Glencairn Parish in 1560

Meeting date

Alexander Hall

Meeting report

The AGM of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society was held in Cumberland Street Centre on 7th October.

Following the AGM Dr Francis Toolis, President, introduced Sandy Hall as speaker for the evening. Sandy's family came to the Moniaive area in 1947. He farmed at Craiglearan from 1963 to 1999, when he handed over the farm to his son. He has an admirable record of contributions to the history of Moniaive/Glencairn area in particular. Worthy of mention is the superb publication, The Glencairn Memorial Book. He was a founder member of the local Family History Society. His illustrated talk, rich in period detail, was entitled Glencairn Parish in 1560 though it ranged, of necessity, further into the 16th century.

At the outset Sandy showed two maps to demonstrate how the parish and its boundaries between properties in the 16th Century were little different from today, except that there were no walls in the early period and there is more afforestation now.

In 1550s Scotland, England and France were all ruled by regents on behalf of minors, namely Mary Stuart, Edward VI and Francis II respectively. Mary, Queen of Scots, living in France, had the prospect of becoming Queen of all three nations when she was in her mid-teens in the late 1550s. It had been a period of religious strife in which John Knox and Mary of Guise, acting as regent for her daughter, opposed each other, Protestant versus Catholic. The year 1560 brought a turning-point in Queen Mary's fortunes. The deaths of her French husband and of her mother were sad blows.

Glencairn Parish had three baronies of Crawfordton (in the south and different from the Crawfordton of today), Maxwelton and Snade. Land was valued in merklands, which did not reflect acreage but worth. Tenants were expected to pay their teinds or tythes to the factor, William Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, for the upkeep of the church. The year 1560 was one of turmoil in the parish as well as in the nation. Many in the northern lands of the parish had not paid their dues for two years, which meant a doubling of what was owing. In 1559 Cunningham, a Privy Councillor in Edinburgh, sought the support of Parliament in Edinburgh to force the rebels to make payment. Such an order was made on 29th August. Payment was to be made within 48 hours of being charged. Unless a letter of liquidation were received, the offender might land in the dungeons of Dumbarton Castle. The issue rumbled on for years: a fresh order was sought, but the same people were still not paying in 1567.

Why were they not paying? The people in the north farmed on less productive land and bad weather frequently caused hardship. Who was the ringleader? Was it Fergusson of Craigdarroch. It had to be someone powerful to persuade about 100 people not to pay. Certainly a number of Fergussons were rebels; but so were other prominent families.

Sandy has performed an intensive study of estates, farms, tenants, non-payers and how much they were due to pay. Tenancies were complicated. The tithes for Glencairn were let by the Chapter of Glasgow for the upkeep of the Catholic Church. If Mary of Guise had not died in 1560 the huge number of French troops, stationed in Edinburgh, might have landed in Glencairn. Subsequently tithes were paid to the Reformed Church. Opposition to paying could well have arisen from the fact that there was no priest or minister serving the parish.

This was a generation which had been born and christened Roman Catholic but which would die and be buried Protestant. Cunningham had hobnobbed with Mary of Guise and John Knox. He was for the Reformed Church, as were the majority of people in the South-West. He was also a monarchist and wished to support the Queen, Mary Stuart. Her escape from Lochleven Castle persuaded people to rally to her cause. He changed sides. History seems to be peppered with Vicars of Bray!

Sandy concluded with a challenge. Is there another parish which can supply such a comparable list of land-holding for the period as he has unearthed about Glencairn? The remarkable fact is that, despite the gravity of the issues, the outcome was bloodless.