The History of Leith

December 20, 2003

The life and times of Gilbert Edmonstoune

This Project began with a stroke of luck. I have been working on the history of the area covered by the parish of Newton in midlothian,since a local history society began 21/2 years ago. Being a relative incomer,and a librarian,I opted to pursue written material, and set out to comb the indices of any likely looking books, making a chronological card index of anything that I found

One day I was going through the volumes of the Old Edinburgh Club,picking up oddments like icehouses and dovecots,when one name directed me to a paper by John Russell on.the Crawfords of Bonnington,and present me with a younger son of the laird of my area, in the time of James III and james IV a Leith Captain and a friend of Sir Robert Barton.It was said that he was mentioned in Andrew Halyburton’s Ledger. I think that somehow it was because his ship was named that he came to life for me.

On going home to fit the prize into my index,I discovered that I had already ,worked out some of his family from charters etc. and in fact had already found two references to himself in the Acts of the Lords of Council- although I hadn’t been sure that the Gilbert Edmonstone of Leith was connected with the family of that Ilk,and the relative ages ,worried me a bit.

The only copy of the Ledger available seemed to be Cosmo Innes’ book in the National Library, I didn’t quite see myself going into the Record Office and asking for my first reader’s ticket,and a book dating from the 15th century,all in one breath – and I couldn’t Have read it anyway, You can imagine my delight when we went there for our visit,and saw the original Ledger on display(plus a neat little quotation suitable for my project.) Then I wanted to know what kind of ship he had, what clothes,house and living conditions, and got involved in the strife between the Edinburgh merchants and the Leith mariners.
The Russell article made it plain that there were descendants to the Leith famil,y,so I tried the Services of Heirs,and found some possibles. I have been photocopying bibliographies out of history texts,and so found out about Protocol Books,so I tackled these)trying to find,Gilbert’s associates and the witnesses to his Chatter founding of the chapel to St Barbara in Our lady’s Kirk of Leith. It was only in the last week that I obtained the book of James Young,’,with its profusion of information on Leith – too much to do justice to in the time. ‘With so much detail about whose property bounded the piece in question,I wonder if anyone has tried to reconstitute the Leith of the 15th century?

The ship Julyan seemed to disappear from the Ledger before Gilbert did,so I went looking for references to it as opposed to him, even though I am not abso11utely certain that it was indeed his ship. I tried the Exchequer Rolls for Customs details, and found Gilbert’s involvement in the fish trade, had at the Treasurer’s Accounts because Mackie’s “James IV” had quoted them to such effect, and found the King’s purchase of hats and bonnets from Gilbert. Definitely a lucky project!

After our wVisit to the Record Office, I went along and got my reader’s ticket at last, knowing tHat there were one or two customs books for around 1500,

1500,and I did indeed get originals in my hand after all – and they didn’t turn a hair.’ The books .were surprisingly small, and I could just about make out a few familiar – by this time- names, but I had to sketch the entries. ‘While there I looked at the Commissariot lists and discovered a good number of Edmonstone wills,including another Gilbert. I have not found Gilberts elsewhere in the family so I hope that those I find will be his descendants.

One find in a Protocol book refers to a Gilbert Edmonstoun’s property as bounding another.If I can only find out where that was …….
I had been looking for a reference to Duries Decisions ‘which I thought was in Chambers (I do usually record my sources ! ), when a member of the history society brought along an unspecified book which she had been promising to show me for some months. It turned out to be the third volume of Grant’s “Old and New Edinburgh and I found not only my reference, but amention of an Edmonstons involved with Leith almost a century earlier.
In the end,I seem to have as many loose ends to follow up as I thought I had to begin with,both in the Leith section and others which turned up during this time of research,and so ad infinitum – I hope!

Early Years

Gilbert Edmonstoune’s first so-far-recorded appearance was a rather unfortunate one before the Lords of Council on 6th May 1483, when Johne of Edmonstun of that Ilk became surety that”Anselmus Sessand,Andreas Lepeldok and Johne McKalze salbe harmles and skaithles of Gilbert of Edmonstoun baith in their persone and guds” etc under pain of “jm crowns, and under the same conditions the three guaranteed Gilbert “scaithles of them and all that they may let.”

