The History of Leith

December 3, 2004

Keeping the wolves from the door

The wolf was the last of the large predators to roam Scotland.

Although wolves probably died out in Scotland in the 18th century, they were a threat to life and livestock for centuries, and the Scottish Parliament regularly passed acts offering rewards to those who caught and destroyed wolves.

This month’s document is one of a series of acts passed by the Scottish Parliament over hundreds of years, relating to the destruction of wolves. In several of these acts a bounty or reward was offered to anyone killing a wolf.

This act is from March 1457 during the reign of James II (1437 – 1460). It ordains that during the period between St. Mark’s Day and Lammas, described in the Act as the times of the quhelppis [whelps or young], the sheriff will gather hunting parties. It instructs that the head of any slain wolf is to be presented by the killer to the sheriff, baillie or baron and a reward of six shillings eight pence (half a merk) would be paid. Hunting for wolves at this time is made mandatory although probably at the discretion of the county sheriff or local magnate. This was a common practice, details of which had been laid down by ‘The Auld Act’. Clearly, the ‘Auld Act’ referred to is another piece of legislation concerning wolves. However whether this means the most recent previous act, the first, original, act on the subject or some other legislation in between is unknown.

There are several folk tales about ‘The Last Wolf’. In his book A Tour in Scotland (1775), Thomas Pennant claimed that the last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1680 near Killiecrankie by Sir Ewan Cameron of Lochiel.


The Acts of James the Secund fol. XLV

Item it is ordainit for the distructioun of wolfis, that in ilk cuntrie quhair ony is, the Schiref or the Baillies of that cuntrie sall gadder the cuntrie folk thre tymes in the yeir, betwixt Sanct Markis day and Lambnes, for that is the tyme of the quhelppis. And quhat ever he be that rysis not with the Schiref, Baillie, or Barrone within him self, sall pay unforgeuin a wedder, as is contenit in the auld act maid thairupone. And he that slayis ane wolf in ony tyme, he sall haue of ilk houshalder of that parochin that the wolf is slaine within, a penny. And gif ony wolf happinnis to cum in the cuntrie that wit be gottin of, the cuntries salbe reddy, and ilk houshalder to hunt thame under the pane [pain] foirsaid. And they that slayis ane wolf sall bring the heid to the Schiref, Baillie, or Barrone, and he salbe dettour to the slayar for the soume foirsaid. And quhatsumeuer he be, that flayis ane wolf, and bringis the heid to the Schiref, Lord, Baillie, or Barone, he sall have. VI.8


Item: It is ordained for the destruction of wolves that in any area where there are wolves, the sheriff or baillies [magistrates] of that area shall gather the local people three times in the year, between St Mark’s day [25 April] and Lammas [1 August], for that is the time of the whelps. [Presumably, those gathered were to go on a hunting trip although this is not actually stated.] Whoever does not join with the sheriff, baillie or baron shall pay a fine of a wedder [either a castrated male lamb or the going price of one] as the old act stipulates. If anyone slays a wolf at any time, every householder in that parish shall pay him a penny. If it is ever known that a wolf has been spotted in an area, every local householder should be ready to hunt it under the pain of the wedder fine as above. If anyone slays a wolf, he must bring the head to the sheriff, baillie or baron and the sheriff, bailie or baron will be debtor to the wolf slayer for the sum aforesaid. Anyone who slays a wolf and brings the head to the sheriff, lord baillie or baron, shall have 6 shillings and eight pence.

Source-Scottish Executive

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