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The Scots' Kirk And Behaviour

The church in Scotland tried, for centuries, to regulate behaviour. The notes below should be considered in the context of the rural lowland Scots' way of living -- have a read of Fairs and Frolics: Scottish Communities at Work and Play.


Regulations Against Amusements at Home (1600-1800)

The customary amusements of the rural Lowland Scots -- dancing and drinking in particular -- conflicted with the objectives of the Church and Burgh Councils. Both bodies regulated against many of the amusements that were so important to the lower classes. To some extent, the religious leaders were probably concerned about a potential connection between merrymaking and witchcraft.

In the early-mid seventeenth century, a "secret society" of "Gysarts" became notorious for their frolics in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire. Evidently, men dressed as women and women dressed as men danced together in a "most unseemly way". William Weir, "pyper to the gysarts of Lesmahago" was summoned before the Presbytery twice in 1626 for providing the music at such events.

In 1660 Lanark Burgh Council decreed:

The baillies and counsell takin into consideratioun the sin befoir God, and the abussis that hes bein formerlie and of lait comitit within this burgh by peples interteining of pyperis in promiscuis danceing, men and women togither, not onllie in the day tyme bot in the night; for remeid quhairof the baillies and counsell statuts and ordeanes that no persone within this burgh suffer any pyper to play at thair houssis or yairds in tyme coming, under the paine of fourtie shilling ilk persone.

The Church continued to criticize certain assemblies of people in private dwelling houses well into the eighteenth century. In 1740, Old Cumnock Parish Church officials used rather harsh terms to describe some alleged wrong-doers:

There being a flagrant report that Marion McCowan in this Town entertains bad company and that... she kept some lewd women in her house drinking with men of bad characters through the day and lodged them at night...

At her hearing, Marion was "told that the Session would use their influence with the civil magistrate to take due course by her".

From Fairs and Frolics: Scottish Communities at Work and Play

The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #11