a Concert attended by a common Audience plac’d myself so as to see all their Faces, and observ’d no Signs of Pleasure in them during the Performance of much that was admir’d by the Performers themselves; while a plain old Scottish Tune, which they disdain’d and could scarcely be prevail’d on to play, gave manifest and general Delight. (Franklin 1765)​

Franklin is explicit: an ‘old Scottish Tune’ provides ‘natural pleasure’, whilst complex music that is greatly admired by skilled musicians provides little to enjoy for a general audience. He then goes on to give Scottish music an ‘ancient’ past, one that parallels Oswald et al’s understanding of how the music of antiquity functioned – specifically, monophonic. To Franklin, the reason that these Scottish tunes ‘have liv’d so long, and will probably live forever’ is that they are ‘simple Tunes sung by a single Voice’, thereby forming a union of both harmony and melody that could not be matched by more modern compositions (Franklin 1765). He uses a discussion over the need for concordance when playing a harp in ancient times to provide Scottish national music a link back to ‘the Minstrels of those days’, by noting similar stresses towards concordance and the use of a ‘natural scale’ (Franklin 1765).

​[26]​ Finally, Franklin makes his divide explicit between the complex modern European art music of the time, and Scottish national music that provides ‘natural pleasure’, including those collected by Oswald:

​Most tunes of late Composition, not having the natural Harmony united with their Melody, have recourse to the artificial Harmony of a Bass and other accompanying Parts. This Support, in my Opinion, the old Tunes do not need, and are rather confus’d than aided by it. Whoever has heard James Oswald play them on his Violoncello, will be less inclin’d to dispute this with me. I have more than once seen Tears of Pleasure in the Eyes of his Auditors; and yet I think even his Playing those Tunes would please more, if he gave them less modern Ornament. (Franklin, 1765)

In his eyes (with a certain qualification), Oswald is the best performer of this music, able to cause strong emotional reactions in his audience by his performance of such ‘natural’ music. Throughout Franklin’s discussion, it is the reaction of the audience that leads him to suppose that Scottish national music is of greater antiquity than one might suppose. This is a theme that arises throughout the 1760s and 1770s; printings of such music (like Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion) would sometimes only provide the melody line, in an attempt to cut printing costs and provide portability (Oswald had often already printed these tunes elsewhere with a bass line). However, the idea that because these tunes were primarily melodic in focus (with many bass lines being simplistic and binary oppositions between root notes in each bar) seems to have fuelled the notion that Scottish national music held a claim to great antiquity, due to its similarity to how theorists viewed the music of ancient times.

​[27]​ Oswald’s erstwhile colleague in the Society of the Temple of Apollo, Charles Burney, certainly held this view in his General History of Music of 1776. His writings again provide an ‘ancient’ background to Scottish national music, but moves beyond simply a discussion of how music affects the humours, as was commonly the claim used for its antiquity, to one utilising analysis of multiple musical scales from various instruments, geographies, and eras to apparently prove the antiquity of this music. Firstly, he notes that there was a tendency in Ancient Greek music to omit notes from the scale on a regular basis, thereby breaking the diatonic progression and creating what we term pentatonic scales, whereupon he suggests that ‘this surely render it highly probable, that the cast of the old national Greek airs was much like that of the old Scots music’ (Burney 1776: 48). Burney also equates Chinese melodic methods to that of Scotland. Borrowing from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de musique of 1767, Burney points out certain notes being missed out in both Scottish and Chinese scales (Burney 1776: 46). In discussing a Chinese musical instrument he had seen in Paris, Burney provides its note range and remarks that ‘no music can be composed from such a scale that will not remind us of the melody of Scotland’ (Burney 1776: 46).

​[28]​ Progressing from this, the idea of ‘natural’ music rears its head, which will be dealt with in more detail later:

​The Chinese scale, take it which way we will, is certainly very Scottish. It is not my intention to insinuate by this that the one nation had its music from the other, or that either was obliged to ancient Greece for its melody; though there is a strong resemblance in all three. The similarity, however, at least proves them all to be more natural than they at first seem to be, as well as more ancient. The Chinese are extremely tenacious of old customs, and equally enemies to innovation with the ancient Ægyptians, which favours the idea of the high antiquity of this simple music; and as there is reason to believe it very like that of the most ancient Greek melodies, it is not difficult to suppose it to be a species of music that is natural to a people of simple manners during the infancy of civilization and arts among them. (Burney 1776: 48-9, emphasis mine)

Similarly, during a later discussion over quartertones, Burney claims that ‘the old favourite Scottish melody’ subsisted at the time of Plutarch, thereby proving his earlier claim that ‘the melody of Scotland’ was ‘of a much higher antiquity than has generally been imagined (Burney 1776: 46, 52). To Burney, then, Scottish national music held a pedigree that went back to the same time period as Ancient Greece, and utilised a ‘natural’ method of expression. Such ideas are suggestive of the Ossian craze that was beginning to take hold – incidentally, Burney had met James Macpherson, the author/editor of Ossian, whom he heard sing old Erse songs and had noted them down as ‘national music’ (Lonsdale 1965: 55). This music was then printed to accompany the ‘Ossian’ article in Rees’ Cyclopaedia (1820: Plate XLV. The article itself, which noted the meeting, was published in Volume 25 of 1819).

​[29]​ Another commentator on Oswald was John Beattie, who again shares similar views as to Scottish national music’s ancient past in his 1762 An Essay on Poetry and Music, as they affect the mind. Firstly, he acknowledges the tradition that it was David Rizzio (1533-1566) who supposedly composed the first Scottish music, but says that ‘this must be a mistake. The style of the Scotch music was fixed before his time; for many of the best of these tunes are ascribed by tradition to a more remote period’ (Beattie 1779: 174). A ‘remote period’ seems to be another way of saying ‘ancient’.​[2]​

​[30]​ Beattie goes on to give Scottish music, with its primacy given towards melody, hazy origins with the shepherds of the land, and names Oswald as an imitator of this style:

Melody is so much the characteristic of the Scotch tunes, that I doubt whether even basses were set to them before the present century… though the style of the old Scotch melody has been well imitated by Mr. Oswald, and some other natives, I do not find that any foreigner has ever caught the true spirit of it. … I rather believe, that it took its rise among men who were real shepherds, and who actually felt the sentiments and affections, whereof it is so very expressive. (Beattie 1779: 174-6, also quoted in Purser 2007: 225)​

A pastoral ideal is invoked here by Beattie, one that would later find favour in ideas regarding the Highlands in general. Indeed, the idea of ‘natural’ is simmering under the surface as well – the shepherds felt emotions, and so expressed them, with the underlying assumption that they were not trained musicians in any way the eighteenth century mind would consider to be trained.

​[31]​ In general, early man’s ability to create art was acknowledged as a ‘natural’ production of humanity’s existence, though ostensibly still in a ‘primitive’ form during the barbaric stages of human development. For example, Adam Ferguson in his 1767 An Essay on the History of Civil Society claims that ‘art itself is natural to man’, yet also that militaristic ‘barbarian’ states such as Greece and Rome were ‘a people regardless of commercial arts’ (1767: 12, 184). It has been suggested that, although he is not explicitly paralleling his discussion of ancient military states to the Highlands, it was certainly intended (Youngson 1973: 14). In the 1768 edition of his Essay, the parallel becomes more explicit. Part III, Section VIII, is primarily devoted to discussing literature and its development from a savage era to Ancient Greece and Rome. He does, however, mention music:

​The artless song of the savage, the heroic legend of the bard, have sometimes a magnificent beauty, which no change of language can improve, and no refinements of the critic reform.

Ferguson then follows this with the footnote: ‘See Translations of Gallic Poetry, by James M’Pherson.’ (Ferguson 1767: 166). To Ferguson, then, the supposedly ancient Ossian text presented by McPherson had the same claim to antiquity as Ancient Greek writings, and had a natural pleasure that no further civilising could better.

​[32]​ Again, this ‘natural’ idea finds parallels in how the Highlander was described. As we have seen, the Highlander was often viewed as generally barbaric, a throw-back to an earlier stage of human civilisation. This would at least partially fit within Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famed ‘noble savage’ that lived in a ‘natural state’ (Dent 1992: 179-80). However, Rousseau’s noble savage was peaceful, whereas the Highlanders were seen as ‘naturally gifted’ at war, whose ‘Exercise is the Sword’ as Andrew Henderson said of the Clanranalds in his The History of the Rebellion, 1745 and 1746 (Clyde 1995: 4-5). An anonymous tract of 1756 entitled Political observations, occasioned by the state of agriculture in the north of Scotland portrays the Highlander as a people separate from Lowlanders, ‘more dangerous to their Country, but they are much happier, braver, and fight better’ (1756: 9). Whilst the tract does much to lay the blame on tyrannical landlords, their descriptions of the Highlander still play on their supposedly ‘natural’ fighting ability, and the distinct, almost racial, ‘othering’ between the Highlander and Lowlander. Similarly, in another of John Duick’s polemical verses in the London Courant, this time celebrating Culloden, the Highlanders are characterised as ‘the Sons of Violence and Blood’ (Duick 1746). Again, they are portrayed as naturally inclined towards violent tendencies; they were born into such a role.

​[33]​ So while ideas surrounding the Highlander of ‘their Ignorance and Barbarity’ as Edmund Bruce put it in 1750 circulated, it was also their natural ability at war that made them so preferred for military service and therefore prominent in the minds of the time (Clyde 1995: 15). This ‘natural’ expression of violence, stemming from their supposedly ancient past, is clearly paralleled in commentaries on Scottish national music, which emphasised their ‘natural’ status. An ancient past is invoked for music, which allows for claims of its ‘natural’ expression to be made. Overall, the origins of Scottish national music were essentially unknown, but perceived to belong to antiquity, or another vague ‘ancient’ past. Such claims could only have been made if the lands that such music was linked to, i.e. the Highlands, could also claim such an ancient past. The way for such ‘othering’ of Scottish national music as belonging to an ancient past had been prepared by earlier commentators on the Highlands. With an ever-increasing ‘Highlandisation of Scots culture’, the views people held of the Highlands could easily be applied to the whole of Scotland (especially if one was not particularly aware of the differences between Highland and Lowland society) (quote from Mackillop 2000: 45). The writers post-’45, with their claims of feudalism and barbarity amongst the Highlanders, allowed for Scottish national music to be given a claim to an ancient past. After all, if the people were still barbarous, and a throw-back to a more distant past, then the music they play must surely be attributable to that same distant past. In this way, whilst Scottish national music became more integrated into the thoughts of the wider musical community of Britain and Europe, the manner in which it was treated was highly marginalising.

​[34]​ In total, Scottish national music’s performers, publishers, and theorisers provide a look into how diasporic Scottish communities formed around business interests, and how their musical expression can be both accepted into the wider community, yet simultaneously marginalised. Theorists’ focus on a Scottish national music’s supposed ancient past and natural state mimicked how the most distinctively Scottish part of society, the Highlands, was discussed. By pushing for integration into the wider British imperial community, both the Highlands and Scottish national music found themselves marginalised, and almost fetishized, as a site of Ossianic, early-Romantic ideals. Meanwhile, publishers and performers of this music did what they could to survive and support each other when finding themselves in a land other than that of their birth. The Society of the Temple of Apollo provides an account of the formation and practices, however hazy, of a Scottish diasporic business community, functioning and promoting itself in the capital of Britain. Its members, through their publications with the Society, often became highly successful. Oswald particularly stands as a testament to the resourcefulness of the Scot abroad; from beginning as the son of a town musician in Crail, to living in Knebworth House and placed as court composer to King George III, Oswald’s story is one of rags to riches, aided by the communities of Scots he encountered on his way.

​University​ of Glasgow


​[1] For more detail on Oswald’s career see: Purser 2007: 205-217, and Purser and Parkes, 2007. For publication lists, see Schlager 1976: 352-6, and Highfill, Burnim and Langhans 1987 122-4.​[back to text]​

​[2] Oswald appears to have used the name Rizzio to pass off new compositions of his own, which was commented upon by Allan Ramsay in his Epistle: ‘Or when some tender tune compose again, And cheat the town wi’ DAVID RIZO’s name?’. He was not the only composer to do this either it seems. (Ramsay 1741: 144 and Purser 2007: 207. On other composers using the name Rizzio see Farmer 1943: 252 and 124).​[back to text]​


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Revisiting the Language Issue: The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) and Highland Education, c. 1660–1754

Revisiting the Language Issue: The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) and Highland Education, c. 1660–1754

Jamie Kelly

​[1]​ Incorporated by royal letters patent in 1709, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) was, for much of the eighteenth century, the only organisation of its kind operating in the Highlands and Islands.​[1]​ Its mission was to establish a network of charity schools in the region to provide religious instruction and basic literary education to remote Highland communities. Schooling, it was believed, was the means by which Jacobitism and Catholicism would be stamped out in the region, and by which hearts and minds would be won for the post-1690 Revolution settlement and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The SSPCK also aimed to inculcate values of hard work, discipline and thrift, which was to facilitate the spread of manufactories, thereby making the Highlands a useful, improved, and productive part of the British state. However, one aspect of the SSPCK’s mission has overshadowed all others in the historiography: its attitude towards Gaelic and, in turn, its role in the language’s decline. Indeed, from very early on, the Society prioritised English over Gaelic literacy in its schools, and it was not until 1766 that the teaching of Gaelic literacy was formally permitted. This has led many scholars to concentrate on the harm that they believe was inflicted by the Society, by alienating Gaelic from literacy and nurturing a negative attitude towards Gaelic in formal education. Victor Durkacz, for instance, writes that:

literacy, when it entered the Highlands in the eighteenth century through the [SSPCK’s] charity schools, made the English language its medium. The resulting alienation of the mother tongue from education did incalculable harm to the Gaelic language, destroying the people’s confidence in themselves and in their culture. (1983: 23)

Charles Withers describes the Society as the ‘single most important instrument of anglicisation in the 1700s’, which succeeded in ‘devaluing Gaelic in the in the Highland mind’ (1988: 122–36, 405). These approaches find their roots in Michael Hechter’s earlier work on ‘internal colonialism’, which presents the forcible realignment of the ‘Celtic fringe’ to better serve the needs of English-speaking regions as a key part of the process of British state-building in the early modern period (1975: 30–34, 58, 81–87). Perhaps the SSPCK’s fiercest critic, John Lorne Campbell portrays the organisation as the chief perpetrator of ‘a calculated, well-financed attempt, backed by constant political pressure, to destroy [their Gaelic] language and their religion’ (Campbell 1984: 91). A dedicated Gaelic scholar and devout Catholic convert, Campbell saw an intimate link between Catholicism and Gaelic culture. In turn, he traced the declining fortunes of Gaelic language and culture back to the protestant missionary crusade of the eighteenth century, in which the SSPCK played a crucial role.

