When Order and Law May Be Safely Defied

politics, riot and repression


The Scots Magazine of the time describing the King's Birthday, June 4, 1796:

The Lord Provost and Magistrates met in the Parliament House in the afternoon, which was fitted up in the usual stile. - In the course of the evening the mob was, as is usual, exceedingly disorderly, throwing mud and pelting every decent person that appeared on the street.

As is usual. Edinburgh has only ever been a polite and genteel place for those who could afford politeness and gentility. Riots were a normal part of the political process in Edinburgh for centuries. Any serious public issue could be argued through them, whether the flashpoint was state control of religion, hunger, taxation, military conscription, repressive criminal law or erosions of national identity. Riots served as a normal means of political expression in a period when almost no-one could vote. As well as riots with clear objectives, responding to current events, there were others which served simply to act as a reminder of what the masses could do if they wanted; King's Birthday riots were a long-standing institution, and Queen Victoria was annually burned in effigy until late in her reign. Despite the frequency, ferocity and political character of Edinburgh's riots, they were often regarded with tolerance by the wealthier classes, as the normal means of political expression by the disenfranchised. Ringleaders were often punished (though some, like "General" Joe Smith late in the 18th century, called together riotous mobs many times with impunity) but the majority of the rioters were quietly ignored by the criminal law system. And there was usually a quick official response to meet the rioters' demands. Only after the French Revolution were local popular uprisings treated as sedition, to be repressed with all-out terror and savage punishments.

This anger and bitterness of the mob never found a fully worked-out political programme until the nineteenth century. Instead it was tactically linked to whatever cause seemed most likely to undermine authority. At first this meant opportunistic backing for one or another feudal landlord against the central state; after the Reformation, it could mean supporting the Kirk against the King; then in the late 18th century it could be support for the American colonists, anti-Catholic fundamentalism, or universal suffrage. One ideal it was never popularly attached to was Jacobitism; in 1715 and 1745, most of Edinburgh simply kept its head down and waited for the Earl of Mar and Charles Edward Stuart to go away, and the Jacobite cause was later merely an aristocratic hobby. However much the Hanoverian monarchy was detested, collective memories of the brutality of the Stuarts were sharp enough to rule them out as a sane alternative, and nobody ever took to the streets of Edinburgh in their support after 1689. Coherent socialism only developed later, with the Chartists. But these many explosions of mass fury nonetheless had their own logic, and were effective in checking arbitrary abuses of power. The present-day liberal platitude that "violence solves nothing" would have fooled nobody in former times; the intellectuals of the Scottish Enlightenment, like Henry Erskine and Adam Ferguson, knew exactly what the mob could achieve when it tried, and respected its judgment.

16th and 17th century Edinburgh riots often had a religious and anti-monarchical theme. In 1596 an escalating dispute between the pigheaded King James VI and the equally obdurate Kirk led to a mob trying to break into a chapel and kill the King. At first he planned to have the whole city demolished in retaliation, with only a stone pillar to mark where it had been, but Queen Elizabeth of England dissuaded him. As usual in his dealings with the city he settled for money, and lots of it. Perhaps one reason for his extreme reaction was that this was the second time he narrowly escaped death in the High Street; in 1591 he had been caught in the middle of a sword fight between two gangs of nobles and had to hide in the back of a skinner's booth shaking with fright. The anonymous pamphlet K. Ja. 6 His Character said he spent most of his life in what we would now call a flak jacket:

He was of a middle stature, more corpulent through his clothes than in his body, zet fatt enouch, his clothes euer being made large & easie, ye doublets quilted for steletto proofe, his breeches in grate pleits & full stuffed. He was naturally of a timorous disposition, which was ye gratest reasone of his quilted doublets.

One participant in the 1596 attack was Andro Hart, Scotland's leading printer of Bibles and Psalms, and later, of Napier's work on logarithms; he was imprisoned in the Castle for a few months (whereupon a business associate took his chance to welch on a debt since Hart couldn't plead in court). The reign of Charles I saw the Edinburgh mob forcing the acquittal of Lord Balmerino, and shortly afterwards the Jenny Geddes riot. In 1682, the house of Lord Provost Sir James Dick was set on fire in retaliation against his ban on the Pope being burnt in effigy and banishing the students who intended to do the burning (a protest directed at the Duke of Albany and York, later James VII and II, who was then living in the city). The Revolution saw riots in support of both sides: a mob, assisted by the Trained Bands, destroyed James's new Catholic chapel at Holyrood in December 1688, and there were bonfires in the street in support of him in May 1689 after his deposition.

Nationalist riots began even before the Act of Union; everyone could see which way the country was headed. In a protest relating to the Darien colony, a mob in 1700 broke open the Tolbooth with hammers and fire to release printers who had published pamphlets criticizing the government, then forced a tune mocking King William, Wilful Willy, wilt thou be wilful still, to be played on the town bells. A massive riot in 1704, with 80,000 armed protesters in the streets, stopped the Privy Council from pardoning Captain Green, an Englishman convicted of piracy against Scottish shipping and murder. His alleged victim was still alive in Madagascar at the time, so the Privy Council for once had it right. The case drew broadsides from both sides, with predictably national allegiances, though there was one printed sheet from Edinburgh setting out arguments in Green's defence. The more popular Scottish opinion is reflected in the broadside A Seasonable advice to all who encline to go in Pirrating; drawn from what has happ'ned to Captain Green, as it were from his own mouth, by "One of that Rank", to the tune of To the Weaver if ye go. I have taken this tune from its first publication by Aird late in the eighteenth century. The Green broadside long predates any other mention of its existence, and I can't think of any other tune known to have lasted for so long in Scottish oral tradition without somebody writing it down.

Green's lynching was not the end of popular violence in the months leading up to the Treaty of Union. The early drafts of the treaty said nothing about whether the royal regalia - the "Honours of Scotland" - would remain in Scotland or be sent south to England after the Union. The prospect of them being removed led to public outcry, exploited to the hilt by the Jacobites in one of the most staggeringly obscene and effective political songs ever written, The Metamorphosis, or the Royal Honours of Scotland. Songs like this were one response. A riot in October 1706 was another, in which the mob tried to storm the provost's house, systematically broke the windows of supporters of the Union, and took control of the streets of Edinburgh and Leith all night until the army moved in and stationed armed men at every street junction. The result was a last-minute addition to Clause 24 of the Treaty of Union which requires

that the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State, the Records of Parliament, and all other records, rolls, and registers whatsoever, both public and private, general and particular, and warrants thereof, continue to be kept as they are within that part of the United Kingdom now called Scotland, and that they shall so remain all time coming, notwithstanding of the Union.

Never let anyone tell you talking dirty can't produce results. The regalia were then locked away in Edinburgh Castle for over a century until Walter Scott and his colleagues in the Bannatyne Club negotiated for them to be put on display again. The Metamorphosis was written down at the time by the Jacobite lawyer-antiquarian Robert Mylne and reprinted in a little book of 1828 by C.K. Sharpe, in a tiny run of about 20 copies, with a title I wish I'd thought up myself, A Banquet of Dainties for Strong Stomachs. Mylne's tune was Was not my Love Crafty, or My Mistress she loves Musick. No tune of exactly that title has survived, but a tune published a few years later by Playford and D'Urfey was titled as both My Mistress is in Musick Passing Skilful and as The Crafty Mistris's Resolution. It is a composite of three tunes; the first part, which fits Mylne's words perfectly, is the Scots drinking song A Health to Betty, which all of Mylne's friends would have known. The song must have been tinkered with after the event; Prince George died in 1708, so the Queen was not a widow when the fate of the jewels was still to be decided. Sharpe commented "the poet was no Latin scholar, as he makes a false quantity in clitoris". I prefer to put the verses relating to the sceptre after those about the sword, as the shock of encountering the word "dildo" in a song 300 years old makes a nice surprise ending. Anne was notorious as a lesbian, so this was not empty abuse.

The rediscovery of the regalia permitted Scott to incorporate them in the pageantry he designed for King George IV's visit. The day before the King arrived, the crown was paraded from the Castle to the Palace, with the Midlothian Yeomanry as its ceremonial guard, headed by Scott himself. A letter from an anonymous Glasgow gentleman, printed as a broadside news sheet, described the parade:

the person in it who most attracted my attention was Sir Walter Scott, dressed in a rich Highland suite, with a bonnet decorated with an eagle's feather and some heather. He looked extremely well and fully, in my opinion, as like a Scottish Chieftain, as a Poet.

A most shocking accident happened just as the procession arrived at the Castle. - About 800 or 1000 people were mounted on a platform on the Calton Hill, to witness the procession, when the scaffolding gave way with a tremendous crash, from the complete insufficiency of the erection.

The scene that now presented itself is beyond my power to describe. I saw a poor soldier fixed between two planks, his eyes starting from their sockets, and his back broken; a boy with a wound in his head that would have admitted my hand; another with his brains protruding, and a fine young lady had the whole side of her head carried off. Among the fallen planks I counted about a dozen of teeth that had been knocked out of the jaws of some unfortunate persons...

Several people were killed and dozens seriously injured. A child was killed on one of the bridges, run over by a coach. None of this was allowed to affect Scott's moment of glory.

The strathspey and reel The Regalia of Scotland are from a dance sheet published by James Davie of Aberdeen at the time the jewels were rediscovered. A far less appreciative response was Lady Nairne's song The Regalia. This must have been written around the time of George IV's visit, when Nairne and her husband had just been evicted at short notice to make the royal apartments at Holyrood available for the King. Personal slight was mixed with her familial political leanings to produce one of the toughest and least clichéd of all the post-1745 Jacobite anthems. She probably wrote its march tune herself.

The riots in the streets of Edinburgh when the treaty was finally signed in March 1707 came as no surprise. Burns's adaptation of Parcel of Rogues is too familiar to need quoting here; but it tones down the popular anger of the time. The Jacobite/Episcopalian polemic A Curse against those who who were for the Revolution and Union is an angrier and less elegant piece in the same vein. I've used the version from Robert Mylne's manuscripts that was reprinted by the Roxburghe Club; a slight variant was later reprinted in Hogg's Jacobite Relics as The Curses with a tune that seems to be untraceable to the time. Another comment survives in a fragment from 1706, a parody of Fy let us a' to the bridal:

Fy, let us a' to the treaty, for there will be wonders there,
For Scotland's to be a Bryde, and married by the Earl of Stair.

