Thursday, November 24, 2011

Skirmish in Edinburgh

‘At every turn, Roland Graeme might see a gallant ruffle along in the newer or French mode, his doublet slashed, and his points of the same colours with the lining, his long sword on one side, and his poniard on the other, behind him a body of stout serving men, proportioned to his estate and quality, all of whom walked with the air of military retainers, and were armed with sword and buckler, the latter being a small round shield, not unlike the Highland target, having a steel spike in the centre. Two of these parties, each headed by a person of importance, chanced to meet in the very centre of the street, or, as it was called, "the crown of the cause-way," a post of honour as tenaciously asserted in Scotland, as that of giving or taking the wall used to be in the more southern part of the island. The two leaders being of equal rank, and, most probably, either animated by political dislike, or by recollection of some feudal enmity, marched close up to each other, without yielding an inch to the right or the left; and neither showing the least purpose of giving way, they stopped for an instant, and then drew their swords. Their followers imitated their example; about a score of weapons at once flashed in the sun, and there was an immediate clatter of swords and bucklers, while the followers on either side cried their master's name; the one shouting "Help, a Leslie! a Leslie!" while the others answered with shouts of "Seyton!  Seyton!" with the additional punning slogan, "Set on, set on--bear the knaves to the ground!"…’

The fight scene above comes from Walter Scott’s “The Abbot”.  The streets of Edinburgh will soon turn red with the blood of Setons and Leslies.  The notes to the Edinburgh Edition of this novel provide a historic reference for this scene.  A fuller description of the reference is found in Major William Bruce Armstrong’s “The Bruces of Airth and their cadets”.  The fight occurred this day, November 24th, in the year 1567.  

‘Nov. 24, 1567. — "At 2 afternoon the Laird of Airth and the Laird of Wemyss met upon the Hie
Gait of Edinburgh, and they and their followers faught a very bluidy skirmish, where there was 
many hurt on both sides with shot of pistol." 
From Diary of Robert Birrel from 1532 to 1605, page 13.
Apparently in consequence of this affair, there was, on the 27 November, "a strait proclamation
discharging the wearing culverins, dags, pistolets, or sic other fireworks," with injunctions that 
any one contravening should be seized and subjected to summary trial " as gif they had committit 
recent slauchters." From Privy Council Records.’

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