« AnteriorContinuar »
new developments that distinguish the reign of Mary.
A mediæval writer gives the following list of the occupations of a feudal baron when he was not engaged in his usual trade of war; hunting, fishing, fencing, jousting, chess-playing, bear-baiting, receiving guests, talking with ladies, holding his court, keeping himself warm, and watching the
The feudal lord of the sixteenth century still kept up most of these amusements of his ancestors, but he had acquired some other tastes and accomplishments besides. The spread of education that had followed the revival of learning had affected the nobility as well as other classes in the community. In every country the nobles had set themselves to acquire the accomplishments which had become indispensable to make a tolerable figure either in court or camp, and they had the example of kings to stimulate them. Henry VIII. was learned for a king, and, though Francis I. and James IV. were not highly instructed, they piqued themselves on being patrons of art and letters. If the great nobles were to keep pace with the times they had to acquire the arts and graces that were requisite to commend them to royal favour. A Scottish noble of the sixteenth century, and especially of its latter half, could no longer glory in the ignorance of a Bell-the-Cat, and, in point of fact, the lords who played a leading part in the reign of Mary generally possessed all the
attainments requisite for the new statecraft and diplomacy. Such were the Earls of Glencairn and Cassillis and the Lord James Stewart, all of whom had passed through the discipline of the schools. Most of them still continued to live in the grim abodes they had inherited from their fathers, but, as we shall afterwards see, they had begun to deck their apartments, to furnish their tables, and to adorn their persons in a fashion which had been unknown to their fathers. And the same change had passed over the manners of the lesser barons and gentry. In the case of those regarding whom we possess biographical details we usually find that they had received a learned education both at home
a and abroad. Such men as Kirkcaldy of Grange, Sir James Sandilands, and Erskine of Dun were trained in all the accomplishments that were required of the gentlemen of the period.*
To the avocations of the mediæval baron, therefore, his representative in the latter half of the sixteenth century added others of a more humane description. He collected books and read them, as did the Regent Moray. If his means afforded it, he studied in the Continental schools, and completed his education by an extended course of travel. But the most notable change in the upper classes was in their increasing desire for a more social life than had satisfied their fathers. Hitherto, the baron and laird had lived in stern seclusion in his paternal abode, holding intercourse with few but his im
mediate attendants. Now, however, it became a common custom for baron and laird, and even bishop, to take up his residence in the nearest village or burgh, and settle there with his household for a considerable portion of the year.
In some cases he might have a house of his own where he could make his quarters, but, as often as not, he hired lodgings for himself and his dependants, and apparently was not always strict in the settlement of his accounts. This new custom of the country magnates was not favourably regarded by the legislature. In 1581 an Act was passed denouncing it as a “great abuse contrary to the honour of the realm and different from the honest frugality of their forbears," and ordaining that “every prelate, lord, baron, and landed gentleman shall make his ordinary dwelling and residence at his own house with his family in all time coming.". But this was precisely one of those statutes which in the nature of things was doomed to be futile; the obnoxious innovation which it denounced was, in truth, only the result of the expanding life of a class, which like every other was being influenced by the social developments of the time. Henceforward, and to the close of the eighteenth century, the Scottish nobles and gentry continued to keep up the custom which had thus begun, and to this custom we must partly ascribe the genial relations which subsisted between the different social orders in the country.
Passing from the upper classes to those dependent on them, we have to note an important change in the condition of their tenants, the beginning of which dates from a period considerably before the reign of Mary. John Major, writing in the opening years of the sixteenth century, has the following interesting passage: “If the landlords would let their lands in perpetuity,” he says, "they might have double and treble of the profit that now comes to them, and for this reason; the country folk would then cultivate their land beyond all comparison better, would grow richer, and would build fair dwellings that should be an ornament to the country; nor would these murders take place which follow the eviction of the holder. If a landlord have let to another the holding of a quarrelsome fellow, him will the evicted man murder as if he were the landlord's bosom friend." 5 In
passing we cannot but note how history repeats itself.
It is curious that in this connection Major makes no reference to the fact that the legislature had made a serious attempt to prevail on landlords "to let their lands in perpetuity.” In 1457 the Estates urged the king to show an example to other landlords by leasing his lands in feu-farm ; and in 1503, about the date when Major was writing his History, the Estates passed another statute making it lawful for the king to let his lands on these terms, though on the condition that it involved no loss of rental.” From this period
onward holding by feu-farm became gradually more prevalent, and by the beginning of the reign of Mary it must have been general throughout the country. Though attended by some disadvantages, the tenure by feu-farm was equally in the interest of the landlord and the tenant. The landlord received a higher rent, and, when he substituted a feu for a lease, and on every occasion when the land changed tenants, he had the right to a substantial grassum or fine from the new tenant. On the other hand, it was a loss to him that, by agreeing to a fixed rent, he could not profit by the increasing value of his land.
The tenant was likewise a gainer by the new arrangement. He had to pay a higher rent, but he obtained the invaluable privilege of security of tenure. Moreover, by the arrangement of a fixed rent in produce or money, he escaped what had been a grievous burden on the farmers of the Middle Ages—the casualties of ward, marriage, and recognition, and other petty dues that had grown up under the feudal system. It was in the case of smaller holdings that the new method of tenancy did not prove an unmixed blessing. Exert themselves as they might, the poorer farmers were frequently unable to meet the double burden of increased grassums and increased rent, and were driven to surrender their holdings. On this evil, as on so many others, Sir David Lyndsay lays his finger in his “Satire of the Three Estates":