Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Earl of Seaforth and the Dutch

In 1607, Stornoway was made a Burgh of Barony, a title the town held until 1975, when all burghs were abolished. In 1629, the Privy Council of Scotland met to consider a complaint from the Commissioners of Burghs against Colin, the Earl of Seaforth - who was the landowner behind the Burgh of Barony that Stornoway was at the time. After the introductory paragraphs lauding the late King James (1566-1625) the record of the Privy Council states that:

In the Parliament held at Edinburgh in August 1621 it was ordained, conform to many Acts of preceding Parliaments "that no strangers nor others inhabitants within this kingdome sould packe or peill in anie place of the Yles outwith free burrowes nor transport anie forbiddin goods furth of the same," and they had hoped to have enjoyed the comfort and benefit of this Act. But "to their great greefe", Colin, Earl of Seafort, "who by his birth and place quhilk he halds in teh States sould have contributed his best helpes to the furtherance and reall executioun of the saids Acts of Parliament" being misled "with some suggesting insinuatiouns and projects ofstrangers, who ar ever bussie to pry in the secreits and mystereis of nighbourings estats where the hope of gayne is apparent, they have inculcat in his eares manie great hopes and projects of wealth and credits by erecting of a burgh int he Lewes and planting of a colonie of strangers thairin". He had proposed the scheme to his Majesty and obtained a signature thereupon, which the complainers have stopped, and the matter is thus in dependence before the Lords. But meanwhile the said Earl proceeds with the scheme "and hes drawin hither ane nomber of strangers who daylie resorts to and fra Holland to the Lewes and continent nixt adjacent, and hes caused thame be answered of all suche commoditieis as these bounds affoords, as anmelie with fishes an dbeeves, quhilks with the hyde and talloun with manie uthers commoditeis they transport to Holland". By this procedure "the Incountrie", which was formerly furnished with cattle from these parts is now disappointed thereof, so that few or none were obtainable in markets this year. Then some of the complainers' neighbours having, as they were wont to do, gone this year to the Isles for their ordinary commodities, such as "plaiding" and other things in which they traded, they all returned empthy, nothing being left for them, but all taken up by the said strangers; so that "the trade in these pairts, whilk wes ane verie important trade for the countrie, is lyke to be devolved in strangers hands, and the compleaners, who ar the subject tothe natives and subject to all the impositions in the countrie, a shaikin louse without handling or doing to the appearand wreacke and overthrow of thair famileis and undoing of thair shipping, quhilk they will be constrained to sell for laike of imployment". Charge having been given to the said Earl, and the pursuers compearing by David Aikinheid, provost, and the bailies and some of the COuncil of Edinburgh and Mr John Hay, their clerk, as prolocutor, and the defender also compairing and pleading that the Burghs have no standing in this case to pursue him, and that he is accountable to his Majestie only for any breach of the said Act, to which the Burghs replied that the Act was directly conceived in their favour and by its breach their liberties are wronged, the Lords find that he Burghs are "direct and competent parties and hes good interesse to compaleans upoun the breachs and violaioun of the said Act, and that the pane arysing upoun the breache thairof must redound and accresce to his Majestie". The pursuers having stated that they insisted only upon the breach of the Act since January 1628, and several reasons against the said complaint having been given in in writing by the defender, and considered, the Lords ordain the Earl of Seafort himself to observe the said Act in all points and to see that it receive due execution in his bounds, and that "nather he be himselffe nor his tennents packe nor peill in anie place of the Iles outwith free burrowes nor transport anie forbiddin goods furth of the same," as he will answer upon his highest charge and peril. And they remit the trial of the particular violations of the said Act to the Lords of Council and Session.

We certainly live in different times now! Export was banned by law in 1621. The Earl of Seaforth had been given leave to trade with the Low Countries by the late King James in person. That sovereign having passed away, the Earl's opponents saw the opportunity to reverse that permission. The language is slightly arcane, but in summary, the complainers feel that they are being deprived of goods and the revenue of the sale thereof within the country, and that the availability of goods is jeopardised. Always look at history through the eyes of the time, and four centuries ago was a very different time.

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