Royal Charter of 1541

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There is general agreement that Burntisland was granted its first Royal Charter by King James V in 1541. What happened thereafter is rather confusing, and we have been trying to piece the story together from the writings of local historians John Blyth and Robert Livingstone. It appears that the 1541 Charter was not ratified by Parliament and that it was not until King James VI's Royal Charter of 1585 that the problems were resolved.

Below you will find the Royal Charter of 1541, both in its original wording and in translation. We are very grateful to Ian Quinney and Margaret Holmes for providing these. Below the Charter is an account of the related events from John Blyth's 1948 book, 'Burntisland: Early History and People', together with some relevant notes from Robert Livingstone's research.

The Royal Charter of 1541 (original wording)
From the book of the Great Seal 1541

2383. Apud Linlithqw, 25 Jun.

REX,-quia pro regni sui republica portum Brint-iland antea nuncupat, vic. Fiffe, construxerat et reparaverat, et prope eundem villam pro receptatione hominum ibi applicantium edificare intendebat; et, ut dicta villa ad perfectionem promptiorem deveniret, deliberavit quod franchiis, libertatibus et commoditatibus liberi burgi gauderet,-concessit preposito et ballivis per se nominandis, et eorum successoribus, et communitati dicti BURGI DE BRINTILAND,-terras propinquiores dicto portui adjacentes, quas de monasterio de Dunfermling habuit, cum dicto portu; necnon dicto preposito jurisdictionem vicecomitis infra bondas dict. burgi et portus, omniumque actionum infra utriusque bondas tam per terram quam per mare contingentium, cum potestate qua quicumque vicecomes aut aquarum ballivus infra regnum usus est; creavit etiam dictum prepositum vicecomitem, et dict. ballivos aquarum ballivos infra dictas bondas; et erexit dictam villam in liberum burgum regium:- TENEND. cum potestate habitatoribus (post prepositum &c. per regem eligend.) burgenses et gilde facere, necnon prepositum, ballivos, consules et curie clericum &c. eligere; curias cum querelis tenere; burgi amerciamenta operibus communibus ejusdem applicanda levare; crucem foralem cum nundina communi semel in anno in festis SS. Petri et Pauli habere, cum 2 diebus foralibus, Mercurii et Sabbati, hebdomidatim; mercantias emere, commutare et vendere; cum toutina (trutina?) - et ponderibus in aliis burgis usitat.; statuta &c. sancire; cum custumis, lie doksilver, ancragiis &c.:- SALVIS regi magnis custumis et burgi firmis super quolibet tenemento et lie outsett impositis:- PROVISO quod dict. prepositus &c. unum honestum templum edificarent ac in ecclesiam colleg. 6 capellanorum ad minus erigi causarent:- TEST. xxxi. 8.


The Royal Charter of 1541 (translation by Margaret Holmes)

THE KING,- because for the public good of his kingdom he had built and repaired the port formally called Brintiland in the county of fiffe, and was intending to build near the same town mooring there; and that the said town might be completed more quickly, he decided that it might enjoy the franchises liberties and advantages of a free borough- has granted to the reeve and bailiffs by itself to be nominated, and to their successors, and to the community of the said BOROUGH OF BRINTILAND,-lands more nearly adjacent to the said port which he had from the monastery of Dunfermling with the said port; also to the said reeve the jurisdiction of a sheriff within the bounds of the said borough and port, and of all actions contingent within the bounds of each both by land and by sea, with the powers which any sheriff or water bailiff wields within the kingdom; he has created also the said reeve a sheriff and the said bailiffs water bailiffs within the said bounds; and he has raised the said town to be a royal borough:- TO HOLD, with power for the inhabitants (after the reeve etc. to be chosen by the King), to make burgesses and guilds, also to choose the reeve, bailiffs, councillors and the clerk of the court; to hold courts with suits to levy amercements from the borough to be applied to publics works of the same; to hold a market cross with a common fair once a year on the feasts of St Peter and St Paul, with two market days on Wednesday and Saturday every week; to buy merchandise to exchange and to sell; with (? scales) and weights used in other boroughs; to uphold the statutes; with the customs, lie doksilver [1], anchor dues etc; SAVING to the king the great customs and rents of the borough imposed on whatever tenement and lie outsets [2]:- PROVIDED THAT the said reeve etc. shall build a good church and shall have caused it to be raised to be a collegiate church of at least six chaplains: -
TEST. xxxi. 8.