​[2]​ The SSPCK’s archive (National Records of Scotland [NRS], GD95), however, remains largely untapped, and historians have yet to consider fully the ways in which SSPCK schools were understood and received by the Highland communities they sought to affect. Withers and Durkacz both presume that, to some unknown extent, Highlanders must have resisted the introduction and support of schools, both before and after the SSPCK’s establishment, due to the government’s avowed aim of using education as a means to weaken Gaelic (Durkacz 1983: 46, 50–1; Withers 1984: 30, 122). It has, however, been demonstrated that attitudes towards Gaelic in education were already fully formed within and without the Gàidhealtachd long before the advent of the SSPCK (Bannerman 1983; MacCoinnich 2008; MacGregor 2006; 2012). Furthermore, some studies reveal that formal schooling was much more common in the region than is generally recognised (MacKinnon 1936; Withrington 1986). However, scholars have yet to produce a study which takes both the pre-existing legacy of schooling and the established patterns of literacy in the region and consider how the Society may have fit into this.

​[3]​ Moreover, few scholars have fully considered the SSPCK’s rationale for prioritising English. Many assume the elimination of Gaelic was the primary aspiration of the Society but neglect the wider context which shaped its policy and rhetoric. While Durkacz and Withers make use of the SSPCK collection in their studies, they rely on much of the same—highly selective—evidence to support an overarching, linear narrative of linguistic and cultural declension in the Gàidhealtachd (Withers 1984: 120–37; Durkacz 1983: 57–72). Advances have since been made, however, in broadening our understanding of the SSPCK beyond the narrow lens of linguistic and cultural conflict. In his study of the church’s Royal Bounty scheme, Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart (2003) paints a vivid picture of the political and religious situation in the Highlands in the 1720s and 30s, when the region was on the brink of both the first wave of mass emigration and the final Jacobite rising. The SSPCK features prominently, as one agent among many operating within the framework of the British state, struggling to realise its vision of an ideal Highlands, and often wavering in its priorities. Nathan Gray’s thesis (2011) explores the religious and charitable origins of the SSPCK, while Clare Loughlin’s recent article (2018) explores the theological underpinnings of the SSPCK’s mission in the Highlands and America. These studies shed light on the religious motivations which governed the Society’s early policies for schools, in particular its desire to secure and extend Presbyterianism. Giving children access to the scriptures was seen as an effective antidote to Catholicism, while regular recitation of the established church’s Shorter Catechism, was intended to instil Presbyterian belief among Highland children (Prunier 2004: 123–131; Loughlin 2018: 194–195). Gray’s study suggests that the absence of a Bible in the Scottish Gaelic vernacular in the first half of the eighteenth century may have led the Society to prioritise English as a largely practical matter (Gray 2011: 13). Regardless, the SSPCK collection remains to this day an underutilised resource, and scholars have yet to produce a comprehensive study of the organisation, which considers its place within the framework of the eighteenth century British state and empire, and explains how the issue of Gaelic fit into this. This article looks at an understudied organisation during a formative period of Scottish and British history. The Society sought to facilitate the integration of Highland communities then considered to exist on the margins of mainstream Scottish society, in an era when Scottish political agency was marginalised by the structures of the embryonic British state and empire with its centre in Westminster.

Patterns of Language Use in the Early Modern Highlands

​[4]​ Withers and Durkacz suggest that Gaelic society did not appreciate, nor did it have any immediate use for English literacy at the time of the SSPCK’s foundation. In fact, they argue that its spread was detrimental to the very substance of Highland life, feeding into the common perception that the SSPCK’s efforts to teach English literacy through its schools were unprecedented, unnecessary and traumatic (Durkacz 1983: 23; Withers 1984: 127–8; 1988: 405). This was paralleled and exacerbated by the Society’s unwillingness to countenance the teaching of Gaelic literacy in its schools; something that Durkacz claims was ‘in effect casting away the key to the Highlanders’ loyalty’; essentially an obstacle of the Society’s own making (1983: 23–30, 52–72; Jones 1938: 194). He writes that:

The inescapable conclusion is that the key figures in the Scottish charity school movement, because of their political prejudices against the Gaelic language, set out deliberately to alienate it from literacy. (1983: 30)

The choice which faced the SSPCK, however, was far more complex than Durkacz suggests. The linguistic situation in the Gàidhealtachd at the beginning of the eighteenth century was fraught with complexities, one of which was the non-survival of Classical Gaelic: the literary dialect which had previously enabled written communication between the literati of the Gaelic-speaking world. The cause of Gaelic literacy was complicated further by regional variations in the dialects of Gaelic spoken, which could compromise the ability of Gaels from different parts of Gàidhealtachd to comprehend one another, raising the issue of how to agree on a literary standard. These issues, among others, resulted in doubts, stemming from the Gàidhealtachd as well as the anglophone Lowlands, regarding the utility and necessity of Gaelic literacy. In the studies of Withers and Durkacz, however, the perspectives of ordinary Gaels are notable by their absence. Just as they overlook the extent of schooling in the region, both scholars downplay the role of Scots, English and Latin as languages of record in the Gàidhealtachd centuries prior to 1709. A close analysis of the patterns of language use in the Gàidhealtachd in the late-medieval and early modern periods can shed some light on these complex issues.

​[5]​ From the twelfth century, the Gaelic literati of Scotland and Ireland composed texts using a high-register literary dialect of the language, denoted by scholars as Classical Common Gaelic. It was an artificial language: its grammar and vocabulary, along with the strict metrical requirements for the composition of poetry in it, remained virtually unchanged for 500 years. Formulated in Ireland, it served as a vehicle of High Gaelic culture across a singular cultural province which, in theory, spanned from Cork to Cape Wrath (Thomson 1968; Black 1989; MacGregor 2000: 81–4; McLeod & Bateman 2007: xvii–xxx; MacCoinnich 2008: 309–10). This environment privileged the pursuit of activities such as poetry, history, law, music and medicine. The agents inhabiting this cultural world were the learned orders or aos dàna (folk of gifts): families such as the MacMhuirichs and Beatons, who pursued these disciplines and provided services for their patrons on a formal, professional basis (Bannerman 1998; Thomson 1968). In Argyll and the Isles we find that the language—in its unadulterated ‘Irish form’—was used in the late-medieval period. Indeed, it is from this region alone that evidence survives for the use of Classical Gaelic as a written language, predominantly for medical texts and recording poetry. (McLeod 2004: 36; MacCoinnich 2008: 310). ​[2]​

​[6]​ Knowledge of Classical Gaelic, however, certainly extended beyond this frontier. For example, the famous sixteenth century miscellany, the Book of the Dean of Lismore, compiled and maintained in Fortingall, Perthshire (c. 1512–1542) contains specimens of Classical Gaelic poetry composed in both Scotland and Ireland. It is significant, however, that the author recorded this poetry using a spelling system based on Middle Scots. It is still a matter of debate whether or not the scribes understood Classical Common Gaelic when transmitted orally, but the idiosyncratic way in which they recorded the poetry indicates that there were problems in their comprehension. Nevertheless, it is almost certain that the scribes were much more familiar with Scots and Latin written forms. Indeed, these were the languages in which they had received their education (MacCoinnich 2008: 309–10, 316, 324, 329; Meek 1989; MacGregor 2012: 127–35). While the poetry contained in the manuscript is mainly in Gaelic, we find that all of the prose is recorded in Latin or Scots. Martin MacGregor maintains that this reflected the degree to which Latin and Scots were established as normative languages of written prose throughout the Scottish kingdom because of their official status within church and government. A modus operandi emerged whereby Gaelic speakers embraced Scots as a basic language of written communication, whilst Gaelic was preferred for oral contexts. According to MacGregor, this process ‘was governed not by diktat but rather pragmatic and widespread acceptance of language status and roles’ (2012: 131–2; MacCoinnich 2008: 314).

​[7]​ Indeed, recent scholarship suggests that, by the end of the sixteenth century, Scots literacy among the Gaelic aristocracy, gentry and clergy was the norm, even in areas where the classical tradition retained some influence. According to MacGregor, ‘since the early fifteenth century, it had been practically incumbent upon the political elite of Gaelic Scotland to communicate with central authority in English’ (2006: 145–6). The MacLeods of Lewis, a kindred which sustained strong links with Ireland and came to be considered as the epitome of Irish-influenced incivility in the sixteenth century, demonstrate familiarity with Scots legal forms and practice throughout the period. As MacCoinnich points out, this was borne out of necessity as the MacLeods had to operate within the framework of the Scottish state (2008: 320, 331).

​[8]​ In Argyll and the Isles, Classical Gaelic appears to have only been adopted for a few select purposes, such as for poetry and medical tracts, while the majority of surviving records of the business of clan chiefs are overwhelmingly in Scots or Latin (MacCoinnich 2008: 314). Here, John Carswell, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, serves as an exception that proves the rule. His Foirm na n-Urrnuidheadh (1567)—a reworking of John Knox’s First Book of Discipline and the first book, in Ireland or Scotland, to be published in Gaelic—stands out as a landmark, particularly as the momentum of Gaelic printing came to a halt following its publication. Nevertheless, despite Carswell’s proficiency in Classical Gaelic, each of his letters, even those addressed to fellow Gaels, are written in Scots. Jane Dawson asserts that this ‘reflected the assumption that it was the appropriate language for this type of communication’ (Dawson 1997: 7). That Classical Gaelic was the medium of the Foirm almost certainly indicates that Carswell’s patron, Archibald Campbell the 5th Earl of Argyll, commissioned the text with an Irish (pan-Gàidhealtachd), rather than a purely Scottish audience, in mind (Meek 1998: 40, 47; MacCoinnich 2008: 323). Here, the paradigm of different of languages for different purposes rings true. As Scots (then English), and Latin, came to be regarded as normative languages of business, it looks likely that literacy in Scots was already prevalent among the Highland elite before the inauguration of the Statutes of Iona in 1609: the first piece of legislation to require the Hebridean elite to send their heirs to the Lowlands to be instructed in English (Bannerman 1983; MacCoinnich 2008: 320–1, 332; MacGregor 2006: 144–7). Furthermore, such widespread acceptance of English and Latin as languages of record may have led to a greater impetus in the Highlands for the establishment of schools from the early seventeenth century onwards (MacKinnon 1936).

​[9]​ Despite the precedent set by Carswell, in using Classical Gaelic as a medium for religious literature, in Scotland the language largely fell out of use by 1700. Despite subsequent efforts by the Synod of Argyll in the mid-seventeenth century to promote Gaelic as a medium for religious texts, there is little evidence that this gained traction outwith Argyll and the Isles in this period (Thomson 1962). In a wider Scottish context, the seventeenth century also witnessed the gradual transition from Scots to English in written forms. The removal of the court to London in 1603, and subsequent tumults which defined the course of the seventeenth century, served only to draw the Highland gentry and clergy southwards, making literacy in English all the more necessary (Horsbroch 1999: 3–14; MacCoinnich 2008: 321, 339). The upheavals of the seventeenth century also led to a sharp decline in patronage for those involved in the Classical tradition. No patronage meant no schools; no schools meant no new recruits and, thus, knowledge of the language withered or went underground (Bannerman 1998: 120–33). Although the Synod of Argyll made progress towards a translation of the scriptures in the Scottish vernacular in the seventeenth century, this never reached publication and the manuscripts were have never come to light (Meek 1988: 11–12).

​[10]​ The litmus test for the vitality of Classical Gaelic literacy in late seventeenth and early-eighteenth century Scotland was the reception of the so-called Irish Bible. Indeed, much of the debate surrounding the SSPCK and Gaelic centres around the Society’s refusal to use this version of the Bible in its schools. The book itself was published in 1685, under the patronage of the Irish philanthropist Sir Robert Boyle, although it was an amalgamation of earlier translations carried out by William O’Donnell, archbishop of Tuam (1602) and William Bedell, bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh (c. 1640; Meek 1988: 10). Its language is Classical Gaelic in a prose form, and its typeface is based on Irish script (Ò Baoill 2010: 17). Shortly after its publication, James Kirkwood, a Scottish Episcopalian minister exiled in England, contacted Boyle to secure leftover copies, believing that these could be used by the Highland clergy in lieu of any Scottish Gaelic scriptures. He also hoped that these would be accessible to ordinary worshippers, providing a basis for mass literacy in Gaelic (Durkacz 1983: 17–23). The Irish font proved to be the first obstacle, as Gaelic-speaking ministers were much more accustomed to reading Roman script. In response, Kirkwood arranged to have Robert Kirk, the Episcopalian minister of Aberfoyle, transliterate the text in a roman script, make modest morphological changes to the verbs, and provide a gloss for certain unfamiliar Classical Gaelic terms. It was believed that this impression would be more familiar to Gaelic-speaking ministers and, as the campaign for charity schools in the Highlands increased in momentum, Kirkwood was insistent on using the Bibles as a basis for literary instruction (Durkacz 1978: 31; Black 2008: 75).