The anger culminated in huge riots, first in Edinburgh and then in Glasgow when the news arrived. Daniel Defoe, who had worked to bring the Union about, and afterwards regretted doing so, reported the scenes following its signing like this:

I Casually stayd at the house I went then to Till Dark and Thinking to Return to my Lodging, found the wholl City in a Most Dreadfull Uproar and the high street full of the rabble... In This posture Things stood about 8 to 9 a Clock and the street seeming passable I Sallyed Out and Got to my Lodging, I had not been Long There but I heard a Great Noise and looking Out Saw a Terrible Multitude Come up the High street with a Drum at the head of Them shouting and swearing and Cryeing Out all scotland would stand together, No Union, No Union, English Dogs, & the like.

The day after the signing of the Treaty of Union, the town bellringer was asked to celebrate the event with a tune on his carillon; his ironic choice, according to Francis Collinson, was the old melody How Can I be Sad on My Wedding Day. That tune had many associations. Its oldest known use may be for a Gaelic satire against the Campbells, Banais am bail' Inbhir Aora (The Wedding at Inveraray):

I was at a wedding in old Inveraray
Most wretched of weddings, with nothing but shellfish

a fair description of the state of the Scottish economy at the time. It was used under the How can I be sad... title in Joseph Mitchell's 1731 London ballad opera The Highland Fair, and Gaelic Scotland used it much later for the song Boneid is it, agus breacan is féile (Bonnet and feather and tartan and plaid) and the pipe lament Tha mi dol dachaidh leat (I am going home with thee). The Campbells themselves adopted it as an anthem, The Campbells are Coming, and turned it into a march for the Argylls. For the bellringer to make a joke from it, it must have been known in Edinburgh in 1707 with Scots words, but these are lost. I've given both Mitchell's straightforward version of the tune and a setting from the Macfarlan Manuscript of some thirty years later, which includes some variations, similar in style to the variation sets of the Lowland pipers of the early 18th century, though its range is wider than that of a bagpipe. For the occasion of the Union, the bellringer would surely have done something more flamboyant than the bare tune, if not quite as complex as the Macfarlan setting. The tune went on to even greater popularity when converted into reel time late in the eighteenth century, as Mrs Macleod of Raasay.

I have included two instrumental settings of Parcel of Rogues, both from the middle of the 18th century. The first is by William McGibbon and the second (with two variations) is by James Oswald, from the Caledonian Pocket Companion. Both must be meant for the flute. It is not easy to imagine somebody leading a riot while playing either of them.

Most of Scotland, apart from Glasgow, went into deep economic decline following the Union. One of the few comments on it in song is a fragment written in the margin of an account book belonging to the draper David Geddes in 1709, a version of Derry down:

O Scotland awake
and gett to your arms
for the English rogues have sworn
that you shall be brought down
down down down to the ground

Manipulation of grain and flour prices in Edinburgh went back to its origins as a city. All across mediaeval Europe millers were seen as oppressive swindlers, and there was a mass trial of 56 Edinburgh and Leith grain merchants for price-fixing in 1584. Throughout the 18th century, all of lowland Scotland experienced riots against sudden increases in the price of grain. Edinburgh's immigrants from the countryside had seen starvation close up. Many had been displaced by the agricultural "improvements" of the Lowlands - in effect, Clearances on a larger scale and decades before those of the Highlands. Usually, but not always, their food supply was more secure in the city. The meal stores and markets were in the towns and cities; so were the opportunities for making a quick profit out of famine; and so were the mass responses to the profiteers. Edinburgh may have had less meal riots than most of Scotland, though informal anecdotes suggest there were many more than ever reached the courts. The first serious one was in 1740 at Bell's Mills, Dean Village (now the site of the Dragonara Hilton Hotel), with hundreds of bolls of grain confiscated and three people shot dead by the army. The famine of that year was widely blamed on the founder of Coutts' Bank; in an account that Couts got censored from later printings, Maitland described it in the 1753 edition of his History of Edinburgh:

In this Year a great Dearth of Corn happened, which affected the Poor to such a Degree, that many were like to perish for want of Bread. And being of opinion that the Dealers in Corn were entered into an Engagement rather to let their Corn spoil rather than sell it under the Price agreed on: And one Couts, (who was Provost of Edinburgh some time after), being a great Dealer in Grain, the Populace imagined, 'tis said, that the devouring Famine was in a great Measure owing to him, which inraged them to such a Height against the said Couts, that, had he not left the City for his Safety, as 'tis said, it was thought he would have been torn in pieces by the enraged Multitude.

The pair of songs comprising The Meal Mongers Garland probably dates from this time; they were printed together in an anonymous broadside. The first tune is named as The Meal was Dear Short-syne on the broadsheet; it's also known as , Four Bare Legs in a Bed, or Maggie's Tocher, and I've given two versions of it, one from Orpheus Caledonius and one from Alexander Stuart's Music for Allan Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany. It's a much older tune, first printed as A New Scottish Jig in Playford's Apollo's Banquet of 1669 and known in England as A Trip to Marrowbone. A later tune that somewhat resembles it is In Dispraise of Whisky from Simon Fraser's collection of 1816. That's also the first part of a pair of songs, on a related subject, so perhaps some version of this broadside made its way into Gaelic tradition and persisted for a few decades after being forgotten in Edinburgh. The second tune is the hymnlike English air Death and the Lady, perhaps from a mystery play of the Middle Ages, which was used in broadsides throughout Britain from the late 17th century on; this version comes from Ryan's Cobler's Opera of 1729. Neither tune is a good fit for its text, and the broadside looks like a product of great haste as well as white-hot fury. Mr Couts Minuet, by contrast as neat and formal as a bank statement, was published by Neil Stewart in the 1750s.

Smaller meal riots followed in 1764 and 1765, then another major one in 1784, when a mob tried to burn down James Haig's distillery at Canonmills (on what was to become the site of the 19th century Stockbridge Colonies co-operative housing scheme) after hearing that it was using potential food grain to make whisky. The mob was beaten back by the army, with one rioter killed. Some of the rioters then took the public drum of Portsburgh and paraded round Leith with it in triumph. This could have been an intentional diversion; the remainder marched ten miles through the night and burnt Reid's distillery at Ford to the ground. Similar riots followed later in the week at Musselburgh and Prestonpans.

Haig's and Reid's both put out what today would be called spin-doctoring press releases, arguing that their raw material was nothing humans would want to eat. But the figures are entirely on the rioters' side. At the time of the Canonmills riot, the big Haig distillery at Kilbagie produced 3000 tons of spirit each year, and its wastes were used to feed 7000 cattle and over 2000 pigs. Used to feed people directly, that one factory's grain input would have been enough to end Edinburgh's food shortages. Even the army suffered; General Leslie was advertising a tender for supplying bread to the Castle a week before the Canonmills riot. The big distillers were not even creating steady employment. They pioneered industrial mobility, shifting their plant around Scotland to reduce costs, while smaller distillers were going to the wall. The newspapers of the time were full of advertisements with distilleries for sale. The large distillers were producing far more spirit than Scotland could possibly drink. Their aim was to break into the English market, where tax concessions resulting from the Treaty of Union gave them an advantage. The English distillers reacted by collective price cuts to levels even below that of the duty paid on whisky imported from Scotland, and the government simultaneously moved to close the tax loophole. With an investment of thousands of tons of alcohol they would literally have to pay people to drink, all the biggest distillers in Scotland (including the Haig/Stein dynasty) went bankrupt in the spring of 1788, along with the grain merchants who supplied them . Few people in Edinburgh can have sympathized.

William Anderson, accused of starting the Canonmills riot, was almost a caricature rebel. He lived in Portsburgh, always regarded as the lair of the untamed rabble; he had cut the thumb off his left hand to avoid military service; and he, his father and his mother had each been banished from the city before for theft and reset. In the aftermath he seems to have escaped. The only trial was of William Spence for fire-raising at Ford, and he was acquitted.

The rioters' tactics, in Edinburgh and elsewhere, were thought-out and political. Rather than simply looting a granary, they would often sell the contents on the owner's behalf at the old price. These price controls achieved by direct action were often confirmed later by the city or the state, along with emergency laws to ban hoarding and price fixing. The informal control system of 18th century Scotland would never have tolerated private manipulations of food price like those of the present-day "futures" market.

The strathspey Miss Haig of Bemmerside, after the Borders family seat of the distilling family, is from William Campbell's 26th book of dances, printed in 1810; the best-known of the dynasty was Earl Douglas Haig, commander of the British forces in France in World War I. The reel Dear Meal is Cheap Again, also known as Cheap Meal, is labelled "old" in the collection I've taken it from, Donald Grant's of 1790, and was first published by Neil Stewart in the early 1760s, though it suddenly became popular in the late 1780s, when it was reprinted and copied many times; the Canonmills and Ford riots must have had something to do with this. The government finally banned whisky distilling for several years, partly a concession to the meal rioters and partly to help the gin distillers of England move into the Scottish market. The beginning and end of the ban were marked by Niel Gow in his pair of tunes Farewell to Whisky and Welcome Whisky Back Again.

A line often taken by the Government and its apologists was to blame the poor for eating expensive wheat instead of cheaper oats and peas. In the same week of 1795, Henry Dundas was arguing this in Parliament and Piershill Barracks was again advertising that the shortages hit the army: they wanted competitive tenders for supplying their hundreds of horses with oats. The most extreme price rises for grain - to six times the previous level - were in the years 1799 and 1800. This led to several attacks on stores and carts, particularly in Leith, the Grassmarket, the Cowgate, the West Port and the Pleasance, and the Volunteers were called out to defend the dealers. This kind of action made them the target of children's rhymes:

Pease-meal warrior, what's to be done?
The pease-meal's up to tippence the pun'
Tippence the pun's owre dear,
The pease-meal warrior's owre sweer.

