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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter III


NOW that we have supplied some information regarding the way in which the district was peopled at various epochs, and introduced the chief actors in the great drama of real life which soon afterwards opened in Nithsdale and Annandale, let us see how Dumfries gradually threw off its hamlet garb, and acquired that of a Royal Burgh. Before the town was chartered, it was in a condition of complete dependence on its Celtic superiors, and equally so on the feudal overlords who succeeded them in the days of William the Lion. Nearly all the inhabitants were in a state of absolute villanage, having no property in the soil, and owing any immunities they possessed to the arbitrary will of their chief, who in most matters was free to act as he pleased, though nominally responsible to the Crown. He gave them the means of subsistence, shelter, and protection; in return for which they rendered him military service, manual labour, and tributes in money or rural produce. With the view of increasing their scanty resources, and enabling them to bear increased exactions, trading privileges were by and by conferred upon them; and when, in the further development of the feudal system, all the land came to be legally recognized as royal property, the merchants and craftsmen obtained the exclusive right to traffic and labour within the town and a prescribed range of territory around it, for which favours they furnished a revenue to the Crown, derived from rents, tolls, and customs.

To William the Lion, it is believed, the Burgh was indebted for its first charters. He granted more than one – Chalmers says “many” [Caledonia, vol. iii., p. 136.]  – which were so drawn up as to indicate that he frequently resided in the town; but, unfortunately, they were either lost or destroyed during the succession warfare. [Ibid.] The earlier of these documents would relate chiefly, if not solely, to subjects of trade, and handicraft, and be silent as to the right of self-government. Judging from the charters granted by the same monarch to other burghs, those at first conferred by him on Dumfries merely improved the relationship in which the inhabitants stood to the King, by changing them from precarious tenants to fixed vassals, holding directly of the Crown; they acquiring thereby a right of property in their tofts or tenements, for which they paid yearly rents, independently of their personal services. [Report of Royal Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of Scotland, page 12.] Thus the Burgh was a portion of the royal possession, occupied by an aggregation of tenants, each paying his quota of maills or money tribute. At fixed periods, half-yearly or quarterly, the King’s ballivi, or balies, collected the rents from his vassals; also the fines levied in the Burgh courts, and other impositions called exitus curiæ, the issues of court, which equally belonged to the Crown. [Municipal Report, p. 12.]

Afterwards the whole of these rents and issues were handed over, on short leases, to the bailies, or rather the community, for a specific sum; and eventually a permanent arrangement was made, in virtue of which the community, by contracting to pay so many hundred merks yearly into the exchequer, acquired a perpetual heritable right to the royal maills and issues – the tenure of individual burgesses, however, continuing unaltered. Agreeably to feudal forms, this important change was effected by constituting the inhabitants holders of the Burgh in feu-farm under the King: a tenure that enabled their functionaries to enforce recovery and payment the same as if they had been appointed by the State. [Ibid, p. 12.]

When, probably about 1190, William raised Dumfries to the rank of a Royal Burgh, the charter of erection would, in addition to these property rights, confer the privilege of local government. The burgesses were thereby rendered freemen in a double sense: they were no longer tenants-at-will – dependent vassals; they were the legally-constituted occupiers of their own Burgh, and had the choice of their own rulers, who were amenable to them and the general laws of the country. Accordingly, at Michaelmas, the good men of the Burgh – the “probi hominess villæ fideles et bonæ famæ” of the charter – met to exercise a totally new prerogative, to elect magistrates, who, on being voted into office, swore “to keep the customys of the toune, and that they sal nocht halde lauch on ony man or woman for wrath, nor for haterent, nor for drede or for luve of ony man, bot throw ordinans, consaile, and dome of gud men of the toune;” swearing also, “that nather for radness, nor for luve, nor for haterent, nor for cosynage, nor for tynsale of their silver,” shall they fail to mete out justice to all the lieges that are placed under their rule. [Laws of the Burghs, chap. 70.]