​[11]​ While more research is undoubtedly required into the distribution and reception of the Irish Bible, the available evidence suggests that most English-literate Gaels simply would not have been familiar with the Classical Gaelic used in the text; indeed, some may have been wholly unacquainted with Gaelic orthography (Meek 1990: 3). This is testified for Ross-shire, in a letter written by Angus Morison, episcopal minister of Contin, addressed to the Earl Marischal’s chaplain, Patrick Dunbreck. In 1713, Morison advises against the printing of a second edition of Kirk’s Bible, stating:

it seems that manny think yt the generality of the highlanders can read the Irish or at least easily acquire it, [but] believe me few ministers can read it skillfully & to read it unskillfully seldome fails to confound the Subject […] I know not six that can read the Irish without loss & perhaps not twenty in all Scotland, nor do I know, except only one, that can read the Irish, but can read the English farr better.

Elsewhere in the letter, Morison described ‘the reading of it [Classical Gaelic]’ to be ‘more difficult than that of any other language that I know’ (NRS, CH12/12/817). Morison—also known by his Gaelic moniker, Aonghas Dubh—was far from an outsider in Gaelic society. Morison was a native of Lewis, and alumnus of the Stornoway grammar school, where the curriculum was focused on English and Latin. Yet, he was a fluent Gaelic speaker; son to John Morison, tacksman of Bragar; and brother to the famed Gaelic musician Roderick Morison, An Clàrsair Dall (the Blind Harper). He was also a composer of Gaelic verse, a dedicated Jacobite, and identified strongly as ‘of the Highland blood’ (Fasti vii: 30; Matheson 1970: xxxiii–xliii; NLS, MS 1401, fol. 16). ​[3]​ Nevertheless, Morison found the Classical Gaelic of Kirk’s Bible to be particularly difficult to decipher, partly because he was not familiar with written Gaelic and partly because it was different from the vernacular he spoke. This is also reflected in Duncan MacRae’s Gaelic verse in the Fernaig Manuscript, for which he adopted an English orthography due to his unfamiliarity with traditional forms of written Gaelic (MacCoinnich 2008: 330n).

​[12]​ For all of Kirkwood’s good will, tolerance and evangelical fervour—much commended by Withers and Durkacz—in supporting the use of Irish Bibles in charity schools, the fact that ordained ministers struggled to read the text would not bode well for the ability of schoolmasters to teach it (Durkacz 1983: 18–30; Withers 1984: 43–5). At the time of publication, the majority of literate Gaels simply could not read the book. For most ministers, the English Bible, written in the language in which they received their literary education, was entirely serviceable. Many relied on the English as a platform from which they could translate and adapt the message ex tempore from a single definitive text to better suit local dialects and customs (Cheape 2004: 19; Black: 2001: xiv–xv; Meek 2002: 84, 90).​[4]​ Donald Meek has even suggested that scriptures may have been largely preserved within the oral tradition, effectively constituting virtual oral Bibles, which could be consulted to embellish pulpit rhetoric, or provide spiritual edification to parishioners in lieu of the minister (96). This certainly explains the deep biblical knowledge exhibited by many non-literate Gaelic poets, and the continued functionality of the Gaelic sermon as a fundamentally oral art (100–4; MacLeod Hill 2016: 56). To many, Gaelic and English were considered to be not mutually exclusive, but complementary. Even beyond the eighteenth century, it was entirely conceivable in the minds of many Scottish Gaels that both languages could happily coexist within the respective contexts assigned to them by Gaelic society. Scots, then English, served as a language of literacy—for business, correspondence and engagement with church and government—while Gaelic continued to thrive in an oral context; far from the zero-sum linguistic conflict portrayed by Withers and Durkacz.

Education in the Highlands Before the SSPCK

​[13]​ Most studies concerned with education in the early modern Highlands have argued that the region was all but devoid of schooling until outside agencies such as the SSPCK entered the scene (MacKay 1914: 198; Jones 1938: 165–76; Durkacz 1983; Withers 1984; Houston 1985: 74, 82). Vast parishes, scattered population settlement and geographical obstacles are all cited as factors obstructing the establishment, support and penetration of schools in the region. However, many of these scholars maintain that cultural distinctiveness played a substantial, if not the most significant, role. As the education acts of 1616, 1633, 1646 and 1696 illustrate a desire on the part of the government to remove Gaelic through English schooling, so the presumption goes that there must have been widespread hostility to formal education in the Highlands (Withers 1984: 29–30). Durkacz, for instance, concludes that:

Obviously the various education acts passed by the Scottish parliament between 1616 and 1696 had little impact on the massive educational problems of the Highlands. (1983: 46)

He goes on to argue that, to some unknown extent, there must have been resistance to the introduction of SSPCK schools ‘in the light of the attitude adopted […] towards the Gaelic language’ (50). It should be noted, however, that the arguments of Withers and Durkacz reflect the official line taken by the SSPCK from its foundation, that, to keep ordinary Highlanders

in those wretched dependencies, the propagation of true Christian Knowledge, and of the English Tongue, has all along been opposed by Popish Heads of Clans. (SSPCK 1714: 6)

Of course, as a charity organisation reliant on donations and subscriptions, it benefitted the SSPCK to an extent to paint such a bleak picture of the spiritual and educational state of Highlands. By reinforcing the perception of the region as one alienated from the rest of the kingdom and wilfully kept ignorance by a vindictive Catholic elite, the Society’s mission gained credibility, thus serving to loosen the purse-strings of would-be contributors. It is a great irony that the SSPCK records themselves are replete with references to schools pre-dating the organisation. Even as the eighteenth century progressed, the SSPCK found little issue with disregarding a multitude of local schooling initiatives—mainly as these did not fit their rigid definition of ‘legal parochial schools’—to highlight the continued barbarity and ignorance of the Highlands (Withrington 1962). Furthermore, it has been demonstrated beyond any serious doubt that Highland Catholics were just as likely to seek education as their Protestant neighbours (Prunier 2004: 123–65; Roberts & MacWilliam 2007). We should, therefore, be cautious about taking these claims at face value, as Withers and Durkacz have done. Both scholars maintain a view of Highland-Lowland interaction that focuses primarily on differences between the regions, glossing over any similarities and ambiguities, instead highlighting the role of Lowland ‘cultural intrusion’ as the main driver in the decline of Highland exceptionalism.

​[14]​ In 1986, Donald Withrington warned historians to be more cautious when asserting that distinctions in language and culture necessarily inhibited schooling in the region. While admitting that the several education acts referred to by these scholars contain an undeniable attack on Gaelic, he argues that this was but ‘one element in a generalised policy aimed at political and social stability’, which at several junctures, corresponding neatly to the dating of each of the education acts, was being disrupted in the Highlands (Withrington 1986: 61). Accordingly, Withrington argues that we should pay more attention to the ways in which ‘economic or social (perhaps religious or political) pressures’, shared throughout Scotland, and which affected the ability of communities to support schools and schoolmasters, could be ‘exacerbated [in the Highlands] by greater poverty or remoteness’ (62). This perspective raises the possibility that the educational problems in the Highlands at the turn of the century were not necessarily related to demand, but rather to issues of supply. To follow up on this hypothesis, however, historians face undeniable difficulties, not the least of which is the sparse and scattered nature of the evidence.

​[15]​ It is often presumed that the paucity of source material for schooling in the Highlands is, in its own right, adequately revealing of its poor state. It cannot be denied that, for most Highland regions, the quantity and quality of records are much worse than for most areas of the Lowlands, and the further north and west we cast our eyes, the worse the situation tends to become. However, Scottish parochial schools, both Highland and Lowland, were not centrally managed, nor did schoolmasters tend to adopt the sort of record-keeping practices that would have produced contained collections for individual schools. While evidence can certainly be gleaned from the records of the agencies responsible for parochial education—above all in the records of local church courts—references to schools are generally scattered unevenly throughout. Indeed, these difficulties are testified in the studies of Withrington, Beale and Boyd, who explore the early history of education in Haddington, Fife and Ayrshire respectively (Withrington 1963, 1965; Beale 1983; Boyd 1961). In this respect, we could argue that the evidence for schools in many Lowland parishes can be equally lacking, yet few historians doubt that many Lowland parishes were adequately provided for. We must, therefore, contend with the possibility that, even if more church court records for Highland regions were accessible, they may not yield enough information to indicate satisfactorily the extent and consistency of schooling over time, as is the case with much of the Lowland record. By supplementing church courts records, where possible, with other sources—such as estate chartularies, receipts, legal documents, private correspondences, and even SSPCK minutes—it is possible to piece together a more complete picture for Highland education.

​[16]​ The records of the Synod of Argyll are perhaps the richest source of evidence we have for formal schooling in the Highlands. This undeniably energetic church court demonstrated particular concern with education in the seventeenth century, and maintained detailed records which remain extant and in a good condition today. There is, however, a substantial gap in the record between 1661 and 1687, from the restoration of episcopacy in the church up to James VII’s indulgence. The minutes between 1639 and 1661 have since been published by the Scottish History Society (MacTavish 1943). The surviving manuscripts were the subject of an article published by Donald MacKinnon (1936), which attempts to represent the extent of schooling in the region between 1638 and 1709. By parliamentary acts of 1644 and 1690, respectively, the vacant stipends within the bounds of the Synod were made available for educational purposes, facilitating a large-scale expansion of the schooling system on the western mainland and in the Hebrides. For the post-Revolution period, MacKinnon traces no less than 25 schools established by 1698 with these funds in various locations between Kintyre and Lewis, with an additional 14 itinerant ambulatory schools and 5 grammar schools (52). He locates fixed schools in Campbeltown, Dunoon, Kilmallie, Skye, Raasay, Islay, Jura, Arran, Iona and Bute, among other places. It is noteworthy that that these schools were dedicated to teaching English and Latin and not, as far as we are aware, any Gaelic (53–4). MacKinnon argues convincingly that the work of the SSPCK in the region after 1709 ‘was largely auxiliary to that of the synod and much more limited in scope’ (53). Accounting for the gap in the record for the Restoration, MacKinnon argues ‘the cause of education in Argyll and the Isles had been crippled by the appropriation of the vacant stipends’ for the maintenance of the restored Episcopalian clergy (50–1). However, this has since been cast into question. While a shortage of funds may have precluded the sort of expansion carried out between 1690 and 1698, Episcopalian control did not lead to a decline in local interest in education. Indeed, Allan Macinnes argues that the Episcopalian clergy ‘approved and furthered the Presbyterian endeavours of the 1640s to extend schooling in Highland parishes’ (1996: 176). Education certainly remained a prerequisite for producing qualified ministers regardless of church polity, and provision in Gaelic for Highland parishes remained a major preoccupation (Withrington 1986; Kennedy 2014: 315–16). This suggests that the period may have seen more continuity than disruption.

​[17]​ Support for education in the Highlands, however, was far from confined to Argyll and the Isles. In 1918, John Hunter, minister of Rattray in Perthshire, published two hefty volumes on The Diocese and Presbytery of Dunkeld, 1660-1689; the second of which includes an overview of education in the region and exhaustive list of schoolmasters (87–101). Using Hunter’s study in conjunction with Withers’ list of Gaelic-speaking parishes, Withrington traces a steady growth in provision from 1636 onwards, continuing through the Restoration into the post-Revolution period. While in 1635 only one or two of the 21 Gaelic-speaking parishes (5%) had schools, between 1636 and 1670 we find that 15 parishes (71%) were provided at some time, with some operating continuously throughout the period. Between 1671 and 1700, at least 18 out of the 21 Gaelic-speaking parishes in Perthshire (86%) were supplied with both school and schoolmaster. Moreover, these were not simply the Lowland-border parishes that Durkacz maintained were more likely to provide schools (Durkacz 1983: 46). Moulin, Weem, Logierait, Blair Atholl, Dull, and Fortingall all contained at least one school by 1690 (Withrington 1986: 64–5). When the need to improve educational facilities in the Highlands became more politically expedient in the 1690s, King William arranged a gift of £150 Stirling to be paid out yearly from the Bishopric of Dunkeld for the use of Highland schools in the shires of Perth, Dumbarton and Stirling (Leneman 1982: 154–5; Atholl Muniments [NRAS 234] Box 45/9/124).

​[18]​ With regards to schoolmasters, we find that many were university graduates, while others were university students looking to supplement their income. Many of them instructed children not only English, but in Latin grammar, reading, writing, arithmetic and mathematics (Withrington 1986: 65). And the curriculum was not determined purely by the schoolmasters, but often in accordance with local demands for specific subjects. Adam Fergusson, father and namesake of the later philosopher and historian Dr Adam Ferguson, left the school of Moulin after some years because the schoolmaster was deficient in his knowledge of Latin. He soon returned, however, in 1683, when the minister recruited a more qualified schoolmaster: a recent graduate from King’s College, Aberdeen, Duncan Menzies (Fagg 1994: 289–90).

​[19]​ A similar trajectory can be traced in other Highland regions. In the Gaelic-speaking parishes of Aberdeenshire, Withrington identifies schools in the parishes of Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn in 1696 and 1699; Kildrummy in 1646, 1676 and 1680; Glenbuchat in 1687; and Strathdon in 1667, 1675, 1683 and 1686; and Aboyne and Glentanar, where a Mr James Smith, student in divinity, was appointed schoolmaster in 1700 (Withrington 1986: 65; Simpson 1947: 88–96; CH2/602/1: 5). In Banffshire, at least 15 of the 17 Gaelic-speaking parishes, had schools between 1671 and 1700, including a grammar school established in Inveraven in 1633. This is matched in Nairnshire where, from 1650 onwards, we find schoolmasters appointed for all four Gaelic-speaking parishes—Auldearn, Ardclach, Cawdor and Nairn—and a reputable grammar school in Fortrose, which was maintained by a mortification from the MacKenzies of Seaforth (Withrington 1986: 65; MacInnes 1951: 227). In Angus, all three Gaelic-speaking parishes—Clova, Cortachy and Lochlee—had schoolmasters teaching Latin grammar by 1690. In Sutherland, schools can be traced in Creich and Strathnaver, from 1630 and 1620 respectively. In the Highland parishes surrounding Loch Lomond, references has been found for schools in Buchanan, Drymen and Luss (Withrington 1986: 65–6).

