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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Everyday Life

Law and Order

By John R Young

Branks and Stocks No "police force" in the modern sense existed in Glasgow until 1800. Before this time, a rotation system existed through which the citizens kept watch. The first evidence for this is from 1644. Little information has survived for law and order issues in the period prior to the Reformation, but important developments took place with the jurisdiction of the bishop and later the archbishop in the pre-Reformation Church as well as with the development of Glasgow as a burgh from the 12th century onwards.

Glasgow was essentially a "Bishop's burgh" and the bishop, then archbishop, had close control over civic appointments on the town council, powers which often resulted in tension. Different ecclesiastical courts had disciplinary powers over religious issues. Merchants and craftsmen were regulated by the rules of their respective guilds and fraternities. In 1450 Glasgow was created into a burgh of regality by James II and as such it had powers of punishing crime. The famous Glasgow fair dates from the 12th century and the fair appears to have been a rowdy and popular time. A charter of 1211 ordered the king's peace to be upheld and maintained during the fair, under a fine of 180 cows for manslaughter. On the eve of the start of the fair, each booth-holder was ordered to keep a halberd, jack and steel bonnet to hand to help quell any outbreaks of disorder. This was standard practice for the fair by the time of the Reformation, suggesting that the fair could get violent.

At the time of the Reformation, Glasgow was still a medieval city, subject to the authority of the archbishop, who appointed the provost and bailies. This was to change in the post-Reformation years when new reforms were brought in. The development of the post-Reformation church would see kirk sessions punishing people for deviant behaviour such as drunkenness and fornication.

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