Throughout Scotland meal riots were often led by women, like Barbara Lyall of Montrose who could summon 500 people within minutes in 1800 by blowing on a horn. "Captain Sarah of the White Regiment" from Leith was marked by a printed elegy at her death in 1718, which reads in part:

The Warld may mind whan Meal was Dear
Whan Warldly Tykes for greed of Gear,
To forreign Lands resolved to steer,
    the staff of Life,
How she attackt them Front and Rear,
    a doughty Wife.

Upo the Shoar the fallow threw,
And back the Pocks of Meal we drew,
And there in state wi angry Brow,
    she stood and Seld it,
The Carls lookt Bleat and hung their Mow,
    as they'd been gelded.

The last meal riots in Edinburgh seem to have been in 1812 when shops in Nicolson Street and Dalkeith Road and grain stores elsewhere in the city were looted. But similar events continued in the countryside. Miners often came into conflict with mine-owners and landowners over taking potatoes without permission, and this led to two major riots in 1842, when miners at Newcraighall and Gowkshill attacked the police to free men arrested for potato thefts.

Captain John Porteous was the notoriously brutal commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard in 1736. The events around his lynching at the "Porteous Riot" were the pivotal episode of Edinburgh's 18th-century history, and marked the city far more deeply than either the 1715 or 1745 Jacobite risings. The greatest public issue at the time was the increasing enforcement of the Malt Tax. In effect this was a regressive tax on beer, imposed as a result of the Union, which would hit the poor hardest in the years when the long depression of the Scottish economy after 1707 had reached its lowest point. In 1725, there had been a city-wide popular insurrection in Glasgow against it, and Edinburgh's brewers stopped production for months in protest. Popular anger in both cities remained such that it would take very little to set off an explosion. The moment came when two smugglers from Fife, Wilson and Robertson, were sentenced to be hanged. The Life and Death of Captain John Porteous, a topical book of a few months later, reported:

They had both been carried from Prison to a neighbouring Church called the Tolbooth-Kirk, upon a Sunday, to hear Prayers and Sermon, as it is the Custom for persons condemned to die. Wilson and Robertson are standing with Four Soldiers of the City-Guard, before the People were well assembled, and the Minister come in, in the Forenoon. All of a sudden, Wilson, a strong well-built Man, seizes Two of the Soldiers and holds a Third, by fixing his Coat in his Teeth; then he cries to Robertson, Run, Geordie, run for your life. Indeed Geordie got over the Seats, and made his Escape. The Multitude were charmed with Wilson's generous Action, and not ill pleased with Robertson's Escape. They are always on the side of Humanity and Mercy, unless they are engaged themselves.

Robertson made his way to Duddingston, where he was given a horse to get away and was never seen again. Wilson was hanged. At the execution, the crowd stoned the hangman and the Town Guard. Porteous got his men to fire with live ammunition from levelled guns, killing six bystanders. The book commented:

If the Throwing of Stones by the Mob, was a good Reason for firing, then there had never been an Execution without Kill'd and Wounded; nay, not a Whore nor a Thief scourged through the Town without it. It is ordinary for the rabble at Edinburgh, moved with the common Sentiments of Humanity, upon such Occasions, without being able to comprehend the Ends of Society, to let fly Stones at the Hangman.

After a trial presided over by Duncan Forbes, Porteous was convicted of murder, but the Queen postponed his execution and seemed ready to reduce his sentence to transportation. Then one night a mob first locked the city gates to keep the army from the Castle out, attacked the Tolbooth where he was held, and when the jailer refused to let them in, used a tactic well-tried in previous riots and set its door on fire. As a news report in a London magazine put it:

before the Prison-Door was near burnt, several rush'd thro' the Flames, up the Stairs, commanded the Keys from the Keepers; and, tho' they could scarce see one another for the Smoke, got into Capt. Porteous's Apartment, calling, Where is the Buggar?

Then they dragged him out of his cell, hanged him in the street where the shootings had taken place, and evaporated into the night with no further demonstrations. This was one of the quietest and most disciplined riots of all time; the mob even paid for the rope they used to hang Porteous with. The conspirators were never identified. The earliest piece I include about the riot (though there is no tune for it) is the bizarre Masonic piece The Secretary's Song, from Yair's The Charmer of 1749, which suggests the secrecy was maintained by Masonic oath, and it was widely believed that, if not Masons, the leaders had at least been from the higher ranks of society.

The British government thought, perhaps rightly, that the Edinburgh city authorities had connived at the lynching. Their response was furious, ordering Edinburgh to pay Porteous's widow a huge compensatory pension out of public funds and passing two acts in Parliament. One act was intended to strip Edinburgh of its city status, demolish its gates, jail the Lord Provost, and forbid him ever to hold office again; the other forced the notice of a price on the lynchers' heads to be read out in every church in Scotland during Sunday services for a full year. The first was negotiated down to a one-time sacking of the Lord Provost and a requirement that the Netherbow's gates be locked open.

There were no compromises on the second. It detonated popular fury across the whole country, as it touched on resentments going back both to the "Jenny Geddes" riot of 100 years before and to the Treaty of Union within living memory. Many ministers flatly and publicly refused to cooperate with the government, and much of the Kirk joined recently-formed seceding churches rather than do so, setting an example whose full implications were not to emerge for another 100 years with the Disruption of the Church of Scotland. One blazing polemic, A Memorial for the People of Scotland, must have been from Edinburgh, despite a bogus title page to put the authorities off the scent saying it was printed in Dublin:

As to the matter of the Act, 'tis said: Be it enacted by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal &c. How will this Ashdod speech sound in a Presbyterian Ministers mouth at any time; but more especially on the holy Sabath, and in the time of Divine Worship, to acknowledge and Homologate the Office and Authority of the Twenty six Antichristian Knights of the black Order in England (Brats ishuing from Antichrist's foul Womb) to be their Dictators, Judges and Lawgivers combined, no doubt with Satan and the Pope to insnare the Ministers of the Church of Scotland, to whom they have an implacable hatred for their small opposition they make to their Antechristian Kingdom of Darkness, preparing them by this Pile to swallow down greater Matters provided for them, such arrogant and Blasphemous Titles, belongs to no Mortal, none being Lord of Spirits but our Lord JESUS CHRIST...

As to the Manner of exhibiting this Act it is most sinful, it being to be Read by the Minister of every Parish Church in Scotland, making the Ambassador of the King of Kings to do the drudgery work of scoundrel Messengers and Heralds, pouring the utmost Contempt upon the sacred office of the Minister, rendering their persons and Ministry odious, base and contemptible before all the People, when they see them made Slaves and Drudges to the Lust, Rage and Dictates of wicked irreligious and dissolute Men, and instead of hearing from their Mouth the Doctrine of Salvation and Word of Life, they must be obliged to have their Ears defiled by the poor, insipid, dry, sinful and malignant Acts of Parliament, contrair to Scripture and right Reason...

The End and Design of this Diabolical Act, is to Debauch the Consciences, to encourage Louseness, Prophanity and Immoralities, and Mock and ridicule all Religion, and banish the fear of God quite out of the land, to raze and ruin all our Rights, Privileges and Securities, both Sacred and Civil that are left remaining undestroyed since the wicked and unhallowed Union, which this Act and its furious Imposition is a most notorious Breach thereof...

"Ashdod speech" is an allusion to the Book of Nehemiah, where the prophet warned the Jews not to marry the daughters of the Philistines because they didn't speak with the right accent. This seems to be an idiosyncratic way of warning the Scots against English religio-political influence. The more-than-half-mad religious obsessive William Mitchell, who called himself the Tinklerian Doctor, took the same line, in less words and more coherent grammar:

The hired Clergy should all go the Way of Captain Porteous. I arose out of my Bed, and went to see him hanged like a Dog in a Teather, wanting my Breeks, about eleven a-Clock at Night; I love to see God's Laws put in Execution...

and summed up those ministers who collaborated with the Government:

their Envy is great against God; They would have all three Persons of the glorious Trinity punished for executing their own laws

For once in Mitchell's long and cranky career he might have found somebody in the city to agree with him. Looking back nearly a century later and with the benefit of greater sanity and intelligence, Andrew Thomson concurred:

The general conduct of the ministers was abject and servile... Multitudes, aggrieved and offended by the timid servility of their ministers, left their parish churches on the first reading of the act, and placed themselves under the ministrations of those who had resisted the command, or more frequently still, swelled the ranks of those little societies which had sought liberty, and found it, in secession.

In the long term, the Kirk's failure to respond strongly enough to this challenge fatally weakened its moral authority and began the secularization of Scotland. Not all of the state's responses to the riot were as effective. The height of legal fatuity was reached by an Act of August 1737 forbidding people to throw stones at executioners.

The Porteous Mob is another tune by James Porteous, who made a specialty of writing silly happy little tunes about ghoulish subjects. I have no idea if he was related to the Captain. He commemorated another Porteous who met a melodramatic end in The Spedling Castle's Ghost's Dance, about a Gypsy who was absent-mindedly left to starve to death in the private jail of the Jardines of south-west Scotland, so he may just have enjoyed the coincidence.

Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian of 1818, set at the time of the Porteous Riots, was the most influential novel about Edinburgh ever written; nothing else came close until Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. The earliest dance tune connected with the book seems to be the silly jig Madge Wildfire published as a loose sheet by Goulding, D'Almaine Potter & Co in 1819. John Sutherland published a group of dances in 1820 associated with the book and its main characters, all much better than Porteous's and Goulding's efforts: the reel The Heart of Mid Lothian, the jig Reuben Butler, Jeanie Deans' Strathspey, the reel The Laird o' Dumbiedikes' Favourite, Madge Wildfire's Strathspey, and Madge Wildfire's Reel. Cold is My Bed, Lord Archibald and Madge Wildfire's Song form a pair of lyrics sung by the madwoman at her death when stoned by a Glasgow mob. They were set to ballad-like melodies by George Linley (1798-1865) in 1829. I've reduced Linley's simple piano score to a guitar part. The extraordinarily beautiful strathspey Jeanie Deans is from John Davidson's National Gems for the Violin. Like many of Scott's novels, The Heart of Midlothian was made into an opera: Hamish MacCunn's Jeanie Deans of 1896.

