The History of Leith

March 2, 2005

Document of the Month March 2005

An unelected committee meets in secret to advise the nation’s leader on home and foreign affairs. As part of a series of measures to improve government, it recommends limitations to the freedom of movement of senior politicians. It sounds like a scenario from the novels of Le Carre, but instead it is a modern reading of this month’s featured document on the National Archives of Scotland’s website – an extract from Privy Council records at the time of Mary, Queen of Scots.

In the 16th century the Privy Council met regularly, and in secret, to advise the monarch on matters of government. Privy Councillors had to be available when important matters arose. Much of their work related to perennial problems which still concern the Scottish Executive today, for example the state of prisons and compensation for farmers who had lost sheep during severe winters. Some things do change, however: the Scottish Executive no longer has to face a threatened invasion from England or complaints by other countries that Scottish pirates had attacked their ships!

In 1561, the Privy Council ruled on the number of hours that Privy Councillors had to work and how they were to behave in council meetings. Under these rules, privy councillors had to convene at 8am and put in at least two hours work before lunch and another two afterwards. During Council meetings they had to sit quietly and not chat with friends and colleagues. They even had to apply for permission to leave the place where the Privy Council was in session (for example to visit their own homes).

Part of the rules for the Queen's Privy Councillors, 1561

Part of the rules for the Queen’s Privy Councillors, 1561
(National Archives of Scotland PC1/3, p.3).

The Privy Council minutes were written in Scots, at that time the language spoken by Lowland Scots from the Queen to her lowliest subject, and the above document is difficult to read, because handwriting in the 16th century differed in many respects from that of today. Read the transcript below or visit the National Archives of Scotland website at http://www.nas.gov.uk for more details.

Transcript
Part of the rules for the Queen’s Privy Councillors, 1561
(National Archives of Scotland, PC1/3, p.3).

It is statute and ordanit that the saidis Lordis, electit and chosin be the said Quenis Majestie to be of hir Greit Counsale … sall mak continuale residence with the Quenis Majestie, or quhair [where] it sall pleis hir to appoint thame; and gif [if] ony of thame wald depart and resort towart thair awin duelling places … thay sall desyre licence of hir Majestie, and havand obtenit licence, sall appoint the tyme of thair returnying …

Item, the said Lordis sall enter and convene in the Counsal house at aucht [eight] houris befoir none [noon], and continew upoun the effaris [affairs] quhill [until] ten houris befoir dennar, and siclyke [suchlike] at ane houre eftirnone, and continew tua houris thairefter . . .

. . . that the Lordis being sitting down, that silence be had amangis thame, and that nane of thame speik nor commone [discuss] of ony mater nor round [turn] with [to] his marrow [companion], bot as he salbe requirit and sperit [questioned] at be the Chancellar or President, eftir the mater be proponit [proposed]; and than ony tua of the Lordis being requirit to ressone upoun the mater, and eftir thame uther tua as salbe thocht gude … and all argument and ressonyng ceissand [ceasing], than the Chancellar or President sall ask and require every Lordis vote in the mater proponit [proposed].

Source-Scottish Executive

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