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1560 - Crime and Punishment in Medieval Blairgowrie and Rattray



'Let the punishment fit the crime'- The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan

After the Reformation of 1560, and the break from Rome and Roman Catholicism, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland formed congregations with each having a Kirk Session, made up of the minister and elders of the Parish Church.

The Kirk Session dealt with the moral behaviour of the parishioners, and meted out punishments for offences such as drunkenness, swearing, breaking the Sabbath, church non-attendance, quarrelling, sexual misdemeanours and illegitimacy.

The errant parishioners of Blairgowrie and Rattray were brought before the Kirk Session to answer for their behaviour and to do penance for their crimes.

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Church attendance was stringently enforced. Church elders would even search the ale houses for defaulters.

The chapter about Blairgowrie in William Marshall's 'Historic Scenes in Perthshire (1880)' tells of George Ambrose, who was called to answer for absenting himself from church and selling ale on the Sabbath.  George denied point blank the ale-selling in the time of divine service, and alleged that the 'trow cause of absence was, that he had but ane playd betwixt his wife and him, and that she had the use of it that day(the day of his absence) and was in the church'.  The Church elders would not listen to his apology, reproved him for his sin, and 'ordained him to keepe the Kirk in tyme cumand, under the pain of censure'. 

Rattray Kirk Session minutes dated 30 August 1657 record the case of Christiane Reat, who, instead of attending the Parish Church, had visited Sancta Crux Well, also known as Grews Well, near Butterstone.  The water from this Holy Well was believed to have healing properties, which were particularly powerful on the first Sunday in May.

Christiane was ordered to make public repentance before the congregation the following Sunday and never to visit Sancta Crux Well again.


Those who broke the Sabbath by working on it were heavily fined.  Those who sold ale during the sermon, or in 'an excessive manner' on any part of the Sabbath, were ordained to pay as much as the drinkers.  Those whose consciences could not be reached through their pockets, were put in the Jougs.

The Jougs was a form of punishment used in Scotland in the Middle Ages.  An iron collar was placed around the offender's neck and then padlocked.  This collar was chained to a wall, usually near the entrance to the Parish Church, or to a tree or to the Mercat Cross.  Since it was intended  that the offender would be shamed and humiliated publicly, the Jougs was in a public place and some survive today.

The minutes of Blairgowrie Parish Kirk Session of 19 July 1650 has this entry:

'The minister enquiring if there was any new scandal it was declared by some yat Andro Malcolme had most despytefullie and devilishlie railed against ye Session, cursing minister and elders.  The said Andro ordained to be cited against next day'.

Appointed to evidence his repentance in the face of the congregation, but proving refactory and contumacious he was put into the jougs till he agreed the former ordinance.

Meikleour still has its Jougs believed to date from the 16th or 17th century.


As far as we know there is no record of where the Jougs were in Blairgowrie and Rattray.  The Hill Kirk in Blairgowrie was built in 1824 near where the earlier church building stood.  Perhaps the Jougs were attached to the earlier building.


Similarly, the present Rattray Parish Church dates from 1821 and was built on the site of an earlier church.  It may be that the Jougs were attached to the earlier church.

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For more about the Meikleour Jougs read 'Peep through the Hedge and Find Meikleour' by Margaret Laing.

For video of the Jougs at the Entrance to Parish Graveyard Abernethy visit


For video 'The Jougs-Old Civil and Religious Punishments' visit


Most of us have heard of young children being asked to sit on 'the naughty step' as a form of punishment for wrongdoing.  The Cutty or Cuttie Stool was used for public penance in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland from the 16th century for those found guilty of adultery.

The Cutty Stool would have been placed in a position in the church so that the congregation would have a good view while the minister rebuked and shamed the offender seated on it.

In 1784, Robert Burns, Scotland's National Poet, is known to have done penance on the Cutty Stool at Tarbolton Kirk, along with Elizabeth Paton, the mother of his first child.


The Witchcraft Act was in force in Scotland from 1563 until it was abolished in 1735.

The Act stated that anyone who should 'use, practise, or exercise any Witchcraft, Enchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroyed' was to be put to death.  It is estimated that around 4000 so called witches were tortured and forced to confess before being burned at the stake.  Women accounted for around 85% of victims.

The Great Scottish Witch Hunt was a series of 5 nationwide witch trials: 1)1590 to 1591 2)1597 3)1628 to 1631 4)1649 to 1650 and 5)1661 to 1662.  This was one of the darkest periods in Scottish History.

Just as in other areas of Perthshire, people living in Blairgowrie and Rattray would have been identified as witches and made to stand trial.  The chapter entitled 'Janet Buttar's Charme' in Maurice Fleming's 'The Ghost o' Mause' tells of Janet Buttar who appeared before Kinloch Kirk Session accused of 'charming'.  Janet 'confessed her fault and was rebuked' but Janet's story shows how easy it was in those days to land in trouble and to be accused of witchcraft.

From around 1634, when King Charles I made Blairgowrie a Burgh of Barony, a circular mound, known as the Mote Hill, was located off Kirk Wynd, near where Manse Court stands today.  This is believed to be where the Baronial Court met and trials were held.  It is also where accused witches would be burnt at the stake.

If the accused was found guilty, they would be taken to the Gallows Knowe situated in the field just west of Newton Castle and hanged.  Today the Gallowbank path is a right of way just off Newton Street and runs right past where the Gallows once stood.


Similarly, near Rattray, Haer Law is thought to be where the Baronial Court was held, and just to the south of Haer Law is Gallows Knowe, the place of executions.

The Witch's Pool is an area on the River Ericht just after the Craighall Bridge, heading North on the A93 to Bridge of Cally, and may possibly have been given the name as it is where the trial of an accused witch would take place.  It was believed that a witch would float, while an innocent would sink.

Just outside Dunning, Perthshire, there is a memorial to Maggie Wall who is reputed to have been a witch and who was burned at that location in 1657.


Kate McNiven, known as the witch of Monzie, near Crieff, Perthshire, was the last witch to be burned in Perthshire in 1715.

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