Andreas Lepeldck does not appear in the Acts again,but John McKalze appears in different spellings,and is quoted once as a burgess of Linlithgow,while Anselmus Sessand is accused later in the year of the Wrongous occupation and manuring of a land and tenement in the burgh of Linlithgow”.He did not appear, was judged guilty and ordered to return the rents which he had taken.

The fact that John had to stand surety for Gilbert suggests youth, and in a document ten years later Gilbert is descibed as YOung indweller in Leith, so the strong likelihood is that his parents were John Edmonstoune of that Ilk and Margaret MIatland of the Thirlestne family.

On 23rd July 1469,an indenture wws made at Dunfermline, between John and his neighbour, William Preston of Craigmillar, that John, eldest son and heir or, failing him,William, second son, would marry Margaret Preston, or in case of her death,her sister Elizabeth – neither marriage took place. Nothing more is heard of Wllliam, who may have died young.
John the heir and his wife died childless before his father,and the Edmonstone lands were granted in feu charter by the father in Sept. 1499 t0 his son David, Rector of fawlo,reserving liferent to himself. Since Gilbert was still alive at this time,he would have been at least a fourth son,with his own way to make. Another brother,James,was a knight in 1507,inherited the estate of Ednam,and was heir to David at Edmonstone,but as this was the year of Gilbert’s death, the order Off their birth is not clear. (it seems likely that James died at Flodden,as his heir wasconfirmed early in 1514.)

From earliest times in Scotland,there was no disgrace in a younger son taking to trade, and he might move freely between the societies Off burgesses, traders and lairds as his circumstances required. Burgesses also might acquire land,and education was available to those in a position to take advantage of it. For Gilbert there was precedent – in 1381 Richard II of England gave a permission to his great,great-egrandfather Sir John,to”take 200 quarters of malt with his owm vessels from a port on the coast oIf Lincolnshire to any port he please in Scotland.” furthermore his (step?)grandmother was Janet Napier of Merchiston,and Sir Alexander Napier had been an Admiral of Scotland in the 1460s.

In a paper written by John Russell for the Old Edinburgh Club on the lands of Bonnington,he states that the second of three sisters,heiresses of the Crawfords of Bonnington: married Gilbert Edmonstoune,a younger son off the Laird of that Ilk,and a noted Leith sailorman,who owned and sailed the good ship Julyan.(Elizabeth’s eldersister married a Logan of Restalrig a family who appear from time to time in the future dealings of the Edmonstoune family.

On 26th October 1493,Gilbert was before the Lords of Council again,at the instance of the Provost and Bailies of Edinburgh, and in company with five other Leithers,accused of the wrongous ‘vexation and troubling of the said Provost and Bailies,Council and Court over the space of two years,concerning payment of anchorage, customs and dues Off their ships and divers other goods, which they should have entered after the form of the infeIftments made thereupon.” The due penalty claimed was the escheat off the unentered goods “the tane half to our sovrane lord and the other to the Provost,Bailies etc.” Letters were given to summon witnesses. Gilbert is now,therefore,resident in Leith,and has been a ship’s captain if not owmer for at least tw0 years.His companions in trouble were David Croole,Johne Sterned, William Wod and George of Cornetoune Young indwellars of Leith. (David White, Johne Sterhed is likely to be a member of a large and busy family in Leith well represented in the Protocol books.

William Wod and in earlier times,William of the Wood,who was a bailie of Edinburgh, appear as witnesses. Wlilliam .wo0d witnessed the charter by Abbot Bellenden of a Holyrood,in 1493 to build the chapel to St.Ninian beside his new bridge over the Water Of Leith.

George of Cornetoun had claims on a piece of land after the nonentre of John Edmonstone of that Ilk in 1494,and had trouble with James. Logan over it. He also witnessed some property dealings of Robert Barton,and took sasine of a piece of the Cornetoun family property in 1506 – an Edmonstoun witnessing.

In 1506 and 1507 he was associated with Robert Barton in buying wood for the King’s fleet abroad.

David White is mentioned several times in the Acts of The Lords in Council,is involved with property bought by Barton in Leith in 1500/1, and seems to be concerned with the Baxters,perhaps transporting grain(rye on one occasion),and once over some trouble concerning the Baxters chapel in St. Giles and its chaplain Master Clement. (Clement had been to Rome – with the King ‘s permission – but it looks as if the Baxters may have thought he was neglecting his duties at home!)

To be continued……….

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