"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Clipping of the Day

In 1524, Gavin Douglas, Archbishop of Glasgow, had had enough with the "reivers" [thieves] who were gleefully wreaking havoc on both sides of the border between Scotland and England. His response to these desperados was to excommunicate every last one of them, by means of his "Great Monition of Cursing," which was preached in churches all along the Border. This magnificent work of damnation--one of the great Hymns of Hate in any language--was reproduced in George MacDonald Fraser's "The Steel Bonnets." Below is a translation into modern English, but to get the full flavor of the thing, I advise that you scroll down to the original language. The old Scots tongue was peculiarly suited to maledictions and insults of all kinds.

Good folks, here at my Lord Archbishop of Glasgow’s letters under his round seal, direct to me or any other chaplain, making mention, with great regret, how heavy he bears the piteous, lamentable, and dolorous complaint that passes all of our realm and comes to his ears, by open voice and fame, how our sovereign lords true lieges, men, wives and children, both and redeemed by the precious blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and living in his laws, are innocently part murdered, part slain, burnt, harried, spoiled and robbed, openly on day light and under silence of the night, and their farms and lands laid waste, and they are self banish therefore, as well church lands as others, by common traitors, reivers, thieves, dwelling in the south part of this realm, such as Teviotdale, Eskdale, Liddiesdale, Ewesdale, Nithsdale, and Annandale; which has been diverse ways pursued and punished by the temporal sword and our Sovereign Lords authority, and dreads not the same.

And therefore my said Lord Archbishop of Glasgow has thought expedient to strike them with the terrible sword of holy church, which they may not long endure and resist; and has charged me, or any other chaplain, to denounce, declare and proclaim them openly and generally cursed, at this market cross, and all other public places.

Herefore through the authority of Almighty God, the Father of Heaven, his Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost; through the authority of the Blessed Virgin Saint Mary, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and all his angels; Saint John the Baptist, and all the holy patriarchs and prophets; Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Andrew, and all holy apostles; Saint Stephen, Saint Laurence, and all holy martyrs; Saint Gile, Saint Martin, and all holy confessors; Saint Anne, Saint Katherine, and all holy virgins and matrons; and all the saints and holy company of heaven; by the authority of our Holy Father the Pope and his cardinals, and of my said Lord Archbishop of Glasgow, with the advice and assistance of my lords, archbishop, bishops, abbots, priors, and other prelates and ministers of the holy church, I DENOUNCE, PROCLAIM, AND DECLARE all and sundry the committers of the said of innocents murders, slaughters, burning, inheritances, robbery, thefts, and spoilings, openly upon day light and under silence of night, as well as within temporal lands as church lands; together with their part takers, assisters, suppliers, knowingly and of their persons, the goods snatched and stolen by them, art or part thereof, and their counsellors and defenders, of their evil deeds generally cursed, waking, aggravated, and re-aggravated, with the great cursing.

I CURSE their head and all the hairs of their head; I CURSE their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their skull, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the sole of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I CURSE them going, and I CURSE them riding; I CURSE them standing, and I CURSE them sitting; I CURSE them eating, I CURSE them drinking; I CURSE them walking, I CURSE them sleeping; I CURSE them rising, I CURSE them lying; I CURSE them at home, I CURSE them from home; I CURSE them within the house, I CURSE them without the house; I CURSE their wives, their children and their servants who participate with them in their deeds.