The heart marked in cobblestones outside St Giles's Cathedral was put there in 1818 as a result of Scott's novel. It marks the location of the door burnt by the Porteous mob. There is a long tradition of spitting on it for luck. The legend is that this was originally done by prisoners on their release from the Tolbooth as a way of saying goodbye to the place. The Heart of Midlothian is by the Edinburgh music-hall comedian Johnny Victory (1922-1968). You make a spitting noise during the rest in the chorus. (I haven't heard this sung, and it isn't quite clear from the score how the music is to be adapted to the second verse - the MIDI and QuickTime files incorporate my guesses).

The first Highland regiment to mutiny in the 18th century was the Black Watch, in an incident in London in 1743 where three men were executed for leading a revolt against the systematic lies they had been fed by the goverment about the use they were going to be put to. The next, for the same reasons, was a generation later in Edinburgh. Many regiments were hastily mustered in response to the American War of Independence. One of the new Highland ones was the 78th Foot, or Lord Seaforth's Regiment, raised in 1778, mostly from Highlanders of the clan MacRae. They were billeted in Edinburgh in September pending embarkation to Guernsey, some in the Castle and some in the town. They were not paid either their full wages or their enlistment money, and the last straw was a rumour that the whole unit had been sold to the East India Company for its private use in the East Indies. More than half the regiment, mostly those in the town, ran off rather than take ship to an unknown destination with no payment. What happened on September 22nd was described by one of the officers of the regiment in a letter to a newspaper:

The companies who, by being stationed in the Castle, had not imbibed these absurd ideas, prepared for their embarkation with the utmost cheerfulness and marched down as far as the New-Bridge in good order and high spirits; they were then assaulted by the companies quartered in the town, who, with the assistance of the populace, soon threw them into confusion. Every effort of the officers to reduce them to obedience was in vain, as in their endeavours they were insulted, pelted with stones, and struck by the mob, who surrounded them, and the men encouraged and assisted in every act of mutiny and insolence.

The mutineers then went to the Canongate prison, broke it open to release some soldiers held there for riotous behaviour, and dispersed after a harmless exchange of gunfire. When the remaining troops assembled on Leith Links to embark, the officers again refused to pay them anything until they were on board. So the majority - about 500 of them - marched to the top of Arthur's Seat and stayed there, being supplied with food and drink for two days by the people of the town, many of them Highlanders like the troops. They came down to embark after getting complete agreement to their demands: a full pardon for the mutiny, payment of all arrears, an undertaking that they would never be sent to the East Indies, and their officers subjected to an immediate court of inquiry under officers of other regiments with any soldier permitted to testify. There were only a few minor wounds in the episode and one soldier was killed falling off Arthur's Seat in the dark. The year 1778 had seen the first big strike recorded in Edinburgh's history, a bitter confrontation between the journeymen stonemasons and their employers for higher wages, with workers from many other trades contributing to the strike fund. Memories of this must have been in the minds of the many people of the city who helped the MacRaes against their officers.

The Macraes' March to Arthur's Seat is from David Glen's collection. I've given his full setting, since this did not occur in all printings of the book and can be hard to find. Glen said it was played by the mutineers on their way to the mountain. People don't compose new tunes at five minutes' notice with bullets whizzing over their heads; there is no earlier trace of it under another name; no other pipe quickstep from this period is known to exist; Glen doesn't say how he came by it 100 years later; and he also, unusually, claims it as copyright, which is a strange thing to do with traditional music a century old. But wherever it came from, it's a good tune and the event needed commemorating.

There is another war march of the MacRaes, first printed as a pibroch by Angus Mackay (and still available in his full setting from the Piobaireachd Society) with a story that makes a neat historical parallel. Duncan MacRae, known then as Suarachan and later as Duncan of the Big Axe, was an orphan brought up by the McKenzies in Ross, which had been surrendered to the Scottish Crown in 1476; he was called on by the Mackenzie chief to help defend it against the Macdonalds of the Isles trying to take it back in 1491, in the Battle of Park. He killed one enemy, then sat down on the corpse and refused to budge. The Mackenzie chief asked him to get up and fight, whereupon Duncan replied "pay me as a man and I will fight as a man". So the Mackenzie offered to pay him double if he killed another. After doing so, Duncan sat down again. Again the Mackenzie argued with him, but gave in and agreed to pay whatever Duncan asked; whereupon Duncan went on to kill another 14 of the enemy. He vanished towards the end of the battle, last seen chasing a group of Macdonalds up a burn singlehanded, and reappeared hours later after being given up for dead while his chief was at dinner; he threw down a bundle of four severed heads and said "Tell me now if I have not earned my supper". Let's hear it for Duncan MacRae, pioneer as both bolshie trade unionist and Stakhanovite workaholic. Suarachan, one of the oldest tunes in the pipe repertoire, was written in his honour.. It became the battle march of the MacRaes and later the reveille of the 72nd Regiment, and there can be no doubt that this one was played on Arthur's Seat in 1778. I've taken my version from a 19th century piano transcription in Logan's Inverness Collection which calls it MacRae's March A.D. 1491. The gracenotes give the right effect on a piano or accordion, but are impossible on the pipes. I've given it an accordion sound in the computer files.

The Seaforths went on to the Channel Islands, and drove off a French attack to retain them in British hands. A dull propaganda ballad exploited this: A New Song on the Valiant McCraws of Seaforth's Regiment, to a tune named as Arthur's Seat. It fits no tune of that name that I've found.

At Arthur's Seat both early and late,
    Our camp was secured by us a', man;
And by capitulation for the good of the nations,
    We shipped from Leith, and awa', man.
With a loud cheer to the ships we did steer,
    Set sail, and to Jersey run o'er, man;
We got a salute from the garrison stout,
    By cannons which loudly did roar, man...

The end of the story was more tragic than the soldiers' worst fears. After two years in the Channel Islands, the regiment was shipped to Madras; not sold to the East India Company, but certainly to assist it. In the ten-month voyage there, 250 men, half the regiment, died of scurvy, including its commander, the young Earl of Seaforth. The regiment's chief piper, Roderick Mackenzie, composed a pibroch lament for him. The men found it so depressing that they forbade Mackenzie to play it, and it is now lost. After many years of service in India, the Army simply discharged the survivors where they were, refusing to ship them back. Only a handful ever saw their homes again. How accurately the Macraes perceived the state's intentions is shown by what happened to the next few Highland regiments raised. The second battalion of the Black Watch was renamed the 73rd Regiment and sent to India like the Seaforths; the 74th and 75th Regiments were handed over to the East India Company outright. Loyalty to the Crown was costing other MacRaes dearly in the 1770s.. Most who had emigrated to America took the British side in the War of Independence, only to be exiled back to Scotland defeated and penniless.

The reel The Wild McCraes is an undoubtedly modern memorial of the same events; it's by John McLellan of Dunoon, from The Cowal Collection, a series of books of competition-winning pipe tunes published in the 1920s It might have been meant to mark the 150th anniversary of the revolt.

This was far from the end of military revolt in and around Edinburgh; there were two mutinies of Highland soldiers at Leith in 1779. The first, over an attempt to draft men of the 42nd and 71st Regiments into Lowland units, turned into a shootout with the Duke of Buccleuch's Fencibles that left 12 highlanders and 2 fencibles dead. One of the wounded was G.S. MacLennan's great-grandfather, Duncan MacLennan (1759-1837), piper to the 42nd. The second, which started as a wage dispute, led to four men of the West Highland Fencibles being flogged for refusal to wear elements of non-Highland uniform while their fellows briefly seized the Castle and pulled up the drawbridge. These, the Gordon Fencibles' mutiny of 1794, the 1795 naval mutiny in Leith Roads, and the anti-conscription riots of 1797 that led to the Massacre of Tranent, all had greater long-term effect. But none seems to have left any trace in the city's music.

Sir Laurence Dundas, despite his surname, was not part of the Dundas dynasty. He was the son of a bankrupt bailie, made a fortune as Commissary-General of the army in Flanders, and returned to Scotland to become Member of Parliament for Edinburgh from 1767 onwards. His position was never accepted by the gentry, and he was the target of polemics like this one in the Caledonian Mercury for the 1776 election :

1. And Sir L__ spake all these words, saying:

2. I am thy sovereign Lord, who brought thee out of poverty and want, and enriched you with places and pensions.

3. Thou shalt have no other patrons but me.

4. Thou shalt not make unto thyself any party, nor join thyself to any faction, neither in Edinburgh above, nor Canongate beneath, nor in Leith which is under them both.

5. Thou shalt not lay out thyself to serve them: for I am a powerful and revengeful Lord, who will visit them that oppose me with an Excise scheme, and ruin their families to the third and fourth generation:

6. But will give bribes and posts unto thousands of them that job for me, and who vote as I command.

After more than a decade in the position, anyone of more genteel origins would have been given a peerage. Dundas wasn't, and took out his resentment by supporting a parliamentary resolution of 1780 declaring "that the influence of the crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished". This was strong language just after the American Revolution; it was also backed by Lord George Gordon, who would provoke the cataclysmic London riots of a few months later. The hereditary elite tried to reassert their power by contesting the result of his election. This led to weeks of underhanded wrangling in which both sides used every procedural dirty trick they could find in the fine print of electoral law. Deacon Brodie, later to be hanged as a burglar, bargained with his deciding vote to the end before finally abstaining. Dundas's opponents even tried to render a meeting called by the Lord Provost null and void by declaring him insane:

Provost Hamilton's imbecility and absolute incapacity for any business whatever, for a considerable time past, was well known.

Eventually Dundas won. Sir L. Dundas's Reel was published by Thomas Skillern in 1780.

