The History of Leith

June 3, 2004

Charters and Slavery

One of the most famous Charters in the history of Scotland and one which it is often stated to have started all the troubles between Leith and Edinburgh was one granted to the City of Edinburgh by Robert the Bruce dated the 28th May 1329. However this Charter only confirms an earlier Charter of Alexander III (1241-1286). It is written in the following terms-

“Robert by the grace of God King of Scots to all good men of this land greeting, know ye that we have given, granted, and to perform let, and by this our present charter confirmed to the burgesses of our burgh Edinburgh, our foresaid burgh of Edinburgh, together with the port of Leith, mills, and their pertinents, to have and to hold, to the said burgesses and their successors of us and our heirs, freely, quietly, fully and honourably by all their right meithes and marches with all commodities, liberties and easements which justly pertained to the said burgh in the time of King Alexander our predecessor last deceased of good memory, paying therefore the said burgesses and their successors to us and our heirs, yearly, fifty two merks sterling at the terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas in winter in equal proportions. In witness whereof we have commanded our seal to be affixed to our present Charter. Testibus (witnessed) Walter of Twynham, our Chancellor, Thomas Randolph Earl of Moray, Lord of Annandale and Man our nephew, James, Lord of Douglas, Gilbert of Hay our constable, Robert of Keith our Marischall of Scotland and Adam Moore knights. At Cardross the 28th May in the twenty fourth year of our reign (Burgh Charters)

From the date of this Charter a contest for the right of superiority commenced and was to last until 1833 when Leith became a Parliamentary Burgh and therefore free of Edinburgh.

Another infamous Charter was the one granted by Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig the feudal overlord of Leith on the 27th of February 1413 in which for a great sum of money from Edinburgh he granted to them a charter restraining the inhabitants of Leith from carrying on a trade of any sort, from possessing warehouses or shops, from keeping Inns for strangers. “So nothing should be built or constructed in the said land (in Leith) in future to the prejudice of the said community (Edinburgh). This led to other oppressive Charters. Even the Cromwellian General Monck said in 1650 that he had “never seen a town more enslaved like Leith was to Edinburgh”. It was for this reason of not being able to work in the Town which turned many Leithers to the sea to make a living and in turn created some of the most famous seamen in Scottish and British history however the resentment against Edinburgh still exists to this day.

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