[The following passage from the Chambers 1838 Gazetteer of Scotland appears on pages 283-92. In transcribing the Internet Archive online version, I have occasionally added paragraphing for easier on-screen reading. The drawing comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s EdinburghGeorge P. Landow.]

Decorated initial M

n the reign of William, in the latter end of the twelfth, and beginning of the thirteenth century, Edinburgh began to come into notice as a convenient place of meeting for conventions of prelates and barons, and its importance was increased by William converting it into a place of mintage, an honour only conferred on places of note. In 1174, in order to regain his liberty, William surrendered Edinburgh Castle to Henry II. of England, and it was only restored to the Scottish nation in 1186, by the marriage of William to Ermengard, the English princess, who brought it as a dower. In the ensuing reign of Alexander II., that youthful monarch, held his first parliament in Edinburgh, in the year 1214, and this event served to give it still more the air of a capital and seat of supreme justice. When Alexander, in 1221, married Joan, the princess of England, he made Edinburgh the place of his residence for some time. In 1239, Edinburgh was selected as the most appropriate place for a general council of the Scotican church, assembled by the papal legate. Alexander III., both before and after his marriage to Margaret, daughter of Henry III., at York, in 1251, made Edinburgh Castle his royal residence, and place for the dispensation of justice; and before his demise, it was constituted the safe depository of the principal records, and of the regalia of the kingdom. During the reign of Alexander III. when the nation had already divided itself into two powerful factions, the party favouring the English interests, with the Earl of Dunbar at their head, entered the Castram Puellarum, and, expelling the patriot nobles, took charge of the king and queen. This event is recorded as the earliest instance of two factions, meeting in hostile collision, within the limits of Edinburgh. The death of Alexander, which opened the wars of the succession, was fatal to the peace of Edinburgh. In June 1291, the town and castle were surrendered to Edward I. as lord paramount of the whole kingdom. On the 8th of July, 1292, he received the fealty of the abbot of Holyrood, and on the 29th of the same month, on his return from the north, that of the abbot of Newbotle, and of others, in the chapel of the castle.

The Old City from Salisbury Crags by R. Kent Thomas. 1879. Click on image to enlarge it.

After the fatal battle of Dunbar, in 1294, Edward advanced through Lothian to Edinburgh, and captured the castle, which had for some time been withdrawn from under his authority. On the 28th of August, 1296, the "alderman of the burgh of Edinburgh," and the community at large, swore fealty to this conquering English sovereign. On his departure he committed the castle with the adjacent sheriffdoms to the keeping of proper functionaries, by whom it appears to have been kept till 1312-15, when it was taken by assault, under the able conduct of Randolph, the nephew of Robert Bruce. In 1322, Edward II. advanced to Edinburgh, but being obliged to retire, from want of provisions, his soldiers plundered the Abbey of Holyrood. Four years later, this religious house was the seat of the fourteenth parliament of Bruce, and in 1327-8, a still more important parliamentary assemblage took place at Edinburgh, wherein the representatives of the boroughs were first admitted among the estates, and the treaty of Northampton, by which Edward III. acknowledged the independence of Scotland, was confirmed. Robert I., in the last year of his reign, granted a charter to the people of Edinburgh, which recognised their ancient privileges, and added new.

The Castle by R. Kent Thomas. 1879. Click on image to enlarge it.

The next event connected with the place occurred during the brief usurpation of Edward Baliol in 1333-4, when that vassal-king held a parliament in the Chapel of the Abbey of Holyrood, in which it was unanimously agreed to surrender the independence of the crown, and to grant Edward a large share of the south part of Scotland. Accordingly, the town, castle, and county of Edinburgh, with the constabularies of Haddington and Linlithgow, were rendered up. Proceeding in pursuit of other objects, Edward III. left Edinburgh in an unguarded condition, in which state it was approached by the Count Guy of Namur and a body of troops in the English service, when, as noticed in the description of the shire, he suffered a severe defeat upon the Borrough Moor, and was chased through the streets with great slaughter.

