Old Edinburgh

Like all other cities, the story of the origin of Edinburgh, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Scotland, is a web of fact and fancy closely interwoven. The history of the city stretches so far back into the mists of antiquity as almost to elude the most patient research, and the double destruction of the national records, first under Edward I, and again under Cromwell, leaves much dependent on vague and uncertain tradition.

As to the origin of the name "Edinburgh," historians differ. The prenomen is a very common one in Scotland, and is always descriptive of a slope. Thus, near Lochearn-head, is the shoulder of a hill called Edin-a-chip, "the slope of the repulse," so named from some encounter with the Romans. It was a favoured theory of Sir Walter Scott that Edinburgh was the Dinas Eiddyn the slaughter of whose people in the sixth century is lamented by Aneurin, a bard of the Ottadeni. In the "Myrvian or Cambrian Archaeology" mention is made of Caer-Eiddyn, or the fort of Edin, which was the stronghold of a famous chief, Myndoc, who led the Celtic Britons in the deadly battle with the Saxons tinder Ida, the Flame-bearer. This was fought in the year 510, at Catraeth, in Lothian, where the flower of the Ottadeni were left upon the field; and this is believed to be the burgh afterward named after Edwin.

The disquisitions of antiquarians regarding the origin and etymology of Edinburgh are extremely interesting, and there is great temptation to linger over them. The most plausible conclusion, however, is that the name comes from Edwin of Deira, the first Christian King of Northumberland, who after his victory over Aethelfrith of Bernicia, A. D. 626, fortified the Castle Rock as his northern outpost, calling it Edwin's Burgh; " burgh " being synonymous with castle or town.

The early history of Edinburgh is embraced in that of the Castle and Abbey. Under the protection of the fortress the rude huts of the early dwellers clustered, and advanced cautiously down along the rocky ridge of the town. Later, in the security and affluence of a more peaceful era, rose the consecrated walls of Holyrood, which became the centre of wealth and learning to the semi-barbarous Saxons of the fertile Lowlands.

Watkeys, Frederick William. Old Edinburgh; being an account of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Scotland, including its streets, houses, notable inhabitants, and customs in the olden time. Published in 1908, at Boston, by L.C. Page & Company

Table of Contents

Volume 1

I. Old Edinburgh I
II. In Early Times 23
III. In The Time Of The Stuarts 48
IV. In The Time Of The Stuarts (Continued) 80
V. Under Mary Of Guise 107
VI. Queen Mary's Edinburgh 122
VII. In The Time Of James VI 172
VIII. In The Time Of The Covenanters 191
IX. The Union With England And The Rebellion Of 1745 211
X. The Castle 233
XL The Castle Hill And Lawn Market 256
XII. St. Giles, And Parliament Square 290
XIII. The High Street 318
XIV. The Canongate 350

List of Illustrations

Mary, Queen Of Scots - Frontispiece
Princes Street, Looking West 8
The Old Town Of Edinburgh (Diagram) 9
The West Bow 14
Blackfriars Wynd In 1837 16
The Castle 24
Robert II, King Of Scotland 48
James I, King Of Scotland 52
James II, King Of Scotland 64
James III, King Of Scotland 68
Margaret Of Denmark, Queen Of James III 70
James IV, King Of Scotland 78
Margaret Tudor, Queen Of James IV 80
James V, King Of Scotland 98
Mary Of Guise, Queen Of James V 107
John Knox 141
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, King - Consort Of Scotland 143
Henry, Lord Darnley, And Mary, Queen Of Scots 146
The Death Of Rizzio 149
James Hepburn, Earl Of Bothwell 154
James Stuart, Earl Of Moray, Regent Of Scotland 172
James Douglas, Earl Of Morton, Regent Of Scotland 174
James VI Of Scotland And I Of England 176
Anne Of Denmark, Queen Of James VI Of Scotland And I Of England 178
James Graham, Marquis Of Montrose 198
John Maitland, Duke Of Lauderdale 206
John Graham Of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee 210
The "Young Chevalier" 224
The Castle From The Grassmarket 233
Mons Meg 240
"Lavs Deo" House, Castle Hill 265
Head Of West Bow, Lawnmarket, In 1830 269
St. Giles 290
Interior Of St. Giles, Looking East 292
Plan Of St. Giles (Diagram) 294
Montrose Monument 302
Lord Braxfield 309
Hon. Henry Erskine 310
Through A High Street Close 326
John Knox's House 344
The Nether - Bow Port From The East 350
Moray House 362
The "Speaking House" 369