Lord George Gordon's Reel is by William Marshall, who spent most of his life in the service of the Duke of Gordon. The Duke's brother Lord George (1751-1793) must have been a close acquaintance. Although born and brought up in London, Lord George was regarded as a Scot on both sides of the border, and his interest in Scottish culture extended to learning Gaelic, an unusual ability in an aristocrat of his time. After a naval career that never got anywhere because of his insubordination and support for the ordinary seaman, and having developed a bitter opposition to the slave trade and vocal sympathy for the American colonists, he entered Parliament, beating Fraser of Lovat in what Fraser thought was his personal fief, Inverness-shire. He found an even more effective way to irritate the government in December 1779 by becoming president of the Protestant Association, a body opposed to the relaxation of anti-Catholic legislation.

The relaxation, put forward in 1778, was Henry Dundas's idea, supported by the Catholic Bishop Hay in Edinburgh, and extending personal liberty wasn't its point. With the American war stretching manpower to the limit, the Army needed to recruit more Highlanders as cannon (or tropical disease) fodder, but many of them were Catholics who could not easily be recruited under the legal status quo. Rich Catholics stood to gain by the changes; the poor majority could only lose. An impromptu organization, the Committee for the Protestant Interest, sparked riots in Edinburgh in February 1779 in which a Catholic chapel was burned and three houses looted. They distributed slips of paper not much bigger than a credit card, to rally the mob:

To every Protestant into whose hands this letter shall come, greeting.

Men and Brethren,

Whoever shall find this letter will take as a warning to meet at Leith wynd on Wednesday next, in the evening, to pull down that Pillar of Popery lately erected there.

A PROTESTANT. Edin. January 19, 1779

PS. Please to read this carefully, keep it clean, and drop it somewhere else. For King and Country, UNITY.

Nobody emerges from this episode with much credit. The Town Guard, far from guarding the Catholics' property, took bribes to break open the doors of the priest's house and assist the looters; a disagreement between Sir Laurence Dundas and the Council meant that his press-gang was not brought in; the Lord Provost personally ordered firemen to stand back and let the chapel burn; and the Fencibles, despite being heavily armed, refused to take on the rioters, as described by Henry Mackenzie:

I walked along the line of the Buccleugh Fencibles, who were bid from the Castle as a guard to prevent further mischief, but who interfered very little to prevent the destruction of the Chapel. I overheard some of their talk which, as far as I could make it out, seemed to imply rather a Presbyterian feeling of satisfaction at the destruction of that "Temple of the Devil" as they called it.

And the Catholic victims padded the bill for their losses to many times the real figure.

From his seat in Parliament, Lord George provoked a far greater riot in London in June 1780, which began when a mob of tens of thousands assaulted parliamentarians and destroyed Catholic chapels and houses, then went on an ever-widening rampage that broke open and destroyed all the city's prisons and set distilleries on fire. Reports from the time describe these distillery attacks as motivated by drunkenness and bigotry, but I doubt they would have been targeted if it were not for the link with food shortage and waste that was also being made in Scotland at the same time. It took an all-out defensive battle by the army, against three waves of attack, to stop the mob from pillaging and burning the Bank of England. 20,000 troops were called in. All the fatalities were on the rioters' side: 850 people were left dead, with 25 rioters subsequently executed. The Scots Magazine reported the height of the riots:

Nothing could make a more dreadful appearance than the city of London and its environs on this night. The huge bodies of fire issuing from the different conflagrations of the Fleet prison, King's-bench, the Toll-houses on Blackfriars bridge, together with Mr Langdale the distiller's two houses and warehouses on Holborn Bridge, and the top of the hill, and the illuminations all ascending into the air, and consolidating together, formed an atmosphere of flames, impressing the mind of the spectator, as if not only the whole metropolis was burning, but all nations yielding to the final consummation of things.

One eyewitness to both estimated that the Gordon Riots did ten times more physical damage to London than the French Revolution did to Paris. Lord George Gordon was tried for high treason in the aftermath. He had many sympathizers among Scottish Protestants, who formed organizations to work in his defence and made his trial into the main issue of the day in Edinburgh. Perhaps it was even more so than in London, as underlying the religious rhetoric there must have been a feeling that finally Scotland had managed an effective reprisal for the Union. One of Gordon's Edinburgh supporters travelled to London in record time to watch the end of the trial, shinned up a pillar to get a good view, and stayed there for 22 hours laughing at the court officials who were too fat to follow him up, while the crowd threw oranges up to him. The news of Gordon's acquittal reached Edinburgh by express in the morning, and by night the whole city was ablaze with lights and bonfires in celebration. The magistrates requested the army to stand by in case of trouble, and the Leith magistrates banned the bonfires, but the celebrations passed off peacefully. The Illumination 9 Feb 1781, commemorating that night, is also by William Marshall, from the same early collection. Thomas Skillern's 204 Country Dances of 1780 includes a tune called The Scotch Hero's Reel next to Sir L. Dundas's Reel. He must have had Lord George Gordon in mind. Another commemoration of these events is a song The Riot, to the tune of The Black Jock, by James Boswell. But he was living at his estate in Auchinleck when it all happened, too distant from the urban scene to respond with more than mild stereotype outrage. The acquittal is also commemorated in Lord Gordon, a song from C.K. Sharpe's manuscripts; no tune is indicated for it, but the metre will fit many ballad airs, like or the old Bonny Dundee tune.

Two years later Gordon was brought in to mediate in a mutiny of Highland troops at Portsmouth. An anonymous broadside parody of Johnny Cope from the time, The Athole Highlander's Triumph, showed how similar this was to the Macraes' revolt:

The twenty-seventh of January,
The year seventeen hundred & eighty three,
The Highland boys would not agree
To ship for Colonel Gordon.

CHORUS: Charlie are you waking yet?
Or are you sleeping? I would wait?
The Highland drums to arms do beat,
Will you go on board this morning?

To the East Indies we were sold,
By Murray, for a bag of gold,
But listen a while and I'll unfold,
How we did blast his glory.

At Portsmouth we were ship'd to be,
To serve the East India Company;
But the Highland lads would not agree
To go abroad this morning.

Were it to fight 'gainst France or Spain,
We would with pleasure cross the main,
But like bullocks to be sold for gain
Our Highland blood abhores it.

The rest is too heavily loaded with names and other topical references to be singable today. Despite this broadside's triumphal description, Lord George's mediation attempt was a total failure and he was lucky the mutineers didn't kill him. He later converted to Judaism, was prosecuted in the same trial for libel against both the British justice system (whose severity he regarded as un-Biblical) and Queen Marie Antoinette, and spent his last years in a comfortable cell in Newgate Prison where he played the fiddle and bagpipes. Rebellious to the end, his last recorded act before dying of fever was to sing the French revolutionary anthem Ça ira.

Whatever the cause of the anti-Catholic riots of 1779, there were those who hoped to harness such violence in their own interests. Robert Dundas wrote in 1792 when a Unitarian chapel had been set up in Edinburgh:

my hope is the good people of Edinburgh will rise and pull down the house to pieces, and sure I am their conduct in doing so will be winked at.

But they didn't.

Marshall was reputed to be a Tory adherent of the Episcopalian church, and as such not a likely sympathizer with Lord George's opinions. But Lord George Gordon's Reel, one of the first tunes Marshall composed, is placed right at the head of his collection of 1781. Whatever the personal motives and family loyalties involved, the fact that Marshall was willing to celebrate Britain's most notorious agitator for cheating the rope suggests there was more in his politics, at least at that time, than his biographer tells us. He later changed the title to Mrs L. Stewart's Reel - of the Island of Java, presumably because Gordon was by then forgotten and Mrs Stewart was paying. He rewrote the second half at the same time; I've given the original one. The Illumination similarly had its title changed to The Fochabers Rant; it was also reprinted as The 19th of February by William Campbell, probably a simple mistake.

The Gordon family had acquired a reputation for hereditary insanity in the 18th century. George the first Duke (1650-1716) had not done the family's political credit much good by holding Edinburgh Castle for the Jacobites while he was its Governor at the time of the 1688 Revolution, and years after his surrender and rehabilitation, conferring with the Old Pretender and ending his days under a restriction order confining him to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh saw more politically conscious movements in the 1790s, inspired sucessively by the French Revolution, Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man, and the example of the United Irishmen. There is little music marking any of this. Robert Mackintosh's reel Pat Riot of 1797 is probably related to it; "patriot" was often used derogatively to describe sympathizers with the republican regimes of France and America. This fine tune may well have been intended as a snide comment on the United Irishmen, or perhaps was an in-joke about David the 11th Earl of Buchan, noted for his eccentrically democratic opinions as well as being a patron of the fashionable gatherings Mackintosh was writing for.

Burns's little-known songs on the deposition of Henry Erskine comment on the political climate of the time. So does one of his most familiar and most deeply coded songs. Thomas Muir of Huntershill, the most articulate radical Scottish intellectual of the age, was arrested early in 1793 and charged with sedition on his way to defend James Tytler. He left for France in an attempt to persuade the French revolutionaries to spare Louis XVI's life, but was trapped in France by the outbreak of war. Declared an outlaw, he went to Dublin, where he joined the United Irishmen, came back to Britain to stand trial, and was arrested on landing at Stranraer. Burns saw him being taken to Edinburgh in chains. Scots Wha Hae, or as Burns called it, Robert Bruce's march to BANNOCKBURN, purported to be about the era of Wallace and Bruce but was written on the day Muir's trial started in Edinburgh. Burns wrote of the tune in a letter to George Thomson:

I am delighted with many little melodies, which the learned Musician despises as silly & insipid. - I do not know whether the old Air "Hey tuttie taitie", may rank among this number; but well I know that, with Fraser's Hautboy, it has often filled my eyes with tears. - There is a tradition, which I have met with in many places of Scotland, that it was Robert Bruce's March at the battle of Bannockburn. - This though, in my yestenight's evening walk, warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of Liberty & Independance, which I threw into a kind of Scots Ode, fitted to the Air, that one might suppose to be the gallant ROYAL SCOT's address to his heroic followers on that eventful morning.

Burns continued pointedly after the song:

So may God ever defend the cause of TRUTH and Liberty, as he did that day!- Amen!

