Emminent Burgessess of Dundee

Emenent Burgessess Book

Go Straight to the Lists of the Burgesses Named in the Book

Transcript of the great book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee compiled by by A.H. Millar in 1887 and the biographies of the many people who were admitted as burgesses from 1513-1885

The introduction in the book

To HUGH BALLINGALL, Esq., Provost, and to the Magistrates and Town Council of Dundee, by whose direction this work was undertaken, the present volume is respectfully dedicated.

October, 1887.

ALTHOUGH the civic history of Dundee previous to the beginning of the fourteenth century is involved in considerable obscurity, there is sufficient evidence extant to show that the Burgh was regarded as an important national and commercial centre long before that time. From a Charter by KING ROBERT THE BRUCE to the Burgh, dated 1327, it appears that Dundee had enjoyed burghal privileges previous to the time when it was conferred upon DAVID, EARL OF HUNTINGDON, by his brother WILLIAM THE LION, who reigned from 1165 till 1214. The deed whereby the King bestowed the Burgh of Dundee upon the EARL OF HUNTINGDON is no longer in existence, but that such a gift was made is proved beyond question by contemporary references made to "Earl David's Burgh" in documents which are preserved amongst the archives of England in London. From the “Exchequer Rolls of the Kings of Scotland" we learn that long anterior to the date of the oldest existing Charter (1327), a large portion of the Royal revenue consisted of customs uplifted in Dundee from wool and hides exported from the harbour of Dundee to the Netherlands. It can be proved from undoubted records that the earliest trace of any commercial relations between Scotland and England is found in a special privilege given to the traders of "Earl David's Burgh of Dundee" before the close of the twelfth century.
Few documents relating to the civic history of Dundee during the thirteenth century are in the possession of the Town Council, arising, it is asserted, from EDWARD I. of England, who twice visited the Burgh, having caused them to be removed or destroyed. In the Charter by ROBERT I. reference is made to privileges granted by ALEXANDER III. to the Burgh; but as these are not detailed, the Confirming Charter of 1327 is really the foundation of the civic development of Dundee, so far as the Town's Records are concerned. It is not necessary to refer to grants made to the Burgh by later Sovereigns, as the Charters were printed in extenso by order of the Town Council in 1880 [Charters, Writs, and Public Documents of the Royal Burgh of Dundee 1292 1880]; nor need allusion be made to its rapid growth commercially during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as that development is clearly shown by numerous entries in the Register of the Great Seal, and in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland. The following pages take up the story of the progress of Dundee from 1513 till the present time, showing indirectly, but upon incontestable grounds, the vicissitudes which it has experienced.
In preparing this volume, it was thought expedient that no name should appear in the list of Honorary Burgesses that belongs to an earlier date than the existing Roll, which begins in 1513. Many of the names of Burgesses previous to that time might safely have been included, on the supposition that they had been admitted as Guild Brethren; but all names have been excluded save those of men who are proved upon authentic grounds to have been Burgesses of Dundee.
The Roll of Burgesses has been kept regularly since 1581, but the names betwixt 1513 and that date have been transcribed in chronological order, and placed in their proper positions upon the list. These names are all in the same handwriting, and it is probable that they have been copied from the Minute Books of the Council and from the Burgh Court Books, for the period between 1513 and 1581. The Minutes of Council were formerly kept in the volumes which contained the records of the Burgh Court, the earliest of the latter still existing bearing the date of 1550. The regular Council Minutes do not begin till 1553, and this Burgess Roll is therefore the oldest civic record in possession of the Town Council.
The manuscript volume in which these names are entered merits some description. It consists of 1,020 pages of unruled antique paper, bound in leather covered wooden boards, and closed with two engraved brass clasps fitted with locks and keys, hence called the “Lockit Book." The first fly leaf contains the following particulars as to the fee (in Scots money) for admission of Burgesses, written in handwriting of the sixteenth century:

The Accidentis that are comounlie payd be friemen at yr first Ressaving
To the Dene of Gild his collectr xx ss. & vj ss. & viij d. for Packing and peilling,
To ye Kirk maister x ss.
To ye Clerk x ss. for inserting of his name, and iij ss. & 4 d. for ye extract yr of.
To ye Gild Officer x ss.

Off friemenis sones at yr admissione¬
To ye Dene of Gild x ss. & vj ss. & viij d. for Packing and Peilling.
To ye Kirkmast. vj ss. 8 d.
To ye Clerk, ye dewtie  above written.
To ye Gild Offr ye dewtie forsaid."