​[20]​ In Inverness-shire and Ross-shire, we find schools in the lower-lying parishes of Kirkhill and Wardlaw in 1672 and Croy in 1680. There were grammar schools at Petty and Dornoch, as well as the ancient grammar school of Inverness. In these schools, Latin, English, Greek and other subjects were taught (MacKay 1896: l–li; Macinnes 1951: 223). However, schools were also established in the more upland western parishes, including Daviot in 1672, Dingwall in 1663, Kilmorack in 1649, Boleskine some time before 1630, and Kiltarlity and Convith in 1630-33, 1671-74, 1681, and 1684-87 (MacKay 1896: xlviii–li; 1921: 14–17; Withrington 1986: 67). In 1696, the government stepped in to support a grammar school at Maryburgh, near Fort William, with the generous salary of £30 Sterling. In 1690, Colonel John Hill wrote to the Duke of Queensbury, wherein he indicates that ‘the people are very glad of the chartour for Marybarrow [Maryburgh], and of the expectation of a school for their children’ (Fraser 1976: 73).

​[21]​ The Fasti produces names for two schoolmasters in Lochaber – Thomas MacPherson, who served as ‘schoolmaster in Lochaber’ in 1660 before entering the ministry, and James Gettie, ‘sometime schoolmaster of Kilmallie’ before his ordination as minister of Inveraray in 1711 (vol. iv: 11; vi: 355). In 1698, Donald MacMarcus was appointed catechist-schoolmaster for Lochaber, anticipating the Royal Bounty-SSPCK scheme of joint catechist schoolmasters by three decades (NRS, CH2/557/3: 227; see Stiùbhart 2003). References can also be found for a grammar school in Kingussie, which was established with an endowment in 1652, but experienced regular issues procuring these funds which continued into the eighteenth century (Withrington 1986: 66).

​[22]​ This is not to suggest that the Highlands were adequately supplied with schools before 1709. Questions remain regarding the consistency with which these schools operated and the social standing of their attendees. Indeed, the unique problems facing the region—of large, disjointed parishes, mountainous terrain, scattered settlements and the division of land by water—meant countless children went without schooling. In larger parishes, particularly those consolidated into ‘united parishes’ in the seventeenth century, there were often disagreements among tenants and heritors regarding the most suitable location to settle a school. While no parochial school can be traced for the united parishes of Crathie and Braemar, there was a qualified schoolmaster in the parish in the 1700s: a Mr John Hunter, a graduate of King’s College, referred to across sources in 1711 as ‘present schoolmaster in Braemar’ (NRS, GD124/15/1056; GD95/2/1: 248). The following year, the laird of Abergeldie informed minister Adam Fergusson of the main reason why a parochial school had not yet been settled. It appears that many of the inhabitants were unwilling to pay their quota of meal for the schoolmaster ‘unless they could expect to benefite by haveing a school near ym’ (NRS, GD124/15/1051/1–2). In 1699, the Synod of Aberdeen had petitioned the government ‘for obtaining the benefite of his majesties gift for encouraging schoolmasters in Highland parishes’ within their bounds, in order to circumvent this issue. But, unlike with Argyll and Perthshire, government assistance was not forthcoming (NRS, CH2/840/11, 126).

​[23]​ Here, there are parallels to be drawn with Inverness-shire, specifically the united parishes of Moy and Dalarossie, Boleskine and Abertarff, and Daviot and Dunlichty. In 1672, the reason given for the absence of a school in Moy was that ‘the townes within the parochin were far distant one from the other’. In the same year in Boleskine and Abertarff, there was no school ‘in regard the townes in the parish were remote the one from the other, and they had no convenience of boarding children’. In a large united parish, facilities for boarding would have been necessary so that scholars did not have to travel long distances daily. In Daviot, despite earlier successes in erecting a schoolhouse, by 1682 the minister report ‘that they could not nor had any schoolmaster because there was no encouragement for ane, nor no mediat centricall place quhere they could fix a schoole to the satisfactione of all concerned’ (MacKay 1921: 16).

​[24]​ The situation is less clear in Wester Ross due to a lack of surviving records. However, in 1707 the newly erected Synod of Ross, containing the most northerly mainland parishes, claimed that the main obstacle to schooling in the region was the lack of qualified men, or problems with attracting sufficiently qualified schoolmasters. This minute is worth quoting at length:

In regard the want of schools in great measure proceeds from the scarcity of young men fit to teach, therefore the Synod recommends to the several presbyteries not to give recommendations to young men for burses at the profession until they pass some time in the bounds, after their graduation, as chaplains or schoolmasters: as also that they correspond with the Synods of Argyll and Moray to see if they can spare any young men fit for teaching schools. (NRS, CH2/312/1, 26–7)

While this can be read as offering a bleak impression of education in the region, it should be noted that the synod was expressing specific expectations regarding what constituted a ‘sufficient’ schoolmaster. Indeed, the synod was proposing that presbyteries forego the granting of bursaries to university students entering the ministry until they had employed their skills, such as knowledge of the classical languages, for some time as schoolmasters. The problem, then, was not that there were no men qualified to be schoolmasters, but that most of those who were considered sufficiently qualified were being fast-tracked into the ministry to fill vacant pulpits in Gaelic-speaking parishes (Withrington 1962: 96–7).

​[25]​ It may be that the education acts, more suited to the conditions in the Lowlands, ‘had little impact on the massive educational problems of the Highlands’ as Durkacz maintains, but it is clear that local agents were making concerted attempts, through the Restoration to the post-Revolution period, to overcome these obstacles in their respective localities (1983: 46). Provision was no doubt exacerbated by the social catastrophe of King William’s Ill Years in the 1690s, during which, in Highland and Lowland alike, a schoolmaster’s salary seemed an unnecessary luxury (Boyd 1961; Withrington 1965; Beale 1981; Cullen 2010: 90–91, 132, 161–2). Nevertheless, many Highland parishes were just as aware of the advantages of education as their Lowland counterparts, striving at least to have legal parochial schools set-up. Indeed, after 1690, ministers of the established church in the Highlands demonstrated a keen awareness of the importance of schools in winning the hearts and minds of those disaffected to church and state.

​[26]​ In schools that were established, the curriculum was focused overwhelmingly on instruction in English and Latin, and not (as far as we know) any Gaelic. It appears that a method of instantaneous translation was used, at least in more isolated regions, to aid the learning of English, and develop the ability to translate ex tempore. In 1721, the ministers of Glenelg, Kilmuir Easter and Lairg wrote collectively to the SSPCK, seeking to clarify the organisation’s stance on the use of Gaelic in the classroom:

shewing that through a defect of the present method of teaching in some of the Societies Schools in their Highland bounds, these good ends proposed are much frustrate, for in places where nothing of the English tongue is understood, the Children are taught to read only in English which they understand not, and are denied the benefite of expounding and translateing the same by the help of their masters into their mother tongue as is the ordinar fashion and practice of the Gramar Schools. (NRS, GD95/1/2: 170. Italics mine.)

It was generally expected that English and Latin would be taught. Angus Morison, the Episcopalian minister of Contin whom we encountered earlier, indicates that internalised stigma towards Gaelic in education was already abroad in the Highlands before the SSPCK. In discussing a proposal for setting up Episcopalian schools, he insisted that these institutions should make allowance for

a Doctor for the Latine Gramer & English […] for without a Doctor for the other languages, the youth would not come in, for noe man in his right senses, would bestow on his son meerly for the Irish. ​[5]​ (NRS, CH12/12/817)

It is instructive that, throughout the SSPCK minutes, we find no explicit indication of popular resistance to schools neglecting to teach Gaelic, but many examples of communities and schoolmasters chafing against the Society’s exclusion of Latin from the curriculum. John Hunter in Braemar turned down the SSPCK’s offer of a job not only because he refused to sign the Confession of Faith, but also because he was prohibited from teaching Latin (NRS, GD124/15/1051/2). John McPherson, schoolmaster in Bracadale resigned his post in 1720 as many scholars ‘gone elsewhere to Learn Latine’ (NRS, GD95/2/3: 23–4). John McBean in Kilmalie was reprimanded on multiple occasions for teaching Latin, despite his insistence that attendance would drop if he did not (NRS, GD95/2/3: 32–3, 274–5). In 1727, the Presbytery of Long Island petitioned the SSPCK, requesting that the schoolmaster in South Uist be allowed to teach Latin ‘as the two popish schools do, that protestant children be not in danger of being perverted by popish schoolmasters’ (NRS, GD95/1/3: 5–6). Withrington observes that ‘most parishes sought, and expected to have, a graduate as a schoolmaster, or at least a young man who had been at a college and was suitably versed in languages’. Indeed, the absence of a classical school was considered discreditable in some Highland parishes (Withrington 1962: 96–7). Latin, after all, was a must for those hoping to enter university. It appears that by 1709 the concept of a school education had long been widely embraced and that, contrary to SSPCK rhetoric, many communities knew exactly what they wanted from a school and sought to have their voices heard.

SSPCK Language Policy in Context, 1709-1754

​[27]​ This oft-quoted passage from 1716 has been understood by many scholars to represent the Society’s definitive attitude towards the language:

Nothing can be more effectual for reducing these countries to order, and making them usefull to the Commonwealth than teaching them their duty to God, their King and Countrey and rooting out their Irish language, and this has been the case of the Society so far as they could, For all the Schollars are taught in English. (NRS, GD95/2/2: 95)

Once again, it is important to note that the Society’s rhetoric did not necessarily correspond with its policy, nor did it reflect circumstances in individual schools. Indeed, evidence suggests that the SSPCK grew more hard-line in its anti-Gaelic rhetoric as a result of the Jacobite risings between 1715 and 1746. Nathan Gray demonstrates that the document from which the above quote has been taken, a memorial to the Scottish commission of police, should not be considered a policy statement, but a proposal to the government in favour of state support for schooling in the Highlands (2011: 196–7). The Act for the more effectuall Securing the peace of the Highlands, which came in the wake of the 1715 Jacobite rising, ordered that a Royal Commission be appointed to ‘lay before his Majesty of the proper places for establishing schools, of the necessary salaries for the maintenance of them, that all needful provision may be made for that end’ (1 Geo I c. 54), and the SSPCK sought to exert its influence in this. The Jacobite risings were something of a double-edged sword for the Society. While contributions and the prospect of state-support might suffer from the Society’s perceived failure, the right turn of phrase and some shrewd spin could make all of the difference at a time when anti-Gaelic sentiment was at a peak. That the SSPCK archive contains two prior draft versions of this document suggests that members sought to refine their rhetoric for different audiences to increase the likelihood of garnering support, especially in its presentation of the Highlands. With regards to language, the earliest draft adopts a much gentler tone than the final version, stating that

One of the main aims in their Erection was to set up Charity Schools throughout the Highlands & Isles to the Extent that, in consequence of having Knowledge, particularly of the foundations of the Christian Religion, they might be the better & more useful subjects. Since, that teaches them duty to the King, Love to their Countrey, Justice to their neighbours, laudable industry in the work of their Generation, and occasionaly, the national language, without wch they, in great measure, remain useless to themselves and the world. (NRS, GD95/10/62; emphasis mine)

Regardless, there was no formal ban on teaching Gaelic books in schools until 1719, nor does this appear in Society publications until after 1720.

​[28]​ Gaelic was almost certainly used for oral communication in the classroom, while several SSPCK schoolmasters were teaching children to read the Gaelic Catechism and Psalms. In 1713, William MacKay, schoolmaster in Durness, informed the Society that, as his parishioners only had Gaelic, ‘he must examine, sing, and pray with them in that language, unless the Society give other orders’. The Society responded ‘that he may catechise his schollars and pray and sing with them in Irish […] But that he must teach them only to read Inglish books’ (NRS, GD95/1/1: 198–9). It should be reiterated that the unwillingness to sanction the use of Gaelic books in schools did not necessarily stem from short-sighted prejudice, but from contemporary uncertainties regarding the correct standard and actual utility of written Gaelic, and the limited number of approved Gaelic texts available. Nevertheless, the SSPCK itself was dispatching copies of the Synod of Argyll’s Gaelic Catechism for schools in Skye and St Kilda as late as 1718 (NRS, GD95/9/1: 1, 315). While English was promoted, Gaelic was being utilised.

​[29]​ There is even reason to believe that the founding members initially considered including Gaelic as part of instruction. The original call for eligible schoolmasters that was circulated among the universities, synods and presbyteries in 1711, specifically requested:

men of piety, prudence and gravity, who understand and can speak, read and write both in the English and Irish languages. (NRS, GD95/2/1: 197)

Considering this call for bilingual schoolmasters together with the failure to mention Gaelic in the founding documents, it is not unfathomable that the Society was at first open to using Gaelic literacy as a means of inculcating Presbyterian doctrine (Gray 2011: 200). It would quickly become clear, however, that very few qualified to be schoolmasters could read Gaelic with precision, while they were all capable of reading English. Of the Society’s earliest recruits, Kenneth Beaton, bursar of the Synod of Argyll, graduate of Glasgow University and the first SSPCK schoolmaster in Bracadale, was perhaps the most likely candidate to have Gaelic literacy (Inveraray Castle Archive, Bundle 571). ​[6]​ His father was John Beaton, minister of Bracadale, himself the son of Angus Beaton of Husabost, physician to the Isles in the classical Gaelic tradition (Fasti vii: 166). While John inherited his father’s classical manuscripts, according to Beaton genealogist Thomas Whyte, following his death none were ‘able to read it. Nor could he indeed, without the aid of one from Ireland’ (Bannerman 1998: 68–9; Whyte 1778: 6). In turn, it seems unlikely that Kenneth would be able to instruct scholars in Gaelic literacy. In 1737, despite the intent of several benefactors to donate Irish Bibles for the use of John MacLeod, the SSPCK’s missionary to the Highland colony at Georgia, he would later write to the SSPCK requesting that English Bibles be sent instead (NRS, GD95/2/5: 312). It should be understood that the SSPCK’s original intention was to focus first and foremost on teaching children to read the Bible and, at this point, this simply could not be done with Gaelic.