I Worry their corn, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their live goods. I Worry their houses, their rooms, their kitchens, their stables, their barns, their byres, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the possessions and houses that are necessary for their sustenation and welfare. All the bad wishes and curses that ever got worldly creature since the beginning of the world to this hour might light upon them. The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that struck them from the high heaven to the deep hell, might light upon them. The fire and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise might stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forbear and make amends. The bad wishes that lighted on cursed Cain, when he slew his brother just Abel guiltless, might light on them for the innocent slaughter that they commit daily. The malediction that lighted upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, might light upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them for their wicked sins. The thunder and lightning that set down as rain upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the lands about, and burnt them for their vile sins, might rain upon them, and burn them for open sins. The bad wishes and confusion that lighted on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride, building the tour of Babylon, might confound them and all their works, for their open disregard and oppression. All the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, corn and cattle, might fall upon them, their leases, rooms and buildings, corn and animals. The river of Tweed and other rivers where they ride might drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, pursuing Gods people of Israel. The earth might open, split and cleave and swallow them alive to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, that disobeyed Moses and command of God. The wild fire that burnt Thore and his fellows to the number of two hundredth and fifty, and others 14,000 and 7,000, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, might suddenly burn and consume them daily disobeyed and commands of God and holy church.

The malediction that lights suddenly upon fair Absalom, riding contrary to his father, King David, servant of God, through the wood, when the branches of a tree knocked him off his horse and hanged him by the hair, might light upon them, untrue Scots men, and hang them suchlike that all the world may see.

The malediction that lighted upon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nebuchadnezzar’s, making war and hardships upon true Christian men; the malediction that lighted upon Judas, Pilate, Herod and the Jews that crucified Our Lord, and all the plagues and troubles that lighted on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, cursed Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus, Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants that slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, might light upon them for their cruel tyranny and martyrdom of Christian people. And all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, might fall on them for their open evil, slaughter of guiltless and shedding of innocent blood. I SEVER and PART them from the kirk of God, and deliver them alive to the devil of hell, as the Apostle Saint Paul delivered Corinth. I exclude the places they come in for divine service, ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of baptising only; and forbid all churchmen to take confession or absolve them of their sins, which they be first absolved of this cursing.

I FORBID all Christian man or woman to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, standing, or in any other deed doing, under the pain of deadly sin. I DISCHARGE all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths and obligations made to them by any persons, other of law, kindness or duty, so long as they sustain this cursing; so that no man be bound to them, and that they be bound to all men. I take from them and cry down all the good deeds that ever they did or shall do, which they rise from this cursing. I DECLARE them excluded of all matins, masses, evensongs, mourning or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and poorhouse deeds done or to be done in holy church or by Christian people, enduring this cursing.

And, finally, I CONDEMN them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of the Burrow Muir, first to be hanged, then torn apart with dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their life gone from your sight, as might their souls go from the sight of God, and their good fame from the world, which they forbear their open sins aforesaid and rise from this terrible cursing, and make satisfaction and penance.

Gude folks, heir at my Archibischop of Glasgwis letters under his round sele, direct to me or any uther chapellane, makand mensioun, with greit regrait, how hevy he beris the pietous, lamentabill, and dolorous complaint that pass our all realme and commis to his eris, be oppin voce and fame, how our souverane lordis trew liegis, men, wiffis and barnys, bocht and redeimit be the precious blude of our Salviour Jhesu Crist, and levand in his lawis, are saikleslie part murdrist, part slayne, brynt, heryit, spulziet and reft, oppinly on day licht and under silens of the nicht, and thair takis and landis laid waist, and thair self banyst therfra, als wele kirklandis as utheris, be commoun tratouris, ravaris, theiffis, dulleand in the south part of this realme, sic as Tevidale, Esdale, Liddisdale, Ewisdale, Nedisdale, and Annandereaill; quhilis hes bene diverse ways persewit and punist be the temperale swerd and our Soverane Lordis auctorite, and dredis nocht the samyn.

And thairfoir my said Lord Archbischop of Glasgw hes thocht expedient to strike thame with the terribill swerd of halykirk, quhilk thai may nocht lang endur and resist; and has chargeit me, or any uther chapellane, to denounce, declair and proclame thaim oppinly and generalie cursit, at this market-croce, and all utheris public places.