In the autumn of 1335, Edward III. spent much of his time in Edinburgh, and repaired the defences of the castle, which had been razed by Bruce. In 1337, Edinburgh Castle, still in the custody of the English, was besieged by Sir Andrew Moray, the guardian of Scotland, on his return from wasting Cumberland, but without success, and it was only through an ingenious stratagem, executed by Sir William Douglas, the Black Knight of Liddisdale, in 1341, that the fortress was secured by the Scottish patriots. On this occasion, a shipmaster, with a party of his sailors, arrived at the gates of the castle from Leith, carrying barrels of wine and hampers of provisions, which he pretended it was his desire to sell to the English governor and his garrison. But getting an entrance, under this pretext, they raised the war-shout of Douglas, and the Knight of Liddisdale rushed in with his soldiers and secured the castle.

In the course of the disturbed reign of David II., Edinburgh, or the Abbey of Holyrood, was the frequent place of parliamentary meetings, at which discussions took place of a very momentous nature. The town was also a frequent place of mintage, and, at this era, it al286 ready stood at the head of all the burghs in Scotland. In the reign of Robert II., about half a century later, the Castle of Edinburgh continued to be a royal residence, and the town received the reinforcement of French knights who came to assist in the warlike expeditions of the king. The Church of St. Giles, (the first time it comes into notice in history,) was selected, at this period, as a place for deliberating on a predatory warfare on the borders.

It was at this epoch, 1384, that Edinburgh was visited by Froissart, who, with more courtesy than truth, called the town the Paris of Scotland, though it was in such a miserable condition, that out of four thousand houses, of which it consisted, none were found worthy of lodging the French knights, while Froissart, it appeared, lived in the Castle of Dalkeith. The war of aggression carried on by Robert produced the just retaliation of Richard II., who, in 1385, with a numerous force, laid waste the country, and burnt the town, with St. Giles's Church, and many other sacred buildings. Such calamities induced the eldest son of the king, who was constituted governor of the kingdom, and soon assumed the sovereignty, under the title of Robert III-, to allow the building of houses within the walls of the castle, the only strength which had escaped the storm. Before the close of the reign of Robert III., he made various grants out of the revenues of Edinburgh, which may be supposed to evince the prosperity of the town, however mean it continued in appearance. The repeated aggressions of the Scots, after a peace of twelve years, again brought a hostile English force before Edinburgh, under Henry IV., who unsuccessfully assaulted the castle, and luckily raised the siege without injuring the town. Meantime, throughout the reigns of Robert II. and III., the town continued a place of mintage, as is certified by the different coins now extant, which exhibit on the obverse side, the invariable legend, "Villa de Edinburgh," villa implying that it was not a fortified town. Under the regencies of Albany and his son Murdoch, Edinburgh partook of the common miseries of the country; yet, in 1423, when a ransom was proposed to be paid for the release of James I. from his captivity in England, Edinburgh was able to give its bond for 50,000 merks of English money. James, on his return, frequently h onoured Edinburgh with his residence, and it will be remembered that in 1429, it was before the high altar of the Chapel of Holyrood that he and his court received the abject submission of Alexander, the Lord of the Isles. The place of residence of the king was, in all probability, the lodgings of the monks of this religious house, as it was in this place that the queen was delivered of the young prince, afterwards James II. A great part of the money of James II. was also coined in Edinburgh.

From the era of the murder of James I. at Perth, in 1436-7, maybe dated the origin of Edinburgh as a capital. Neither Perth, nor Scone, Stirling nor Dunfermline, being able to offer security to royalty against the designs of the nobility, Edinburgh and its castle were thencj selected as the only places of safety for the royal household and functionaries of government. The infant sovereign was crowned in the chapel of Holyrood, in which sat the first parliament of his reign. In 1440, William, sixth Earl of Douglas, with his brother and an attendant, having been invited to dine in the castle, underwent a mock trial, at which the king presided; and, being condemned to death, "they were all beheaded," according to Godscroft, "in the back court of the castle, that lieth to the west." This historian of the Douglasses has transmitted a popular malediction, which was long applied in reference to that terrible scene:

Edinburgh castle, toune and toure,
God grant ye sinke for sinne;
And that even for the black dinour,
Earl Douglas gat therein!