​[30]​ In 1723, the SSPCK further articulated its language policy. Gaelic was permitted, perhaps even encouraged, for translating English texts to enable children to arrive at an understanding of what they read. However, those with a grasp of English were to be banned from speaking Gaelic except when translating, and, ‘for the benefite of those who are learning the same’, ‘clandestine Censors’ were to be appointed ‘to delate Transgressors’. The Committee also agreed to consider proposals for an ‘English and Irish vocables’ for use in schools, a project that eventually bore fruit in 1741 with the publication of the first Gaelic dictionary, entitled A Galick-English Vocabulary (NRS, GD95/2/3: 188–90). In part, these modifications came in response to the 1721 Representation Anent Teaching Irish, a petition from several Highland ministers from Ross and Sutherland which flagged up the problem of rote learning in some schools. As indicated earlier, simultaneous translation was established practice among educated ministers and the route taken in several grammar schools. Furthermore, the publication of a Gaelic dictionary, it was hoped, would expedite the process of translating from Gaelic into English and vice versa. This policy was soon endorsed by Highland presbyteries, following a meeting between the SSPCK committee with the Highland ministers present at the 1723 General Assembly (NRS, GD95/2/3: 199–200). It should be noted that these proposals may have chafed against the sensibilities of some Highland landlords. Aberdeenshire heritors, Kenneth McKenzie of Dalmore and Lewis Farquharson of Auchendryne, wrote to the SSPCK in 1712, in favour of a non-Gaelic speaking schoolmaster, arguing that ‘it is more advantageous for this place that he want it [Gaelic] Since we are Obleidged to send our Children to the Low country to Learn the English’ (NRS, GD124/15/1056). Nevertheless, as a fundamentally religious organisation, the ultimate goal was that a minister would no longer be necessary for something as fundamental to the Protestant faith as accessing the scriptures.

​[31]​ The wider political context was also a significant catalyst for the SSPCK’s attempt to take a more concerted approach to Gaelic from 1723. It should also be noted that the measures pertaining to Gaelic were but one element in a broader overhaul of the Society’s management methods. Meetings were streamlined; inspection and surveillance in schools were stepped up, with local correspondence boards composed of Highland gentlemen appointed to carry out these duties; and, finally, lobbying activity in London was heightened (NRS, GD95/1/2: 230-3, 243-4, 250-1, 296-301). Following the abortive 1719 rebellion and the 1722 Atterbury Plot—a failed plan to kill King George on his journey to Hanover—Westminster was becoming more receptive to ideas for tackling the ‘Highland Problem’ and the SSPCK stood to gain financially (Stiùbhart 2003: 104–8). A fund of £20,000 had allegedly been earmarked from the Forfeited Estates to implement the 1716 Royal Commission’s plan to establish schools in the Highlands. It was estimated that the funds would support 151 additional schools, with schoolmasters receiving a generous salary of £20 Sterling (NRS, GD95/1/2: 236–7; The National Archives [TNA] SP54/12/229). It is conceivable that the membership believed, given access to this fund, it could make progress towards removing Gaelic. Regardless, this fund was not forthcoming. SSPCK publications would continue to bemoan that ‘no part of this money hath ever been received by the Society’ (SSPCK 1774: 9). As a result, the increase of schools proceeded slowly and salaries remained low, contributing to the SSPCK’s effective hijacking of the Royal Bounty from 1729 to augment schoolmasters salaries in return for their also serving as parochial catechists (Stiùbhart 2003: 125–9).

​[32]​ Due to the Society’s inability to enforce language policy on the ground, the treatment of Gaelic continued to be dictated by local conditions and the attitude of individual schoolmasters. In turn, the SSPCK introduced no further measures concerning Gaelic until 1751. Although space does not permit a fuller exploration of the moderating influence that local attitudes had on SSPCK language policy—indeed, this would constitute an article in its own right—a couple of case studies are illustrative. For instance, Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, the famed Jacobite poet, used his position as a catechist-schoolmaster in Ardnamurchan to promote Gaelic (and the knowledge of English) through his 1741 Galick-English Vocabulary: an unprecedented project which, regardless of the SSPCK’s intentions, undoubtedly galvanised the move towards Gaelic literacy (Black 2009: 50–3). In Perthshire by the 1730s, it became standard practice to pay SSPCK schoolmasters for ‘precenting in Irish’ during church services (Young 2016: 44). When we consider that many SSPCK schoolmasters also served as Royal Bounty catechists, many of whom used the Synod of Argyll’s catechism, it may even be that this facilitated an increase in Gaelic literacy, and ensured that the classically influenced written Gaelic preferred in Argyll became more hegemonic. In 1738, the SSPCK began quietly to disregard its own language policy: distributing copies of the ‘Confession of Faith in Irish’ among schools ‘For instructing of the Highland Children to translate the Irish into English’; a reversal of the initial insistence on translating English texts into Gaelic (NRS, GD95/2/5: 353). On the other hand, the presbyteries of Caithness and Aberdeenshire frequently requested schoolmasters with no Gaelic (NRS, GD95/1/2: 126; GD95/1/3: 51–2; GD95/2/6: 404; GD95/2/7: 101).

​[33]​ It is revealing that, in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite rising, the SSPCK’s London board advised the Edinburgh Committee to include ‘wearing out the Irish Language and spreading the English tongue’ in its forthcoming pamphlet ‘to recover its Credite in England’ (NRS, GD95/2/6: 320). This no doubt applied in Scotland as well. Apart from the Gaelic-English vocabulary project, the language issue is conspicuous by its absence in the minutes between 1725 and 1745. In 1751, it was enacted that children who had some proficiency in English were to be chastised for speaking Gaelic in and around the school (NRS, GD95/2/7: 30–1). This measure was reiterated in 1753, suggesting that it made little impact (117–8). Nevertheless, in 1748 the Society backed a Gaelic translation of Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted. Before the translation was carried out, the SSPCK did question its utility, pointing out that ‘those in the Highlands who can read the Irish, can also read and partly understand the English’, and suggesting that an English version would be just as useful. Nevertheless, in the same letter, it agreed to find a translator ‘if this well disposed Gentleman’, Irish philanthropist Dr John Damer, ‘Judge otherwise’ (NRS, GD95/2/6: 496–7). The SSPCK paid Alexander MacFarlane, minister of Arrochar, £50 for translating the text, and, after publication in 1750, it was distributed among SSPCK schools alongside the Gaelic Confession of Faith (641). In 1754 the organisation would embark on a campaign to translate the New Testament into Gaelic, later published in 1767 (NRS, GD95/2/7: 253–4). In this respect, these final efforts to double-down on Gaelic in schools can be considered a short-term, intense, but ultimately hollow endeavour, reflecting the climate of oppression in the wake of Culloden.


​[34]​ This article has attempted to shed some light on the problems with the established view of the SSPCK as an agent of ‘anglicisation’ above all else. A close reading of the SSPCK collection reveals the ambiguities and subtleties in the Society’s language policy. We cannot be certain, for instance, that the organisation had the elimination of Gaelic in sight from the very beginning. Indeed, the original recruitment drive sought to incorporate candidates with Gaelic literacy. Contemporary uncertainties concerning the utility of Gaelic literacy—not to mention the limited financial and human resources available—may have led the Society to prioritise English as a largely practical matter: something within the realm of possibility at a time when members were eager to get things up and running. Furthermore, the extent and nature of schooling in the Highlands prior to the advent of the SSPCK suggests the organisation was tapping into and building a pre-existing tradition by prioritising English literacy, rather than pursuing an unprecedented and traumatic programme of denaturalisation.

​[35]​ It has also been demonstrated that the Society’s rhetoric was often at odds with its own practice. Despite the Society’s strongly worded memorial from 1716, no steps were taken to ban Gaelic texts from the classroom until 1719. It was not until 1723 that an attempt was made to limit the amount of Gaelic spoken in schools. We must bear in mind, however, that this was no blanket ban. Instead it served as something of an addendum to the more productive measure of ensuring that children translate texts from English into Gaelic: the tried and tested method of instructions in many grammar schools. Nevertheless, the Society had no way of enforcing these policies, instead entrusting local agents who could either moderate or impose them. On occasion, the SSPCK would even disregard its own rules regarding Gaelic, for example quietly encouraging the use of the Gaelic Confession of Faith in schools. Indeed, it seems that when the Society’s rhetoric, and even its policies, were at their most flagrantly anti-Gaelic—such as in 1723 and 1751—behind the scenes it was, whether knowingly or unknowingly, acting as a conduit for those who wished to see Gaelic elevated in status.

​University of Glasgow​


​[1] The phrase ‘Highlands and Islands’ is adopted here for the sake of convenience and brevity. The SSPCK’s remit included the Highlands, the Western Isles, and Orkney and Shetland. As the reviewer has pointed out, however, examples of the phrase from before the beginning of the century seem to imply that ‘Highlands’ and ‘Islands’ were considered two separate entities. Indeed, the lumping together of Highlands and Islands into one region may itself result from the geographical discourse of the SSPCK.​[back to text]​

[2] Literacy in Classical Gaelic was common among the elite in this region during the sixteenth century. Hebridean elites such as Domhnall Gorm (d. 1616), Ruairidh Mòr of Dunvegan (d. 1626), for example, regularly signed their names in Gaelic using a Gaelic script, indicating that they had received an education in Gaelic. See MacCoinnich 2015: 320, 321, 335. ​[back to text]​

[3] My thanks to Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich for this reference from the Delvine Papers, NLS.​[back to text]​

[4] Note, however, that evidence of written Gaelic sermons has been found for MacKay country, aka Dùthaich MhicAoidh, from as early as 1700, illustrating that not all ministers relied solely on the English Bible for the delivery of sermons. Evangelical Protestantism had deeper roots here than in other parts of the Highlands and a lack of evidence for elsewhere suggests that this was exceptional. See Macdonald 1962 and MacKay 1996.​[back to text]​

[5] This is also an ironic joke about Angus’s brother, Roderick, who was sent to a bardic school to learn Classical Gaeli. Their father, John Morison of Bragar, later lamented that he had spent more money on Roderick’s education that the rest of his children combined. See Matheson 1970: xlii. My thanks to Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart for drawing my attention to this reference.​[back to text]​

[6] My thanks to Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich for this reference.​[back to text]​



National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

MS 1401, Mackenzie of Delvine Papers, fol. 16

National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh

CH12/12, Episcopal Chest

CH2/312/1, Synod of Ross Minutes (1707-1717)

CH2/557/3, Synod of Argyll Minutes (1687-1700)

CH2/602/1, Presbytery of Kincardine O’Neil Minutes (1700-1713)

CH2/840/11, Synod of Aberdeen Minutes (1697-1705)

GD95/1, SSPCK General Meeting Minutes (1709-1735)

GD95/2, SSPCK Directors’ Committee Minutes (1709-1759)

GD95/9/1, Register of SSPCK Schools (1710-1761)

GD95/10/62, SSPCK Papers transferred from New College (1716)

GD124, Mar and Kellie Papers

Blair Castle Archive (NRAS 234)

Box 45/9/124

The National Archives, Kew

SP54, State Papers Scotland Series II

Reference Works

Scott, H. (ed.). 1915-28. Fasti ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation, 8 vols (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd).

Printed Primary Sources

SSPCK. 1714. An Account of the Rise, Constitution and Management of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (London: R. Tookey).

SSPCK. 1774. An Account of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge from its commencement in 1709 (Edinburgh: A. Murray and J. Cochrane)

Whyte, T. 1778. An Historical and Genealogical Account of the Bethunes of the Island of Sky (Edinburgh: Neill & Co)

Edited Primary Sources

MacTavish, D. C. (ed.). 1943-44. Minutes of the Synod of Argyll, 1639-1661, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

Matheson, W. (ed). 1970. An Clarsair Dall: Orain Ruaidhri Mhic Mhuirich agus a Chuid Ciuil / The Blind Harper: The Songs of Roderick Morison and His Music (Edinburgh: R&R Clark Ltd).

Thomson, R. L (ed.). 1962. Adtimchiol an Chreidimh: The Gaelic version of John Calvin’s Catechismus Ecclesiae Genevensis: a facsimile reprint, including the prefixed poems and the Shorter Catechism of 1659, with notes and glossary, and an introduction (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd)

Books & Articles

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Bannerman, John W. M. 1998. The Beatons: a Medical Kindred in the Classic Gaelic Tradition (Edinburgh: John Donald).

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Black, R. 2008. ‘Gaelic Religious Publishing, 1567-1800’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, 24: 73–85.

Black, R. 2001. An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Edinburgh: Birlinn).

Boyd, W. 1961. Education in Ayrshire over Seven Centuries (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd).

Campbell, J. L. 1945. Gaelic in Scottish Education and Life: Past, Present and Future (Edinburgh: W. & A. K. Johnston Ltd).

Campbell, J. L. 1984. Canna: The Story of a Hebridean Island (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Cheape, H. 2004. ‘Gaelic Genesis’, Scottish Book Collector, 15–23.

Cullen, K. J. 2010. Famine in Scotland: the ‘Ill Years’ of the 1690s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

Durkacz, V. E. 1978. ‘The Source of the Language Problem in Scottish Education, 1688-1709’, The Scottish Historical Review, 57: 28–39.

Durkacz, V. E. 1983. The Decline of the Celtic Languages (Edinburgh: John Donald).

Fagg, J. B. 1994. ‘“Complaints and Clamours”: the Ministry of Adam Fergusson, 1700-1754’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 25: 288–308.

Fraser, W. 1876. The Earls of Cromartie, Their Kindred and Correspondence, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh).

Gray, N. P. 2011. “A Publick Benefite to the Nation”: the Charitable and Religious Origins of the SSPCK, 1690-1715 (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Glasgow).
Hechter, M. 1975. Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536–1966 (London: Routledge).

Horsbroch, D. 1999. ‘Nostra Vulgari Lingua: Scots as a European Language, 1500–1700’, Scottish Language, 18: 1–16.

Houston, R. A. 1985. Scottish Literacy and Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Kennedy, A. D. 2014. ‘The Condition of the Restoration Church of Scotland in the Highlands’, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 65: 309–26.

