Burghs, Touns, and Vills


Burghs are chartered towns and are a relatively new phenomenon in Scotland. Most of the early Burghs were established by David I in or shortly after 1124, though some claim older establishment dating back to Duncan or MacBeth. Burghs have the special privilege of holding their own market and are exempt from certain fees and taxes. Royal Burghs, that is those chartered directly by the king, are also protected by a castle and garrison, which remains the property of the king. The Burgh has to raise its own militia to police the streets, however.

Royal Burghs pay tolls (fees) on goods sold in the market and on stalls erected there. Some Burghs have their own bailiff and were largely self governing. The principal landmarks of a Burgh are the Market Cross, the Tolbooth (for holding both taxes and criminals), the Bailie (where the Bailif could be found), the Castle, the town wall, and the church. Most Burghs had between 500-700 inhabitants. Edinburgh, Roxburgh, and Berwick-upon-Tweed may have had as many as 1500 (Perth is quickly catching up). Many foreigners involved in trade make their homes in burghs, particularly French, Flemish, and English, but the occasional German or Italian can also be found. Highlanders and other countrymen bringing livestock to market might also be found in the late summer months.

BERWICK: Berwick was the largest settlement in Scotland. It was the country’s principle port of export and was full of foreign traders. The Red Hall and White Hall for Flemish and German traders were located in the Seagate district. Every major landholder in Scotland, including the religious houses, held some land in Berwick with a warehouse on it. Most buildings were single story; some of these also had a cellar. The were of post and wattle construction, covered with daub or clay as insulation, and had a maximum lifespan of 25 years. Because of the wood construction, fires were a major concern in Scottish touns and burghs. The two most important guilds in Berwick (and other burghs and towns) were the Dyer’s Guild (which controlled the entire wool garment industry) and the Skinner’s Guild (which controlled the entire leather-working industry).

Touns: These are settlements of similar size to burghs, though on average a little smaller. They lack the special status and privileges that are granted to burghs, however.

ROYAL BURGHS (with year of charter):

1066? Tain 1100? St. Andrews 1123 Forfar 1124 Aberdeen
1124 Edinburgh 1124 Montrose 1124 Kinghorn 1124 St. Johns Toun (Perth)
1124 Roxburgh 1124 Rutherglen 1124 Strevelin (Stirling) 1130 Inverness
1130 Elgin 1138 Linlithgow 1139 Haidintoun (Haddington) 1140 Forres
1153 Lanark 1153 Peebles 1153 Canongate

These are typically small, little more than a collection of stone houses with thatched roofs, sometimes with a preaching cross or a church. They typically housed between 1 and 3 (at most 8-10 tenant) husbandmen with substantial lands (about 30 acres), an assortment of humbler cottars (who might be able to rent 10 acres), and assorted grassmen (who didn’t own land but had a share of the common grazing) and landless labourers. Leases were usually for a term of one year and were re-negotiated yearly. Husbandmen formed part of the common army. The specific parcels of land usually rotated between the tenants year after year is a system known as ‘run rig’. This would help ensure that a proper rotation of crops would take place. Hust were made of wood, wattle, clay, and turf. Oats, barley, and rye were the main crops. The gaelic word clachan was used to describe a vill with a church.

Kings and Lords
The Royal Court
The Gaelic clanns
Knights and their service
Organization of the Church
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Burghs, Touns, and Vills

The Chronicle of Ken Muir Thalaba