Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JULY 23rd  

On this day in history in 1637, Jenny Geddes threw a stool at a preacher and brought about a civil war.

This extraordinary turn of events had its roots in the Reformation. In England, the change to Protestantism had started slowly, gone into reverse, returned to its course but remained a vague compromise. The Church of England had, and indeed still has, Lutheran doctrine with the administrative structure of Catholicism, with bishops and the monarch at the head. In Scotland, the change had been sudden, irreversible and complete.  

Charles I of England and of Scotland wished to bring his two kingdoms closer together. Without bothering to consult Parliament or his ministers, as was his habit, he created a new Booke of Common Prayer, to be used for all worship in Scotland. The book was strikingly similar to the English prayer book and, to the Presbyterian mind, uncannily similar to the Mass.  It included priests’ vestments, altar cloths, alter rails and the provision for the faithful to kneel during the distribution of Holy Communion. This could be interpreted as blasphemy and in the latter case idolatry.  

There was wide opposition to the new form of service but the king insisted that it went ahead. At the first service in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, the dean proceeded to read the Collect, part of the new service. A member of the congregation, Jenny Geddes, was so outraged that she picked up her cuttie-stool and flung it at the preacher with the immortal words “Deil colic the wame o’ ye, fause thief. Daur ye say Mass in my lug”. This can be translated as “May the Devil cause your bowels to bring into being an abundance of farting, you lying thief, Sir. How dare you have the effrontery to say the Mass in my hearing?”   

This gesture precipitated a riot among the worshippers. Furniture was thrown about, punches were thrown and one unfortunate gentleman was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head with the bible. The Provost called out the City Guard who ejected the rioters who nevertheless continued to hammer at the doors and ‘peeble with stanes’ (throw stones) in the traditional Edinburgh manner.  

The rioting spread to other parts of the city and to other cities. Protesters rejected the new service and the idea of bishops and all the king’s ideas and signed the National Covenant, taking the city of Aberdeen in defiance. Charles retaliated with an army of suppression financed by English taxes. The led to an English revolt which Charles had to suppress with a Scottish army, which led to a mass revolt in England and the start of the Civil War.  

This just shows what can happen when you do something silly without thinking. A hundred years later, Robert Burns was so amused, when he read about this incident, that he named his mare ‘Jenny Geddes’.

Recommended reading. 

Maclean, Fitzroy. Scotland: A Concise History. ISBN 0-500-27706-0

Buy it here at Amazon


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