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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The slighter depredations of the Gipsy bands


[68] During these seventy-three years of peace, the Gipsies in Scotland must have multiplied prodigiously, and, in all probability, drawn much of the native blood into their body. Not being, at that time, a proscribed race, but, on the contrary, honoured by leagues and covenants with the king himself, the ignorant public generally would have few of those objections to intermarry with them, which they have had in subsequent times. The thieving habits of the Gipsies would prove no bar to such connections, as the Scottish people were accustomed to thieving of all kinds.--ED.

The civil and religious contests in which the nation had been long engaged, particularly during the reign of Queen Mary, produced numerous swarms of banditti, who committed outrages in every part of the country. The slighter depredations of the Gipsy bands, in the midst of the fierce and bloody quarrels of the different factions that generally prevailed throughout the kingdom, would attract but little attention, and the Gipsies would thereby escape the punishment which their actions merited. But the government being more firmly established, by the union of the different parties who distracted the country, and the king assuming the supreme authority, which all acknowledged, vigorous measures were adopted for suppressing the excess of strolling vagabonds of every description. In the very year the king was placed at the head of affairs, a law was passed, "For punishment

of strong and idle beggars, and relief of the poor and impotent."

Against the Gipsies this sweeping statute is particularly directed, for they are named, and some of their practices pointed out, in the following passage: "And that it may be known what manner of persons are meant to be strong and idle beggars and vagabonds, and worthy of the punishment before specified, it is declared that all idle persons going about the country of this realm, using subtle, crafty and unlawful plays--as jugglery, fast-and-loose, and such others, the idle people calling themselves Egyptians, or any other that fancy themselves to have knowledge of prophecy, charming, or other abused sciences, whereby they persuade the people that they can tell their weirds, deaths, and fortunes, and such other fantastical imaginations."[69] And the following is the mode prescribed for punishing the Gipsies, and the other offenders associated with them in this act of parliament: "That such as make themselves fools and are _bairds_, (strolling rhymers,) or other such like runners about, being apprehended, shall be put in the king's ward, or irons, so long as they have any goods of their own to live on, and if they have not whereupon to live of their own, that their ears be nailed to the tron or other tree, and cut off, and (themselves) banished the country; and if thereafter they be found again, that they be hanged."[70]

[69] In this act of parliament are denounced, along with the Gipsies, "all minstrels, songsters, and tale-tellers, not avowed by special licence of some of the lords of parliament or great barons, or by the high burghs and cities, for their common minstrels." "All _vagabond scholars_(_!_) of the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, not licenced by the rector and dean of faculty to _ask alms_." It would seem, from this last extract, that the Scottish Universities granted diplomas to their students to beg! The Gipsies were associated or classed with good company at this time. But beggar students, or student-beggars, were common in other parts of Europe during that age.--ED.

[70] Glendook's Scots Acts, James VI, 6th Par. cap. 74--20th Oct. 1579.


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