For several years after this event, Edinburgh, its castle, and neighbourhood were the objects of contest and spoliation by the opposing factions of Crichton, the chancellor, and the king. In 1445, the castle was delivered up to the royal power by Crichton, after a deliberate siege. In the midst of these troubles, Edinburgh became more and more the object of attachment to James II., who gave it a great variety of grants, as to the holding of fairs and markets, the levying of customs, and rights to property. Besides these immunities James II. conferred on Edinburgh the pre-eminent privilege "to fosse, bulwark, wall, toure, turate, and uther wais to strengthen the burgh, in what manner of wise or degre that beis maste spedefule to the provost and community of Edinburgh," who lived at the time in "dreed of the Evil and Skaith of our Enemies of England." The grant for thus walling the city for the first time, was dated at Stirling, 1 '150, and shortly after another ordinance was issued giving the magistrates the authority of assessing the inhabitants for the support of such a serviceable undertaking. The wall, so raised, encompassed the town on all sides but the north, where it was little required by the steepness of the banks, the height of the houses, and the North Loch, which lay in the bottom of the vale, and was hemmed in at the east end, to give it the character of an extensive wet ditch. The wall on the south side of the town hemmed in the grounds at the back of the High or Market Street, and crossed the town at the line which divides it from the Canongate.

Planestones Close, Canongate by R. Kent Thomas. 1879. Click on image to enlarge it.

In the month of June, 1449, there was witnessed a royal pageant in Edinburgh of a novel nature. Mary of Gueldres, whom James II. had married by his proxies at Brussels, landed at Leith on the 1st of April, and attended by her escort, proceeded on horseback behind the Count de Vere, to her appointed lodging in the convent of the Grey Friars, and in the course of the following week her espousals and coronation were celebrated in the abbey of Holyrood with uncommon splendour. Eleven years afterwards the munificent prince who had been so kind a patron of Edinburgh, was brought to it a lifeless corpse from Roxburgh, and was interred in the same chapel which had been the scene of his coronation; his heroic widow survived only three years, and was buried in the Trinity College Church, which she had founded. Throughout the turbulent and inefficient reign of James III. Edinburgh was the seat of the court and regular parliament. In 1461, the town was visited by Henry VI., his son, queen, and nobles, after the defeat of his party at Towton, and being hospitably entertained, he granted liberty to the citizens to trade to every part of his kingdom, on "paying the same duties as the people of London; but this unhappy prince not being restored to the throne, his grant was of no ultimate benefit. In July, 1469, Edinburgh was again the scene of the introduction of a foreign queen, in the person of Margaret of Denmark, who had been selected as a wife to James III. and like her predecessor, according to Wyntoun, was "maryit in Holyrood-house in gret dignitie,"

James III. gave additional immunities to the citizens of Edinburgh, but the most remarkable of his grants was one settling the site of the markets in and about the town, which, as illustrating the state of domestic traffic here about the middle of the fifteenth century, we take the liberty of quoting: It is dated October, 1477.

It is by our special charge, statute and ordained by the provost, bailies, and council of our burgh of Edinburgh, for the honour, profit, and honesty of our said burgh, and plenishing of void places within the same, that the markets to be holden in time coming in the same, upon the market-days, fair-days, and other days needful, shall be holden and set on this wise, as after follows. That is to say, in the first place, the market of hay, straw, grass, and horse-meat to be used and holden in the Cowgait, from Forester's Wynd down to Peblis' Wynd; also the fish market from the Frere Wynd to the Netherbow, on both sides of our common street; also, the saltmarket to be holden in Neddreis Wynd; also, the crames of chapmen to be set from the Belhouse down to the Trone, on the north side of our North Street; also, the hatmakers and skinners foremost there on the opposite side of the same; also, the wood and timber market, from Dalrimpill Yard to the Gray-frers, and westwart; also, the shoe makers or cordiners, from Forester's Wynd-end, westwart to Dalrimpill West Yard Dike; also, the red barkit leather with them; also, the nolt- market of carcases and mutton, about the Trone, and so down through to the Frere Wynd; also, all patricks, pluvars, capons, conyngs, chickens, and all other wild fowls tame to be used and sold about the market cross, and in no other place; also, all quick beasts, kye, and oxen, not to be brought into the town, but under the wall, far west at our stable; also, the meal market of all grain and corn, from the Tolbooth up to Liberton's Wynd; also, from thence upward to the Trevess, the market of all cotton cloth, white, gray, and all other cloth which is within six quarters; and all lining cloth to be sold there, and in no other place; also, all butter, cheese, wool, and sic like goods that should be weighed, to be used at the Overbow, and a Trone set there, and not to be opened while the hour of nine forenoon; also, all Trone work belonging to cutlers, smethys, lory-mars, lockmakers, and all sic workmen, to be and beneath the Netherbow, before and about Saint Mary's Wynd; also, all old graith and gear to be used and sold on the Friday market, before the Gray-frers, like as is used in other countries. The whilk statutes and ordinance and settling of markets as is above written, for the causes foresaid, we ratify and approve by our Letters," &c.

