The History of Leith

July 23, 2004

King James VI and Leith

High up on the north side of the tower of South Leith Parish Church can be seen the Coat of Arms of King James VI of Scotland and first of England not only this but on the west side can be seen the Coat of Arms of Charles I his son and successor who was executed in 1649. Within the Tower can be seen the Coats of Arms of his grandmother Maria de Loraine wife of James V better known as Maria de Guise and his mother Mary, Queen of Scots.

It is known that in 1616 that the Kings Loft was built in honour of King James and was situated on the East end of the present day South Aisle. However in 1614 the “Golden Charter” was granted by the King to the Kirk Session of South Leith on the 2nd March 1614. It bestowed on the Church the Church and Churchyard, and the lands of St Anthony’s, the Chapel of St James in Newhaven and other lands which the Preceptory owned. It was from this that the Barony of St Anthony was created and was quite separate from “Leith” until 1830. The members of the Session were also called the Preceptors of St Anthony. It was from this source that the King James VI hospital was built in what is now the Churchyard (the land on which it stood becoming available in 1822 after it was demolished and the Churchyard could be extended). However the hospital that was built around 1614 and then was demolished and rebuilt as there is mention in the records of a new King James VI Hospital being built but the date is unspecified. The site of the hospital being indicated on the Churchyard wall by crossed sword and sceptre with the inscription J.R.6 the coat of arms now in the tower came from here in 1848.

In the Kirk Records there is mention made of the Kings Work which can be seen on the Shore of Leith. It was here that King James stayed after his marriage to Anne of Denmark and the storms which were supposed to have been caused by the Berwick Witches. One of the owners of the Kings Work was Bernard Lindsay who was Chamberlain to King James and he gave his name to Bernard Street. As an aside Bernard Lindsay married Barbara Logan a South Leith on the 17th July 1589. They are now buried at South Leith.

James VI (1566-1625) Son of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley was born in Edinburgh Castle 19th June 1566. After Mary had fled to England four regencies followed based in Leith of Moray, Lennox, Mar and Morton however by 1585 James ruled in his on right. He ruled by cunning using a middle course in religion and a mixture of suppression and leniency towards the Church and nobles. His rule brought peace and security and he extended his control over the Borders, West Highlands, and the Northern Isles. He tried to graft the Episcopal system onto the Presbyterian system of Church government which succeeded up to a point but caused serious problems for his son Charles I when he succeeded to the throne on his father’s death. However he didn’t have the same political abilities as his father and caused the country to split into Civil War. He was also patron of the arts and a writer himself writing the “Basilikon Doron” on Kingship and the “Demonologue” a treatise on witchcraft. On the death of Queen Elizabeth he acceded to the English throne and the crowns of both England and Scotland were united.

Below can be seen some pictures from his life


In this room in Edinburgh Castle James VI was born. However the circumstances of the birth are shrouded in mystery. According to Bannatyne who was secretary to John knox mary was delivered with great ease by the necrmantic powers of of the Countess of Hohn, Earl of Athole who was deemed to be a sorceress and who cast the Queens pains onto the Lady Reeves who was at the Castle. However what is more interesting is the conversation between the Queen and Lord Darnley which took place in the little bedroom as recorded by Lord Herries.. As soon as Darnley arrived the Queen said ” My lord, God has given us a son and partially uncovering the childs face she added that he was his son and no other man’s son”.

The mystery comes in when the remain of an infant in an oak coffin was discovered wrapped in a shroud marked with the letter “J” were discovered built up in the old palace of the Castle in 1830. They were replaced in the same place on the orders of General Thackeray of the Royal Engineers.

The implication is that mary’s Child died and had be replaced by another but unfortunately there is plenty of speculation but no proof. However as Mary added in her conversation with Darnley ” She had forgiven the murder of Rizzo, but would never forget”. Did she get her revenge by ensuring Darnley’s son would never succeed to the throne. We will never know.


James VI aged about eight painting by R Lockey after Arnold van Brounhorst


A sixteenth century child ready to play golf. James played Golf and may have played at Leith Links.


The Execution of Mary. Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle on the 8th February 1587. The castle was later demolished on the orders of James VI


Anne of Denmark whom James married in 1589 returning to Leith in 1590


The trial of the Berwick witches. The picture above is from a wood cut showing the devil preaching to the witches. Beneath James is seen interrogating Agnes Simpson and three of her fellow witches. He became convinced of witchcraft when Agnes Simpson told him in secret his conversation with his wife on his wedding night.


Portrait of James VI as a young man of twenty seven by an unknown artist.


James eldest son Henry from a miniture by Issac Oliver painted in 1612 just before his death.


Minitures by Nicholas Hilliard of Charles who became Charles I and his sister Elizabeth who became Queen of Bohemia after marriage to Frederick, the Elector Palatine in 1613.


James VI in 1605 after becoming King of England by John de Critz


One of a pair of Communion Cups which King James was going to present to South Leith Church but couldn’t as they had been stolen. However after almost three hundred years later they were found by Dr Mitchell in a Hamburg Antique Shop and presented to the Church. Dr Mitchell was minister of South Leith from 1864-1903

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