The History of Leith

September 20, 2012

Uproot Edinburgh, and salt its site !

In 1596 St. Giles’s was the scene of a tumultuous
dispute between James VI. and the leaders of the
Church party. The king was sitting in that part
of it which the Reformers named the Tolbooth
Kirk, together with the Octavians, as they were
styled, a body of eight statesmen into whose hands
he had committed all his financial affairs and patronage.
The disturbance from which the king felt
himself to be in peril, arose from an address by Balcanqual,
a popular preacher, who called on the
Protestant barons and his other chance auditors to
meet the ministers in «the little kirk,” where they,
amidst great uproar, came to a resolution to urge
upon James the necessity for changing his policy and
dismissing his present councillors. The progress
of the deputation towards the place where the
king was to be found brought with it the noisy
mob who had created the tumult, and when the
bold expressions of the deputation were seconded
by the rush of a rude crowd—armed, of course—
into the royal presence, the king became alarmed,
and retired into the Tolbooth, amid shouts of
” Fly !” ” Save y ourself!” ” Armour ! Armour !”
When the deputation returned to the portion of
St. Giles’s absurdly named the little kirk, they found
another multitude listening to the harangue of a
clergyman named Michael Cranston, on the text of
” Hainan and Mordecai.” The auditors, on hearing
that the king had retired without any explanation,
now rushed forth, and with shouts of ” Bring out
the wicked Haman !” endeavoured to batter down
the doors of the Tolbooth, from which James was
glad to make his escape to Holyrood, swearing he
would uproot Edinburgh, and salt its site !
This disturbance, which Tytler details in his
History, was one which had no definite or decided
purpose—one of the few in Scottish annals where
there was a frenzied excitement without any distinct

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