On the following page a table of the fees (in Scots money) at a later date has been extended,
shewing several additional items:-
The Summa of the Accidents of each burgess at his entrie

lib (£)
d (pence)
to the Guildry
to the Clerk and extract
to the Kirk
to the Hospitaller
to the officer
to the Jaylor


The first portion of the Lockit Book is described as " The Buik of ye Comoun Rentallis of the Burgh of Dundie, fluishous [Flesh house], and Kirk wark thairof, with the names of all Burgessis, friemen, and Brether of the gild within ye sam. Sen ye moneth of September the zeir of God ane thousand five hundreth and threttene zeiris, and Swa to follow In tyme cumming. This maid and devysit in ye tyme of Mr JAMES HALIEBURTOUN, provest, ALEXANDER SCRYMGEOURE, WILLIAM FORRESTER, JAMES FYNDLASOUN, and ALEXANDER RAMESAY, bailleis of ye said Burgh." This part of the volume is divided into three portions, named respectively “The Thesauraris Chairge," “The Kirkmaisteris Chairge," and "The Chairge or Rentall of ye Maister of ye Hospital of ye Burgh of Dundie." Under these heads a detailed account is given of the dues uplifted from various properties in the Burgh for the support of religious ordinances in pre Reformation times.

From the internal evidence afforded by the names of holders of property mentioned, as well as from the evidence of the handwriting, it is apparent that this Roll was made up in 1582, "in the time of Mr JAMES HALIEBURTOUN, provost." The ecclesiastical property that had been secularized by the famous Charter of Queen Mary in 1567, and handed over to the Burgh, is described in detail, the dues formerly exigible for support of various chaplainries and altars being entered as separate items in the Charges. This part of the volume was examined by the late Professor COSMO INNES when preparing the evidence for the Stipend Case (1851 58), and portions of the entries were printed by him in the papers relating to this important suit, In MACLAREN'S edition of THOMSON'S "History of Dundee" (1874) there are also copious extracts given; but it may be useful for future historians of Dundee to know where the complete Rental lists as they were made up in 1582 are to be found. They are written on the first fifty four pages of the Lockit Book.

The remainder of this interesting book is occupied with the Roll of the Burgesses of Dundee from 1513 till the present time. It is perfectly evident that it was begun in 1582, the entries up to that date being all in the handwriting of Magister ALEXANDER WEDDERBURNIE, who was Town Clerk at that time. The inscription at the head of the first page reads thus:

“Heir followis the Names of the Burgessis, friemen, and Brether of Gilde of the Burgh of Dundie, maid sen the moneth of September In the zeir of God ane thowsand fyve hundreth and threttene zeiris, and of sic persones as sall obtene the fredome and libertie Thairof in tyme cuming."

The value which the Councillors formerly set upon this important volume may be estimated from the fact, frequently recorded in the Minutes, that when the Lockit Book was to be opened for the inscription of any new name upon the Roll, a "bank" or proclamation by tuck of drum was sent through the town to announce the event to the citizens.

The Town Clerk of the Burgh has always been the custodian of the volume, and he acted as the scribe who inserted the record of the fact that a certain tradesman or merchant was admitted a brother of the Guildry. All the entries previous to 1646, and the majority of them up till 1700, are written in the legal Latin of the time, and always explain that the admission of the Burgess was claimed through right of his father ratione libertatis sui patris; by request of the King - ad rogatum Regis; for good services pro bono servitio; for his counsel and aid in the service of the Burgh pro consilio et auxilio suo servendo burgo de  Dunde; or for some other reason distinctly specified. Honorary Burgesses who had no claim through their ancestors or by marriage, are always distinguished as having the honour conferred free of charge accidens gratis; and frequently the special reason for bestowing this dignity upon them is detailed, and thus an indication of the spirit of the time is afforded, and the relationship of Dundee to the leading nobles and statesmen of former days is clearly shewn. Many of the names recorded in the succeeding pages will be examined with surprise and interest, as they reveal the social and political history of Dundee in a manner which no other documents of a similar character have hitherto done.
Immediately preceding the Roll of the Burgesses the Town Clerk has inserted the following extracts from the Acts and Proceedings of the Burgh Court of Dundee, which relate to the duties and privileges of Burgesses in the olden times, and may find a place here:

"[At the Head Court of the Burgh of Dundee held in the Town House there by honourable men, GEORGE LOVELL, ROBERT MYLN, JAMES FORRESTER, THOMAS MAXWELL, Bailies of the said Burgh, on the eleventh day of the month of January, 1551]

“The quhilk day it is statute and ordanit that all Burgesses of this Burgh shall cum, Remane and mak residence within the same, To Jois and Brouk the privilegis and liberteis thereof, and to decoir the same efter thair power with thair counsall help and Supplie In taxationes, walking, wairding, and all Yther dewteis conforme to the maintenance of the privilege of the Burgh lyik as yai are sworne be thair aithis quhen thai ar maid Burgessis.