P.S. I shewed the air to Urbani, who was highly pleased with it, and begged me to make soft verses for it; but I had no idea of giving myself any trouble on the Subject, till the accidental recollection of that glorious struggle for Freedom, associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient, roused my rhyming Mania.

After a farcical trial, Muir was transported to Australia. (He had been a subscriber to Niel Gow's third collection of 1792; who knows, maybe he managed to take it with him and become one of the first people to play that music in the colony). He escaped but was badly wounded at sea, and died in exile in Paris from the long-term effects of his injuries. He is also commemorated in Adam MacNaughton's hypnotic litany Remember Thomas Muir of Huntershill.

For several decades, Burns's song was the unofficial Scottish national anthem, much as Flower of Scotland (crudely derived from it) is now. I've taken the tune from the second volume of the Gows' Repository, and have included the original Hey tutti taiti drinking song and its tune as it appears in the Scots Musical Museum. An independent and thoroughly un-political reuse of Hey tutti taiti is The Ale Wife's Daughter from John Hamilton's Twenty-Four Scots Songs of 1796. It's a good enough song that it could have caught on had it not been instantly overtaken by Burns's anthem, which made the idea of setting a love song to the same tune unthinkable.

Others faced even more ferocious repression. Robert Watt of the Friends of the People was executed for treason in 1794, and the cavalry volunteers of the East Lothian gentry suppressed protests against conscription in Tranent in 1797 by arbitrary massacre. The war years from the mid-1790s on were a time of silence, when protest was treason and, apart from meal riots, no dissent was audibly voiced. As Lord Cockburn put it:

I doubt if there was a public meeting held in Edinburgh between the year 1795 and 1820.

At this point the law classified public meeting halls in the same category as brothels. This repression was systematic across the whole of Britain. Paranoia was whipped up to the point where in 1798 an Edinburgh woman believed to sympathize with the French revolutionaries, Eliza Fletcher, was accused of setting up a toy guillotine in her garden and practicing on chickens with it. The death of George III and the defeat of Napoleon briefly took the lid off. Then Britain plunged into a deep postwar economic slump, the new machinery threw weavers into poverty, and the Tambora volcanic eruption blanketed the world with dust to create the cold wet summer of 1816, crop failures across the Northern Hemisphere, and Scotland's last country-wide famine. Edinburgh's relief work projects, like the Radical Road and the landscaping of Bruntsfield Links, seem to have quieted the worst of the popular anger, which in Nottingham and Derby led to an abortive armed revolt. More systematic revolt built up throughout Britain in 1819, suppressed in the brutal Peterloo Massacre in Manchester. In Scotland, this culminated in the desperate Lanarkshire insurrection of 1820, which achieved nothing but the martyrdom of its leaders Baird, Hardie and Wilson and the self-glorification of the gentleman amateur soldiers, like J.G. Lockhart and Sir Alexander Boswell, who carried out the mopping-up operations. These operations are described in The Western Campaign, another song from Patrick Fraser Tytler's songbook for the Yeoman Cavalry. This depiction of civil war as if by a colour supplement's food columnist speaks volumes about the social composition of the volunteer forces and the attitudes of the Edinburgh gentry. The tune is that old Tory broadsider's favourite, The Black Jock. The bitter Address to Sandy is an anonymous broadside published in Edinburgh shortly afterwards. The tune is the 18th century jig The Hills of Glenorchy, here in a version for the flute from the early 19th century.

Election campaigning in the modern sense only began in Britain after the passing of the Reform Act of 1832; before that, only about one Scot in a thousand had a vote, so the candidates knew the entire electorate personally and knew exactly how to appeal to them as individuals. The passage of the Act was marked by bitter polemics on both sides; the ballad-mongers must have been delighted, as this was their best opportunity since the execution of Burke. The Bill and the Franchise So Low is a Tory anti-reform ballad. It was published as a broadside, was later anthologized by Maidment, and is also in the Duke of Buccleuch's papers in the handwriting of his mine manager; this manuscript version is the sharpest and is the one I've used here. Like Boswell's The Riot, it uses the tune of The Black Jock. Social geography changes. It seems strange today to think of the fresh-pasta-and-aromatherapy suburb of Stockbridge as a hive of turbulent proletarians, but its last working-class tenements, beside St George's Well, were only demolished in the 1970s (when, as usual in such clearances, the council lied to the occupants saying they'd be allowed back in the new housing constructed over the ruins, then priced it far out of their reach). The "taxes on knowledge" the song refers to were the stamp duties on newspapers, widely seen as an attack on free speech and the subject of civil disobedience at the time.

The Scotsman reported a different Tory anxiety about the Reform Bill in 1832:

ONE HONEST TORY. - A day or two before the news arrived in Edinburgh of the fate of the reform bill in the House of Lords, a respectable lady called upon her baker in --- street, and inquired for her account. The Master of the Rolls replied "there was no hurry, he would wait till the usual time of payment." She insisted, telling him "that if the bill did not pass she was afraid that all the Tories would be killed, and she wished to have her accounts all settled before-hand".

The Reform Act was marked by a parade to Leith Links, with a rally begun by a mass choir singing God Save the King and ending with Scots Wha Hae, then the unoffical national anthem of Scotland, as Flower of Scotland is today. The reformers were well aware of how far they had to go, not least in extending the reforms to the whole world. The parade banner of the Edinburgh Shopmen included these internationalist lines:

In Poland's blood-reflecting sky
The Sun of Liberty has set,
But THOU shall rise in strength on high
Above her armies yet.

The Devil and the Tories is one of the many gloating ballads that came from the Edinburgh broadside press after the Act passed. Earl Grey and Lord John Russell were the leaders of the pro-Reform camp. The tune is now known as There's Nae Luck Aboot the Hoose but in former times was often called The Mariner's Wife or Are Ye Sure the News is True, the latter being the first line of this song. Grey was feted in Edinburgh in 1834 with a banquet under a marquee on Calton Hill attended by 3000 people, the largest in the city's history. The strathspey Earl Grey, here taken from Middleton's collection of the 1870s, may have been written for that occasion, but could be later. It's usually attributed to James Hill, the Dundee fiddler who worked in Gateshead in the 1830s and 1840s, but Hill would have been no more than 20 at the time. If he wrote it, it more probably marks the unveiling of the memorial to Grey in Newcastle in 1838.

After the passing of the Act, with twice as many electors in Edinburgh alone as there had been in the whole of Scotland, networking was abruptly replaced with advertising. Songs were one means of rallying support, and there were never again as many created for one campaign as in the parliamentary election of May 1834. This was a three-way fight between Learmonth, representing the Tories, trading on his local connections and having just had the Dean Bridge built; Sir John Campbell for the Whigs, the Attorney-General of England, who needed a safe seat fast after being ejected by the voters of Dudley; and James Aytoun, for the small trademen's Liberal or Dissenter party, who combined radical-sounding sentiments and a personality-based campaign as an "anti-sleaze" candidate with a Tory past that included a minor role in fighting the weavers in 1820. One secondary theme that underlay much of the campaigning was the long-running struggle for control of the city between lawyers and merchants; in one form or another this went back to before the Reformation, and by the 1830s it was embodied in the political parties, with more businessmen on the Tory side and more lawyers with the Whigs. All sides created some good songs; from the surviving sources, Learmonth's camp ought to have won on creativity, though he also drew the most elegantly sardonic attack, in a spoof campaign leaflet that began:

In this enlightened age, when the advantages of local position are justly esteemed paramount to those of intellectual superiority or public eminence, I come forward boldly to claim your suffrage on grounds altogether independent of my political principles or of my mental qualifications. I have spent my life in occupations which have secured my inefficiency and yet cherished my self-esteem, and have carefully avoided any intercourse or pursuits which, by enlarging my views, might have assimilated me to my opponents, and prevented me from appealing to you, as I now do, on the sole ground of residence within the Burgh of Edinburgh.

I have, however, other, though inferior, claims to your support. You are now in possession of a Franchise from which I laboured to exclude you, and which, if I have the honour of being your Representative, I shall lose no time in attempting to withdraw, as, if once in Parliament, I should scorn to hold my seat on so frail a tenure as the ever fluctuating voice of Public opinion.

Learmonth's campaign did exactly what that satire accused him of, emphasizing his local connection. To the tune of Lilliburlero:

He is ONE OF OURSELVES, and has all his life been,
  So that all can his talents and virtues declare;
And if at your leisure you walk t'wards the Dean,
  You will see what a bridge he has built for us there;
    Your men of the law,
    With their jabber and jaw,
May be all well enough in their own roguish way;
    But they'll talk for some time
    Ere they "beat stone and lime",
So Improvement and Learmonth must carry the day.

Aytoun got what might seem like the most personal jibe, in this parody of Auld Rob Morris:

The lout Jamie Aytoun, I ken him fu' weel,
His arse it sticks out like an ill made coal creel;
Wi' his short shambling houghs and his guseberry ee:
Oh! his slobberin sow-mouth I never will pree.

except that the insult was taken almost word for word from the way the song appeared in Orpheus Caledonius in 1733, with only the names changed, and it could have been a hundred years older even than that.

Another New Song, a Tory broadside attacking the Whig candidate Sir John Campbell, is to the tune Wae betide the Whigs o' Fife which I've given in a reel setting from Kerr's Merry Melodies. I've omitted one illegible verse and another mostly composed of now-forgotten names. One of Ronald Reagan's election slogans when standing against Pat Brown for the governorship of California in the 1960s was "If it's Brown, flush it"; Sir John Boghouse!!, an attack on Campbell from Aytoun's camp, shows that he wasn't the first with that idea. The tune is Up in the Mornin' Early. The final vote count: Campbell 1932, Learmonth 1402, Aytoun 480.

