Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive anecdotes

Snippets from Edinburgh’s archives.

Oct 16, 2012

Five centuries ago, on 14 October 1512, the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh reveal that the Provost, Baillies and Council were taking urgent action to contain the spread of plague. Statutes included a requirement for families to report any outbreak in their household, as well as restrictions on travellers from infected areas and on the keeping of untethered dogs and pigs in the town.

Penalties included banishment, destruction of contaminated possessions, burning a mark on the cheek and other corporal punishment at the council's discretion.

‘It is statute and ordanit be the provest baillies and counsale, for to eschew be Goddis grace this contagios seiknes of pestilence laitlie risen, that in time to come quair ony happinis to be seik within the towne, bairnis or vtheris, that incontinent the principale persouns thairof  … reveles the samyn to the provest and baillies, under the payne of banesing and byrning of the gudis and vther corporale payne that shall be thocht expedient.

Item, that na maner of persons of infectit places outwith the toune cum and enter within this town vnder the pyne of byrning, gif it be ane woman on the cheik, gif it be ane man sic pvnition as sall be thoct expedient.

Item, it is statute and ordanit that na doggis nor swayne be haldin in this towne furth of band vnder payne of slawchter of thame.’

Almost two decades later, on 25 June 1530, the burgh records report the application of penalties on two parents who failed to report their child’s sickness. Both were burnt on the cheek, but, while the father was banished at the ‘town’s will’, the mother was banished for life under pain of death.

‘As George McTurk and his spouse marion sudderland hes broken the statutis of ye towne havand a barne sek in yair hous and wald not revele ye samyn to ye officiaris . . . . quaharfor ye baillies and counsel ordains yat yaj be all byrnt on ye cheik and (marion) scho be bannit all ye life vnder ye payne of deid and ye (George) bannist induring ye tounis will.’

(The 1512 extract is one of many fascinating archive records included in “The Edinburgh Book of Days” by Michael T.R.B. Turnbull.http://bit.ly/nxNKIh)

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