This document is now exceedingly curious, inasmuch, as it not only shows us that all goods were sold in the open market at the time it was drawn up, but points out the precise spots on the High Street, Grassmarket, and Cowgate, where the particular markets were held, which, as may hereafter be noticed, are in some instances the same as in the present day, after the lapse of three hundred and sixty years. Towards the end of the reign of James III., his brother, the Duke of Albany, conspired to supplant him on the throne, and being imprisoned in the castle, escaped to France, from whence he proceeded to London, and intrigued with Edward IV. to seize the sovereignty of Scotland, and hold it from the King of England, on the same infamous terms as those upon which John Baliol was content to hold it from Edward I.

Edward IV. on some pretences regarding the fulfilling of treaties, dispatched an army into Scotland, under the Duke of Gloucester (afterwards Richard III.) who, along with Albany, wasted the Merse and Lothian, and threatened Edinburgh with destruction. On the entreaty of Albany, the town was, however, spared, and the intruders were content with receiving such presents as the merchants were able to offer them. On the 1st of April, the English Garter King-at-Arms, ascended the platform of the Cross, and summoned the King of Scotland to perform all that he had engaged to Edward, and to pardon Albany. In the meanwhile, James was with his forces at Lauder, but his favourites being put to death, and his army dispersed, he was carried to the capital, where, after pardoning Albany, he had to pacify Gloucester by the cession of the ancient town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which was thus finally lost to Scotland. To do away with all cause for further molestation on the part of Edward, the citizens of Edinburgh agreed to pay the English sovereign certain sums which he had advanced in pursuance of a contract for the marriage of his daughter to James' son. This very strange, and, to us, somewhat mysterious occurrence in history, redounded greatly to the honour of the town of Edinburgh, which received additional privileges for its extreme loyalty. James constituted the provost hereditary sheriff within the town; and gave the corporation the fines and escheats arising from the office. He empowered the magistrates to make laws for the better government of the people within their jurisdiction. He exempted them from the payment of certain duties; and empowered them to exact customs on some merchandizes, which might be imported at Leith. Moreover, as a perpetual remembrancer, saith Maitland, of the loyalty and bravery of the Edinburghers, on the above occasion, the king granted them a banner, with power to display the same in defence of their king, their country, and their own rights.

This flag, of which there have been many ridiculous legends propagated, as for instance, that it was once used in the crusades, and planted by the Trades of Edinburgh on the walls of Jerusalem, is still in existence, and is esteemed a species of palladium of the city. It receives, from its colour, the name of the Blue Blanket, and remains in custody of the Convener of the Trades, at whose appearance therewith, it is reported by tradition, that not only the artificers of Edinburgh are to repair to it, but all the craftsmen within Scotland, and fight under the Convener of Edinburgh. On great public occasions, such as a temporary visit of a royal personage, this faded memorial of the devotion of the city to the house of Stewart, is brought forth by its complacent keepers to add dignity to the pageant, and astonish, by its ideal antiquity, the good folk of the town.

By its prompt performance of all its stipulations with England, during these terrible times, we are induced to consider Edinburgh as having been then a town of no small consideration. It was called by one writer ditisimum oppidum, and Maitland has given us a list of some of its revenues, which shows that the phrase was not inappropriate.

The Canongate Tolbooth, Looking West by John Fulleylove, RI. (1907). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

It would be of no service to present a list of the number of merks received by the town from all its various sources of support, but some items, as pointing out certain valuable statistical facts, are worthy of notice. "We reduce the sums into Sterling money: Eight shops under the northern side of the Old Tolbooth were annually let for six shillings and eightpence each; of five shops under the southern side of the same building, one was rented at eight shillings and fourpence, three at four shillings and twopence, and one at three shillings and fourpence; several shops in the Luckenhooths were let at similar rents; and six shops, in the same place, belonging to skinners, were let at so low a sum as two shillings and sixpence each. The prices of bread and other articles of sustenance, were then equally low. When the loaf of thirteen ounces and three quarters in weight, was sold for a penny, the people complained of dearth; and for sometime the wheat was sold in open market for something less than a shilling per bol£ We find that the town-council of Edinburgh, at the same period, ordained the gallon of ale to be sold for a penny farthing, and the wages of a journeyman mason to be about the sum of ninepence a-week.

