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The Death of Major John

Edinburgh, 29 September 1682


Transcribed from the original record by the Scottish Record Office.
Reference W3 Vol. VII, pages 549 - 554.


Complaint by his Majesty’s Advocate, as follows:

"Albeit by the lawes of this and all other well-governed nationes the dispossessing summarly via facti, without and against order of law, any person furth off the possession whereof they were infeft and in actuall possession and the ryotous and unwarrentable breaking up the doores of their houses and seazing upon and intromitteing with their goods and the sacriledgious impeding and hindering the corps of any defunct to be interred in their oune buriall place according to the destination and will of the defunct be crymes and ryots in themselves of a high nature and most severly punisheable, but more especially when the same are acted and done after expres order from authority to the contrare; likeas, albeit the contemneing of his Majesty’s authority and these authorised and commissionat by them to sie their orders put in execution by assaulting, beating and wounding of them be also crymes of a high natur and severly punisheable, nevertheles it is of verity that the deceast Major John Biggar of Woolmet, having disponed his estate to William Biggar, now of Woolmet, upon expres condition and provision that he should bear his name and armes, and having infeft him therein in his oune kifetime and put him in possession by delivering the keyes of his house of Woolmet to Hugh Wallace, father to the said William, and using the other requisits of possession and by delivering to him assignationes to all his debts and his testament and putting him in possession of his haill papers, and the said Major Biggar having ordered his body to be buried in his oune isle in the kirk of Newtoune; yet true it is that Patrick Edmonstoune, brother-in-law to the said deceast Major Biggar, being accompanyed Mr William Dundas, late advocat, Margaret Edmonstoune, his spouse, Barbara Edmonstoun, naturall sister to the said Patrick, James Peatrie, his nephew, Marion Boe, sometime servitrix to the said deceast Major, Mr James Chalmers, sone to the deceast Mr James Chalmers, and diverse others their complices, did, upon the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth dayes of September instant, come to the house of Woolmet, and there, by themselves or others of their causeing, sending, hounding out or ratihabition summarly enter the said Patrick Edmonstoun to the possessione of the coall of Woolmet, most falsely pretending that the said Patrick had a warrand from the Privy Councill for that effect, albeit there was no such warrand and which being required they refused to show; and so the said Patrick Edmonstoune was not only most summarly and illegally entered to the said possession but such was his and his accomplices their barbarity and unhumanity (contrare to the will of the dead) that they refused the said Majors corps to lye in his oune house or to be buried in his oune isle in the kirk of Newtoune, and threatened to oppose the same, so that the said Majors friends were forced to keep him unburied for a considerable time beyond the time appointed for his buriall and to oppen and embalme his body in the Trone Church of Edinburgh which they intended to have done in his oune place of Woolmet, and this notwithstanding of ane order from his Majesties Advocat to the saids persones for desisting from such illegall methods and practises, the having taken band and caution from the present possessour to be furthcommand according to law, and which was intimate to the said Patrick Edmonstoune and to Alexander Ramsay, whom he intrusted as chamberlaine to uplift the coall dues; ;ikeas, upon the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth dayes of the said moneth of September or one or other of them, the said Margaret Edmonstoune, spouse to the said Mr William Dundas, and the other persones foresaids, by his special advise and connivance, did in a most insolent and ryotous manner cause breake oppen the gates of the said house of Woolmet, whereof the said William Biggar and his father hade the keyes, with forehammers, and entered to the possession thereof and intromitted with every thing therein at their pleasure, and did breack oppen all the doores and trunckes within the house and disposed upon the goods and plenishing as they thought fitt, and turned off the old servants who were making meat for the shearers, and put others in their place, and entered the shearers in Patrick Edmonstounes name; which unheard of acts of ryot, insolence and oppression committed so near the seat of justice and capitall city of the kingdome being represented to a committee of the Privy Councill, they, upon the fourteenth day of this instant moneth of September, did ordaine the said William Biggar to be continowed in the possession the said MAJOR BIGGAR r was in the time of his decease, and for that effect commissionat Sir William Paterson, one of the Clerks of the Privy Councill, to goe to the place of Woolmet with one of the Councills maicers bearing his mace to sie the said William Biggar entered to and continowed in the said possession; and accordingly, the said Sir William Paterson, being accompanyed with John Shaw, maicer, and diverse other persones, having gone in coatch toward the said house of Woolmet in a peaceable manner, true it is and of verity that within a little distance of the said house they were violently invaded and assaulted by the