Scotland from the Earliest Times to 1603

By William Croft Dickinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXVI
Scotland in the time of James VI

THE ACCOUNT of an English traveller, Fynes Moryson, who visited the Lothians and Fife in 1598, confirms the impression gained from other sources that in many respects Scotland was still a poor country, with a still primitive economy. Its main exports from the east-coast burghs to France and the Low Countries were wool, skins, smoked or dried fish, and coarse cloth 'both linnen and woollen, which be narrow and shrinkle in the wetting'1; its main imports were iron, timber ('eastland burdis'), pitch, tar, wine, fine cloths, and a few luxuries. This trade, moreover, was never in large quantities -- only in 'small fardels', or sma' sums.

Both the government and the merchants were aware of the disadvantages inherent in the continuing export of raw materials, but since the export of wool had to meet the import of necessities like iron and timber, a Scottish cloth industry could be developed only by disrupting the whole pattern of exchange. From time to time, indeed, attempts were made to restrict the export of wool and the import of cloth; foreign weavers, mainly Flemings, were encouraged to settle in Scotland and to work there; and in 1597, for the first time, an import duty (of a shilling in the pound) was laid upon all foreign merchandise coming into the realm. But, in general, the old pattern of trade was to continue for a further half-century and more.

Usually there was a sufficiency of plain food -- salt meat, wild fowl and game, fish, oats and barley, kale, peas and beans; but a backward agriculture meant that periods of dearth (and even starvation) were not unknown, and there was 'no Art of Cookery'. Nor was there much 'furniture of Household stuffe'.2 Even the King's palace of Holyroodhouse was sparsely furnished, and strenuous efforts were made to improve both the building and its furnishings in readiness for Anne of Denmark. At that time, too, the begging letters sent out by

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1
There was also a fairly considerable export of barrelled fish (mainly herring and salmon), and a smaller export of salt (from salt pans) and a little knitted hose.
2
Here Fynes Moryson adds that the bedsteads were 'like Cubbards in the wall, with doores to be opened and shut at pleasure'; and early in the seventeenth century we are told that Gordon of Abergeldie had 'ane clos kaisset bed, lokkit and bandit', in which, presumably, he felt secure from draughts and enemies alike.

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