In 1497, a dangerous and loathsome foreign distemper, or, as it was then entitled, "a contagious siknes callit the Grandgore," having broken out in Edinburgh, the king, by a proclamation, ordered the magistracy to put out of the town all infected persons, who were "to compeir upoun the sandis of Leith, and thair they should fynd botis reddilie furneist with victuals, to have them to the Inch, and there to remaine quhill God provyde for their health." In this way the island of Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth, was constituted a lazar-house for the reception of the afflicted, who, it seems, were cured by being sent thither. About the same period a curious practice prevailed in Edinburgh, in consequence of the number of poor; it consisted in the wealthier order of citizens being obliged, under a penalty, to take their turns in parading the thoroughfares, in the character of mendicants, supplicating alms for those who were unable to do so themselves. The town must assuredly have been then suffering considerably from the number of paupers, as a coordinate measure with the above was the seizure of the revenues of the hospital of St. Alary for their relief.

Holyrood House. Hanslip Fletcher. From Edinburgh revisited, by James Bone, with lxxv drawings by Hamslip Fletcher. (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1911), p. 15. Click on image to enlarge it.

James III., in his latter years, made Edinburgh castle the depository of his treasure, valuable effects, and ordnance. The latter, we are told, consisted of two great curtaldis, which had been sent from France, ten falcons, thirty iron cast guns, and sixteen carts for powder, and stone bullets. In 1488, on his murder near Stirling, the whole fell into the power of his rebellious subjects. In the same year, the first parliament of James IV. was held in the city, and for some time the castle, city, and shire, were under the domination of Patrick, Earl of Bothwell. As James grew up in years, Edinburgh became a busy scene of magnificent entertainments, in which he greatly delighted. He frequently proclaimed tournaments to be held at Edinburgh, to which were invited the knights of every country: "The fame whereof," saith Pitscottie, "caused many errant knights to come out of strange countries to Scotland, because they heard of the knightly games of the king, his noblemen, and gentlemen." We are enabled to state that the places on which these chivalric tournaments were usually held were either the low ground south of the castle, or in the equally low ground at the north base of the Calton Hill, now covered by some iron and brass manufactories; such localities being chosen on account of the accommodation afforded to spectators by the adjacent rising grounds.

View from Calton Hill from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh. Click on image to enlarge it.

In 1503, on the marriage of James to "Lady Margaret," the eldest daughter of Henry VII., Edinburgh was the scene of a gorgeous royal pageant, formed by the king, his court, and the queen elect, on their entrance into the city. The English princess and her retinue arrived by way of Dalkeith, at which she had spent some joyous days, before entering the town, and when at last she reached the capital no expense or extravagance was spared to render her welcome complete. She was removed from her " richly enorned litere," and placed on horseback behind the king, and thus, attended by a vast concourse of persons well mounted, the cavalcade proceeded through the town, which was hung in many places with tapestry, with "the houses and wyndowes full of lordes, ladyes, gentylewomen, and gentylemen, and in the streyts war sae grett multitude of people without number that it was a fayre thing to se: The wiche people was verey glad of the comying of the said quene And in the churches of the sayd towne, bells rang for myrthe. Then the noble company passed out of the said towne to the churche of Holycrosse; out of which cam the archbishop of Saunt Andrew, brother to the king, his crosse borne before hym, accompanyed witli many bishops and abbots in their pontificals. And in the enteryng of the churche the kynge and queene light doun, and after led her to the grett auter, wher was a place ordained for them to kneel upon two cushyons of cloth of gold: "But," continues Young, the quaint historian of the ceremonial, an English herald, who had accompanied the princess out her own country, "the kynge wolde never kneel doun first, but both togeder. After all reverances doon at the church, the kynge transported himself to the pallais, through the clostre, holdynge allwayes the queene by the body, and hys hed bare, tyll he brought her within her chammer."

