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December 8th 1622

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The Kirk deals with domestic violence

The Kirk Session in the early days of the Reformation concerned itself not only with religious observances but also with civil misdemeanours and domestic quarrels. For instance John Dundie was publicly rebuked from the pulpit and told to be reconciled to his wife under pain of excommunication.

In 1592 the wife of David Grey complained of his violent behaviour to her. Because he had not come home by midnight she went to the howff that he frequented and there reproved him. “He came home immediately thereafter and bound her hands and feet and took a stenchell (an iron bar, part of the grating for a window) of ane window and laying her on ane stool, broke her legs, arms and shoulders which she showed before the Assembly and the neighbours testified. He is ordained to be warded (imprisoned) and sustain an inquest of his neighbours.”  David Grey proved to be a very violent man indeed and two years later was hung for another offence.

A quarrelsome woman was brought before the Session, and it was required “that she should keep preaching prayers at all times coming, that she should live in peace with her neighbours, especially with Walter Elder and his servants, thirdly, that in all time coming she should be obedient to her husband according to God’s command.” 

If this decree seems somewhat sexist to modern ears, the Session could also show some protection to a deserted wife. “James Walker to take two bairns from his wife and sustain them in bed and board; and for the furnishing of his wife and the other bairn to give her weekly 40 pennies, forty shillings for her house-mail (rent) at two terms, or else adhere unto her as his wife.” 

This obligation of family ties reached out even unto the grandchildren. John Thomson was ordered “to give hospitality to the young little one his oye (grandchild) and he promised so to do; and that otherwise, if he did not, he was premonished that an half-merk of his weekly wage should be withdrawn from him, and given to them that would give his oye hospitality; and because he has neglected to do so as was enjoined, and contrary to natural pity, has suffered the young thing to live under stairs, and it has been seen lying objected (exposed) to wind and weet, therefore the Session ordain that the said John be answered but half an merk weekly of his wage in time coming, and the other half thereof be given to Janet Gardner to sustain his oye.” 

In some cases the punishment was not a monetary fine or imprisonment but a public humiliation. The Session debated “what form of punishment should be enjoined to John Keir’s wife for putting violent hands on him and for wounding him in the head with a pair of taings (a pitchfork). It is concluded that she, on the next market day, pass barefooted, holding up the same taings in her right hand above her head, through the streets of the town.” 

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