Exploring my inner Scot — 3

You ken that I was an Elder of the Kirk at one time, and that, at the end, in a Kirk that closely resembled what you may read at the Inverness Branch of the Scottish Reformation Society.

In contrast the official gateway to Scottish Culture is bland pap.

FotoSketcher - Picture0024a2

Of course one of Scotland’s – and the world’s – great treasures is Rabbie Burns. His satire on the most characteristic dogma of Scots Calvinism is as potent today as it was over 200 years ago.

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends aen to Heaven an’ ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They’ve done afore Thee!

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an’ grace
A burning and a shining light
To a’ this place.

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation?
I wha deserv’d most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years ‘ere my creation,
Thro’ Adam’s cause.

When from my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung’d me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain’d to their stakes.

Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I’m here a pillar o’ Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a’ Thy flock.

And so on. Not only is Holy Willie a hypocrite, as becomes obvious if you read on, but God is clearly in urgent need of psychiatric assessment. A psychopath of the first order. However, the people often rose above their beliefs – or were buoyed up by them to a supreme confidence in being indeed a chosen sample, and this, along with a passion for education, helps to explain the enormous contribution the Scots, in our case via their boat people, have made to British Commonwealth, US and world life and culture – far greater than one might expect given their numbers and the remoteness of Scotland.

On that see also To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 by T.M. Devine.

Why then did it send so many of its citizens abroad? The answer varies according to time and place of origin. Emigrants came from all over the country. Some, particularly in the Highlands and islands, were certainly poor, even destitute, and the clearances in the late 1840s and early 1850s were undeniably brutal and often coercive. Most of those who left, however, were not utterly impoverished; many had skills and qualifications. Some were driven by martial spirit, missionary zeal or imperial fervour. The empire, Mr Devine points out, was an emphatically British venture in which the Scots saw themselves as equal partners with the English, giving them self-respect as well as prosperity.

The main motive, though, was the desire for a better life and more opportunities. In this, and in their readiness to work hard, Scots were much like emigrants elsewhere. Similarly, like other emigrants, they persecuted native Americans, exterminated aborigines, stole land, defrauded their partners, exploited their workers and happily traded in opium. They did not trade in slaves, not much anyway. But Scotland’s economy in the 18th century was inextricably intertwined with slavery through the sugar, tobacco and cotton industries, plus the civil and military structures that sustained them. Scots were pretty average in other ways, too. They made bad investments, could be thoroughly prejudiced (often about each other) and, it should be remembered, frequently returned home as failures (over 40% in the 1890s).

Yet in some ways they were untypical. They were often educated, which helped to account for the high numbers of lawyers, doctors and engineers among them. This in turn may explain why they were so influential in the lands where they settled. They were also militaristic, religious (David Livingstone, still revered in Africa, became a Victorian saint), loyal (notably to the Crown in the American colonies) and liberal (reflecting the Scottish Enlightenment). Above all, they were numerous, at times proportionately more so than any European nation except the Irish and perhaps the Norwegians.

I have been having fun with, among other sources, exploring my Presbyterian and Scottish background via Project Gutenberg. Here is some of what I have in my Calibre Library and on my Kobo Reader.


Of those let me highlight one.


That’s a good book – and the page is linked too.

Consider this:

IN no country and at no time has a more searching system of ecclesiastical discipline been attempted than in Scotland in the first century after the Reformation. Not only was the teaching or the practice of the unreformed faith punished with the severest penalties, not only was attendance at church and the learning of religion, as the reformers understood it, rigidly enforced; but even the private life of the people was watched and scrutinized. The behaviour of the congregation on the way home from divine service, the amusements which formed the relaxation of the people, the dress of the women in the street as well as at kirk, the snuff-taking of the men, domestic broils and filial misbehaviour in the various households,—these and other such matters were discussed by ecclesiastical tribunals and visited with pains and penalties, as much as offences against human or divine laws. The country was overspread with a network of church authorities claiming disciplinary powers, there was quite an arsenal of punitive machines in every district, and the whole system was kept in motion by the free use of espionage. Verily, in Scotland “new presbyter was,” as Milton said, “but old priest writ large,” larger in fact than the original by far. Even the soldiery of the Commonwealth, sufficiently used to the methods of Puritanism in England, were astonished and disgusted with the ways and means of Scottish discipline; so much so that during their stay in the country in 1650 they destroyed many of the weapons of this intolerable tyranny; and it is indeed surprising that the people themselves accepted it so long with submission. That the Church has authority to use discipline over its members is admitted; and that at the present time this authority is too little recognised is, in the opinion of very many, equally true; but in the day of its supremest power the Scottish Kirk Sessions seem to have usurped a universal authority. The punitive rights of the State, the proper control which a man has within his own house, even that discipline which every one should learn to exercise over himself, all these, as well as that influence which more strictly is the province of the Church, the Kirk endeavoured to control and enforce by means of its own ecclesiastical courts.

