Home Page John Wilson Related Sites Acknowledgements Send a message Email about the diary Start from January 1st

April 21st 1505

Previous day Next day

The Gypsies come to Scotland

When the Gypsies first crossed the border from England to Scotland towards the end of the 15th Century they were treated with kindness and affection and even a certain awe by the people of Scotland.

In 1492 the sum of £20 was paid to “the King of the Rowmais”  with a letter of safe conduct signed by James 4th . Thirteen years later the Treasurer paid £7 “to the Egyptians by the King’s command.”  In 1506 a band arrived under a leader calling himself Anthony Gavino, Earl of Little Egypt. They stayed several months in the country causing no trouble and eventually expressed a desire to go to Denmark. James 4th was sufficiently concerned for their welfare to write a letter of commendation to his uncle the King of Denmark.

“Most Illustrious Prince,
“Anthony Gavino, Earl of Little Egypt, along with his company, an afflicted and miserable race of men, in the progress of his peregrination round the Christian world, as he affirms, by order of the Pope, hath at length reached the borders of our kingdom and intreated that, out of our royal humanity, he might be permitted to travel through our territories where he may find some refuge for his helpless fortunes and miserable subjects. You may believe that a request of this kind proceeding from the unfortunate could not be refused, and accordingly after having lived here for several months he is now preparing to pass over to Denmark…” 
Perhaps it was the implication that these were Christian unfortunates “comporting themselves under a conscientious and Catholic fashion”  and indeed under the orders of the Pope, that touched the heart of King James.

Even twenty five years later King James 5th was pleased to give the King of Ciprir (Cyprus) £100. This was at a time when the English were passing laws expelling the “outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians.”  It was not until ten years after this that the first Scottish proclamation was made whereby the Provost and Bailies of Perth were ordered to command “all Egyptians to depart furth of this realm with their wives, bairns and companies within 30 days after they be charged therein, under the pain of death.” 

It had very little effect.

More Acts were passed. April 30th 1573 “The vagabond, idle and counterfeit people of divers nations, falsely named Egyptians, living in stowth (theft or robbery) and other unlawful means”  were ordered to leave the country. All remaining were to be imprisoned for eight days and then scourged through the town “till they be utterly removed furth of this realm.”  Once again the Act was ineffectual.

In 1579 an Act was passed condemning the Egyptians for deceiving the people by pretending to “tell their wierds (fate), deaths and fortunes,”  and further statutes were passed in 1592, 1597 and 1600. Many were sent into the army. “They make excellent soldiers whenever the habits of military discipline can be sufficiently impressed upon them.”  This was not easy because they deserted at the first opportunity.

They were horse dealers, tinsmiths, makers of horn spoons and always present at the many fairs throughout the country. They were not loved, they were believed to be dishonest rogues but in some peculiar way they had already become part of the fabric of the nation.

Previous day Next day

Perthshire Diary Home | Author | Perthshire Links | Reference | Contact Us | Tell a friend | Browse