Leneman, L. 1982. A Social History of the Atholl Estates 1685-1785, (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Edinburgh).

Loughlin, C. 2018. ‘Concepts of Mission in Scottish Presbyterianism: the SSPCK, the Highlands and Britain’s American Colonies, 1709–40’, Studies in Church History, 54: 190–207.

MacCoinnich, A. 2008. ‘Where and How Was Gaelic Written in Late Medieval and Early Modern Scotland? Orthographic Practices and Cultural Identities’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, 24: 309–56.

MacDonald, J. ‘The Rev. John MacKay’s Gaelic Sermons’, Scottish Gaelic Studies X: 176–202.

MacGregor, M. 2000. ‘Làn-mara ‘s mìle seòl (“Floodtide and a thousand sails”): Gaelic Scotland and Gaelic Ireland in the Later Middle Ages’ in A’ Chòmhdhail Cheilteach Eadarnìseanta Congress 99: Cultural Contacts Within the Celtic Community: Glaschu, 26-31 July. Celtic Congress (Inverness: Celtic Congress): pp. 77-97.

MacGregor, M. 2006. ‘The Statutes of Iona: Text and Context’, The Innes Review, 57: 111–81.

Macinnes, A. I. 1996. Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788 (East Linton: Tuckwell Press).

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MacKay, W. 1896. Records of the Presbyteries of Inverness and Dingwall, 1643-1688 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).

MacKay, W. 1921. Education in the Highlands in the Olden Times (Inverness: Northern Chronicle)

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MacLeod Hill, A. 2016. The Pelican in the Wilderness: Symbolism and Allegory in Women’s Evangelical Songs of the Gàidhealtachd (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Edinburgh).

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Meek, D. E. 1988. ‘The Gaelic Bible’ in David F. Wright, ed. The Bible in Scottish Life and Literature (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press): pp. 9-23.

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Meek, D. E. 1990. ‘Language and Style in the Scottish Gaelic Bible (1767–1807)’, Scottish Language, 9: 1–16.

Meek, D. E. 1998. ‘The Reformation and Gaelic Culture: Perspectives on Patronage, Language and Literature in John Carswell’s translation of “The Book of Common Order”’ in J. Kirk, ed. The Church and the Highlands (Edinburgh: Scottish Church History Society): pp. 37–62.

Meek, D. E. 2002. ‘The Pulpit and the Pen: Clergy, Orality and Print in the Scottish Gaelic World’, in The Spoken Word Oral Culture in Britain, 1500-1850, eds. A. Fox & D. Woolf (Manchester: Manchester University Press): pp. 84–118.

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Battle in the Burgh: Glasgow during the British Civil Wars, c.1638-1651

Battle in the Burgh: Glasgow during the British Civil Wars, c.1638-1651

Andrew Lind


​[1]​ Despite flourishing research on Scotland during the British Civil Wars (c.1638-1651), there remains much work to be done regarding the Scottish burghs. Most discussions of the burghs in this period focus on the remarkable control that the Covenanting regime was able to enforce over the kingdom’s urban centres, or the divisions which emerged amongst the Covenanting elites of the burghs, which fractured that control (DesBrisay, 2002; Macinnes, 1991; Stewart, 2006). It is widely believed that the pragmatically minded urban elite initially welcomed the reform that the Covenanters promised. In 1987, David Stevenson gave a cautious assessment of the burghs, highlighting the remarkable solidarity they showed following the leadership of Edinburgh in pledging support for the Covenanters, while postulating that this show of support must have been for economic as well as religious reasons. Alan MacDonald (2000 & 2007) has produced similar conclusions from examining the participation of the burghs in the Scottish Parliament but has pointed out that the only times when the burghs were truly of one mind was when their rights and privileges were under threat. Allan Macinnes (1991) and John Young (1996) have stressed the essential role of the burghs as facilitators for the ‘radical oligarchy’ that, they argue, was able to take control of the Committee of Estates from 1641 to 1650. Young (1997: 167-168) has gone as far as to argue that this resulted in the establishment of a ‘Scottish Commons’, by which the burghs and shire commissioners provided the radical backbone of the Covenanting movement.

​[2]​ These arguments have largely been based upon parliamentary records and the fragmented accounts of the Convention of Royal Burghs. Thus, these national sources have been used to reach national conclusions. However, these sources can also mask the complexity of the political situation within individual burghs. Laura Stewart’s study of Edinburgh (2006) and Gordon DesBrisay’s revision of Aberdeen (2002) form the only recent investigations into the politics and conflicts acted out within the burghs during the 1640s. Indeed, both studies found that there were active Covenanting and Royalist factions within these cities; a fact missed when examining national records. In both cases, underneath the outward projection of conformity lay social division and conflict. While it is regularly argued that the Covenanters enjoyed popular support (Brown, 1992: 112-14; Goodare, 2014: 85-7; Harris, 2014: 389-390), Scottish Royalism outwith the nobility is often marginalised, if not disregarded completely (Robertson, 2014: 22). This then asks an important question: to what extent has Royalism within the Scottish burghs been overlooked?

​[3]​ Emphasis on local studies within the historiography on England during the Civil Wars has radically transformed our perception of how populations reacted to the conflict, and how individuals aligned themselves with one side or the other (Eales, 2001; Everitt, 1973; Hughes, 1987; Hutton, 1982; Scott, 1992). In particular, Mark Stoyle’s work on the county of Devon (1998) has revolutionised our understanding of local responses to the outbreak of civil war. Stoyle found that there were regional hotspots for both Royalist and Parliamentarian allegiances, which confirmed the earlier research of David Underdown (1979; 1981) and Christopher Hill (1972). However, most other areas were deeply divided. Stoyle’s case study of Exeter epitomised this point (1998; 96-107). Stoyle concluded that ‘people from all ranks of society possessed very definite political views’ (ibid; 229). A similar picture has appeared in Ireland through the work of Micheál Ó Siochrú (2011) who has found that, while provincial cities exercised a policy of ‘strategic neutralism’ and pragmatism, there were powerful factions within their populations that sought the pursuit of ideological goals. Ó Siochrú has used Limerick to demonstrate this, where local aldermen backed by significant popular support opposed the official stance of the ruling council in order to engage with the Irish Confederates (ibid; 36). Similar studies on German towns and cities during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) have produced comparable findings (Finucane, 2017; Medick and Selwyn, 2001). These new approaches ask serious questions of the current interpretation of Scotland’s urban centres during the Civil Wars.

​[4]​ This article answers some of these questions by examining Glasgow’s burgh politics during the Civil Wars, and by following the emergence of a Royalist faction within the burgh’s council. Glasgow, like most of Scotland’s burghs, is rarely connected with Royalist activity following the subscription of the National Covenant. Older studies of the city (Mure, 1830; Wallace, 1882) have either hailed its commitment to the Covenant or explained its inhabitants’ Covenanting adherence as self-preserving and pragmatic. George Eyre-Todd’s history of the city recorded that Glasgow played a ‘decided and vigorous part’ within the Covenanting rebellion, and that even its contribution of supplies to the Royalist army in 1645 was a sign of the magistrates’ pragmatism in the face of a military threat, rather than an indicator of Royalist sympathy (1931: 255). In one of the most recent surveys of Glasgow’s civil war politics, Allan Macinnes argued that the city supported the Covenant ‘ideologically, financially and militarily’ between 1638-1641, and then ‘tended to back the radical mainstream’s political direction of the Covenanting movement’ (1990: 15-16). However, several studies have noted that political consensus within the burgh broke down after 1645. William Shepard’s doctoral thesis (1978) which examined Glasgow’s society and politics between 1648 and 1674, mentions that the burgh split into two factions following James Graham, Marquis of Montrose’s occupation of the city in 1645. These two factions then opposed one another during the Engagement (1647-1648), when moderate Covenanters and Royalists attempted to restore Charles I and seize power from the increasingly radical party led by Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll. While Shepard did not believe that Royalism within the city was at the root of the conflict, he found that the resulting infighting plagued Glasgow’s city politics for the following decade (1978: 32-44). Kirsteen MacKenzie has recently supported Shepard’s thesis in an article which examined the burgh’s council between 1650 and 1653. MacKenzie argued that burgh politics in Glasgow had become polarised by 1650 between an alliance of Covenanting and Royalist burgesses who supported Charles II and Remonstrators led by Patrick Gillespie who advocated support for Cromwellian forces (2016: 71-76). Perhaps what is most surprising about the recent scholarship on Glasgow is that, despite the common acceptance that the burgh became politically divided after 1645, there has not been any previous attempt to trace the origins of Royalist opposition within the burgh.

​[5]​ This article will argue that, far from being a stronghold of Covenanting support, Glasgow was deeply divided, by as early as 1638, and that a strong Royalist faction was active in the city, drawing on the support of individuals from all ranks of society. This case will be made by examining Glasgow’s internal politics during three key moments in the Civil Wars: the eve of war and the Glasgow Assembly (1638); the occupation of the city by the Marquis of Montrose (1645); and the Engagement (1647-1648). These conclusions will not only force us to re-evaluate the ideological temperament of Glasgow but also encourage us to reassess the reach and success of Scottish Royalism.

​[6]​ In order to reconstruct the narrative of Glasgow’s experience of the Civil Wars, a wide variety of printed and manuscript source materials were consulted, including burgh records, correspondences, memoirs and official records. While the focus of this article is on Glasgow’s burgh politics and the Royalist faction formed by members of the city’s burgess elite over the course of the 1640s, it is possible to glean invaluable details of widespread political participation, whether in public acts such as rioting or petitioning, or individual actions. It is hoped that this will both stimulate further studies and add to the growing body of research which is uncovering the complexities of loyalty and allegiance during the Civil Wars.

The Eve of War and the Glasgow Assembly (1638)

​[7]​ From the moment that Glasgow became an archdiocese in 1492, the burgh found itself under the controlling influence of the Archbishop of Glasgow. The archbishop’s power over the city survived the Reformation and had been renewed under James VI who granted Glasgow royal burgh status in 1611, with the added caveat that the archbishop would retain municipal control by reserving the right to nominate the provost and bailies (Goatman, 2017: 127). While the city had profited from the support of the Kirk and the crown, the constant influence of the archbishop produced significant tension between the city’s elite and the prelate. In particular, the archbishop’s control over the election of the burgh council denied Glasgow the freedom to elect its own magistrates, a privilege enjoyed by many other burghs. This produced what Allan Macinnes has described as ‘constitutional sparring’ between the burgh’s mercantile and craft elites and successive archbishops (1990: 11). In the years that preceded the Prayer Book Riots (1637), these sparring matches had escalated, with Glasgow’s magistrates launching a legal battle against Archbishop Patrick Lindsay. The dispute arose following a complaint from the burgh council that Lindsay had not supplied the payment of a minister’s stipend, which the archbishop argued was the responsibility of the council. Relations broke down in 1636 when Charles I intervened on the side of the archbishop. The king also took the opportunity to reiterate Lindsay’s authority and jurisdiction over the burgh’s elections (Goatman, 2017: 121, 181-182). The episode made it clear to the burgh magistrates that the crown would not support them against the archbishop, which undoubtedly played on the minds of Glasgow’s urban elite as the Prayer Book Riots unfolded the following year.

​[8]​ Over the summer of 1637, Charles I’s government set about introducing a new book of prayer and canons to Scotland. Composed by Charles and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and given a timid seal of approval by the Scottish bishops, the new liturgy imposed an Anglican service upon the Scottish Kirk. Opponents of Charles’s religious policies accused the new prayer book of backsliding into Catholic church practices and endangering the purity and liberty of the Kirk. On 23 July, at the prayer book’s inaugural reading at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, a riot broke out, sparking open resistance to the new liturgy across the kingdom. In Glasgow, the city was quiet in the immediate aftermath of the St Giles riot. However, in August 1637, when William Annand, a minister from Ayr, and John Lindsay, a minister from Carluke, attempted to preach from the new prayer book at the invitation of Archbishop Lindsay, they caused a ‘great dinne’ amongst female worshipers in Glasgow’s Cathedral (The Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie, 1637-1662, 1841: 20-21). In Annand’s case, between thirty and forty women reportedly cursed, scolded and threatened the minister which resulted in two ‘of the meanest’ women being arrested (ibid). Matters became worse for Annand a few days later when he and a group of ministers were attacked by ‘some hundrdths of inraged women’ brandishing ‘neaves, staves and peats’, from which the clergymen were lucky to escape without serious injury. When reflecting on the incident, the Covenanting minister Robert Baillie suspected that a number of the ‘best qualitie’ within the burgh must have been responsible for orchestrating the attacks (ibid). The entire incident bears striking similarities to the prayer book riot that occurred in Edinburgh. In both instances, women were prominent and it was believed that the disturbances were overseen by burgh elites (Macinnes, 1991: 159-160; Stewart, 2016: 56-58).

​[9]​ The burgh council was initially resistant to involve itself in the unfolding crisis, and like Edinburgh (Stewart, 2006: 227), Glasgow’s council records make no mention of the protests. However, on 20 September a supplication was brought before the Privy Council from the ‘burgh and citie of Glasgow’ which petitioned the king to take the matter of the prayer book before Parliament or the General Assembly in order to ‘delyver us from our fears’ (Leslie, 1830: 48). A month later the council was convinced by Robert Baillie – who originated from Glasgow but was the minister of Kilwinning in Ayr – to send a commissioner to Edinburgh in order to sign a general petition against the prayer book (Extracts 1573-1642, 1876: 390; Letters and Journals: 21). Unlike other burghs, Glasgow did not send its provost to sign the petition. Instead, the council sent Walter Stirling, a senior burgess and guild member (Complaint against the Book of Common Prayer, 1927: 314-383). Paul Goatman has suggested that this was due to Provost James Stewart’s reluctance to place himself in open opposition to the archbishop, his political patron (2017: 182).