Volume II

I. Holyrood 1
II. Around The Cowgate And Grass-Market 36
III. Old Greyfriars 66
IV. Calton Hill 80
V. Sir Walter Scott's Edinburgh 89
VI. Literary Edinburgh And The University 130
VII. Old Manners And Customs 161
VIII. Belles And Beaux 174
IX. Convivial Edinburgh 192
X. Old Time Clubs And Taverns 209
XI. The Edinburgh Stage 233
XII. Ancient Trades 246
XIII. The Old Tolbooth, And Rogues And Criminals 263
XIV. The Plague 290
XV. Witchcraft 301
XVI. The New Town 321

List of Illustrations

Abbey Strand Sir Walter Scott - Frontispiece
Holyrood And Arthur's Seat 4
The Nave, Holyrood Chapel 7
Western Doorway, Holyrood Chapel 8
Jeanie Deans' Cottage 31
Symson The Printer's House, Cowgate 43
The Flodden Wall, In The Vennel 58
The Potterrow 63
Old Greyfriars' Church 66
Martyrs' Monument 71
Heriot's Hospital 78
Edinburgh In 1560 80
Lasswade Cottage No
The Canongate During The Procession Of George IV, August 20, 1822 126
William Drummond Of Hawthornden 136
Allan Ramsay 142
The University, South Bridge 152
John Tait, The Broom Peddler 162
A Belle And Beau 174
Susanna, Countess Of Eglinton 186
Henry Home, Lord Kames 192
Lord Newton 196
Johnnie Dowie's Tavern 226
Johnnie Dowie 228
William Coke And John Guthrie 230
A Morris Dancer 234
Mr. And Mrs. Lee Lewes 236
Mr. Clinch And Mrs. Yates 238
Old Playhouse Close 241
St. Giles From The Northwest 252
George Heriot 256
The Old Tolbooth ("The Heart Or Midlothian ") 264
Captains Of The Town Guard 266
George Smith And Deacon William Brodie 276
Greyfriars' Churchyard 293
Facsimile Of A Plate In A Rare Black-Letter Tract On Witchcraft Printed In 1591, Entitled " Newes From Scotland " 301
The New Town Of Edinburgh (Diagram) 323
Roseburn House 343
Pinkie House 345
Hawthornden House 346
Vale Of Roslin 348

Volume 1

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The Plague

Edinburgh did not escape the visitations of that frightful scourge, the Plague, or Pest, which so ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages. This dreaded disease was a malignant and fatal contagious sickness, resembling in its nature typhus fever. It was characterized by buboes, or swelling of certain lymphatic glands, and frequently attended by purpuric spots, due to a rupture of the blood vessels under the skin. These marks were the so-called " plague spots," and were always considered a fatal sign. During the various epidemics throughout Europe, the mortality ranged from 50 to 90 per cent.

This disease, which in olden times was considered to be a visitation of God to punish the wickedness of the people, we now know to have its origin in a specific germ. The conditions most favourable for the development of the plague are poor nutrition, overcrowding, bad ventilation, uncleanliness, and the saturation of the soil with filth. We thus see that all these conditions were realized in the Old Town when we remember its sanitary state.

In the year 1513 the date of the frightful disaster at Flodden the terror and mourning in the stricken city was intensified by the presence of the plague within its walls. It was the old superstition that the pest always portended or accompanied some great general calamity.

The plague again in 1530 laid its fell hand upon Edinburgh, and a curious entry exists in the Burgh records, where Marione Clerk is convicted by the magistrates of concealing her infection, and of having " past amongis ye nychtbouris of this toune to ye chapell of Sant Mary Wynd on Sonday to ye mess, and to hir sisteris houss and vther placis, doand quhat wes in hir till haif infekkit alle ye toune." This unfortunate woman for going to church during her illness was convicted and drowned in the " Quarell Holes."

