1637 - Riots in St Giles Cathedral

The Stoneyfield Sabbath Day

Scots national pride has often been as prickly as its emblematic thistle. In the 17th century it rested on two things: pride in the antiquity of the Scots monarchy and pride in the Scots Reformation. When successive kings took a 'monarch knows best' approach to Scotland's religion, it caused uproar. Charles I, distant and convinced of his right to impose what he saw as improvements, showed no sign of realising the sensitivity of the issue when he proposed an English-style service book for Scotland. It grievously offended national pride. Far worse, they were seen as Roman Catholic or 'papist' in tendency and by contemporary Scottish standards there could be nothing more shocking than that. Groups of disgruntled Scots decided that it was time to give Charles a lesson to remember. 'The Stoneyfeild Saboth Day' is an account of the riot in Edinburgh when the Dean of St Giles tried to use the hated book. The women of Edinburgh were to the fore in the fray, and even if it wasn't the mythical Jenny Geddes who chucked the stool, her real-life sisters gave a good account of themselves.

A breiff descriptioun of the tumult which fell upone the Lordis day the 23 of Julii 1637, throw the occatioun of a blak popish superstitious service booke, which was then wickedlie introduced, and violentlie urged upone our Mother churches of Edinburghe.

In the old church of St Geillis, thair wes graitt malcontentment and a wonderfull confused tumult many mouthes wer thair oppined to the bischopes publict disgrace. Fals Anti-christiane wolf, beastlie bellygod, and craftie foxe, wer the best epithets and tytles of dignitie whiche wer given him. The Dean Mr James Hanna wes michtelie upbraided. Sum cryed he is one of a witches breeding and the devill's gette [offspring], no wholsume watter can cum furthe from suche a polluted funtane [fountain]. Utheris cryed 'ill hanged theiff, if at that tyme when thow wentest to court thow haidest bene weill hanged as thow wes ill hanged, thow haidest not bene heir to be a pest to God's church this day'. On did cast a stoole at him intending to have given him a tickit of rememberance, but jowking [ducking] became his saifgaird at that tyme . . . a voluntarie [volunteer] who came officious-lie to say amen wes put in no small danger of his lyfe. His gown wes rent, his service booke takin frome him, and his body pitifullie beattin and brused so that he cryed often for mercie and vowed nevir efterward to give his concurrence to such clagged [besmeared, polluted] devotioun. The bischope in the mane tyme thocht to have removed him selff peaceablie to sume houss bot no s[o]oner wes he sein upone the streetis when the confused multitud rusched violentlie in upone him and enragedlie persewed efter him with rayling and clodding [mud throwing], and if thar hand could have bein als active as thair myndis were willing, they had doubtles demolisched the great butt which they aymed at. A certane woman cryed 'Fy, if I could gett the thropple [throat] out of him!' and when one replyed that tho she obteind hir desyre, yit thair mycht perchance cum one muche worss in his rowme [place], scho ansuered 'Efter Cardinall Betoun wes sticked [stabbed], we haid never another Cardinall sen syne. And if that fals judas (meaning the Bischope) wer now stabt and cutt of[f] his place wold be thocht so prodigious and ominous that scairce any ma durst hasard or undertak to be his successor'. I can not heir omitt that worthie reproofe of a trewlie religeous matrone, for when scho persaved one of Ismallis [Ishmael's] mocking dochteris, to deryde hir for hir fervent expressiones in the behalff of hir heavenlie master, scho thus schairplie rebuked hir with ane elevated voyce saying 'Woe be thes that laughis when Sion murnis [mourns]'. No les worthie of observatioun is that renouned Cristian valyancie [valour] of ane other godly woman at this same seasone: for when scho hard a young man behind hir sounding furth amen to that new composed church comedie (God's service or worschipe it deserves not to be called) which then wes impudentlie acted in publict sicht of the congregatioun, scho quicklie turnd hir about and efter scho haid warmed both his cheikis with the weght of hir handis, scho thus schott against him the thunderbolt of hir zeale 'Fals theiff (said scho) is thair no other pairt of the churche to sing mess in but thow most sing it at my lug?'. The young man being dasched at such a suddant rencounter, gave place to silence.

'The Stoneyfeild Saboth Day,' Adv. Ms. 33.2.32, pp.47-8.

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