​[10]​ As the prayer book opposition started to solidify into physical resistance, fracture lines fissured Glasgow. On 28 February 1638, the National Covenant was signed at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. Shortly afterwards, copies of the Covenant were dispatched to the four corners of the kingdom, with the Covenanters seeking the oaths and written assurances of nobles and commoners alike. The Covenanters’ acquirement of oaths and bonds of support escalated the political situation. Despite the Covenant’s promises of allegiance to the king, the physical action of swearing the Covenant gave the Covenanters a legitimacy which they used to establish the Tables – the executive body formed by the Covenanters to represent themselves – as the de facto ruling regime. In August, the Convention of Royal Burghs met at Stirling and commissioners were required to swear the Covenant. One of Glasgow’s representatives, Colin Campbell, suddenly resigned his commission shortly after arriving in Stirling. When word of this reached Glasgow’s council, it berated his recklessness, fining him for having ‘indangerit’ the burgh (Extracts 1573-1642, 1876: 390). While no explanation is provided in the council’s report of the incident, given Campbell’s later involvement in Glasgow’s Royalist faction, it is likely that this was a response to the Convention’s decision to make the signing of the National Covenant a prerequisite for commissioners’ entry (Spalding, 1841: 106). According to Gilbert Burnet, many of the burgh commissioners had been coerced into obedience by leading Covenanters (1852: 72-73). Thus, Campbell’s departure is likely to have resulted from his refusal to comply. However, many within the burgh did not share Campbell’s stance. In a letter from Archbishop Lindsay to James Hamilton, Marquis of Hamilton and the king’s Commissioner to Scotland, Lindsay complained of disorders within the Presbytery of Glasgow and urged Hamilton to find some solution to the ‘generall combustioune’ (National Records of Scotland [NRS], GD406/1/355).

​[11]​ As the situation across the kingdom deteriorated during the summer of 1638, calls for a Parliament or General Assembly had become deafening. Faced with this crisis, key intelligence gatherer Walter Balcanquhall, Dean of Rochester, advised Charles I that an assembly was inevitable and that the only thing the king could do was choose the field of battle (National Library of Scotland [NLS], Wodrow MSS, Vol. 66, No.37). Reluctantly, Charles agreed to a General Assembly and chose Glasgow as its host. The king’s choice of Glasgow as the venue was no accident, it reflected the belief of his chief advisors that Royalist resistance could be staged from the city. From Glasgow the crown could draw upon the clout which the Marquis of Hamilton could exert from his local estates (Macinnes, 1990: 10-11), as well as benefit from the influence of Archbishop Lindsay and the apparent sympathy of the burgh council and the burgh at large to king’s position.

​[12]​ Glasgow’s council had put off signing the National Covenant until 8 September. Moreover, less than two weeks later, on 22 September, the council welcomed the announcement of the General Assembly and the publication of the King’s Covenant. The King’s Covenant was an officially sanctioned alternative to the National Covenant that the king and his advisors hoped would undermine the Covenanters’ support base and threaten their legitimacy. When the proclamation announcing the King’s Covenant was read aloud at the Mercat Cross in Glasgow, Robert Baillie complained that ‘it was applauded to by the town, by too many with too much joy, without any number of protesting’ (Letters and Journals: 106). The council wrote to the Marquis of Hamilton, thanking him for his efforts and pledging its support to the king (NRS, GD406/1/442). The news was also welcomed by members of Glasgow’s clergy, some of whom wrote to Hamilton echoing the council’s praise (NRS, GD406/1/445). Baillie believed several members of Glasgow’s council and presbytery were working with Hamilton, including Provost Patrick Bell and Bailie William Neilson, (Letters and Journals: 106). Baillie feared that the King’s Covenant had the potential to be ‘the most dangerous divisive motions yet used’ as those who refused to sign it could be branded ‘traitors’ (ibid). These fears were not unfounded. The King’s Covenant had officially created a national Royalist faction in opposition to the Covenanters. This had the effect of polarising the political situation and demanding that individuals take sides.

​[13]​ Amongst the clergymen who had welcomed the King’s Covenant in September were John Strang, Principal of the University of Glasgow, and William Wilkie, Regent of the University of Glasgow and minister of Govan. Both men had been in active communication with Balcanquhall and Hamilton in efforts to galvanise support for the king’s party within the burgh. This was part of a larger campaign, co-ordinated by Hamilton and William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, to secure ‘moderate and discreet’ men within the burghs of Glasgow and Edinburgh to support the king’s prerogative at the upcoming assembly (NRS, GD406/1/596). In this regard, Wilkie and Strang had been hard at work. On 6 November, two weeks before the opening of the General Assembly, Wilkie gleefully reported to Balcanquhall that he had secured a number of signatures for the King’s Covenant, including seven from fellow ministers (Letters and Journals: 482-483). Meanwhile, Strang had galvanised support for the king within the university. After manoeuvring to boost the university’s representation in the assembly from one vote to four, Strang had ensured that these four representatives would be ‘non-covenanters’ (ibid: 133; Reid, 1817: 275). Thanks to the efforts of Strang, Wilkie and Patrick Bell, Robert Baillie stated that, on the eve of the Glasgow Assembly, the city was the greatest opponent to the Covenant in the west (Letters and Journals: 63).

​[14]​ Despite the designs of the king’s supporters in Glasgow, their plan to resist the Covenanters within the assembly began to unravel. The first blow came as the Aberdeen Doctors excused themselves from proceedings. The Doctors were a group of theologians predominantly from King’s and Marischal’s Colleges in Aberdeen who had led the king’s print propaganda war during the summer of 1638 (Macmillan, 1909). Hamilton had planned on using them as a theological battering-ram to test the foundations of the Covenanters’ religious justifications. However, fearing for their safety, the Doctors reneged on their promise of physical support, and instead offered only vocal encouragement (NRS, GD406/1/457; NRS, GD40/1/466; NRS, GD406/1/665). The king’s position deteriorated further when Principal Strang withdrew his twenty-eight-page objection against the Covenant just as Hamilton was about to read it aloud to the assembly (Letters and Journals: 135). Strang had penned the objection to highlight the dangers of signing the National Covenant and to encourage people to sign the King’s Covenant (NLS, Wodrow MSS, Vol. 31, No.2). According to Balcanquhall, upon discovering Strang’s plan to make his objections public at the assembly, John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun, and John Lindsay, Earl of Lindsay, both of whom were leading Covenanters, threatened Strang that ‘he must never looke to live quietly in Glasgow, nor anywhere else in Scotland’ if he made his complaint public (1639: 268). Strang withdrew his protest and the university was stripped of its votes. It was only the friendship which Strang shared with Patrick Bell and Robert Baillie that saved him and the university from further repercussions after Bell and Baillie fought off demands from within the assembly for action to be taken against the university (Letters and Journals: 172). At the same time, Patrick Bell’s attempt to distribute copies of the King’s Covenant to burgesses was interrupted after Loudon confronted the provost about this plan (Letters and Journals: 481-482). Matters were made worse by the fact that the Covenanters had been able to assert themselves amongst the lay representatives at the assembly. Local Covenanters, co-ordinated by the Covenanting leaders, had managed to influence the election of local commissioners with astounding success, far more successfully than their Royalist rivals. If this was not enough, the assembly was also attended by dozens of ‘assessors’, sympathetic laymen who travelled to the assembly in order to lend their physical, but non-voting, support to the Covenanting cause (Mason, 1989: 19-21).

​[15]​ However, the most grievous blow to Royalist prospects came from Glasgow’s burgh council, which instructed its representative at the assembly to vote against Hamilton’s attempt to disband the assembly and then voted in favour of the abolition of Episcopacy and deposition of the Scottish bishops (Extracts, 1573-1642: 394-395). The collapse of the king’s party during the assembly, the reality of what that meant, and the opportunity to oust the archbishop proved too tempting for Glasgow’s magistrates to pass up. The details of how this shift transpired are not clear within the surviving source materials. Indeed, there is no way to tell whether Hamilton’s men on the council such as Patrick Bell put up any resistance to this plan. However, this should not be mistaken as a watershed moment for popular allegiance within the city. Few attending the assembly could have predicted that war would erupt in a matter of months. Indeed, in Glasgow’s case, the aftermath of the assembly rejuvenated anti-Covenanter resistance.

​[16]​ In the months that followed the Glasgow Assembly, attitudes in Glasgow towards the Covenanters soured. Wilkie reported to Balcanquhall that visiting Covenanting ministers received cold receptions within the city, with the masses ‘not so Jesuited by ther Covenant’. This obduracy was noted by the Tables who, according to Wilkie, ‘upbraidet [Glasgow] as being Aberdein’s sister, and of a Laodicean temper’ (Letters and Journals: 487-490). Equating Glasgow to Aberdeen was an astonishing statement. Aberdeen had exemplified Royalist allegiance during 1638-1639 (DesBrisay, 2002; Reid, 1990: 10-30); by connecting the two it is clear that the Tables were concerned by the fact that, as the kingdom slid into civil war, the Covenanters could not rely on Scotland’s second largest city. When war finally broke out in March 1639 following Charles I’s decision to raise an army, the Covenanters were able to mobilise much of the lowlands for their cause. However, ‘the toun of Glasgow was, through the perversness of some few men, much doubted’ (Letters and Journals: 194). While Baillie fails to name these ‘few men’, presumably he was referring to those who had attempted to resist the Covenanters at the assembly, namely Strang, Wilkie and Bell. The Tables became so concerned that they dispatched Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, from Perth to Glasgow in order to ‘keip them right’ (Extracts, 1573-1642: 398; Letters and Journals: 487-490). No details survive of how Argyll achieved this, but his visit was enough to keep the burgh in check.

​[17]​ Such evidence shows the dangers of interpreting political allegiance purely through official records, such as the voting patterns from the General Assembly. It is clear that Glasgow was divided and confused during the opening stages of the Covenanting rebellion. There was substantial support for the anti-prayer book rioters and petitioners, yet support for the Covenant was more subdued, with the King’s Covenant receiving a far warmer welcome in September 1638. Despite this, Glasgow’s council voted in favour of the abolition of Episcopacy. It has been suggested above that this was largely due to the growing resentment of the archbishop within the city coupled with the concerns which surrounded the introduction of the new prayer book. However, we should not mistake this for explicit support for the Covenant. Indeed, when the Covenanters asserted their influence in early 1639, we can see early signs that many within Glasgow were not comfortable with Covenanting rule. The next section will show that anti-Covenanter resistance continued to grow within Glasgow’s burgh council, with Glaswegian Royalists patiently awaiting an opportunity to throw off Covenanting rule.

Montrose’s Occupation and its Aftermath (1645-1646)

​[18]​ In the time between 1639 and the beginning of Montrose’s Royalist rising in 1644, Glasgow had largely conformed to Covenanting rule. Resistance was centred on a faction of burgesses, led by the merchants Colin Campbell and James Bell, the brother of former provost Patrick Bell. The Royalist leadership had been able to influence the council elections of 1641 that saw a sympathetic council elected, led by William Stewart as provost who had been nominated by the Marquis of Hamilton (Extracts, 1573-1642: 432-433). However, this was quickly countered by the Covenanting Parliament passing legislation which secured Glasgow’s right to hold free elections in the future, resulting in a delicate balance of power developing (Extracts, 1630-1662: 47-49). Local Covenanters had also increased their influence, none more so than George Porterfield whose favour amongst the Covenanting leadership had seen him become the de facto commander of Glasgow’s levies and a powerful force within burgh politics.

​[19]​ This uneasy balance was shattered following Montrose’s victory at Kilsyth on 15 August 1645. The day after Montrose’s decisive victory, Glasgow’s council, led by Provost James Bell, surrendered to the marquis and opened its gates to the Royalist commanders. George Wishart, Montrose’s biographer, recorded that upon hearing of the Royalist victory, ‘those who had hitherto concealed their favour to the king’s cause no longer feared to show themselves openly’, especially in Glasgow (1893: 127-128). As the Royalist officers entered the city they were greeted with ‘the joyous acclamations of the people’ (ibid). Glasgow’s council even made sure that the local clergy bowed as the Royalists paraded past them (NRS, PA7/23/2/42; Shepard, 1978: 37). As well as seeing that his men were fed and resupplied, Montrose instructed the council to oversee city-wide celebrations which included lighting bonfires to mark the king’s victories in England, and the publication of a thousand printed reports commemorating the Battle of Kilsyth (NRS, PA7/23/2/42). As Edinburgh had been quarantined due to the plague, the king instructed Montrose to hold a parliament in Glasgow, ordering a meeting for October in order to bring the kingdom back into ‘sound Order’ (NRS, PA7/23/2/34).

​[20]​ For Glasgow’s Royalists, their celebrations were short-lived. On 13 September, the Royalist army was completely routed by David Leslie’s Covenanting force at Philiphaugh. Devastated and disordered, Montrose led what remained of his army back into the north, leaving the lowlands open to the Covenanters. The defeat was compounded by the collapse of the Royalist movement in England following the king’s defeat at Naseby on 14 June, which extinguished any hope that English reinforcements might be used to turn the tide against the Covenanters (Royle, 2005; 353-363). Seventeen days after Philiphaugh, William Hamilton, Earl of Lanark, arrived in Glasgow at the head of a committee formed by the Estates to question the burgh’s council as to their conduct during the late occupation. Lanark, the brother of the Marquis of Hamilton, had been a key figure within the Royalist camp until falling into disfavour with Charles in 1643 and subsequently joining the Covenanters (Scally, 2004). The choice of Lanark as the leader of this committee was undoubtedly intentional, as the earl had been closely involved with developing Royalist networks within the city shortly before his fall from grace (Extracts, 1630-1662, 1881: 57-59; Letters and Journals: 480). His knowledge of who was sympathetic to the king within Glasgow was weaponised to purge the council. The entire council, with the solitary exception of George Porterfield, was removed from office for being ‘accessorie to the sending to and capitulating with James Grahame [Montrose]’ (Extracts, 1630-1662: 80-81). Colin Campbell – who was not even part of the council that year – was included within the group exiled from public office. Even the town clerk, Henry Gibson, was ejected from his office for having written the city’s letter of surrender (ibid: 82-87).