This notice of a "pallais " adjoining the abbey of Holyrood, is the earliest which occurs of there being such an edifice, and leaves us to suppose that the cloisters and lodgings of the canons, from their proximity to Edinburgh, and internal convenience, had in the course of years become the regular residence of the royal family, when at the capital, and not compelled to seek refuge within the barriers of the castle. The erection of a building intended specially as a royal palace at Holyrood, did not take place till the succeeding reign; but for many years before, we find the title of palace by no means uncommon, as applied to the royal residence on this spot. In 1508, the king empowered the town to let the grounds of the Borough-moor, and their marsh denominated the common myre. The citizens were no sooner in possession of this grant, than they set about clearing the grounds, by cutting the trees with which it had continued covered. It seems so much wood was cut down, that purchasers could not be found for it, till the magistrates enacted that whosoever should purchase as much as was sufficient to make a new front to his house, might extend the same seven feet further into the street. In consequence of this unlucky edict, Edinburgh was in a short time filled with houses of wood instead of stone, and the principal street was reduced fourteen feet in breadth. The year 1513 was the epoch of a great and dreadful plague in Edinburgh, and also of the great national calamity of the defeat at Flodden, by which, it might be said, the very flower of the nation was "wede away."

James IV. had been joined in his ill-starred adventure by the magistrates and many of the burgesses of Edinburgh, almost all of whom perished in battle. The pro-magistracy left to govern the town, learnt what had taken place next day, and apprehending an immediate invasion on the part of the English, took the most vigorous measures for the defence of the city. They instantly ordered all men capable of bearing arms to be ready to defend the walls, and to prevent tumult, discharged all women from crying or clamouring in the streets, on the pain of banishment. The privy council, for security, adjourned for some months to Stirling, where James V. was crowned. In the beginning of the year 1514, the corporation of the burgh ordained twenty-four men to be raised and maintained as a constant guard to the town, which was the origin of a small regular armed force, afterwards known as the City Guard, which was only dissolved in 1817. Money was also raised to increase the extent of fortifications round the town, and at this period was erected a new wall, encompassing a part of the high grounds on the south, and protecting the suburbs and villas, which had gradually arisen in that quarter. Fully a half of the whole line of this wall is still standing. The plague continuing to rage with more or less virulence for several years after this, in spite of every attempt to extinguish it, the young king, to avoid contagion, was lodged at Dalkeith or Craigmiller.

During the protracted contests for power in the minority of James V., the Earl of Arran and Cardinal Beaton, displeased at the influence gained by the Earl of Angus, from his marriage with the queen dowager, assaulted him and his friends on the streets of Edinburgh, near the Netherbow port. On this occasion, upwards of two hundred and fifty men were slain, and the remainder of the Hamiltons, or Arran's party, were expelled by the Douglases, or the faction of Angus. In popidar history, this bloody conflict was called cleanse the causeway. Such occurrences were by no means rare in these distracted times, and we find that, in 1515, there were similar encounters on the street between the partizans of the Earls of Huntly and Murray, and the Lords Rothes and Lindsay. In 1524, the town was the scene of a dreadful disturbance of the same character. While the parliament was sitting, the Earl of Angus, with other chiefs, and four hundred followers, broke into Edinburgh, proclaimed themselves to be good subjects, and forcing their way into the council of state, required the queen, who was wife of Angus, to give up the guardianship of the infant king. Confusion immediately ensued, the castle opened its batteries on the city, and killed several innocent persons; the nobles called out a party of hackbutters in order to assault Angus, who then thought proper to refire to Dalkeith. Throughout the minority of James, the capital was the constant scene of tumults equally bloody, chiefly in consequence of the turbulence of the house of Douglas. Nothing, perhaps, could better attest the dread of disquietude which prevailed about this time, than the circumstance that the privy council, the special councils of the king, and the parliament often met in the apartments of the tolbooth or common jail.

May, 1532, is the era of the greatest event, in the annals of the Scottish metropolis. After various establishments for the administration of right, had been essayed, the College of Justice was at tbis epoch instituted, and as this important corporation, which comprehended the whole body of functionaries connected with the supreme courts, made Edinburgh its place of settlement, the town was henceforth endowed still more with the character of a capita£ The city now became a place of resort from all parts of the kingdom, and the magistrates for the first time had the High Street repaired and paved; lanterns were ordered to be hung out at uight by the citizens; and other measures adopted to remove that reproach charged upon it by Dunbar, in his satire on Edinburgh, in these words.—

May nane pass through your principall gaittis,
For stink of haddockis, and of scattis.
For cryis of carlingis and debaittis,
For fensive flyttings of defame;
Think ye not schame ?
Befoir strangeris of all estaittis.
That sic dishonour hurt your name.