Here, as in other Royal Burghs, the magistrates were at first chosen by the whole burgesses. Afterwards the practice crept in of allowing the elective franchise to be exercised by a select few who came to be known as the Council. That this body, however it may have been constituted, usurped a power belonging to the entire community, is sufficiently plain. In the “Statutæ Gilde,” framed mainly for Berwick in the reign of Alexander II., it is provided that, in addition to the aldermen and bailies, there shall be twenty-four “probi hominess de melioribus et descretioribus et fide dignioribus ejusdem burgi ad hac electi,” who, in the event of a dispute, were to decide on whom the suffrages had fallen. In some simple way such as this, the popular vote may have been gradually overridden, and ultimately set aside. [Origin and Progress of Burghs in Scotland, by Joseph Irving, p. 10]

Besides the merchants, artificers, and free farmers who resided within the liberties of the town, there was a class of cotters whom the royal charter did not reach. They remained in a condition of absolute slavery, and could be sold with the land as readily as if they had been cattle. [Tytler’s History of Scotland, vol. ii., p. 253.] In course of time, many of them acquired their freedom by purchase or otherwise. The Crown, without trying to set aside the law which made them bondmen, did much to promote their emancipation, and thus to strengthen the independence of the Burgh as a foil to the great barons of the neighbourhood, and to augment its resources so that it might yield an increasing revenue to the State. A vassal or slave who was so fortunate as to purchase a house within any Royal Burgh, and occupy it for a year and a day without being claimed by his master, became a freeman for ever. [Tytler, vol. ii., p. 301; M ‘Pherson’s Annals of Commerce, vol. i., p. 307; Laws of the Burghs, chap. 17.]

While these changes were progressing in Dumfries, other hamlets in the county, which rose also to be Royal Burghs, were rapidly ripening into towns. In the reign of David I., the territory of Sanchar, at the head of Nithsdale, was included in the demesnes of Dunegal, the Celtic chieftain. The word Seancaer, in that language, signifying “old fort”, suggests the origin of the village – houses gathering for protection under the friendly shadow of some ancient pile; their increase fostered by the erection on the same site of a baronial castle, at the end of the twelfth or beginning of the thirteenth century. Through Strathannand meandered a pleasant stream, which, taking its name from the valley it watered, gave it in turn to a little town that rose upon the river’s bank, about a mile above its flux into the Solway. Coins struck prior to 1249 bear the legends, “Johas on An” and “Thomas on An,” which a high authority in numismatic lore considers apply to Annan. [Cardonell’s Numismatæ Scotiæ, plate i., p. 44.] A mint royal or baronial may have been in operation at that town during the reign of Alexander II.; and, whatever doubt may be entertained on this point, it is certain that Annan was a Royal Burgh when Bruce ascended the throne, in 1306. One of the predecessors of the patriot king erected a castle to protect the town and its port; the fortress containing for ages afterwards one of the Border strongholds. Pennant, when visiting the burgh in 1772, saw an interesting relic of this old feudal fortress – a stone, built into a garden wall, bearing the words, “Robert de Brus, Counte de Carrick et Senieur du Val de Annan, 1300.” [Tour, vol. iii., p. 84.] From this inscription Chalmers concludes the castle was rebuilt in that year. [Caledonia, vol. iii., p. 140.]

When the first Lord of Annandale settled in the district, he built a strong house for himself beside a group of lakes, which lay like sheets of silver on the green bosom of the valley. It was erected on the north-west of one of them – called for that reason the Castle Loch – and was the chief seat of the Bruces from about 1130 till 1306. Soon after the latter year, the ancient peel was superseded by a far more extensive fortress, reared on a peninsula on the south-east side of the same lake, occupying above sixteen acres, built in the massive Norman style, and surrounded by three deep fosses, fed with water from the lake: it was at once the largest and strongest castle in the district. That near the sheen of these sparkling lakes, and under the shadow of these protecting castles, a village should spring up, was only natural. The name of the little town is mentioned in a charter granted by Robert I. to Thomas de Carruthers, of certain lands, the reddendum of which the King requires him to deliver “at our manor of Lochmalban:” a term signifying, in the Celtic tongue, “the lake of the bald (or smooth) eminence,” and referring probably to the mound on which the first Brucian fortress was erected. The burgh of Lochmaben grew up and flourished under the fostering influence of that family; and, according to tradition, was royally chartered by the greatest of the Bruces, soon after his accession to the throne. The family had two other residences in Annandale: Hoddam Castle, on the east bank of the Annan, [Its site was on the farm of Hallyards, anciently Halguard: the more modern Castle of Hoddam, the seat of the Kirkpatrick-Sharpes, was built on the west bank of the Annan, by John, Lord Herries.] and Castle Malc, or Milk, in the parish of St. Mungo; the latter of which is mentioned in the chartulary of Glasgow, so early as 1179.

