IN last week’s column in this history of Glasgow the celebrated travel writer Sir William Brereton, who was afterwards a general in the Parliamentary army during the War of the Three Kingdoms, was quoted writing about the Tolbooth which was just nine years old when he visited the city in 1636.

It is worth quoting Brereton further as the Englishman gives an unbiased and apparently accurate of the growing city of Glasgow. As quoted in Lindsay and Renwick’s History of Glasgow, Brereton wrote that the revenue of Glasgow at that time was about £1000 per annum, while its population was about 20,000 – that’s probably an exaggeration but not too much as Glasgow had begun to boom in the first half of the 17th century.   

According to the History, Brereton was a fan of Glasgow: “The city, he says, is famous for its church, the fairest and stateliest in Scotland, and for its tolbooth and bridge. The nave and choir or chancel of the High Church were divided by a great wall, and service was held only in the choir, and in another church below it. 

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“The town consisted of two streets, one running from the High Church to the bridge, and another, much shorter, crossing it at the cross. The archbishop’s palace, he says, is a stately structure. The standing part of the college is “old strong plain building,” and the library a very little room “not twice so large as my own closet,” but for the new buildings laid out collections had been made throughout Scotland and more money subscribed than was needed. 

The college was governed by one principal, four regents, and about 120 students who wore cloaks of various colours, some red, some grey, as pleased themselves. The bridge was of seven or eight fair arches supported and strengthened by strong buttresses. The river was “now navigable” within six miles of the city, and ebbed and flowed above the bridge, but the water there was so shallow that you might ride with it under the horse’s belly.”

With the impressive Tolbooth now at the centre of Glasgow life, and the University growing by the year, Glasgow’s various trades seem to have all been flourishing and one institution which must be mentioned is the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow which today thoroughly deserves its global reputation for excellence.

Founded by surgeon Peter Lowe, physician Robert Hamilton, and apothecary William Spang in 1599 and given a royal charter by King James VI, the College took nearly a century to get its own building but by the 1630s the founders and their successors had begun to make Glasgow a centre of medical excellence, and even now we all owe them so much.

It was not the improving economic and intellectual circumstances which preoccupied Glasgow in the latter half of the 1630s, but matters of religion, and the city would be at the heart of important developments.

When William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by King Charles I in 1633, he immediately began to accelerate the policy they both shared, namely the persecution of Puritans and the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer. 

In Scotland, where the Presbyterians were only just about tolerating the bishops decreed for them by the king, Laud insisted that there must be conformity and Charles duly wrote to the Scottish bishops demanding they bring out a prayer book and ‘canons’ on how the Kirk’s discipline and liturgy should be conducted. 

The bishops duly complied but Laud intervened and edited the bishops’ work. These edited canons declared that any questioning of the king’s supremacy in church matters would be punishable by excommunication, which angered Presbyterians who always argued that only God was supreme.

King Charles then ordered Scotland’s Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Spottiswood, to issue a proclamation that the new liturgy contained in the Scottish Episcopal Book of Common Prayer was to be followed by everyone. 


Glasgow Times: St Giles Cathedral St Giles Cathedral When it was used for the first time in St Giles Cathedral on July 23, 1637, a woman called Jenny Geddes threw a stool at the minister and shouted “daur ye say mass in my lug?”

The riot that followed was pretty gruesome, but nowhere near what happened in Glasgow the following month. Archbishop Lindsay being a  mild sort, Ayr’s minister William Armour was imported to use the Common Prayer and the women of Glasgow went a lot further than Jenny Geddes, mobbing and rioting, and tearing the hat and cloak off Mr Armour. 

The violence worsened and he barely escaped with his life. The Scottish Privy Council now realised they had a popular uprising looming, so they asked the King to suspend his decrees.

Charles refused to back down and the result was the beginning of the National Covenant, first signed in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh in February, 1638, and beginning the Covenanting movement. 

It was in Glasgow later that year that the most important rising against Charles took place. 

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After the King attempted to subdue the Covenanters by sending troops to Scotland under the Marquis of Hamilton, Glasgow’s city council ordered every man who was able to join a militia to prepare their  arms, while young men were trained in the use of pikes and muskets.

Hamilton persuaded the King to allow a General Assembly and Glasgow was chosen to be the host of what would become one of the most important church meetings in British history.

The Covenanters, many from Glasgow and environs, dominated the Assembly in Glasgow Cathedral. 

After a week, the Covenanters moved to accuse the Kirk’s bishops and Hamilton, as High Commissioner and the King’s representative, promptly dissolved the Assembly and ordered everyone involved to leave Glasgow.

Hardly anybody obeyed and Glasgow’s General Assembly proceeded to declare the six previous Assemblies to be unlawful. The Assembly then expelled all bishops from the Kirk and tore up Charles’s canons and the Book of Common Prayer. 

The following year the Scottish Parliament backed the Assembly and civil war became inevitable. What became known as the Bishops’ Wars duly broke out and they in turn led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms including the English Civil War.

We’ll see next week what part Glasgow played in those wars.