The parliament even took a part in correcting the deformities and filthy condition of Edinburgh, and it appears that in 1540, the magistrates were ordered to pull down a row of offensive tenements on the west side of Leith Wynd, and, thereupon, to build a substantial wall from the Netherbow Port to the Trinity College Church. This wall remains still entire, or nearly so. In 1538, Edinburgh was the scene of rejoicings on the procession of James V. into the city, with his wife, Mary of Guise, who was welcomed with rich presents, great triumphs, and "farces and plays." In 1543, a civic war rose within the town. The magistrates having infringed the liberties of the craftsmen, who were indignant at having been excluded from the election of provost and bailies, the deacons drew their swords in the Council Chamber, and avowed their purpose of defending their liberties; but being overpowered by an armed force, they submitted to be imprisoned, and thp affair was afterwards compromised.

In May, 1544, occurred one of the severest calamities that ever befell Edinburgh. The Catholic regency of Arran and Beatoun, having resolved against allying their young queen (Mary) to the son of the heretic Henry VIII., that prince, under the pretence of broken treaties, sent a fleet and army to ravage Scotland, under the command of the Earl of Hertford, who, landing at Royston, immediately made himself master of Leith; after which he proceeded to set fire to Edinburgh in several places, burnt the Abbey and Palace of Holyrood, and made an attempt, but an unsuccessful one, upon the castle. After destroying the pier of Leith, and carrying off the ships, the English army set out on their return by land, leaving "neither pyle, village, town, nor house, in their way homewards unburnt." In 1548, Edinburgh was garrisoned by French troops, under D'Esse, who fortified Leith, and prevented the English from committing any further serious damage.

John Knox’s House, High Street by R. Kent Thomas. 1879. Click on image to enlarge it.

The disturbances consequent on the change of religious sentiment in Scotland, began to break out in Edinburgh, about the year 1556, at which time a concourse of people assembled to protect John Knox from the violence of the ecclesiastical judicatory. The year 1557 opened with the arrival of Harlaw and Willock, who preached in Edinburgh and Leith. In 1558, the reformers of Edinburgh and the Queen Regent came to open rupture. On the anniversary of St. Giles, the patron saint of the city, the clergy celebrated a procession in his honour, wherein his statue was carried through the streets with great pomp. The indignant populace dispersed the priests and monks, and tore the effigy of the saint in pieces. According to Maitland, the effigy so destroyed was not the real statue of St. Giles, which had somehow been stolen from its appropriate niche in the church, the night before: that now used was a small statue borrowed from the Gray Friars, which the people called in derision Young St. Giles. The army of the Lords of the Congregation shortly after approached from Perth, Stirling, and Linlithgow, where great havock had been committed, and though an attempt was made by the magistrates to avert the coming storm, the whole soon arrived in the city, where they already found the work of demolition or desecration of the religious houses done to their hand by the populace. It would appear that although these disturbances were carried to a very great height m Edinburgh, the mob, in general, rested contented with only destroying or carrying away the internal decorations or furniture of the religious structures, on which account there still survive two of the chief Gothic ecclesiastical fabrics, while the greater part of the convents and monasteries were turned into dwellinghouses, several of which are still extant. The Queen Regent, who, in the mean time, had retired to Dunbar for an asylum, now hastily returned with an effective force, assisted by French auxiliaries, and secured the town of Leith, then in a fortified condition. During the warlike manoeuvres which ensued, Edinburgh was the chief position of the reformers, as Leith was of the catholics, and the beautiful tract of ground lying between Leith and the eastern base of the Calton Hill became the scene of a variety of severe skirmishes, in which the irregular troops of the Lords of the Congregation were frequently worsted by the better organized foreign auxiliaries of the queen. By the assistance, however, of a protestant army from England, the reformers were finally able to reduce the Queen Regent, and expel her troops from the kingdom; after which there was no longer any obstacle to the triumph of popular sentiment. The first Assembly of the Reformed Kirk, now established, met at Edinburgh on the 15th of January, 1560.


Chambers, Robert. The Gazetterr of Scotland. Edinburgh: Blackie and Son, 1838. Internet Archive online version digitized with funding from National Library of Scotland. Web. 30 September 2018.

Last modified 3 October 2018