Hairfor throw the auctorite of Almichty God, the Fader of hevin, his Son, our Saviour, Jhesu Crist, and of the Halygaist; throw the auctorite of the Blissit Virgin Sanct Mary, Sanct Michael, Sanct Gabriell, and all the angellis; Sanct John the Baptist, and all the haly patriarkis and prophets; Sanct Peter, Sanct Paull, Sanct Andro, and all haly appostillis; Sanct Stephin, Sanct Laurence, and all haly mertheris; Sanct Gile, Sanct Martyn, and all haly confessouris; Sanct Anne, Sanct Katherin, and all haly virginis and matronis; and of all the sanctis and haly company of hevin; be the auctorite of our Haly Fader the Paip and his cardinalis, aned of my said Lord Archibischop of Glasgw, be the avise and assistance of my lordis, archibischop, bischopis, abbotis, priouris, and utheris prelatis and minesteris of halykirk.

I denounce, proclamis, and declaris all and sindry the committaris of the said saikles murthris, slauchteris, brinying, heirchippes, reiffis, thiftis and spulezeis, oppinly apon day licht and under silence ofnicht, alswele within temporale landis as kirklandis; togither with thair partakeris, assitaris, supplearis, wittandlie resettaris of thair personis, the gudes reft and stollen be thaim, art or part thereof, and their counsalouris and defendouris, of thair evil dedis generalie CURSIT, waryit , aggregeite, and reaggregeite, with the GREIT CURSING.

I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thais leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without.

I curse thaim gangand, and I curse them rydland; I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand; I curse thaim etand, I curse thaim drinkand; I curse thaim walkand, I curse thaim sleepand; I curse thaim risand, I curse thaim lyand; I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame; I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house; I curse thair wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis participand with thaim in their deides. I way thair cornys, thair catales, thair woll, thair scheip, thjair horse, thair swyne, thair geise, thair hennes, and all thair quyk gude. I wary their hallis, thair chalmeris, thair kechingis, thair stanillis, thair barnys, thair biris, thair bernyardis, thair cailyardis thair plewis, thair harrowis, and the gudis and housis that is necessair for their sustentatioun and weilfair.

ll the malesouns and waresouns that ever gat warldlie creatur sen the begynnyng of the world to this hour mot licht on thaim. The maledictioun of God, that lichtit apon Lucifer and all his fallowis, that strak thaim frae the hie hevin to the deip hell, mot licht apon thaimr. The fire and the swerd that stoppit Adam far the yettis of Paradise, mot stop thaim frae the gloire of Hevin. quhill thai forbere and mak amendis. The malesound that lichtit on cursit Cayein, quhen his slew his bruther just Abell saiklessly, mot licth on thaim for the saikles slauchter that thai commit dailie. The maledictioun that lichtit apon all the warlde, man and beist, and all that ever tuk life, quhen all was drownit be the flude of Noye, except Noye and his ark, mot licht apon thame and drouned thame, man and beist, and mak this realm cummirless of thame for thair wicked synnyes. The thunnour and fireflauchtis that set doun as rane apon the cities of Zodoma and Gomora, with all the landis about, and brynt thame for thair vile sunnys, mot rane apon thame, and birne thaim for oppin synnis. Tha malesoun and confusion that lichtit on the Gigantis for thair oppressioun and pride, biggand the tour of Bablloun, mot confound thaim and all thair werkis, for thair opppin reiffs and oppressioun. All the plagis that fell apon Pharao and his pepill of Egipt, thair landis, cornse, and cataill, mot fall apon thaim, thair takkis, rowmys and stedingis, cornys and beistis. The watter of Tweid and utheris watteris quhair thair ride mot droun thaim, as the Reid Say drownit King Pharoao and his pepil of Egipt, sersewing Godis pepill of Israell. The erd mot oppin, riffe and cleiff, and swelly  thaim quyk to hell, as it swellyt cursit Dathan and Abiron, that genestude Moeses and the command of God. The wyld fyre that byrnt Thore and his fallowis to the nowmer of twa hundredth and fyty, and utheris 14000 and 7000 at anys, usurpand aganis Moyses and Aaron, servandis of God, not suddanely birne and consume thaim dailie genestandand the commandis of God and halykirk. The malediction that lichtit suddanely upon fair Absalon, rydant contrair his fader, King David, servand of God, throw the wod, quhen the branchis of ane tre fred (parted) him of his horse and hangit him be the hair, mot lie apon thaain trew Scottis men, and hang thaim siclike tha all the warld may se. The Maledictioun that lichtit apon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nabogodonooser, makand weair and heirchippis apon trew cristin men, the maledictioun that lichtit apon Judas, Pylot, Herod and the Jowis that chucifyit Our Lord, and all the plagis and trublis that lichtit on the citte of Jherusalme thairfor, and upon Simon Magus for his symony, bludy Nero, cusit Ditius Makcensisu, Olibruis, Julianus Apostita and the laiff  of the cruell tirrannis that slew and murthirit Crits haly servandis, mot licth apon thame for thair cruel tiranny and murthirdome of cristin pepill.

