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.


The Ten Commandments of the Skinners 1675

Paper on boards, glazed and mounted in a later wooden frame. 39¼in. (99.6cm.) x 29¾in. (75.6cm.). The three boards on which it is mounted have shrunk over the years, producing the two vertical tears in the paper.

Each commandment is illustrated with a picture of what thou shalt not do. The third Commandment (Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain) depicts men drinking, playing at dice and backgammon and playing on the viola da gamba; these pastimes evidently came under that category or at least were conducive towards it. The fourth Commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it Holy) shows an earnest clergyman haranguing his congregation, some of whom are not looking too happy about it; on the pillar behind him hangs his wide-brimmed god-fearing hat. The other pictures are all equally quaint and exhibit a naive humour which may or may not have been intentional on the part of the artist.

Below the commandments is a panel bearing the names of the office-bearers of the Skinners and Furriers at the time, as follows:

“To ye Hond: Patrick Graham, present Deacon, William Brown, prest./ Box Mr. Wm. Pollock preset Deacon of ye Furriers; Iohn Sumerwell,/ W: Iohnston, Iam: Paterso, And: Ker, late D. of Sk: Ro: Newlands,/ To. McAda. l: D: of Fur: Ad: Cuming W: Bruce, Wr: Graha I: Drumod/ present Qr. Masters.”

The frame bears the following in gold lettering:

“PRESENTED to the TRADE, 10th September 1675./ See Election Book, Folio 105.”

The records of several incorporations mention their copy of the Ten Commandments, along with their Bible, but only that of the Skinners appears to have survived. Prospective freemen were obliged to subscribe to the reformed religion before admission to an Incorporation, and this would have included knowing the Commandments by heart.

Of the freemen mentioned, Patrick Graham was deacon of Skinners in 1675-77 and John Pollock was Deacon of Furriers in 1674-76. Andrew Ker had been Deacon immediately before Graham and had been “removed by the King’s Letter”, in other words deposed by royal authority, and replaced by Patrick Graham. Thomas McAdam had been Deacon of the Furriers in 1670-72. Of the others mentioned, William Johnston had been Deacon of Skinners on four previous occasions and was to be so twice more. James Paterson had been elected Deacon of Skinners twice and would be so twice more, while Robert Newlands served similarly for the Furriers.

3. National Covenant, Skinners

The National Covenant,1638, Signed by the Skinners
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.