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April 25th 1580

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The Bloody Roll

Today, the coroner is used mainly to enquire into the causes of accidental or suspicious death. But in the 16th Century he was directly concerned with the interest of the crown and one of his duties was to forward to the sheriff the names of those persons who had committed crimes punishable by death - the so called Bloody Roll.

For the period 1556-80 there were 58 names on the Roll of which 22 were for the crime of murder though in fact only five murders were involved. In one particular case “the cruel slaughter of Margaret Williamson,”  no fewer than fourteen men were cited. Some fifteen men were accused of “transporting and homebringing of false coin.” 

In one case the indictment was rather more detailed. “For the treasonable inbringing within this realm furth of Flanders, Bordeaux and other foreign countries of false and adulterated money and treasonable outpourings thereof among the King’s lieges as lawful money and good coin.” 

There was the case of David Gray, “miller in the common mills of Perth - for the drowning of two bairns in a cobble on the Tay.”  It must be presumed that the drownings were deliberate. Strangely, there were two cases involving in all eleven men in “mutilation of the left arm of Peter Grant”  and for “art and part in the mutilation of Thomas Restein, webster (weaver) at the Bridgend of Perth of his left arm” 

There was the case of John Anderson “for forestalling of victual and keeping thereof in store until a dearth.”  Only one woman figures on the list. “Janet Gowrie for being a witch and enchanter.”  Lastly, there were three cases which would come under the heading of unsociable behaviour. “For disobedience to the magistrates.”  “Libel and disobedience to the magistrates.”  and “Sedition and uproar in the commonwealth.” 

In the case of the Bloody Roll there is no evidence that any of the 58 persons named were actually executed and the general state of Scotland at this time was such that it was possible to commit all sorts of crimes, including murder, and in most cases escape punishment. In addition to the Bloody Roll there was also the Cautioner’s Roll. Those on the Cautioner’s Roll found cautioners willing to give a guarantee that the persons indicted would not repeat their crime.

As might be expected many of the names on the Bloody Roll also figured on the Cautioner’s Roll.

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