At this period – the middle of the twelfth century – the land of Scotland began to be partially divided into royalty and regality. Those parts distinguished by the term royalty were subject in criminal matters to the jurisdiction of the King and his judges; while in those known as regalities, such as Eskdale, the barons or ecclesiastics, to whom they had been given by the Crown, held their own courts for the trial of offenders. [Tytler’s History of Scotland, vol. ii., p. 246.] Before Nithsdale was constituted a sheriffdom, it was periodically visited by the King’s bailies or judges, who, sitting in Dumfries as the head town of the royalty, gave judgment in the cases brought before them.

Of this practice a curious instance is recorded, so far back as the days of Malcolm IV. It arose out of the following circumstances. On the first Tuesday after the Festival of St. Michael the sacred fane at Dumfries, dedicated to the angel of that name and patron of the town, was occupied with worshippers, two of whom – Richard, son of Robert, son of Elias, and Adam the Miller – met after mass in the burying-ground, in an angry spirit, quite at variance with the services of the day. Probably there had been a standing feud between them; and, whether from sheer malice, or because “the son of Robert” had made too free with some of the miller’s goods, Adam saluted Richard with the opprobrious epithet of “Galloway thief,” bidding him, at the same time, begone from the place. Richard slunk away, either afraid of his antagonist, or from a dread of incurring the guilt of sacrilege by fighting with him in the church-yard; but he was probably heard muttering threats of vengeance, as, on the following Thursday, a woman ran up to Adam, while he was standing in his own doorway, and cried, “Take yourself away; for, behold, Richard is here!” As if she had said, “The man you abused so much on Tuesday last has come to return you hard knocks for bad words, and you had better be odd.” But the bold miller replied, “I won’t take myself away: I have a knife as sharp as his own;” saying which, he entered the domicile, and reappeared with a long knife, seemingly bent on emboweling his enemy. There is no evidence whatever to show that Richard’s errand was revenge. He was perhaps casually passing the miller’s house at the time: at all events, in the conflict that ensued, he was not the assailant. Attacked by the miller, he drew his sword in self-defense; and when he struck at all, it was with the flat side of the weapon. Adam, eager to make his threat good, sought with his left arm to ward off the sword that came between him and his wish. The men closed in a life-and-death struggle, during which Adam the Miller was thrust through, fatally wounded; and Richard, the son of Robert, was arraigned on a charge of murder.

The court which tried him sat in the Castle of Dumfries, on the Monday after the Feast of Saints Fabian and Sebastian; the tribunal consisting of the King’s bailies (“balivis”) and a jury of thirteen burgesses (“fideles hominess”) [“It is probable,” says Tytler, “although it cannot be affirmed with historical certainty, that, even at this early age, the opinion of the majority of this jury of thirteen decided the case, and that unanimity was not required.” – History of Scotland, vol. ii., p. 249.]; the names of the latter, in their Latinized form, being given thus: “Ade Long, Ade Mille, Hugonis Schereman, Rogeri Wytewell, Ricardi Haket, Walteri Faccinger, Thome Scut, Roberti Muner, Thome Calui, Roberti Boys, Willelmy Scot, Willelmy Pellaparii, Henrici Tinctoris.” While Richard was placed at the bar charged with a capital offence, the case assumed the form of an inquisition into the whole of its circumstances; and the jury were required, after hearing evidence, to give a narrative of these as they understood them, in connection with and explanatory of their verdict. Accordingly, the finding of the jury set out with the statement that, at the time specified, “Riccardum, filium Roberti, fili elie,” had met with the deceased, “Adam Molendinarius,” in “Cemeterio Sancti Michaelis;” that the latter had defamed the former in the manner we have described; and that, in the conflict two days afterwards, the panel did not intend to slaughter the deceased, but said truth when he declared at the time, “I take ye all to witness that I have not killed the miller, but that his death lies at his own door.” For these reasons the jury unanimously acquitted Richard; finding, moreover, that he had been “fidelem in omnibus aliüs,” faithful in all things, and that the miller, “furem esse et defamatum,” was a man of bad repute. The bailies concurring, the panel was honourably discharged. [For the facts of this case, extraordinary in itself, and valuable as an illustration of old times in Dumfries, we are indebted to the first volume of the Acts of the Scottish Parliament, where they are briefly recorded in Latin.]