persones underwritten, viz., John Laing, tennent to the Laird of Edmondstoune, William Lausone, smyth in Edmondstoune, WILLIAM DREDDIN, tayllour there, Isabell Rae, coallbearer in Woolmet, James Robertson, servant to William Gray, fermer in Edmondstoune, Nicoll Dryver, coalzier, Cristian Porteous, spouse to Archbald, Broune, Bessie Crawford, spouse to John Cork, Janet Crawford, her sister, Alison Boyd, coall bearer, Margaret Pringle, daughter to James Pringle, Margaret Lyell, coall bearer, Lybra Muirehouse, xervitrix to Alexander Elphingstoune, fermorer, AGNES DREDDIN, servitrix to Andrew DREDDIN, James Dale, coalzier, Margaret Lyell, coall bearer [sic], Jean Pearson and Effie and Grissall Moores, her daughters, all living in and about Woolmet and Edmestoune, and diverse others complices, to the number of two hundred persones or thereby, of the speciall causeing, sending, hounding out, command, connivance, or ratihabition of the said Patrick Edmonstoune, Mr William Dundas, Margaret Dundas, his spouse, and the other persones above complained upon, they having been intertained by them three or four dayes and nights before upon the provision was left in the said house at the Majors decease, which rabble and multitude did fall upon the said Clerk of Councill and their maicer carrying his mace and their company immediatly as they were comeing out off coatch and did throw great stones at them to the hazard of their lives, and they having peaceably endeavoured to goe to the place, they were still violently persued by the multitude, and severalls of them receaved great and dangerous stroakes, and particularly the said Mr William Paterson, Clerk of Councill, was dangerously wounded with a stone on the legge which hes disabled him ever since to come abroad; and being thus persued to the outtergate, they had been certainely killed if one of their number had not climbed the backwall of the closse and caused oppen the outter gate (the multitude still continowing to cast stones over the wall upon them when they were in the closse); and, albeit the said Mr James Chalmers and James Peatrie, who were within the house for the time and had been left by the said Patrick and Margaret Edmonstounes and the other persones foresaids to keep and maintaine the same, were required to oppen the irone gate by the said maicer of Councill with his mace in his hand, that the said William Biggar might be entered to the possession thereof conforme to the said commitees order, yet they did most contemptuously refuse so to doe for a considerable space, and at length having opened the iron gate and privatly conveyed themselves away and the said Clerk of Councill and maicer, and the said William Biggar with the rest of their company having thereupon entered the house, they were violently invaded and assaulted by the forenamed persones within the same to the hazard of their lives, they having throwen in great stones at the windowes and brocke the most part of them and battered the gates so that they left great heaps and dycks of stones about the house, and thereafter oppen the garden doors and destroyed the fruit trees and hadgeings therin; likeas the said Patrick Edmonstoun, having the night befor seazed upon the said Major Biggar his horses and having after entry was got come to the place being accompanyed with the said Mr William Dundas and his other complices, and the said order of the Committee of Councill being read and intimate to him and he required to give obedience thereto did, notwithstanding thereof, take away with him the saids horses which he yet keepes and detaines and did not use any endeavoures to quiet and compeace the tumult which had been raised and incouradged by him and his complices, as said is, and undoubtedly the said multitude had not failled to have killed and murdered the said Clerk of Councill and their maicer and these in company with them if they had not been assisted and rescued by a party of his Majesties souldiers sent out by the Earl of Linlithgow."
This concludes the original complaint by "his Majesty’s Advocate" to the Council. William Dreddin, Agnes Dreddin, Isabell Rae and several others were found quilty and taken to the Tolbooth in Edbinburgh to await execution of their sentence.


Willaim Biggar, heir to the Major, and Hugh Wallace, father of William, came before the Council and pleaded for their release, saying they forgave them of their acts and that they were being manipulated by Patrick Edmondstoune, the Major’s brother-in-law. They referred to those jailed as being "poor people, coalbearers and servants". William Dreddin, of Edmonston, Scotland, William Lauson and Isabell Rae confessed to being part of the riot in Woolmet. William Dreddin and Isabell Rae were found guilty of the events on the fourteenth and were "taken from the said tolbooth publickly through the streets of Edinburgh by the commone executioner to the correction house and there to be soundly whipt by the said executioner for their accession to the said tumult and ryot and thereafter to be dismist". Agnes Dreddin and the others jailed with them were pardoned and released with the promise to keep the King’s peace. Why William and Isabell were singled out, I don’t know. Maybe their confessions consisted of assaulting the Clerk of the Council and required a harsh sentence because of that. William Lauson confessed but was not sentenced along with them.


Final sentence was given on October 3, 1682 and shortly thereafter the sentence was carried out.

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