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CHAPTER V

THE INHABITANTS OF THE TOWNS

AVING described the appearance of a town in the time of Mary, and the general conditions under which its life and business were conducted, let us now glance at the community that was gathered within its precincts. In the first place it is to be remembered that, with the exception of Edinburgh, the number of indwellers, even in the more populous burghs, amounted only to a few thousands. In such a society everyone was more or less familiar with his fellow-townsman, and as he had scarcely any interests beyond the community of which he was a member, his feelings were proportionally keen regarding all that concerned it. By the conditions of town life, as they have just been described, he was saved from the vacuity of a modern villager. The complexity of the burghal arrangements necessarily give rise to a plentiful amount of friction, while the close personal supervision, to which everyone in his own place was officially subjected, continually reminded him that he was part of a machine for the smooth working of which he had his own responsibility. If the records

of the burghs are to be trusted, we must conclude that a sixteenth-century Scottish town was a sufficiently lively place, and could on occasion be the scene of humorous and dramatic incidents which the march of civilisation has made impossible with so many other things.

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In the town community there was a deep line of cleavage which divided its inhabitants into what were virtually two hostile camps. On the one hand, there were the burgesses or freemen, and, on the other, the non-burgesses or unfreemen. It was with genuine feudal class feeling that the privileged burgess regarded his less favoured fellow-townsman, and he had good reason to cherish the sentiment. According to the laws of the burgh, though they were not infrequently broken, the unfreeman could not follow handicraft, could not engage in any form of trade or merchandise, could not be taken into partnership by any freeman, nor be employed by him in any business capacity either at home or abroad. Shops and stalls were closed against him; in the market he could only buy within prescribed hours; and it was invidiously enacted in Edinburgh that on market-days he must take his position on the opposite side of the street from the freeman. Thus excluded from all these privileges, the unfreeman could hardly regard his favoured neighbours with fraternal feelings, and, in point of fact, the relations between the two sections of the community suggest a certain parallel to the relations

which existed between the plebeians and the patricians in ancient Rome.

But if the freeman had valuable privileges, he had also weighty responsibilities so weighty, indeed, that he often became convinced that he had made a bad bargain in acquiring them. He had first of all to pay a considerable sum for admission, which he might not be well able to spare-though, on occasion, for special services or some other reason, the fee was not exacted. Once admitted a full burgess, all the burdens of his new position devolved upon him. He had to take his share in watching and warding everywhere rigorously enforced; and, hardest duty of all, he had to be ready at any moment to don his jack and take up his halbert and hagbut, and march with his fellowburghers wherever the king might require his services. The privileged burgess had, in fact, to combine as best he could the duties of a feudal retainer with the special occupations by which he gained his bread. There was an ingenious method, indeed, by which all the privileges could be acquired without the responsibilities. enfranchised burgess might take up his residence beyond the limits of the burgh, and thus escape the round of duties that were the co-relative of his privileges. But though burgesses of this type were to be found in connection with all the towns, they were universally regarded as equivocal citizens who had no just right to exist. It was in times of crisis,

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when the calls for watching and warding were exacting, that the "out-burgher," as he was called, became the special object of distrust and dislike. Stringent laws would then be passed to the effect that all out-burgesses should at once take "stob and stake" in the town, and that thenceforward no person should be admitted to its freedom who did not undertake to discharge every obligation which that freedom involved. The very emphasis with which the out-burgher was denounced is, indeed, the strongest proof of the burdensome conditions of citizenship. Yet, in spite of legislation, the outburgher continued to exist, perhaps because his fee was a welcome addition to the town treasury, or because persons of substance who would make creditable citizens were not so numerous in the community.

But besides this deep cleavage between burgesses and non-burgesses, there was a further subdivision in the ranks of the burgesses themselves. The freedom of the town was shared by two classes of persons, who in Scotland were in bitter and chronic antagonism. The one was the class of merchants, the other the class made up of the more or less numerous crafts that were to be found in the free burghs. In the sixteenth century the term "merchant" had the same wide application which it still possesses in Scotland. It was equally applied to small shopkeepers, and to persons engaged in foreign trade. In the earlier

history of the Scottish towns, as in the case of those of other countries, the class of merchants had formed an oligarchy which mainly controlled the business of the burgh. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, however, a new power had appeared within the Scottish burghs, which was thenceforward to be be a countercheck to the

ascendency of the merchant class. By that period the various artisan crafts had attained such numbers and influence that the merchants were unable to maintain undisputed influence in the affairs of the burgh. But though the merchants had lost their former commanding position, their wealth and solidarity still enabled them to hold a preponderating influence in the community.

As in the case of all associations formed in preReformation times, the interests of religion were nominally the primary object of these merchant guilds, but, in point of fact, their main concern was the jealous guardianship of the interests of the class which composed them. The powers which they possessed were certainly ample enough for this purpose. It was the brethren of the guild who put in force all those restrictions on trade and commerce which have already been described. It was the guild officials who determined the prices of all commodities, who superintended the freighting of foreign-bound ships, who mulcted all unauthorised persons who ventured to infringe the ordinances regulating the trade of the burgh. To become a

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