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The Burghs

Aberdeen: Topographical, Antiquarian, and Historical Papers on the City of Aberdeen - John Milne 1911

AD 1500 to 1700
In the 1st half of the 16th century we find in Latin " Vetus villa Aberdon " and " Vetus Aberdonia," but the usual name is "Vetus Aberdene," showing that the northern Town was now contrasted with the southern and not with the Chanonry. Aberdon and its variants dropped almost entirely out of use. The people of the town prefixed Old or Auld to Aberdon, Aberdene, and latterly Aberdeen. In documents issuing from the Chanonry the prefix Old or Auld had hardly come into use before 1560, and after that the glory of the Chanonry had departed.  After the Reformation, Aberdon is rarely seen, and the northern town becomes Old Aberdene, and about 1700 Old Aberdeen.  Since the Municipal Amalgamation of the 2 towns the name Old Aberdeen is now no longer required, and it is almost ignored in the Aberdeen Directory. Indeed, to speak of Old Aberdeen is now regarded as vulgar, though the local Post Office preserves the name.

Slezer EngravingBarony Courts
In early times the Sovereign tried criminals and settled disputes. About 1100 resident Judges (called Sheriffs) began to be appointed, 1 for each county.  The feudal system of land-holding led to the introduction of another system of maintaining law and order.  When the King gave a grant of land for Military Service he often erected all the grantee's possessions in 1 district into a Barony and made the proprietor Baron or Judge in all cases that might arise in it, except heinous crimes.  The Charter specified the name which the Barony was to bear and the place where courts were to be held.  The Baron summoned to his courts as advisers all the tenants in the Barony, or as many as he thought fit.  Small matters he settled at his own discretion, but in all important matters he appointed an Assize or Jury.  The number of Baronies went on increasing till in the time of James VI. great part of Scotland was under jurisdiction of this sort. The Bishops of Aberdon were Lords or Barons of the Barony of Aberdon and several others.  The Court of the Barony of Aberdon was held within The Chanonry, sometimes at St Thomas's Chapel near Tillydrone, sometimes in the Cathedral, and sometimes in the Bishop's Palace.  The Bishop seems to have always delegated his duties to a Baillie, and then he could appear before the court as pursuer when necessary to vindicate his rights.  On December 26, 1489, James IV. granted to Bishop Elphinstone a Charter erecting the Chanonry and its pertinents commonly called Old Aberdon into a Burgh or Barony. This was done on account of his affection for the Bishop and his gratuitous services to him and the Nation, and in remuneration of his expenses on foreign embassies. The Charter states that it was clearly evident to the King and his Council that David I. had inherited the Chanonry of Aberdon, with its pertinents commonly called Old Aberdon, into the see of a Bishop and a City, and it affirms that this was true, and re-enacts the Investment.  In furtherance of what his predecessor had done King James created the Chanonry and Old Aberdon a free Burgh or Barony, and he granted its inhabitants full liberty to buy and sell all manner of victuals, wines, and merchandise, and to have Craftsmen of all kinds in the Burgh.  The Charter also granted power to the Bishop and his successors to choose annually Baillies, Sergeants and other Officers necessary for the government of the Burgh, and to make Burgesses who should have the right to the privileges of the Burgh. This gave protection to the local Craftsmen, for it prevented any person from Aberden or the County from offering for sale in the Burgh things made outside it, unless they made themselves Burgesses of the Burgh of Aberdon.

The right was given also of holding 2 Annual Fairs in the Burgh with liberty to all outside or inside the Burgh to buy and sell all manner of goods. Tolls, however, were levi-able on all live stock (guids) and merchandise (gear) brought within the Market, which was a source of revenue to the superior, the Bishop. The Markets were held - 1 on the day before Good Friday, when good Catholics went to the confessional that they might partake in the Easter Communion, and the other on St Luke's Day, October 18, when harvest was done and, the grazing season being over, young cattle, horses, and sheep had to be sold. Money being, therefore, more plentiful than usual country visitors were able to buy shoes and clothes for the coming winter. The Easter Market is not held now, and St Luke's is generally held on the last Wednesday of October. The Charter gave also a weekly market on Monday for the sale of provisions.  The day was afterwards changed to Thursday, which gave the inhabitants of Aberdene room to complain that this gave the people of Aberdon an opportunity of buying up provisions on their way to Aberdene on the day before their Market. The Market Day was therefore by Act of Parliament changed to Tuesday. Bishop Elphinstone hoped that this Market would help to create a new town of Aberdon on the south side of Powis Burn but this hope was not realised. The 2 Annual Fairs had no doubt been held regularly in virtue of the Charter, but the granting of another Charter soon after the 1st looks as if the other provisions of the 1st Charter had not come into operation.  On August 21, 1498, King James IV. granted another Charter almost identical in tenor with that of 1489. Three points of difference are, however, observable in the 2. The 2nd Charter empowers the Bishop to appoint a Provost, who is not mentioned in the 1st. In the 2nd Charter the University instituted in 1494-5 is introduced. The reason for this seems to have been that, though the College had not begun to be built, teaching had been going on, which had made it desirable to give a locus to the University. In the 1st Charter the distinction between the Chanonry and Old Aberdon is maintained. It mentions the Chanonry, with its pertinents commonly called Old Aberdon.  In the 2nd Charter Aberdon and its pertinents are spoken of as one thing, identical with Old Aberdon. By the 1st the Chanonry and Aberdon are erected into the City and Burgh of Old Aberdon. By the 2nd Aberdon, including the Chanonry, is erected into the City. University, and Burgh of Old Aberdon.

