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finest towns in Scotland ”; Hamilton “an handsome little market town”; Linlithgow "a fair, ancient
, town and well built, some part of it of stone”; Montrose "a beautiful town" with "a very good harbour"; Perth “a very pretty place, pleasant and well fitted to be the site of a good town”; Aberdeen “a rich and handsome town, inhabited by an excellent people," and St Andrews “one of the best towns in Scotland,” though unfortunately with neither a good harbour nor good roads.
Chief among the Scottish towns for beauty and attractiveness, however, was Glasgow, though in the reign of Mary it held but the eleventh place in the point of taxable value. Glasgow was, in truth, the only place in Scotland regarding which strangers expressed themselves with unqualified enthusiasm. In the latter half of the fifteenth century Hardyng described it as “a goodly cytee”; and alike by its situation and the nobility and picturesqueness of its buildings it must have fully deserved the eulogy. To modern eyes the uncontaminated Clyde, with its adjoining meadows, and spanned by its magnificent bridge of eight arches, would have seemed a glorious adornment in itself. And the town was not unworthy of its natural advantages. Dominating its precincts was the Cathedral, venerable even in the time of Mary, and close by it the stately Bishop's Palace, while clustering round them were the houses of the thirty-two prebends, each with its garden or orchard
attached. “ The very prospect of this flourishing city," writes an Englishman about the middle of the seventeenth century, when the town was not greatly altered from what it was in the time of Mary, “the very prospect of this flourishing city reminds me of the beautiful fabrics and the florid fields in England.” All these flattering descriptions of Scottish towns, be it noted, are from the pens of strangers, and the inference must be that neither taste nor comfort was wholly unknown to our ancestors in the reign of Mary.
If Glasgow impressed the stranger as the most beautiful of Scottish towns, Edinburgh equally impressed them as the most striking and peculiar. By the time of Mary Edinburgh was far and away the most important place in Scotland—first in wealth, in population and political significance. It was only for about a century, however, that it had been distinctively pre-eminent among other Scottish towns. According to Froissart, at the close of the fourteenth century it was less than Tournai and Valenciennes and did not contain more than four hundred houses. A remark of John Major, who wrote in the beginning of the fifteenth century, may explain how it was that Edinburgh took the first place among its rivals. For about a hundred years before his day, Major tells us, the kings of Scotland almost continuously resided there; and the fact was decisive in the fortunes of the town. As the permanent residence
of the Court, it gradually became the centre where national business was transacted. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Parliaments, and General Councils, and Conventions rarely met in Edinburgh; at its close they seldom met elsewhere. By the reign of Mary, Edinburgh had likewise become the permanent seat of the supreme Court of Law. The Court, known as the “Session,” which had been set up by James I., had met at intervals in different towns of the kingdom, but the “ Judicial Council,” founded in 1504 by James IV., and, still more decisively, the creation of the College of Justice by James V. in 1533 made Edinburgh the headquarters of law in Scotland. Already in 1482 James III. could speak of Edinburgh as “the principal burgh in kingdom," 23 and by the reign of Mary, it was not only without a rival but even without a worthy second.
We have many descriptions of the appearance which Edinburgh presented in the sixteenth century, but these descriptions are for the most part based on native authorities.
It may be interesting, therefore, to note the impression which the city made on the eyes of strangers who would naturally remark what specifically distinguished it from the cities of other countries. It should be said that these testimonies belong to a little later date than the reign of Mary; but the passages I
' shall quote undoubtedly apply to the town as it
appeared throughout the latter half of the sixteenth century.
The one feature of the city which arrested the attention of every stranger and excited their admiration was the great street that stretched then, as it does now, from the Castle to Holyrood. Its length, its spaciousness, and the cleanness of the thoroughfare struck English and Continental visitors alike as unique in their experience of cities. Their testimony on this point is so unanimous that we cannot doubt that they recorded their genuine impressions. From these testimonies it is clear that the Princes Street of to-day does not impress the stranger more vividly than the High Street with its continuations impressed the stranger of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. “This street,” says one, " is the glory and beauty of this city;
"24 and another writes that Edinburgh “has no beauty except that of its great street.” “So, leaving the Castle,” exclaims a enthusiastic observer, “I descended lower to the city, wherein I observed the fairest and goodliest street that ever mine eyes beheld, for I did never see or hear of a street of that length which is half an English mile from the Castle to a fair they call the Netherbow.”25 Specially noteworthy is the tribute of James Howell, one of the most widely-travelled and accomplished Englishmen of his time, who tells us that, with the exception of Palermo, he had never seen a finer street than that
of Edinburgh.26 But it was not only the length of this wonderful street that impressed all strangers; its spaciousness appeared to them an equally unique characteristic. It is to be remembered that, as towns had grown up in the Middle Ages, their streets were for the most part mere narrow and dingy wynds, into which the sun never shone owing to the height of the overhanging houses. One of the most fashionable streets in Paris in the sixteenth century was the Rue St Jacques, and, as its lines are still preserved, it enables us to form some notion of the amenity of a European capital of that period. We cannot be surprised, therefore, that a French visitor, who must have been well acquainted with Paris, was astounded at the sight of the High Street of Edinburgh. “This street,” he remarks, “ is so wide that it seems a market-place throughout its whole extent.” 27
Still another feature that attracted attention was the excellent paving which made locomotion pleasant both for riders and pedestrians. It is a critical Englishman who writes as follows of this creditable feature of the Scottish capital. It “is the best paved street with boulder stones (which are very great ones) that I have seen ; the channels
l are very conveniently contrived on both sides the streets, so as there is none in the middle ; but it is the broadest, largest, and fairest pavement and that entire, to go, ride, or drive upon.
Here they usually walk in the middle of the street, which is a