​[21]​ On 29 September, Provost James Bell was called to the city’s tolbooth to answer questions from Lanark’s parliamentary committee. The committee asked Bell why the city did not send any men to fight in the Covenanting army at Kilsyth, what advice the city’s clergy gave when Montrose advanced upon the city, why supplies and shelter were given to the Royalist army, and whether there were any within the burgh’s council who wilfully submitted to Montrose. These questions suggest that the committee had reason to believe that the burgh had, at best, dragged its feet, or worse, had been in active support of the Royalist army. Unsurprisingly, Bell denied any wrongdoing. The provost argued that the burgh had no men spare to send to Kilsyth, and to have done so would have left the burgh defenceless. Bell then accused the city’s clergy of offering no advice on the matter and defended the city’s resupply of the Royalist army as a necessity, claiming that anything which was not voluntarily given was liable to be taken anyway. When concluding his defence Bell shielded his fellow councillors, stating that none of them actively sought the city’s capitulation, but when the town’s inhabitants and clergy had met to discuss their options, none were willing to take up arms against Montrose’s army (NRS, PA7/23/2/42). Bell’s track record suggests that his steering of the burgh into Montrose’s arms was based upon more than pure pragmatism and survival instinct. However, it was a powerful defence.

​[22]​ Unconvinced by Bell’s explanations, the Estates created a committee from Clydeside – which included the Covenanting commander at Kilsyth, Lieutenant-General William Baillie – to oversee the election of a replacement council. Led by John Lindsay, Earl of Crawford-Lindsay, the committee supported the election of Porterfield and his allies. The ousted magistrates were barred from taking up any public offices, and all of Glasgow’s merchants and craftsmen were ordered to recognise the newly elected council as the only legal authority within the burgh (Extracts, 1630-1662: 83-86). The ousted council had been publicly tarred as Royalist dissidents, even if they held no genuine affection for the king’s cause. To ensure that the entire city knew who was in control, three Royalists soldiers captured at Philphaugh were publicly beheaded at the Mercat Cross (Government of Scotland under the Covenanters, 1637-1651, 1982: 7).

​[23]​ Burgh politics, which were already divided, would not recover from this episode until the Restoration. Factional lines were hardened and in the years that followed, both the Royalist Campbell-Bell party and the Covenanting Porterfield bloc exhibited a more strident commitment to their respective causes. This can be seen the following Michaelmas – 29 September, the traditional date for the council’s annual election – when the Estates banned new elections and instructed Porterfield’s council to remain in their positions for the coming term in order to prevent ‘all disorderlie courses, uther mistackis [mistakes] and prejudices’ (Extracts, 1630-1662: 97-98). Not only did this order impose the overtly Covenanting council upon the city for another year, it also overrode the burgh’s right to hold free elections, a fact that must have alienated even moderate councillors. In defiance of the Estates, James Bell summoned the magistrates to the tollbooth on the usual date of the election to select a new council. Porterfield’s council refused to attend. Those that did come re-elected Porterfield as provost, presumably in an attempt to curry favour with the Estates, and elected Colin Campbell, John Anderson, and William Neilson as bailies, all three of whom possessed links to the Royalist faction within the city (ibid: 100).

​[24]​ When news reached the Estates that Bell and his allies had held this unauthorised election, the result was immediately declared illegal and the Estates sent word to the Presbytery of Glasgow to punish those involved. In response, Bell and Campbell rallied around themselves an ‘unordourlie convocatioune of the multitude of the citie of Glasgow’. Under the pretence of seeking forgiveness for their actions during Montrose’s occupation, the crowd forced its way into a presbytery meeting and proceeded to ‘laden’ them with ‘heavy imputations and unjust aspersions’ (Extracts, 1630-1662: 102-107; Records of the Parliament of Scotland [RPS], 1646/11/44; The Records of the Commissions of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, 1646-1647, 1892: 126-128). The presbytery, with the support of Porterfield’s council, denounced the rioters’ ‘malignant and tumultarie cariages’ (Records of the Commissions of the General Assemblies: 126). Parliament responded by branding the rioters as ‘spiritis long sopped in malignancie’ and authorised the arrest of the riot’s leaders (RPS, 1646/11/44). Eleven were identified as the ringleaders and brought to Edinburgh for incarceration within the city’s tolbooth. Four of those arrested, including James Bell and Colin Campbell, spent fifty days in the tolbooth, while lesser figures – like Walter Neilson – spent as little as six days in confinement (Extracts, 1630-1662: 110). During this imprisonment, the Estates received petitions from the ‘inhabitants of the toun of Glasgow’ urging them to release the magistrates. The Estates eventually agreed to release the ringleaders on the condition that they repent their wrongdoings, including those committed during Montrose’s occupation (RPS, 1646/11/55).

​[25]​ Following their release from the tolbooth, the Royalist magistrates were ostracised from burgh politics, with Porterfield solidifying his control over the burgh in a snap election in January 1647. Twice in the space of a year, James Bell, Colin Campbell and their allies had been publicly denounced as Royalists and hazards to the wellbeing of the burgh. Despite this, they had been able to gather significant support within the city, both when they stormed the presbytery and when they benefitted from the petitioning efforts of their supporters. Not only had many Glaswegians defied the orders of the Estates, they had done so on behalf of open Royalists. The presence of Montrose’s army in the area must have given Royalists like Bell a renewed confidence. Indeed, Charles’s call for a return to good order would presumably have been well received by Glasgow’s mercantile elite. However, as the opportunity passed with the Montrose’s defeat at Philiphaugh, Royalists were forced to look to themselves and secure their own safety and security. Nonetheless, the episode had laid Glasgow’s inner conflict bare for all to see, and the ramifications would be felt for years to come.

The Engagement (1647-1648)

​[26]​ The Covenanting council that had recovered control of the burgh in the 1647 elections was confronted with a dilemma after the Engagement was signed on 26 December 1647. The Engagement was a treaty between Charles I and a coalition of moderate Covenanters and Royalists who agreed to fight for the king in exchange for confirmation of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the establishment of a Presbyterian church settlement in England for a trial period of three years. Crucially, the Engagement did not require Charles nor his supporters to subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant. Led by the Duke of Hamilton, the Engagers soon gained a powerful majority within the Scottish Parliament. Yet when a new levy was called to raise men for the Engager army, it was met with a cold shoulder from Glasgow’s staunchly Covenanting council.

​[27]​ Following the suppression of Glasgow’s Royalist faction, the burgh had been subdued for most of 1647. While Porterfield was not re-elected at the 1647 Michaelmas election, he appears to have reverted to organising the military contribution of the burgh to the Estates (Extracts, 1630-1662: 125). However, the Covenanting faction retained firm control over the council with the election of Robert Mack, John Graham and William Lightbodie, all of whom were close allies of Porterfield (ibid: 124-125). Upon receiving the Engagers’ call to arms, the council simply ignored the appeal to mobilise (ibid: 133-135). When the local Committee of War inquired why Glasgow had remained inactive, the council blamed the ‘generall unwillingness to engadge in this warr’ within the city (ibid: 134). Unwilling to entertain such dissent, the Engager Parliament ordered that those within the burgh who refused to give obedience to the Engagement would be arrested and held within Edinburgh’s tollbooth (RPS, 1648/3/182; 1648/3/195). In an ironic turn of events, Porterfield and his allies were all detained and sent to Edinburgh to occupy the same cells only recently vacated by their Royalist rivals. The Engager Parliament justified the arrests by citing written assurances sent to Hamilton from the eight wards of Glasgow, pledging their support for the Engagement and the associated military contributions desired from them (RPS, 1648/3/188). Unfortunately, the details of these assurances do not survive, nor are any of the subscribers’ names mentioned in the parliamentary records. Once the anti-Engagers had been removed from office, Parliament instructed the ousted council from 1645 to take up the vacated positions and organise a fresh election (Extracts, 1630-1662: 137-139). The newly elected council was led by Colin Campbell as provost and staffed exclusively by members of the Royalist faction (ibid: 141-142). The divisions within the city are best seen in the memoirs of Sir James Turner, the commander of the Engager garrison quartered on Glasgow. Turner noted that the populace was split, with the ‘honest and loyall men’ following ‘Coline Campbell, James Bell and Bayliffe James Hamilton’, while the ‘refactorie’ faction was spurred on daily by clergymen who preached ‘disobedience of all civil power’ (Turner, 1829: 53-54).

​[28]​ However, following the defeat of the Engager army at Preston on 17 August 1648 and the signing of the Treaty of Stirling on 27 September 1648, the Engagers’ dominance was crippled, causing yet another shift in Glasgow’s internal politics. Once again, the radical Covenanting Parliament, which had replaced the Engagers, had forced the Royalist council in Glasgow from office. Unsurprisingly, the council was supplanted by Porterfield and his allies who had firmly declared their allegiance to the radical Covenanting faction led by the Marquis of Argyll (Extracts, 1630-1662: 149-150). The retaliation was not limited to the city’s magistrates. Individuals who were deemed Engagers or Royalists were pursued by the new regime through the Act of Classes which was enacted by Parliament on 23 January 1649 (RPS, 1649/1/43). This included the cleric William Wilkie, the Royalist informer from 1638-1639, who was deposed for his refusal to condemn the Engagement (Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Vol. III: 411; RPS, 1649/1/43).

​[29]​ Divisions remained rife within Glasgow for the remainder of the civil war period. Like most other burghs, the city levied support for Charles II and his Army of the Kingdom during 1650 and 1651 (Extracts, 1630-1662: 160-161, 180-181, 188-197, 202-203). Even after the city was occupied by Cromwellian forces, significant amounts of money continued to be transferred from the city into the king’s coffers (MacKenzie, 2016: 76). Nonetheless, this patriotic accommodation did not translate into a ceasefire between the two Glaswegian factions. Indeed, James Bell and Colin Campbell could still be found on the list of those barred from taking the sacrament in May 1649 due to their excommunication following the defeat of the Engagement (Shepard, 1978: 52). There are also several indicators that Royalists remained active within the city. In 1650, during the public reading of a proclamation damning the Marquis of Montrose as a rebel and traitor, a member of the audience ‘callit Johnne Bryson’ started a commotion by defending Montrose as ‘als honest a noble man as was in this kingdome’. Bryson was subsequently arrested and sent to Edinburgh’s tollbooth (Nicholl, 1836: 7-8). Further dissent was recorded by Covenanting ministers who complained in 1651 that the divisions within the Kirk had led to the ‘Malignant partie…gaining in strength within the town [Glasgow]’ (NLS, Wodrow MSS, Vol. 25, No.97). These actions serve as a testimony to the resilience and persistence of Glasgow’s Royalists, but also of their ultimate failure to enact permanent change.


​[30]​ From the evidence presented above, we can draw a number of conclusions as to the situation in Glasgow during the 1640s. Firstly, it is clear that Glasgow was far from a bastion of Covenanting support. The actions of the Bell-Campbell party clearly demonstrate that there was support for the king’s cause from all sectors of Glasgow’s urban society, as demonstrated by the burgh’s acceptance of the King’s Covenant in 1638, the Royalist celebrations of 1645, the storming of the presbytery in 1646 and the popularity of the Engagement within the city. The importance of local leaders, such as Bell, Campbell and Porterfield, is also evident. Using their influence and pull within the burgh’s politics, they were able to lend support to their respective causes. While there are signs of support for the king’s party in 1638, it seems that the opportunity to rid the city of the increasingly tyrannical Archbishop Lindsay was a major influence on the way the burgh voted within the Glasgow Assembly. The fact that Glasgow experienced its own prayer book riot in 1637 and that there was no discernible backlash following the abolishment of Episcopacy suggests that Royalist allegiance was not determined by a commitment to Charles I’s religious settlement. This challenges the arguments of Glenn Burgess who has stated that Scottish Royalists might as well be referred to as Episcopalians (2009: 204-205). The Royalist support from established merchant families is particularly interesting. For some merchants, the crown was undoubtedly associated with stability, trade and the protection of rights. Any hopes that Covenanting rule would be easier on merchants’ purse strings would have been swiftly dispelled between 1640 and 1643 (Macinnes, 1991: 205-206). Therefore, conservatism, the desire for stability and local pragmatism all played a role within Royalist allegiance. The fact that there was clear Royalist support outwith the ranks of the nobility and gentry means that we must re-evaluate our understanding of the movement. Likewise, the weak correlation between Episcopacy and Royalism heightens the importance of further localised studies in order to untangle the connecting strands of allegiance. As has been demonstrated above, the Royalist leadership was invested in fostering local support networks and there are undoubtedly more examples of this yet to be uncovered.

​[31]​ This case study may also help us reflect upon the issues of loyalty in other Scottish burghs and encourage us to rethink the complexities of allegiance. The collapse of the Royalist leadership network following its defeat in 1640 meant that many Royalists were forced either to conform to Covenanting rule or endure persecution. Glasgow demonstrates that, while Royalist sympathisers were willing to offer superficial compliance to the Covenanting regime, the burgh was far from unified under the Covenant. It is unlikely that Glasgow was alone in experiencing these kinds of events, and thus, the reality of life within the Scottish burghs appears to share much in common with the models developed by Stoyles and Ó Siochrú.

​[32]​ A key theme of this article has been the centre’s ability to influence the locality. In Glasgow’s case, the burgh elections were manipulated by both sides during the 1640s, often resulting in the election of a sponsored candidate as provost. As the provost was often the burgh’s representative at Parliament and other official forums, using the sources from these meetings can give a misleading picture of local allegiance. Indeed, it is apparent from Glasgow’s example that Covenanting uniformity could be, and was in some circumstances, coerced. The reality on the ground was that the city was bitterly divided. Glasgow experienced its own civil war, with local leaders opposing one another and using their influence to create disparate factions. The wider political developments tended to dictate which faction was in ascendance at any one time, but even after the fighting stopped the conflict continued to haunt Glasgow. The fact that Colin Campbell was chosen by the Restoration government in 1660 as its candidate for Glasgow’s provostship shows the longevity of the conflict within the city, and the commitment of those involved (Extracts, 1630-1662: 450-452).

​University​ of Glasgow


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