Hanging was not at all uncommon for this offence of concealment, and the case below quoted is recorded under August 2d of this same year: "The quhilk day forsamekle as it wes perfytlie vnderstand and kend that Dauid Duly, tailyour, has haldin his wife seyk in ye contagious seiknes of pestilens ij dayis in his houss, and wald nocht revele ye samyn to ye officiaris of ye toune quhill scho (she) wes deid in ye said seiknes. And in ye meyn tyme ye sayde Dauid past to Sanct Gelis Kirk quhilk wes Sonday, and thair said mess amangis ye cleyne pepill, his wife beand in extremis in ye said seiknes, doand quhat wes in him till haif inf ekkit all ye toune. For the quhilk causis he wes adjudgit to be hangit on ane gebat befor his awin durr, and that wes gevin for dome."

It appears, however, that in this case David miraculously escaped by reason of the breaking of the rope when he was swung from the gibbet, for the record says later: " becaus at ye will of God he has eschapit and ye raip brokin, and fallin of ye gibbat, and is ane pure (poor) man with small barnis, and for pete of him, ye prouest, bailies and counsall, bannasis ye said Dauid this toune for all ye dais of his lyf, and nocht to cum thairintill in ye meyn tyme, vnder ye pain of deid."

The " Diurnal of Occurrents " notes under the date of Sept. 8, 1568, that " Ane callit James Dalgleish, merchant, brought the pest to Edinburgh." The pestilence prevailed until February, and is said to have carried off 2,500 persons in Edinburgh, or about one-tenth of the population. The public policy was directed rather to the preservation of the untainted than to the care of the sick. Selfishness ruled the day, and the inhumanity towards the humbler classes was beyond belief. " Maister Gilbert Skeyne, Doctour in Medicine," remarks in his little tract on the pest printed in Edinburgh at this time, that " Every ane is become sae detestable to the other (whilk is to be lamentit) and specially the puir in the sight of the rich, as gif they were not equal with them touching their creation, but rather without saul or spirit, as beasts degenerate fra mankind."

Dr. Skeyne's treatise gives us an idea of the views of the medical profession of those days regarding the pest. It proceeds, in his opinion, from a corruption of the air, which he traces to the wrath of the just God at the sins of mankind. But to show that even in the old days medical observation and judgment were not wanting, even if treatment was inefficient, he states that there are inferior causes. These he mentions as corrupting animal matters and filth, unwholesome food and bad water. He gives a variety of curious recipes and rules of treatment, expressed partly in Latin, and partly in English.

Again, under October 14, 1574, it is recorded that the plague entered Edinburgh, " brought in by ane dochter (daughter) of Malvis Curll, out of Kirkaldy." The Court of Session abstained from sitting in consequence, and the kirk-session later appointed " ane public fast and humiliation to last for eight days" to remove the scourge. Apparently the disease did not claim many victims at this time.

King James VI. tells us, in his " Basilicon Doron," that " the pest always smites the sickarest such as flies it furthest and apprehends deepliest the peril thereof." It is to be noted, however, that whenever the plague appeared in " Jamie's " vicinity, the royal person was removed to more salubrious parts with great and exceeding celerity. When he was hunting at Ruthven, in September, 1584, " word came that there were five or six houses affected with the plague in Perth, where his Majesty's servants were for the time. Whereupon his Majesty departed the same night with a very small train to Tullibardine, and next day to Stirling, leaving his whole household servants enclosed in the place of Ruthven, with express command not to follow, nor remove forth of the same, until they saw what became of them on the suspicion." In May, 1585, the pest was brought by a servant-woman to the Fish-market in Edinburgh, where it " was first knawn to be in Simon Mercerbank's house." On the very day the disease appeared in Edinburgh, King " Jamie" suddenly remembered an important engagement at Dirleton with the

Earl of Arran, and departed so swiftly, that to quote an old saying, " you could not see his heels for dust." The pest raged in the city until the following January, and many died, the total number being about 2,000. All those who were able to do so fled from the city. The people attributed the severity of this pestilence to the infamous life of the Earl of Arran and his lady, then the ruling power of Scotland.

The plague, which continued to appear from time to time in Edinburgh, made its last and most fatal visitation in 1645. So fiercely did it rage that it is said there were scarcely sixty men left capable of defending the city. When the Marquis of Montrose, therefore, wrote to the Magistrates and Council after his victory over the Covenanters at Kilsyth, demanding the immediate liberation, under threats of fire and sword, of the Earl of Crawford, with other political prisoners who had been confined in the Tolbooth, the Magistrates had no alternative but to obey. Montrose was prevented solely by the plague from advancing and taking the city.