[At the Head Court of the Burgh of Dundee held in the Town House thereof the 18th June, 1567.]

“The quhilk day it is statute and ordanit In Respect of the gryit misordour of persones Resortand To this Burgh and pretendand to be friemen Burgessis and Brether of gild thereof, Thai nather beand qualifeit To use the Tred of Merchandice Nor zit able to saiff Thair aith gewine the time of thair admissioun to ye fredome. Thairfor That na persoun be admittit efter This pnt. dait to be Burgess frieman or Brother of Gild of this Burgh without Thair honeste lyiff conversatioun, and maneris be notorlie knawin.”

“The quhilk day it is also statute and ordanit That gif ony frieman of this Burgh caryis or transportis fra this Burgh, or zit Traffiques wt ony unfriemandis gudes under cullor of his awin, That ye offendar tyne his fredome forever, and never to be admittit yrto agane, In respect he is thairby periurit [perjured] and the customs of this Burgh gryitlie defraudit.”

[At the Head Court of the Burgh of Dundee held in the Town House thereof by these honourable men Magister JAMES HALIBURTOUN, Provost, ALEXANDER SCRYMGEOUR, and WILLIAM FORRESTER, Bailies of the said Burgh, 23rd April, 1582

“The quhilk day it is ordanit and concludit that the honourable estait of Gildrie of this Burgh be kepit, maintenit and defendit In all Lawis, privileges, constitutiones, friedomes and liberteis grantit be our soverane Lord and his maist nobil progenitours To ye estait of Gildrie of this Burt and according to ye Lawis and Actis of Parliament maid thairanent, and that all Brether of the said Gildrie Reverence, obey, fortifie, and assist thair Dene of Gild pnt and to be for the tyme In all his conventionis Jugements and ordinances according to ye commissioun and power grantit to hym, and that nae man attempt to do in the contrair under the panes conteanit In the saidis privilegis to be execut but favor.

The quhilk day it is also statute and ordanit That nae Burgess and Brether of gild be maid wt. this Burgh without payment of the sowme of twentie lib. money, and that nae Burgesship nor Gildrie quhilk sall be gewin heirefter gratis Lest ony langer than the lyftyme of him that obteanis the same, Swa that his bairnes nor nane quhatsumever sal pretend na privilege thair throw."

An examination of these entries will show the conditions under which a burgess enjoyed his privileges in early times. The Letter of Guildry, or Charter from the Magistrates by which the powers of the Guildry were settled, bears the date 10th October, 1515, and was confirmed by JAMES V. in 1526. but the constitution of the Guild was a gradual development extending over a very long period. Not long after the Guildry had been instituted it was recognised by the Government as affording an admirable weapon whereby the power of law might be maintained. Oaths were introduced at a very early stage for the purpose of excluding members of the community from public offices who refused to undertake the support of established authority.

When this method of compelling loyalty was found successful it was extended still further by the introduction of the Burgess Oath, by which every Burgess and Guild Brother was sworn to maintain both King and Church as by law established. This Oath has undergone several curious transmutations; and the Lockit Book is an exceptional volume in this respect, that from its pages we can learn no less than three different forms of the Burgess Oath.
The earliest form of Oath contained in the volume precedes the Roll of Burgesses, but it has been carefully obliterated at a date long subsequent to its insertion. After a careful and laborious inspection and examination it has been entirely deciphered, and is here reproduced. It is a most interesting historical item, since it shows the exact form of Oath administered after the Reformation by the victorious Protestant nobles who supported King James VI.

"The Aith and faithfull Protestatioune or Promiss to be maide be ewrie Burgess and Brother of Gild insert in this Lockit Book.

I sall serve fear and obey the eternall lord oure god, I sall profess maintene and continew in the trew Relligioune now faythfullie and purelie teachit and followit within this realme of Scotland and Speciallie within this Burgh, and abhor and detest all other Relligioune repugnant thairto, and sall defend observe and obey the holy ordinances of oure trew Kirk, and speciallic the ordure of discipline thereof. I sall be leill and trew to the Kingis M. of Scotland and his hienes maist nobile successouris. I sall fortifie and defend after my power the comonwealth of the Burgh of Dundie. I sall reverence and obey the Magistrates thereof, speciallie the Prouest, Balleis, and Counsall of the sam and all thair guid and godlie Lawis and Stattutis. I sall in lyikwayis be obedient to the dene of Gild of this Burgh, and sall be subicet to his jurisdictioune and all his privilegis Actis and ordinances maid for the weill and Comune Estait of the Gildrie. I sall maik concord amang Nichbouris quhair discord Is. I sall nocht hyde conceall nor yet traffique with ony Vnfremenis gudes Ynder culloure of myn awn. I sall handle and deall richteouslic with all men in my awin occupatione. Quhilk premessis I oblis me till observe and fullfill during all the space of my lyftyme Be the holy name of God the father sone and holy ghost. Amen."