Before the close of the century, Dumfries had become the seat of a sheriff, who exercised a very extensive sway, stretching over the stewartry of Kirkcudbright on the west, and the entire country eastward bounded by the Esk. [Chalmers, in a note to Caledonia, vol. iii., p. 66, states that practically the sheriffdom came to have much narrower limits; the local jurisdictions in Annandale and Kirkcudbrightshire restricting it almost entirely to Nithsdale.] About the year 1180, the judges sitting in the Burgh decided, that any one convicted of breaking the King’s peace in Galloway should forfeit twelve score of cows and three bulls [The words of the Act are: “Gif ony Galowa man be convickit ouder be batal, or be ony other way of the kingis pece brokin, the king sal haf of him xijⁿⁿ ky and iii. gatharionis, or for ilka gatharion ix, ky, the quilk are in numer nn. anvij.”]: a very appropriate fine, as the hornless dusky herds which at a later date became famous were already common in the district, and were the true representatives of its wealth.

The Church of Scotland for ages after its erection remained comparatively pure and simple, unaffected by the peculiar tenets of the Papacy, and independent of the Roman see. “Columba and his disciples,” says Bede, “would receive those things only which are contained in the writings of the prophets, evangelists, and apostles, diligently observing the works of faith and virtue.” A great change had, however, taken place at the time we have now reached, brought about mainly by the Saxon and Norman immigrants. Gradually the simple, primitive rule of the Culdees became supplanted by that of lordly prelates; and the Church, forgetting Iona, accepted the authority of Rome in matters of doctrine, ritual, and government.

David I., of whom so much mention has been made, built up the ecclesiastical establishment by such a lavish outlay that one of his descendants characterized him as “a  sore sanct to the Crown.” He revived the episcopate of Glasgow, placing under it the whole churches of Dumfriesshire. By the inquisition of 1116 it was found that the Churches of “Abermelc, Drivesdale, and Hodelm,” with others in the County, belonged by right to that see; and its authority over the parishes of Eskdale, Ewisdale, Drivesdale, Annandale, Glencairn, and Stranith, with a part of Cumberland, was confirmed by Pope Alexander in 1178, by Pope Lucius in 1181, and by Pope Urban in 1186. Dumfries had at this early period, as already noticed, this parish church, dedicated to the patron saint of the town, St. Michael; a chapel, dedicated to St. Thomas; another chapel, connected with the Castle; and a hospital, situated about a mile from the Market Cross in a southern direction. The erection of a religious house in Canonby has already been noticed. Another rose up in Holywood, four miles from Dumfries, at a more ancient date. The groves of that parish formed a favourite haunt of the Druids [Grose’s Antiquities, vol. i., p. 169.]: when Christianity dawned upon it, an ascetic enthusiast found in them a place of congenial retirement from the world; leaving to his cell of sanctity the name Darcongal, which signifies, in the British and Scoto-Irish tongues, “the oak-wood of Congal.” In course of time the simple tree-surrounded grotto gave place to an imposing structure, the Abbey of Holywood or Darcongal, which, as we have seen, was founded by John, Lord of Kirkconnell, an ancestor of the Kirkconnell family. [Dugdale, vol. ii. p. 1057, where John is mentioned as “Dominus de Kirkconnell fundavit Sacrum Boscum.”] The Abbot of Sacrobosco (Holywood) sat in the great Parliament at Brigham in 1289, and, six years afterwards, swore fealty to Edward I. at Berwick.

Two officials directed the ecclesiastical system of the County under the Bishop, or rather his archdeacon or surrogate: these were, the Dean of Dunfries or Nith, who ruled over the parishes in Nithsdale, those of Kirkmichael and Garval, in Annandale, and those of Terregles, Troqueer, Newabbey, Kirkpatrick-Durham, Kirkpatrick, Lochrutton, and Kirkgunzeon, lying in Galloway, westward of the river Urr; and the Dean of Annandale, who had charge of all the parishes within that district except Kirkmichael and Garval, with those of Kirkandrews, Canonby, Morton, Wauchope, Stapelgorton, Westerdirk, Eskdalemuir, and Ewes in Eskdale.

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