1688 - Anti-Catholic riots in Scotland

The Holyrood Riot

In 1685, Charles II died and his brother James II and VII became King of Scotland, Ireland and England. This initiated what came to be known to Cameronians as 'the Killing Times' when they could be shot on the spot for failing to take the necessary oaths of loyalty. But it wasn't for cruelty to radical covenanters that James's peoples rose up against him, but for his kindness to Catholics and for being a Catholic himself. Religious tolerance was on the whole considered to be a vice, not a virtue, in 17th-century Britain (and for that matter most of Europe). James thought that the best way to push his own religion was to decree that it and other faiths must be tolerated and then to favour Catholicism as much as possible. Public opinion was outraged. The old religion was still tarred in the Protestant mind with memories of heretic-burning, French domination and Spanish threat. Large-scale persecution of Protestants in neighbouring France scared James's subjects - was this what living under a Catholic monarch could lead to? The King's policy of toleration was too radical a step, too soon. When a son and heir who could potentially carry on James's policies was born, there was uproar. William of Orange was invited to invade. James was effectively deposed. On 10 December 1688, James was not even out of the country when the Scottish mob rose up, determined to cleanse Edinburgh of the Jesuit 'threat'. Alexander Adamson, then a divinity student, was one of the rioters.

The nixt morning be 10 the toun counsel sat and about 11 in the forenoon emitted a proclamation: discharging tumults and requiring maisters of families to keep their children and servants within doors, but it was no sooner read than it was torn: the officers and drummers being severly beat in several places of the citty. They were forced to return to their maisters to tell how they were treated. All continowed quiet till twilight when the mob began to gather. The first appearance they made was about the Cougatte [Cowgate] head from thence going to the Grasse Mercatte [Grassmarket] where they provided themselves with staves and torches. They come up the West Bow and enter a drummers house in the Castel Hill [Castlehill] whence they took two drums, on[e] of which they broke before they passed the whyhous [weigh house?] so doun the street they come beating with their drum, till past the Nether Bow and in the Canongate head they made a stope, seing the guaird [guard] drawing out att the Canongate tolbooth and sent one to enquire what the matter was. The Captain replyed it was to put respect upon them. They answeared they would have non[e] of his respect and required he might call in his guairds immediately. When he did so on they march till they com to the Cana. cross [Canongate Cross] where they stop again and took down the Earl of Perth's pictor which they caried down with them to the Aby [Abbey] where they mett Captain Wallace advanced with 2 fills [files] of Musketeers as far as the strand without the Aby gatte [Abbey Gate]. Here they stopt and required entry into the court and being refused they beat their drum and advised to run in upon him, which as soon as he heard the cry of, he ordered thes[e] he had with him to fire upon them which did abundance of mischief, for several were killed upon the spotte and many wounded, the most pairt whereof shortly after dyed of their wounds to the number of 36 or 38 and verry few recovered.

After the first fire was over, tho some were killed and many wounded, the rest first made a fierce asalt [assault] upon that party and forced them off the street with great fury, in so much as befor they could enter the Aby gatte, two of them were beat doun and killed outright. When the party was entered, finding they could pursue them no further the gattes being shutt against them they returned a little and ordered some of their number to carry up the wounded to the citty as also to require assistance, the rest lodging themselves within close heads till assistance should come to them. Capt Wallace and his men mein tyme contineued still firing up the street from this tyme which was about nine at night till eleven. Thes[e] who came to the citty caried in some of the hands and arms that were shott off the lads to Patrick Steel's, a vintner, where several Gentilmen were drinking, which were laid before them, shewing how the poor lads had been treated be the souldiers. Att which they were so enraged that they rose and went into the toun counsel (which was then sitting) and required the train bands to be raised but gatt no incuradgement however the Capt. Med. without the counsel's order caused the drumms to be beat. Thes[e] gentlemen in the mean time got a Coram [quorum] of the Privie Counsel conveined who presently sent doun 2 Lyon Heralds in their coatts requiring Capt. Wallace to deliver up the Aby in the Counsel's name, which he refusing they ordoured the toun gaird to goe doun against them folowed by the train bands. Att their douncoming, Wallace fired once or twice upon them as they did upon him with little execution upon either side. Att last the leager of the toun gaird with the third of their men came in by a back entry and were upon them ere they were awarr upon which they all cast doun their arms and run. The lads having nottice broke into the court and killed all they gott their hands upon but by reason of the darknesse of the night, the most of them made their esceap throw the K[ing's] park it was reported that 14 of the soldiers were killed. The lads having gott the Aby, they presently fall a pulling doun the cheapels burning the timber work in the closse. They went up to their seats and bringing forth their liberary, they burnt their books without distinctione but for a long time could not learn where their images were, but att last being informed by a certain persone that they were hid in ane oven and an old presse sett before the mouth of it, thither they goe and finding them they bring them forth one by one and by companies carie them in triumph throw the citty, one or two of their number crying continualie what they carried. The last that came was the babe in the cradle, of which they cryed without intermission 'This is the holiest thing off all' and having finished their processione throw all the publick streets of the citty they returned to the Aby closse, where they burne them all, yea, the silver lamps and candles-stickes were thrown into the fire this continowed till about 2 in the morning when all went to rest . . .

What is contained in the first two colum[n]s is what I was eye witnesse to, but being dangerously wounded I was forced to goe off with the wound before the Aby was taken, so what follows I had by information but I think my information was tollerable good, being the wholl tyme upon the place. This is a peice of history in my oppinion worthy to be transmitted to posteritie for the hand of god may evidently be seen in it and its effects are obvious to this day. I bear the marks of it upon the hollow of my thigh.

Alexander Adamson, 'The Holyrood riot', Wod.Qu.XXXVI, f.241v.

print Top of page Close window