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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


I 88 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH, tion of national honour and triumph, and committed, along with the other portions of his body, to the tomb of his ancestors, in the south transept of St Giles’s Church. The north gable was not, however, long suffered to remain unoccupied. On the 27th of May 1661,- little more than four months after the tardy honours paid to the Marquis of Montrose,- the Marquis of Argyle was beheaded at the Cross, and ‘( his heia agxt upone the heid of the Tolbuith, quhair the Marques of Montrois wes affixit of befoir.” The ground floor of this ancient part of the Tolbooth was known by the name of the Purses, by which it is often alluded to in early writings. In the ancient titles of a house on the north side of the High Street, it is described as “ that Lodging or Timber Land, lying in the burgh of Edinburgh, forgainst the place of the Tolbooth, commonly called the poor folks’ Purses.” In the trial of William Maclauchlane, a servant of the Countess of Wemyss, who was apprehended almost immediately after the Porteous mob, one of the witnefses states, that ‘(having come up Beth’s Wynd, he tried to pass by the Purses on the north side of the prison ; but there perceiving the backs of a row of armed men, some with staves, others with guns and Lochaber axes, standing across the street, who, he was told, were drawn up as a guard there, he retired again.” The crime sought to be proved against Maclauchlane, was his having been seen taking a part with this guard, armed with a Lochaber axe. Another witness describes having seen some of the magistrates going up from the head of Mary King’s Close, towards the Purses on the north side of the Tolbooth, where they were stopped by the mob, and compelled to make a precipitate retreat. This important pass thus carefully guarded on the memorable occasion of the Porteous riot, derived its name from having been the place where the ancient fraternity of BZue Gowns, the King’s faithful bedemen, received the royal bounty presented to them on each King’s birthday, in a leathern purse, after having attended service in St Giles’s Church. For many years previous to the destruction of the Old Tolbooth, this distribution was transferred to the Canongate Kirk aisle, where it took place annually on the morning of the Sovereign’s birthday, at eight o’clock. After a sermon, preached by the royal almoner, or his deputy, each of the bedemen received a roll of bread, a tankard of ale, and a web of blue cloth sufficient to make him a new gown, along with a leathern purse, of curious and somewhat complicated workmanship, which only the initiated could open. This purse contained his annual alms or pension, consisting of as many pence as the years of the King’s age. Bedemen appointed to pray for the souls of the King’s ancestors and successors, were attached to royal foundations. They are mentioned about the year 1226, in the Chartulary of Moray,’ and many curious entries occurred with reference to them, in the Treasurers’ accounts, previous to the Reformation. The number of these bedemen is increased by one every royal birthday, as a penny is added to the pension of each; an arrangement evidently devised to stimulate their prayers for long life to the reigning sovereign, no less than for peace to the souls of those departed.’ ’ The origin of this fraternity is undoubtedly of great antiquity: Nicoll’s Diary, p. 335. * Statiat. ACC. xiii. 412. ’ The following items appear in the Account of Sir Robert Melvill, Treasurer-Depute of King James VI. “Junij 1590. Item, to Mr Peter Young, Elimosinar, twentie four gownia of blew clayth, to be gevin to xxiiij auld men, according to the yeiris of his hienes age. . . . Item, twentie four pur&, and in ilk purss twentie four schiling.” Again in “Junij 1617, To James Xurray, merchant, for fyftene scoir #ex elnis and ane half elne of blew claith, to be gownis to fyftie me aigeit men, according to the yeiris of his majesteia age. Item, to the workmen for careing of the gownia fra
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L UCKENBOOTHS AND PARLIAMENT CLOSE. 189 It used to be a very interesting sight, on a fine summer morning,’ between seven and eight o’clock, before the Canongate Kirk bell began to ring for the appointed service, to see the strange groups of Bbe Gowns of all ages,’ from forty-five to ninety and upwards, assembling in front of the kirk Venerable looking men, bent with the weight of years ; some lame, others blind, led by a boy or a wife, whose tartan or hodden-grey told of the remote districts from whence they had come, or perhaps by a rough Highland dog, looking equally strange on the streets of the ancient burgh ; while all the old bedemen were clad in their monastic-looking habits, and with large badges on their breasts. It was curious thus to see pilgrims from the remotest parts of Scotland and the Isles,-the men of another generation,-annually returning to the capital, and each contriving to arrive there on the very day of the King’s birth and bounty. The reverend almoner, however, could scarcely have had a more inattentive congregation,-a fact probably in Bome degree to be accounted for by many of them understanding nothing but Gaelic. At the close of the sermon the bread and ale were distributed, along with their other perquisites, and thereafter the usual benediction closed the services of the day, though generally before that point was reached the bedemen had disappeared, each one off to wend his way homeward, and to ‘‘ pass and repass,” as his large badge expressly bore, until the return of the annual rendezvous. Shortly after the accession of her present Majesty, whose youth must have had such an economic effect on the royal bounty, this curious relic of ancient alms-giving waa shorn of nearly all its most interesting features. Certain members of the Canongate kirksession, it is said, were scandalised at the exhibition of the butt of ale at the kirk vestry door, and possibly also at its exciting so much greater interest with the Queen’s bedemen than any other portion of the established procedure. Whatever be the reason, the annual church service has been abandoned; the royal almoner’s name no longer appears in the list of her Majesty’s Scottish household; and the whole business is now managed in the most matter-of-fact and commonplace style at the Exchequer Chambers in the Parliament Square, not far from the ancient scene of this annual distribution of the royal bounty. At the west end of the Tolbooth a modern addition existed, as appears in our engraving, rising only to the height of two stories. This was occupied by shops, while the flat roof formed a platform whereon all public executions took place, after the abandonment of the Grassmarket in the year 1785. The west gable of the old building bore the appearance of rude and hasty construction ; it was without windows, notwithstanding that it afforded the openest and most suitable aspect for light, and seemed as if it had been so left for the purpose of future extension. The apartments on the ground floor of the main building were vaulted with stone, and the greater part of them latterly fitted up for shops,’ until the demolition of the citadel of the old guard in 1785, Boon after which those on the north side were converted into a guard-house for the accommodation of that veteran corps. James Aikman, tailyeour, heia hous, to the palace of Halyrude how” &c. appear to have been anciently made at the palace. From thh last entry, the distribution would For many years the 4th of June, the Birthday of Gorge 111. In one of theae Yr Horner, father of the eloquent and gifted Francia Homer, M.P., one of the originatom of the Edinburgh Review, carried on buainees as a silk mercer.
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