Almost a 100 years have elapsed before the Burgh is again mentioned. The 1st mention of a Provost and Baillies for the City of Old Aberdene, as it had come to be called, is in 1597, when they petitioned Parliament to have the Bishop's Consistory or Commissary Court removed from the new town of Aberdene to the Cathedral Town, where it had been at 1st. This Court took cognisance of Wills, Marriages, and all matters coming under the head of Canon Law. It was abolished in 1560, but restored in 1563, when its seat was appointed to be in the County Town. But, on a humble petition from the magistrates of Old Aberdene showing that the Town had been impoverished by the Reformation, the Seat of the Court was restored to the Cathedral.  John Spalding, author of "Memorialls of the Trubles," was Commissary Clerk. As his narrative stops before the death of Charles l it is probable that he died about the beginning of 1649, for on March 16 an Act of Parliament was passed transferring the Court again to Aberdene. In 1622 it was restored to the Cathedral, but in 1690 it went back to Aberdene, where it remained till it was abolished in 1876.

Before 1601 the craftsmen had been Incorporated into Guilds. A plate in "Records of Old Aberdeen" (New
Spalding Club) shows the Arms of the Trades, and the Hammermen's Shield bears the date 1600.


The extant minutes of the Town Council begin on December 29, 1602, with the Election of a Provost and Council by the former Council and the Community of Old Aberdeen. By the Burgh Charter the right of electing magistrates was in the Bishop, but after the Reformation he was of so little importance that he must have let the people choose their own magistrates. Bishop Peter Blackburn, having been appointed by the King with a seat in Parliament, felt himself in a strong position and exercised his right of naming the Magistrates.  After his death the elections were again left to the retiring Council and the community. On the Abolition of Episcopacy in 1638 and Adam Ballannatyne's departure next year there was no one with a shadow of a right to interfere with the community in the election of their Magistrates, till after the Restoration in 1660. David Mitchell was consecrated Bishop of Aberdeen in 1661, and from that time till the Revolution Settlement in 1690 the Bishops, being Superiors of the Burgh, exercised their rights to some extent; but apparently they left the election of the Magistrates in the hands of the Citizens as they had found it. The Crown came into the rights of the Bishops as Superiors of the Burgh, but did not interfere till 1719, when the Government, finding that on account of the rebellion of l7l0 the election of Magistrates had been allowed to lapse, resuscitated the election and gave the retiring councils power to elect their successors, and this system continued till the amalgamation of Old Aberdeen with Aberdeen in 1891.

Other Courts

Besides the Burgh there were other jurisdictions in Old Aberdeen and, as the same persons might hold office in more than one capacity, the proceedings of other courts are sometimes recorded in the Town Council's books. In 1609 a Bishop's Court was held in his Palace by his Baillie Alexander Gordon, Provost of Old Aberdeen, and the town Baillies sat in the Court as assessors to the Baron Baillie.  Before this Court appeared Peter Blackburn, Bishop of Aberdeen, prosecuting certain Feuars for arrears of feu-duties and for non-entry with him as Superior of the Barony. The proceedings of the Court are recorded in the Minute Book of the Town Council. This Court was open to all within the Barony, whether within or without the Burgh Bounds; but in 1616 the Magistrates passed an Act deprecating suits in other Courts by the inhabitants of the City, Spital, or College Bounds before trying to settle matters in the Burgh Court. In 1689 also, when the regime of the Bishops was near its end, the Provost and Baillies forbade the Town's Officers to summon any inhabitant of Old Aberdeen or its Freedom before the Bishop's Court.

Another Court was the College Court, which seems to have dealt with offences in which persons connected with the University were concerned. Three minutes of this Court are recorded in 1605. At 1 meeting, at which were present also the Magistrates of the Burgh, it was enacted that "na browster givf any scholler ather meit or drink within this citie." Another minute says:- "The said day Dauid Skeddna, younger, confessit lie was drinking efter ten houris at evin in Eduart Cruckshankis hous." Fined ten marks. David was probably a student.

Extent of the City
The statement in the Charters that King David invested the town of Aberdon into an Episcopal See and City is a fiction based upon forged Charters which mention the town of Old Aberdeen before 1165, but it goes beyond them when it says David created it a City.  There is no evidence for this, and it is exceedingly unlikely that before the Institution of the Bishopric there was at St Machar Church anything which could be called a Town.  But to entitle the Chanonry Close, with the Hamlet in High Street, to be called a City it was enough that it was the See of a Diocese and the chief place in the Barony of Aberdon, a Crown-created jurisdiction. The Burgh Boundary on the South was the Powis Burn, but the Town records show that the Magistrates regarded its freedom as extending South to a key-stone in the Spital, probably one of the Royal Burgh boundary stones at King's Crescent. When the Burgh affirmed this to the Commissioners of Supply for the shire in 1700 the answer was that the Commissioners could not find any proof that the town of Old Aberdeen had any privilege or jurisdiction in the Spital. It was not necessary for Burgesses to reside within their Burgh. Many Burgesses of Old Aberdeen lived in College Bounds and the Spital and found it advantageous to be treated as within the Burgh Bounds; and as the College was owner of the College Bounds its Court had exercised some jurisdiction over its people and they may have believed that they were within the Burgh.
 


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Last modified: 01/09/2013