The History of Leith

May 4, 2011

The Robin Hood Riot 1561

In 1561 the Tolbooth figures in one of those tulzies or rows so common in the Edinburgh of those days ; but in this particular instance we see a distinct foreshadowing of the Porteous mob of the eighteenth century, by the magistrates forbidding a ” Robin Hood,” This was the darling May game of Scotland as well as England, and, under the pretence of frolic, gave an unusual degree of licence; but the Scottish Calvanistic clergy, with John Knox ‘ at their head, and backed by the authority of the magistrates of Edinburgh, who had of late been chosen exclusively from that party, found it impossible to control the rage of the populace when deprived of the privilege of having a Robin Hood, with the Abbot of Unreason and the Queen of the May. Thus it came to pass, that in May,1561 when a man in Edinburgh was chosen as ” Robin Hood and Lord of Inobedience,” most probably because he was a frolicsome, witty, and popular fellow, and passed through the city with a great number of followers, noisily, and armed, with a banner displayed, to the Castle Hill, the magistrates caught one of his companions, “a cordiner’s servant,” named James Gilion, whom they condemned to be hanged on the 21st of July. On that day, as he was to be conveyed to the gibbet, it was set up with the ladder against it in the usual fashion, when the craftsmen rushed into the streets, clad in their armour, with spears, axes, and handguns. They seized the Provost by main farce of arms, together with two Bailies, David Syrnraer and Adam Fullarton and thrusting them into Alexander Cuthrie’s writing booth, left them there under a guard.
The rest matched to the cross, broke the gibbet to pieces, and beating in the doors of the Tolbooth with sledge-hammers, under the eyes of the magistrates, who were warded close by, they brought forth the prisoner, whom they conveyed in triumph down the street to the NetherBow Port’ Finding the latter closed, they passed up the street again. By this time the magistrates had taken shelter in the Tolbooth, from whence one of them fired a pistol and wounded one of the mob. “That being done,” says the Diurnal of Occurrents,, “there was nathing but tak and slay! that is, the one part shooting forth and casting stones, the other part shooting hagbuts in again, and sae the craftsmen’s servants held them (conducted themselves) continually frae three hours afternoon, while (till) aucht at even, and never ane man of the toun Meirit to defend their provost and bailies.”
The former, who was Thomas MacCalzcan, of Clifton Hall, contrived to open a communication with the constable of the Castle, who came with an armed party to act as umpire and through that officer it was arranged ” that the provost and bailies should discharge all manner of actions whilk they had against the said craft-cbilder in ony time bygone;” and this being done and proclaimed, the armed trades peacefully disbanded, and the magistrates were permitted to leave the Tolbooth.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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