The new property qualification for voting was too high to fall short of a universal franchise, and sufficiently low that a rich candidate could buy up and distribute cheap property so as to install sympathetic voters and swing a marginal seat. The Tories did this more than the Whigs and were blunter about it. A letter from Sir John Hope, secretary of the Royal Company of Archers, to James Hope, says:

As I am writing to you I take the opportunity, which I have been deprived of at our last two Archer meetings, of mentioning how very awkward I feel in being the paymaster for buying up votes, of which I know nothing until a hurried note arrives for me to sign an order for the money to buy property I know almost nothing about. I have therefore come to the determination to pay no more unless when sanctioned by Sir George Clerk.

Even more unscrupulous tactics could be applied, as in this illegibly initialled letter sent to Alexander Adie, an optician and scientific instrument maker whose hobby of broadside collecting has been very helpful to me in this chapter:

Sir My husband tells me to inform you that altho' he has dealt with you now for a long time, yet if you vote for Mr Jeffrey or Mr Abercromby that you cannot expect he will patronize you any more. So if you mind your own interests don't interfere for them - Your doing so can do no good.

Ballots were not made secret until 1872, so this was not an empty threat. In one case, a Tory landlord in Gilmerton got one of his tenants sent to the Calton Jail for debt in retaliation for his voting Whig. Clerk not only sacked his personal physician, John Renton, for campaigning against him; he also had Renton evicted.

Blair, an Independent candidate (which as is usual today, meant a thinly disguised Tory), became the subject of the epigram Could Mr Blair His Arse Prepare,

The only copy I have located is in a large-print handbill from Adie's collection. It was probably meant for flyposting, and parts of it were torn away, perhaps because Adie couldn't shift the glue. The bits in square brackets are my attempt at a reconstruction.

It's a parody of a hymn from the Scottish Paraphrases of 1781:

Ho! ye that thirst approach the spring,
Where living waters flow;
Free to that sacred fountain all
Without a price may go.

Those words were given a specific melody in a religious spinoff of R.W. Hume's broadside serial The Lyre, called The Sacred Lyre, a tune called St Gregory attributed to Dr Wainwright. It's similar to Crimond, the tune most often used for Psalm 23. I have also given two four-part settings of the period. One is of Wainwright's tune, published in A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes in Four Parts Sung in South Leith Church by David Black of Leith; it's old-fashioned by the standards of the time, with the tune in the tenor. The other is a version of a tune by Beethoven used for the same hymn text by R.A. Smith in his Edinburgh Sacred Harmony of 1829. The epigram also fits the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Any reference to persons living is of course coincidental.

One of the lighter remarks on these elections was from a miniature musical about them, The Canvass, published at Leith in 1834, making a joke that has been recycled worldwide on anarchist t-shirts down to the present day:

There was a jolly Butcher once
And a cautious man was he;
He whistled and sang the haill day lang,
But ne'er a word spak he.
And this the burden o' his sang
For ever used to be -
I'll vote for Nobody, no not I,
Since Nobody votes for me.

The upshot of these changes was that the Whigs, the party of the legal elite, held Edinburgh for the rest of the century, save for a brief spell under Learmonth.

Election songs have continued to the present day. Gladstone's campaign of 1979-80 produced several rather desperate-sounding responses from the Tory camp, most of which could find no reason to vote for the Earl of Dalkeith except that he was local, like this one printed in the Dalkeith Advertiser for January 30 1879:

From the Firth of Forth to the Pentland's feet,
    Lies a county, all classic ground,
Where Holyrood stands, and Arthur's Seat,
    And castles and ruins abound.
These the young Dalkeith represents right well,
For he and his kindred among them dwell;
Still Gladstone is plotting to filch his seat,
But the cock of the North will not be beat!
No; Gladstone may come and Gladstone may go,
His own and his Muscovite horn to blow!
    We'll never elect Mr Gladstone - no!
    We'll never elect Mr Gladstone!

And Ritchie found this children's song, to the tune of Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching, in the 1950s:

Vote, vote, vote for Mr Labour,
In comes Tory at the door;
Take a poker and a knife
And chase him for his life,
And we won't see Tory any more.
Shut the door!

Polemics of the 1830s pointed out how little difference extending the franchise made, a perception that led rapidly to Chartism. Ye Radicals of Edinburgh is from The Altar of Liberty of 1836. It parodies the patriotic song Ye Mariners of England by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), Lord Rector of Glasgow University. The tune for it was first published in London in 1660 by the prolific broadside writer Martin Parker as The Joviall Cobler and was used for many patriotic songs of the early 19th century. Its use here is heavily ironic. I've taken it from the reprint in R.W. Hume's The Lyre, published in Leith around 1840.

There was little violence between town and gown in old Edinburgh, unlike some other cities in Europe. The most serious incidents involved the boys of the Royal High School in the late 16th century. A common form of protest by the pupils of British schools at the time, often against refusal of holidays, was "barring-out", locking the teachers and governors out of the school. The first of these at the Royal High was in 1580, with nine pupils imprisoned for rioting. Another followed in 1587, and then another in 1595 when a cancelled holiday led to an armed siege with swords, guns and axes. While one of the city magistrates was battering the door in with a joist, a pupil blew his brains out with a pistol. And, it seems, got away with it; his father was the Chancellor of Caithness, after all. He next appears in the historical record as a minor diplomat.

One of the few conflicts involving the University was in January 1838; the students were hurling snowballs out of the college across the street, and broke some windows. A few were arrested after a fight with a mob of townspeople. The next day the conflict intensified, and the students armed themselves with sticks. This time the police ("Charlies" in the slang of the time) claimed to be too exhausted and below strength to deal with it as a result of guarding the court at the mass trial of the Glasgow cotton-spinners, called in the army, and had the Riot Act read. The 79th Regiment attempted to invade the college. The subsequent trial ruled that the invasion was unlawful since there was no rioting still going on when they arrived, and the students were cleared. Several topical pieces were written about the episode, almost all on the students' side, like The Gallant 79th to the tune of The British Grenadiers:

Hurrah! for the gallant Major, who marched in sword in hand,
In spite of yell and snow-ball, at the head of his gallant band:
And though the snow fell thick and fast, no symptom shewed of fear,
But boldly braved the Students' shouts like a British Grenadier!

In A New Song to an Old Tune, the tune is The Deuks Dang O'er My Daddie, or in the bizarre spelling of the version from Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion that I've used, The denkes dang over my Deddie. It's also known by the first line of the 18th century text, The bairns gat out wi' an unco shout. The Student's Dream is set to I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls, from Balfe's operetta The Bohemian Girl. The student satirist was using a very recent hit, since the full work was not premiered until five years later. The words don't fit the full version I've given, from Kerr's Collection of the Pretty Tunes of All Nations of the late 19th century - presumably you only use the opening. The broadside The Battle of the Sna' Ba's was so much a product of student culture that it included a glossary for the French and Latin words embedded in its Scots text. Unusually for a topical broadside, the sheet includes the tune in full. It's a version of Sheriffmuir. The printing and paper are so similar to that of R.W. Hume's The Lyre that he must have been involved in producing it. No tune was intended for the parody The Discomfiture of the Force, but it fits The Old Orange Flute. (It has the earliest recorded use of the word "minibus").

The political content of the battle was nil, unless you count the right to break windows with snowballs as worth fighting for. But the precedent established at the trial, blocking the indiscriminate use of massed force against groups of citizens, remained influential until the Miners' Strike of the 1980s.

Soon afterwards more serious struggles began. The Chartists began organizing in and around Edinburgh in 1838. Most of the early agitators were from England, with miners from Northumberland spreading the idea of unionization to those of Midlothian. The first big Chartist meeting was on Calton Hill in December 1838, reported by the Edinburgh Advertiser like this:

Among the other dangerous novelties of the day are the meetings of the Radicals by torch-light, for the alleged purpose of securing the so-called rights of the people, such as the Ballot, Universal Suffrage, &c. One of these illuminations took place on the Caltonhill, on Wednesday night; and strange to say, was presided over by a clergyman belonging to the Church of Scotland. There is, we believe, only one man bearing the sacred character of a minister of our Church, who could so far degrade and prostitute his holy profession to such a purpose, and that individual, we need hardly say, is the same who attended the O'Connell dinner in Glasgow, and rode into Paisley in the same chariot with the Popish incendiary. It was the Rev. Patrick Brewster of Paisley, that presided over the nocturnal orgies on the Caltonhill.

The council's panicked response to this meeting was to try setting up its own vigilante force of special constables. But times and the law had changed; the courts said they had acted illegally in not consulting the Police Commissioners first. 1838 was not a good year to be an Edinburgh policeman. The Kirk tried to expel Brewster for his Chartist activities in 1842 but were overtaken by the Disruption before they could complete the process.

Chartist agitation continued through the 1840s, but even though 1848 saw a riot in favour of a British Republic that broke most of the city's streetlamps, there were few local songs from the movement. (Their best writing was in a polemic from the political prisoner Robert Peddie's The Dungeon Harp, representing alcohol as a drug whose main purpose was to keep the working class passive; but Peddie had no sense of proportion and it is far too long to reproduce here). Then the Crimean War of the 1850s and the war panic that started in 1859 damped down popular protest. The next burst of mass political activity was over Gladstone's reform bill of 1866; this was marked by a huge parade to Leith Links.

The Banner of Reform was written for this parade as the contribution of the Letterpress Printers of Edinburgh. Its tune is a surprising choice, the Celebration Song or The Heriot March, used then and now for the annual celebration of George Heriot's school in honour of its founder, which involved throwing a wreath of flowers at Heriot's statue. This used to be on May Day like so many others, but was moved to the first Monday of June, which was also the day Heriot's boys were issued with new clothes for the year and the only day's holiday they got. Heriot - "Jinglin Geordie" - was the royal jeweller to James VI, Edinburgh's largest moneylender, and the major financier behind its first and only brewing monopoly. The march is hard enough for an adult to sing and could not be better calculated to trip up boys' voices at the point of breaking. It seems to be derived from the nonsense song Johnny Lad ("I got my wife in Edinburgh for ae bawbee..."). The Banner of Reform is credited on the broadside to "James Smith, Printer", and a James Smith is also the author of the original school song, so he seems to have recycled his own tune for political purposes. Neither is a poetic masterpiece, but the school words are worse.