Note [1].  Possibly dues on docking and leaving port
Note [2].  Possibly rents due from land

Translated by Margaret Holmes, retired archivist, Dorset


Extracts from 'Burntisland: Early History and People'
by John Blyth (Fifeshire Advertiser, 1948)

The mere fact that the site of the original Church was selected at the Kirkton goes far to prove that, up to the 13th Century at least, there was no preponderance of population in the area around the Harbour, but the balance had undoubtedly turned long before the first Burgh Charter was granted by James V. As this Charter was granted for services rendered by the town to James and to his predecessors, we may quite safely assume that the Harbour had been in use by seagoing ships for some considerable time. There is an item in the Lord High Treasurer's Accounts under date of 8th February, 1541:- 'Delivered to the Laird of Silliebawbie to give to the Convent of Dunfermline for sealing of the Charter of Burntisland, 33.' For what reason I cannot say, this Charter was never presented to Parliament, and difficulties arose between the town and the Convent of Dunfermline. [Note that the date of the payment is some four months before the date of the Charter; also that Andrew Young gave this date as 8 February 1540, not 1541.]

* * * * *

In June, 1583, Burntisland entered an application for inclusion as a Royal Burgh to the Convention of Burghs held that year at Ayr. The town was represented bv David Clark and Master Hercules Balrany, who stated to the Convention that their application had received the Royal favour under the advice of the late Regent, the Earl of Morton. Consideration was deferred.

James VI's Charter is dated 4th March, 1585. It refers to the Charter granted by his grandfather 'of happy memory,' and very early makes clear that the town's primary claims to preferment lay in its ability to afford safe reception and accommodation to ships, 'whether belonging to our loving subjects or strangers,' and again reference is made to loyal and faithful services rendered by the whole community in the past. The boundaries are described as 'beginning at the western fence, commonly called the West Bulwark, on the west, from there passing below the fortress and castle of Burntisland towards the east, towards the tenement of the umqle Robert Orrok with pertinents, and thence to the vennel between the tenements of Mr John Wemyss on the east and Henry Bikarton on the west, with said vennel from side to side with their pertinents, so passing north to the Broomhill and east through the Weddington of the Broomhill to the den commonly called Greig's Hole, from Greig's Hole passing through the Weddington to the east part of Craigkennochy by the east to the sea and all the land bounded on the south by the sea unto the harbour of our Port of Burntisland, formerly called the Port of Grace.'

The Provost, Bailies, Councillors, and community were vested with all the privileges of any other Royal Burgh, with fullest power to buy and sell, export and import cloth, raw or dressed, broad or narrow, made of wool or flax, skins or hides, salt, pitch, iron, and every other kind of staple goods. Likewise the right of receiving toll and what is commonly called anchorage and custom of ships and determining contents thereanent, giving the fullest powers to the burghers, guildbrothers, Provost, Bailies, and Town Clerk as shall seem necessary for the benefit and advantage of said Burgh and harbour, with right of holding a Burgh Court taking cognizance of whatever may fall under their authority. Also the power of erecting a market cross and holding two fairs annually upon the fasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, second-last day of June and last day of November, and two market days weekly, viz., Wednesdays and Saturdays, on which days Maltsters, Bakers, Fleshers, Smiths, Wrights, Shoemakers, Tanners, Barbers, Weavers, Fullers, and all other kinds of artificers having and holding statutes and ordinances for the good government of the same agreeable to the laws and statutes of our Kingdom and of other Royal Burghs; likewise the right of determining and regulating weights and measures according to the usages of the Royal Burghs in our Kingdom, and everything that may be to the advantage of the said Burgh and port, respecting the liberties, prime money, prime guilt, docksilver and anchorage, and others aforewritten, to be applied for the use, advantage, benefit and ornament of our foresaid Burgh. The Town Council was further vested with the right, among others, of securing that 'the ingress and egress to the town may in no wise be impeded, nor the Provost, Bailies, Council and Community molested in the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of all and every one of their just rights and what may be found to belong to each respectively, named or not named.'

As we have already seen, there were delays in obtaining full recognition, but Burntisland definitely became a Royal Burgh in 1587, in which year, at an October Convention held in Edinburgh, the town was represented bv John Clapen, Provost, and Master Andrew Wilson, the Town Clerk.

[Robert Livingstone's subsequent research revealed:
* that the first Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Burntisland was formed in 1586;
* that, John Clephane, a local shipmaster, was elected the first Provost of Burntisland in October 1586; and
* that there was a subsequent 'Ratification by King James the VI, with the consent of Parliament, of different Grants and Charters in favour of the Burgh of Burntisland', dated 29 July 1587.]

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