Scotland from the Earliest Times to 1603

By William Croft Dickinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
The Early Burghs

IN THE twelfth century we also begin to read of 'burghs' -- the earliest burghs known to us being those of Berwick and Roxburgh which are referred to in a charter granted by David a few years before he became king.

The burgh was a natural and necessary part of a 'mercantile revolution' which had swept through western Europe and had come belatedly to Scotland. It was the concomitant of a change in economic life, a change from a self-supporting and almost purely agricultural economy (whether of pasture or arable) to one in which there were organised manufactures (notably of cloth) and in which organised 'trading' began -- a surplus of agricultural products, wool, wool-fells,1 skins and hides, for example, being exchanged in a new overseas commerce for manufactured goods, for luxuries (such as wine and spices), or for raw materials in which Scotland was deficient (such as iron). And this trading was in the hands of the burgesses of the new burghs. Significantly, too, we now have, in David I's reign, our earliest known Scottish coinage -- silver pennies, minted at Berwick, Roxburgh, Edinburgh and other centres -- and a 'money economy' is the basis of the burghal system.

Undoubtedly there were 'towns' and 'villages' in Scotland before the rise of the burghs in the twelfth century. Dunfermline, for example, was frequently the residence of Malcolm III and Margaret with their court; and other 'centres of settlement' must have arisen at places which were important because of their geographical situations -- for example, Stirling, with its crossing of the Forth -- or places with good harbours at the mouths of navigable rivers. But the burgh was not simply an earlier town or village which had grown larger or more important. The burgh was something entirely different. By royal grant, confirmed by royal charter, a settlement was given a new status -- the status of a burgh. It might be an old settlement, or it might be (and often was) a new settlement which had grown up by the new castle. Or the king might even 'plan' an entirely new burgh, to be built at the time of the building of his castle (much as 'new towns', like

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1
The sheep's skin with the wool still on it.

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