Of these courts the first was the “Exercise,” as it was at first quaintly called, from the custom of “making exercise,” or critically examining a given passage of Scripture; more properly described as the Presbytery. Next to this came the authority of the Synod, or district court, and the final appeal lay to the General Assembly. Of these the higher courts not infrequently did much more than exercise appellant jurisdiction, issuing orders to spur on the zeal of the inferior ones.

The methods of punishment employed by the Kirk were various. Excommunications were freely launched against offenders, especially against those who did not accept in their fulness the teaching and practices of the reformers. Public penance was also resorted to, often in addition to some other form of punishment; the penance usually involving the use of the “repentance-stool,” or the jaggs, or jougs….


The jagg or jougs consisted of an iron collar fastened by a padlock, which hung from a chain secured in the church wall near the principal entrance. An offender sentenced to the jagg was compelled to stand locked within this collar for an hour or more before the morning service on one or more Sundays. About the time of the Revolution this dropt out of use, chiefly from the fact that the State no longer suffered the powers of the Kirk to be carried with so high a hand; several of the old jaggs, however, yet remain. At Merton, Berwickshire, at Clova, in Forfarshire, and at Duddingston, Midlothian, the instrument may still be seen attached to the kirk wall; the jaggs of Stirling and of Galashiels have also been preserved, though removed from their original places.[12]

Besides the repentance-stool and the jagg, which were specially the weapons of the kirk, there were other instruments of punishment employed by the State, to which the Kirk also did not hesitate at times to have recourse. Just as the Spanish Inquisition handed over those whom it condemned to the “secular arm” for punishment, so the Scottish Kirk passed resolutions desiring the bailies to put this or that offender in gyves; magistrates were requested to imprison others, “their fude to be bread and watter;” employers were instructed to fine or chastise servants who used profane language; and town authorities were solicited to procure appliances for “ducking” certain classes of sinners. The brank or scold’s bridle, the stocks, and the pillory, were used by the ecclesiastical, no less than by the civil, authorities; the Kirk also imposed fines, decreed banishment, used the steeples as prisons, and inflicted mutilation, and even death, upon offenders; its power to enforce these sentences being largely due to the fact that civil disabilities followed the pronouncement of excommunication. The excommunicated person was an outlaw; he could hold no land, might be imprisoned by any magistrate to whom he was denounced, and was to be “boycotted” by friends, followers, and tradesmen; any one showing him the smallest consideration, or affording him the least assistance, was liable to a similar punishment. These large powers were only abrogated in 1690.

Among the offences dealt with by the Kirk, a prominent place was given to adherence to the unreformed faith, and to any apparent lack of zeal for presbyterianism. Saying mass according to the ancient rite, or even hearing it, or giving any countenance to such as did so, was severely dealt with. Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, was summoned, with nearly fifty others, before the High Court in 1563, charged with saying mass; and although he was liberated at that time, he was subsequently hanged. For a similar “crime,” John Carvet was put in the pillory at Edinburgh, in 1565; other priests were banished in 1613; and another (John Ogilvie) was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in 1615. For hearing mass, John Logane was fined a thousand pounds in 1613, and many persons were from time to time imprisoned, or otherwise punished. The Church festivals were also put under a ban. The General Assembly in 1645 prohibited schoolmasters from granting a holiday at Christmas; the Kirk Session of St. Andrews punished several persons for keeping that festival in 1573; and in 1605 the same authority at Dundonald summoned a man for not ploughing on “Zuile day” (Yule). To harbour a priest, to possess books of Catholic devotion, to paint a crucifix, all these were recognised offences, which were visited with fines and imprisonment. In 1631 Sir John Ogilvy of Craig was committed to jail for “daily conversing” with supporters of the old faith….

If there had been a few Bamiyan Buddhas to blow up in Scotland some of those old Presbyterians would have been up for it.  For example:


Well what a day! After a beautiful breakfast off we went to Girvan. [link on image above]

We passed a beautiful old abbey and couldn’t resist a photograph.  It is called the Crossraguel Abbey and was built in 1244 by Duncan, Earl of Carrick.  See website:  http://www.maybole.org/places/crossraguel/abbey.htm

This abbey was destroyed during the Reformation when the Roman Catholic Church outlawed throughout Scotland and England by King Henry VIII.

Not quite right as Henry VIII’s changes did not apply in Scotland, which afterwards had its own Reformation. Crossraguel continued as an Abbey until 1560. Henry VIII died in 1547.

500 years of Roman Catholicism, and any semblance of religious tolerance, came to a juddering halt with the Reformation in 1560. In Scotland this took the form of an orgy of destruction driven by an especially radical brand of Presbyterian Protestantism ("Presbyterian" means governed by representative committees rather than by a hierarchy of bishops). It led to the supplanting of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland by the Presbyterian Kirk; and to the loss of much of the magnificent architecture built during the previous 500 years.

But to leave it there would be unfair. However, that is it for today! Enjoy the Burns.

  • And on contemporary boat people, as distinct from my own ancestors, do make sure you read Lucy Robb in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.  I can’t bring myself to discuss the current cesspit called Parliament on this at the moment – but she does have something worth saying. Whether the dolts will take notice is another matter!  God, even Clive Palmer made more sense the other day than they have lately!