The rhyme for the occasion created by the schoolboys themselves is more to the point:

It's O! for the stockins,
It's O! for the shoon,
It's O! for the glorious
First Monday o' June!

The Tories didn't accept electoral reform without a fight. The Free Lance, a shortlived newsletter from 1868, contained several brutally aggressive songs attacking the reformers. The Howl is one of them, to the tune of Leslie's March, a Cavalier song of the 17th century adapted by Sir Walter Scott in 1820 as March, March, Ettrick and Teviotdale - a popular tune for Tory polemics throughout the nineteenth century. What it lacks in substantive accusations it makes up for in inventive abuse, in the old Scots tradition of "flyting". I don't know what a "pink of consistency" is, either. Other songs in the Free Lance defended the annuity tax and targeted its leading opponent at the time, Lord Provost Duncan MacLaren. They weren't particularly good, but I don't recall any Tory songs in favour of the poll tax in 1989-90, and the annuity tax lasted 200 years longer. There's a moral in there somewhere.

The Jolly Cadgers is also about George Heriot's school. Heriot's was the oldest and grandest of four institutions, "hospitals", set up for the education of orphans and the children of the poor. Their management was entrusted to the Merchant Company, and late in the 19th century the Company saw an opportunity to transform them into schools for the middle classes instead. This satire by the typefounder John Blair was reprinted in his Masonic Songs, Oddfellowship Songs and Other Rhymes of about 1890. The lodge songs are dull and routine. This one, part of a parody on Burns's Love and Liberty cantata, is far better, and could hardly be more topical at a time when Edinburgh's Blairite management are bent on privatizing anything that stands still long enough to have a price tag stuck on its arse. When it was written, three of the Hospitals had already been expropriated, and Heriot's was next in line, going under in 1885. It was far wealthier than the others, owning several square miles of what was then becoming Victorian Edinburgh's suburbia, including most of the land between the New Town, Leith and Newhaven. As Blair put it:

The funds of the three Hospitals named, which were left to maintain and educate the poor (Gillespie's chiefly to maintain the aged poor) have, by the instigation of the Merchant Company, through the instrumentality of an Act of Parliament, been diverted to a very considerable extent from the plainly expressed intentions of the donors into extravagant educational institutions for the children of the middle classes, who, in very many instances, should rather be seen as donors to such institutions than recipients of their charities.

Heriot's board of governors once had a power under Scots law that perhaps no other school board has ever possessed. Until 1748, they had the heritable jurisdiction of the Barony of Broughton; this gave them the same right as other great landlords to try criminal cases and even sentence people to death, which they did on several occasions. They gave this privilege to the council in 1721 because murder trials were getting too expensive.

James Connolly, the international syndicalist labour organizer and martyr of the Irish Easter Rising of 1916 was born in a slum tenement (long since demolished) at the top end of the Cowgate in 1870, and grew up in Edinburgh. After a spell in the Army, he came back to organize for the Scottish Socialist Federation (later part of the British Social Democratic Federation) in the early 1890s, and stood for them in a council election. Without much optimism about the party's prospects. His report to their London-based magazine Justice described Edinburgh as a city of

snobs, flunkeys, mashers, lawyers, students, middle-class pensioners and snobs of every description

But he had more hopes of Leith:

The overwhelming majority of its population belong to the disinherited class, and having its due proportion of sweaters, slave-drivers, rack-renting slum landlords, shipping federation agents, and parasites of every description, might therefore have been reasonably expected to develop socialistic sentiments much more readily than the Modern Athens.

After organizing in Ireland, he came back to Edinburgh in 1903 to lead a split in the SDF, taking most of the Edinburgh branch into a new Socialist Labor Party aligned with Daniel de Leon in the US. The new party generated some stirring songs and a great deal of bilious rhetoric aimed at its rivals on the Left, but made no impact whatever. Connolly left for America after a few months, and never returned to Scotland. A Rebel Song comes from its Edinburgh paper, The Socialist, of May 1903. The music is by Gerald W. Crawford (1868-1942), an Edinburgh consulting engineer and city councillor who was one of the most prolific amateur composers of all time, writing large-scale works for the orchestra he conducted. He belonged to the Scottish National League, but little of his other surviving music that I've seen is political, except a part-song The Titans in praise of the working class and settings of Scottish nationalist texts by Lewis Spence. I've given two versions of his tune: a two-part setting originally in sol-fa notation from an early edition of the Socialist Sunday School Tune Book (when it was still reflecting the ideology of the SLP) and a single-line version from C. Desmond Greaves's The Easter Rising in Song and Ballad.

Another song from the paper, perhaps by an American member, set the party's platform to the tune of Marching Through Georgia:

Hurrah, Hurrah! We're the fighting S.L.P.
Hurrah! Hurrah! We march to liberty,
To the Socialist Republic and the triumph of the free,
We're marching with the working-class to victory.

A new wave of political songs was written around the hijacking of the Stone of Destiny in 1950. It is still not known who was involved in it or where they came from, so I have omitted all these songs; most were written in Glasgow. Some, like The Wee Magic Stane, are still often performed.

Following the coronation of the new Queen in 1952, the Post Office began replacing letter boxes throughout Britain with new ones bearing the initials ER II. There had never been an Elizabeth I of Scotland. Nationalists of an earlier generation, the Scottish Patriotic Association, had tried to teach the British state to count when King Edward came to the throne in 1903; they sold aluminium medals at twopence each, stamped with "King Edward I, not VII, of Britain and the British Empire", but were largely ignored and soon forgotten. The Scottish Nationalist lawyer Ian Hamilton, who had helped in the Stone of Destiny hijacking, described the reaction next time round (though his hindsight may be coloured by saltire-tinted spectacles):

When the new title was announced objections were voiced all over Scotland. When the proclamation of the accession was made at the Mercat Cross outside St Giles there were cries of protest from the crowd. The matter did not end there. When shops and stores were decked out in preparation for the Coronation anything having the numeral was torn down. It went so far that human ladders were formed, umbrellas passed up to the person at the top, and the offending decoration hooked down....

The first public manifestation of the Government's intransigence was a new pillar box. It bore the hated numeral "E II R". It was erected in the Inch housing scheme in Edinburgh and was repeatedly defaced, replaced, defaced and replaced until finally it was blown up.

It worked. There have been no letter boxes with those initials in Scotland from 1953 to this day. This was not the first time the post had been targeted for political protests in Edinburgh. The suffragettes had poured what was described as "brown fluid" or "corrosive fluid" into them in several Scottish cities in 1912-14. And long before, in 1820, the old Post Office on the Regent Bridge had been the focus of a nationalist symbolic dispute after it displayed a heraldically incorrect British coat of arms, giving England precedence; this was torn down and replaced.

These songs were created by members of the "Boness Rebels Literary Society", a group of poets who occasionally met in a pub there. Two of the songs are by "Thurso Berwick", a literary pseudonym adopted by Morris Blythman in the hope that other Scottish poets would also use it, like the "Karen Eliot" multiple name of the avant-garde art world in the 1980s (nobody did). Sky-High Joe goes to The Keach in the Creel, also known from another song as As I Went Down the Overgate, or from its refrain as Ricky Doo Dum Day. The version of the tune here comes from a copy of this song dating from the 1950s in the papers of Archie Lamont's "Scottish Secretariat" nationalist grouping. Billet-Doux uses Corn Rigs, best known from Burns's setting but first published by Craig in 1730 and perhaps an old English tune originally. I've given the usual modern version and one from Barsanti's collection of Scots tunes from 1742. The Ballad of the Inch is anonymous; its tune is Castles in the Air, originally Bonny Jean of Aberdeen from the early 18th century, best known now as the rugby song The Ball of Kirriemuir:

Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness,
when they went home again there were four and twenty less...

While these actions remained symbolic, some Scottish Nationalists had planned for grimmer struggles a few years before. Members of "Young Scotland" had thrown six hand grenades into the Glasgow offices of ICI in 1944, and other Glasgow members had been caught with a massive stockpile of hand grenades, gelignite, detonators, fuses, land mines and incendiaries in 1948. (or “The Ballad of the Four Conspirators), also by “Thurso Berwick”, is about an episode shortly after the Coronation when four young men were tried for attempting to blow up St. Andrew’s House, the headquarters of the Scottish Office. It wasn’t published in the Bo’ness pamphlet. I’ve taken it from the Scottish poetry magazine Chapbook. Like a football song of the distant past, it has too many forgotten names to be singable today, but the words are neatly fitted to the tune, Harlaw, from a ballad made famous at the time by the singing of Jeannie Robertson. The idea of comparing a court battle to the Battle of Harlaw goes back as far as Burns.

Minor episodes of armed struggle in nationalist or socialist causes continued sporadically into the 1980s, with a brief alarm in 1999, and almost certainly somebody right now in Edinburgh has a parcel under the bath they don't want to talk about.

Suffragettes around Edinburgh before World War 1 were among the most extreme in Britain. They tried to bomb the Duke of Buccleuch's chapel in Dalkeith in 1913, attacked the Blackford Observatory more successfully a few days later, and in 1914 burnt the mediaeval Whitekirk church to a shell, in revenge for the "mediaeval" forced feeding of Ethel Moorehead in the Calton Jail. But they created no songs of their own, preferring to use those written by their English sisters. The 1970s wave of feminism did better. Lament of the Working Class Hero's Wife was written in 1977 by Linda Peachey with members of the Edinburgh Women's Liberation Workshop, later somewhat adapted by their Glasgow sisters (hence both "wains" and "bairns", words from opposite coasts of Scotland). Its tune is the hornpipe The Black Bear, used as a quick march by C Company of the Royal Scots; I've given both their version and the way I've heard it used for this song by women in Edinburgh. The chorus is not repeated at the end. Men Have All Had Their Own Way For Too Long is from the Edinburgh lesbian-separatist newsletter Nessie of the late 70s; "to thi tune of betsy thi dyke", that is, Sweet Betsy from Pike, also known as Villikins and his Dinah or The Old Orange Flute.

Back to Contents List


Embro, Embro
Copyright © 2001, Jack Campin