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Royal Visitors to Perth

King James I and VI (of Scotland) paid two state visits to
Perth. The first was in August, 1560, the year after the Gowrie Conspiracy, which had resulted in the violent and untimely death of Perth’s popular young Provost, the Earl of Gowrie. Because of the part that he had played in that affair James was extremely unpopular in Perth, and he knew it. There is little doubt that his visit was intended to show his goodwill towards the people of Perth, and to win back some of his lost popularity. The visit, in fact, was brief, and whether it achieved its desired end is extremely doubtful.

An old document says, “The King’s Majesty.. . was made
burgess at the Market Cross, and there were 8 puncheons of wine set. He received a banquet from the town.. . Morison’s Guide to Perth, dated 1869, says, “The Cross of Perth used to be indicated by an octagonal figure in the paving of the causeway, in the centre, between the Kirkgate and Skinnergate. “A market cross appears to have existed at this spot from a remote
period.. . King James VI visited Perth. . . and was made a freeman of the city at the Cross, where a banquet was held. . . and the King’s Majesty was set down thereat, and six dozen glasses broken, with many other silver pieces and pewter vessels . . . and there the King made ane great solemn oath to defend the hail liberty of this
burgh The visit concluded with James signing the Guild Book “Jacobus Rex.”

At the time of his second visit to Perth, in 1617, James had been resident in England for 14 years. At his coronation he said he would visit Scotland “every 3-year at the least”—a promise that he never kept! James quaintly explained his return to his ancient kingdom as
being prompted by the same instinct that made the salmon, after visiting the sea, return to the rivers in which they had been born!

The Scots were in no doubt as to the real reason for the King’s visit —namely, his desire to reshape their church on the Anglican model. They did not look forward to seeing James again. The English churchmen had assured the King that Scotland was ready for the introduction of English church usages, and urged that his presence there would lend weight to the proposed changes. It is worth noting here that James was enraged to find that this
was far from being the case; and afterwards he angrily referred to his clerical advisers as “dolts and deceivers.”!
Prior to the King’s visit to Perth, the Privy Council in Edinburgh forwarded to the magistrates of the Fair City an elaborate programme of the preparations they were expected to make for the occasion. The chief magistrates were expected to meet the King, and a speech was to be made, welcoming the King “in gude language.” “It sall sett forth his majestie’s own praise by innumerable comforts and blessings quhilk this country hath had both in Kirk and policie under his Majestie’s most happie government. . . His Majesty’s arms were to be engraved and set up in the principal parts of the town, and “they must contain the arms of baith kingdoms.”

We find from city records that 50 persons were appointed to meet the King dressed in black robes, with the silver keys of the city. The King’s arms, we read, were painted on the “High Gate Port.” Of this, Peacock in his book “Perth” says: “The South Street (or Shoegate) appears to have been called the High Gate at one period.. . and the intersection of Methven Street at Saint Paul’s Church was formerly called the North Gate. . The glovers and the bakers were detailed to dance before the King, as were the bairns and their schoolmaster. . The Perth historian Fittis, describing the scene on the King’s arrival, says it was a warm summer day and the streets were crowded
with citizens in holiday mood. The wooden fronts of the tenements were hung with tapestries and decorated with foliage and flowers and flags. The High Gate Port was transformed into a floral archway, surmounted by the King’s glittering escutcheon. The streets were lined with the armed militia of the Weaponschaw. The glovers and the bakers and the rosy-cheeked schoo lchildrenwith their pedagogue were assembled at hand for the day’s doings. The bells of St. John’s rang out, heralding the approach of the royal cavalcade, as it passed Pitheavlis (then the seat of the Oliphant family). At the High Gate Port a gift of 1,000 merks were presented to the
King, as also were the silver city keys. A speech was delivered there by a merchant burgess, James Stewart, and this so pleased His Majesty that “he granted to his
children 300 merks, and to Catherine Peebles, their mother.”

An old chronicler scathingly refers to the speech as “fulsome flattery, doing honour neither to the King nor to the town.” Finally, several Latin poems were presented to the royal visitor, and these “indeed do honour to the King.” Another writer of the times quaintly remarks: “When we consider the mighty king to whom those poems were addressed, we can excuse the indelicate and fulsome flattery. . . very acceptable to our classical monarch. . . There was an odd occurrence during the King’s visit. He summoned all who had been present at the death of the Earl of Gowrie and his brother to meet him in Gowrie House. There he detailed to his audience all the circumstances of the Gowrie tragedy, and the evidence of all the witnesses. Thereafter he embraced his listeners, and then knelt on the floor, thanking God for His mercy. Fittis observes, “The affair looks exceedingly like an attempt on the part of James to bolster up a bad case, and vindicates himself in the eyes of the English
James returned to Falkland Palace after his visit, and Perth Town Council seized the opportunity to solicit his assistance towards “the expense of upholding the Bridges of Tay and Earn.” The latter was in a ricketty condition, and had been so for the past three years; the Tay bridge was that built by John Milne in 1605 presumably it had not yet been paid for! The deputation on the matter to Falkiand Palace consisted of Alexander Peebles, bailie, and Henry Elder, treasurer. James VI contributed 40,000 merks for the purpose of restoring The Bridge crossing the Tay. But until 1771, 150 years after floods
washed it away, no new bridge was constructed.

The visit of Charles I to Perth took place in the year 1633, after his corona tion in Holyrood House, Edinburgh. Preparations in Perth for this visit included the repair of the Bridge of Earn, the ordering of forty fat oxen for the King’s use, the ear marking of lodgings for the use of Englishmen in the King’s retinue; beggars were warned off the streets, and, oddly enough, women were forbidden to wear their plaids while the King was in the city; two lads, suitably dressed, were detailed to make a speech of welcome, and the Provost was granted permission to wear his hand rapier for the occasion, while the bailies were to carry white staves; the sword dance was to be performed by the Glover Incorporation. Orders sent in advance by the Privy Council specified the way the
King was to be received. He was to be met two miles on the south side of the Bridge of Earn by the Earl of Errol and his friends—”No rascalls, commons, nor others be suffered to be in your lordship’s companie, but entlemen,
well-horsed and in good equippage.”

On July 8, 1633, King Charles duly arrived at the entrance to the South Inch and was met by Lord Provost Arnot and the magistrates. We are told that the King waited patiently on horseback while the loyal address was presented to him. After which he went to his lodging in Gowrie House (then the property of the Earl of Kinnoull
—and afterwards gifted to Charles II). When he had attended divine service, Charles returned to the Gowrie House Gardens where he settled down to enjoy the highlight of the visit—namely, the sword dance of the glovers. Thirteen of the glovers performed their dance on a floating platform on the River Tay. They were gaily dressed in tunics of fawn-coloured silk, with trappings of green and red satin: 252 bells fastened to each tunic produced a pleasing chime according to the dancer’s movements. The Glover Incorporation records say: “God be praised, the dance was acted and done without scaith or hurt till any.”

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