This form of the Oath has evidently been engrossed in the Lockit Book when the volume was begun in 1581, and may therefore be taken as the oldest form subsequent to the Reformation. Two interpolations have been inscribed on the margin in 1639, for the purpose of carrying out the abolition of Episcopacy by the General Assembly which met at Glasgow in the preceding year. The first addition is made so that the sentence reads, "The holy ordinances of our trew Kirk, and speciallie the ordoure of discipline thereof statutt and ordained be the Act of Assemblie held at Glasgow Nom 1638!' The second interpolation refers to the establishment of the succession to the Throne, and by it the sentence is made to read thus, "I sall be leill and trew to the Kingis M. of Scotland and his hienes maist nobile successouris, our established rulers." A third interpolation has been made after the exposure of the monopoly system, and is in these terms, " I sall handle and deall richteouslie with all men in my awin occupatioune, and sall not procure nor be pairtner wt. Of any monopolie."

After the Union of the Parliaments (1707) it was found necessary to amend the Burgess Oath, and a new form was prepared, and is written in the Lockit Book on the page facing the first of the Roll. It is titled ,The Aith and faithfull protestation or promise to be made be every Burgess and Brother Gild insert in this Booke as amended this seventh day of February one thousand seven hundred and eight years." The terms of this Oath do not greatly differ from that already quoted. In the earlier Oath reference is made to "the trew Relligioune now faythfullie and purelie teachit and followit within this realme of Scotland, and Speciallie within this Burgh;" but in the new form this description is elided, and the phrase "the true reformed protestant religione' is substituted. No allusion is made to the Assembly of 1638, nor to the Queen's "most noble successors" being "our established rulers;" but otherwise the new Oath is identical with its immediate predecessor. The first Oath has apparently been obliterated when the last one was written in 1708. The subscription of this Oath was made a stringent condition of entrance for all Burgesses, and after the date of its introduction every entry bears that the new Burgess had "taken the Oath" as well as paid his fee. In one corner of the page on which the Oath is inscribed, the suggestive sentence is written: "Abolished by Act of Council, 1st September, 1819."

It would not have been possible to have reproduced the names of all the Burgesses inscribed upon this Roll and given particulars of their careers within reasonable limits, hence only a few of the more prominent names have been selected, and brief biographical notes of the principal Burgesses have been added. The main reason for the production of the present volume is to afford authentic data for the construction of an adequate record of the progress of the Burgh. In this respect the Burgess Roll is many sided, for whilst it takes note of the local magnates and burghers by whose exertions the commerce and manufactures of Dundee were developed, it also shows most clearly the relationship which the Burgh bore towards those entrusted with the control of national affairs. The words of an eminent author, whose ancestors' names may be found in the volume, may well be applied to it: " Look at the mighty names which stand inscribed upon the Roll of Fame warriors, sages, and statesmen the beacons of the present, the examples of the past."
On the fly leaf of the Lockit Book a short Latin inscription has been written over the signature Magister Alexander Wedderburne, Archigraphus, Civitatis Deidoname. The writer was

Town Clerk of Dundee three hundred years ago, was the transcriber of the first part of the Roll, and was one of the leading men of his time, both in the affairs of the Burgh and of the Kingdom. The following is a translation of the inscription referred to

"If it be thy design to ornament the City by thy gifts, be thou dedicated thyself, in the first place, to whatsoever is loveliest, and of Clemency, Justice, and Beneficence thou shalt raise aloft the best and most memorable monument within the Republic, not merely an inconsiderable building. For if Reason should rule in cities, it is better certainly for great souls to inhabit small houses than for mean slaves to lurk in magnificent mansions.

“The Eubeeans and Spartans did not build and repair their walls with stones only, but with Discipline and Zeal for Good Morals, which are the visible ornaments alike of cities and of rulers. Flourishing, truly, and peaceful they made the Republic, by uniting together not logs and stones, but living souls."

The List of Burgesses

Iain D. McIntosh, 2020