The above painting shows the factory of Robert Legget & Sons on the Water of Leith, which was the dominant skinner business in Scotland for several generations. The 12-year-old artist, Robert Somerville Legget, a member of that family, was born in the house beside the factory. He was Deacon of the Incorporation in 1959-60.
Arms of The Incorporation of Skinners
Painted and varnished wood. Eighteenth Century.
Panel depicting the armorial bearings of the Incorporation of Skinners, of a design different from their normal representation. The arms as here depicted show: Argent, between a chevronel Gules three stags passant armed Or; the closed helmet mantled Gules and Or; Crest issuing from a gilded basket a ram’s head Proper. Supporters: Two stags proper armed Or. Beneath the shield on a ribbon the motto “HOOW COLE A HORT”. A coherent translation of this motto has so far eluded all who have been asked about it. This is an instance where there are two quite different arms for one and the same incorporation.
Neck Badge of the Skinners
An example of the neck badge which was apparently worn by the freemen of the Incorporation of Skinners at the Great Reform Jubilee in 1832.
The National Covenant,1638
Ink on Parchment, 32in.(81.5cm.) x 27in. (67.5cm.)
Original National Covenant, 1638, signed by Montrose and other leaders of the Covenant, and by 97 loyal freemen and journeymen of the Incorporation of Skinners.
The National Covenant was a document drawn up in 1638, the purpose of which was to support the individuality and purity of the Calvinist doctrines of the Church of Scotland and to prevent any form of Episcopalianism or Papistry from taking it over. It has been claimed by some historians to be the most important document in Scottish History, even surpassing the famous Declaration of Arbroath (1320) in terms of its lasting consequences and significance.
King Charles I’s favoured form of liturgy, introduced by Archbishop Laud in his Book of Canons, was deeply disliked in Scotland, and its use in St. Giles’ in July the previous year had led to riots in the church and in the streets outside. The four leading noblemen who pioneered the formation of the National Covenant were the Lords Loudon, Balmerino, Lindsay and Rothes, the first three of whom all signed the Covenant shown here. Eclipsing these names, important though they were at the time, its most famous signatory, whose name stands first in this particular document, was the great Montrose, who later quoted part of the words which appear on the Blue Blanket, “fear God and honour the King”, words which succinctly sum up what that courageous and chivalrous leader was all about.
The actual composition and writing of the Covenant was entrusted to two eminent and learned men, Alexander Henderson, a clergyman, and Archibald Johnston of Warriston, a lawyer. Henderson’s own signature is also to be found on this example. Henderson was ordained Minister of Leuchars in Fife in about 1612 and at first espoused the Episcopalian cause, but he was soon converted to Presbyterianism and became one of its most vehement champions. Archibald Johnston became a Fellow of the Faculty of Advocates on 6th November 1633. He was raised to the bench with the title of Lord Warriston on 14th November 1641 and was knighted on the following day. He was a dangerous and treacherous ally and played a gleeful and vengeful part in the subsequent condemnation and downfall of Montrose.
On 28th February 1638 the newly-prepared text of the National Covenant was read aloud in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, for the first time. Many copies were signed by the nobles, barons, clergy and other movers and shakers present and were then distributed for different groups of burgesses, both merchants and craftsmen, to subscribe their names. It took several months for all those who wished to sign the Covenant to do so, the total throughout Scotland numbering over 300,000 adult males in the first year.
The document shown here belongs to the Incorporation of Skinners of Edinburgh and was signed by them as a body on 18th August 1638. After the names of the nobility, gentry and clergy, led by Montrose, the document was signed by 97 skinners, who appear to have included most or all of the masters and journeymen and possibly some of the senior apprentices who were old enough not to be counted as minors (i.e. those aged 16 and over). Among the signatories was Archibald Beg, the Clerk to the Incorporation, whose signature appears twice. Only four of the subscribers were unable to write their names in full but managed to scrawl their initials instead. A few more were unable to write at all and their names were inscribed by the clerk “with our hands at the pen, led by the notary, because we cannot write ourselves”.
Most or all of the Incorporations subscribed their own copies of the Covenant but only two or possibly three of them have survived.