And all the vengeance that evir was takin sen the warlde began for oppin synnys, and all the plagis and pestilence that ever fell on man or beist, mot fall on thaim for thair oppin reiff, saiklesse slauchter and schedding of innocent blude. I disserver and pairtis thaim fra the kirk of God, and deliveris thaim quyk to the devill of hell, as the Apostill Sanct Paull deliverit Corinthion. I interdite the places thay cum in fra divine service, minitracioun of the sacramentis of halykirk, except the sacrament of baptissing allenerlie; and forbiddis all kirkmen to schriffe or absolbe thim of theire synnys, quhill they be firs abolyeit of this cursing. I forbid all cristin man or woman till have ony company with thaime, etand, drynkand, spekand, prayand, lyand, gangand, standand, or in any uther deid doand, under the paine of deidly syn. I discharge all bandis, actis, contractis, athis and obligatiounis made to them by ony persounis, outher of lawte, kyndenes or manrent, salang as thai susteined this cursing, sub that na man be bundin to thaim, and that this be bundin till all men. I tak fra thame and cryis douned all the gude dedis that ever thai did or sall do, quhill thai rise froae this cursing. I declare thaim partles of all matynys, messis, evinsangis, dirigeis or utheris prayeris, on buke or beid; of all pilgrimagis and almouse deids done or to be done in halykirk or be cristin pepill, enduring this cursing.

And, finally, I condemn thaim perpetualie to the deip pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fallowis, and thair bodeis to the gallows of the Burrow Mure, first to be hangit, syne revin and ruggit with doggis, swyne, and utheris wyld beists, abhominable to all the warld. And their candillis gangis frae your sicht, ast mot their saulis gang fra the visage of God, and thair gude faim fra the warld, quhill thai forbeir thair oppin synnys foirsaidis and ryse frae this terribill cursing, and mak satisfaction and pennance.

Awe-inspiring though the Monition of Cursing may be, anyone at all familiar with Scottish history knows that Douglas may as well have saved his breath.

[Note: In 2001, the city of Carlisle was foolhardy enough to commission a local artist to carve part of the Monition on a large rock.   The sequel should not have surprised anyone.

It no doubt pleases the ghost of the old Archbishop immensely to know the potency of his curse still lives.]


  1. I have that book, too, and always marvel at how the Borders in the old days make the American Wild West look pretty tame. And I would quake at the archbishop's 'monition' myself. They knew how to curse in those days.

    1. You mentioned "Steel Bonnets" in a comment a few weeks ago. That was what reminded me of the Archbishop and his inimitable way with words!

  2. Now THAT is world-class ranting.

  3. I may have mentioned this, but if you are able, check out the history of the MacGregors - though you may know it already. I read of them in Burke's Peerage (it's one of my favourite books, snob that I am.) The clan's early days feature entry after entry with the words 'hanged', 'murdered', 'killed', 'executed'. They were so bad that they were outlawed, the men were to be killed on sight, the women branded on the face; their very name was proscribed. They were disliked somewhat. The good ol' days...

    1. They sound like my kind of people. I've probably run into an odd (in every sense of the word) MacGregor here and there in my reading, but I'm unfamiliar with the entire clan history. I'll look into that, thanks for the tip!


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