Quatrocentenary of Arbroath's Royal Charter 1599 - 1999

Turbulent times

Arbroath 1599 Charter
Arbroath 1599 Charter

The aftermath of the Reformation of the church in Scotland was a turbulent time. During the minority of King James VI the documents confirming the privileges of the Abbey of Arbroath had been taken and destroyed by George, bishop of Moray. He and his co-conspirators then took possession of the Abbey and all of its wealth.

It was the custom for all new kings to reconfirm privileges and rights granted by predecessors. In the case of Arbroath it was a necessity. Although the Abbey was in decline, the village of Arbroath was still prospering.

Charter of novodamus

On 23 November 1599 King James VI granted a charter of novodamus by which he confirmed all previous privileges possessed by the burgesses. He erected the village and burgh of Arbroath with all of its houses, buildings, tenements, orchards, acres, tofts and crofts lying within the burgh roods into a free and royal burgh in all time coming.

The charter allowed the burgesses to select a Provost and Bailies, elect councillors and to create burgesses. It granted extensive lands to the burgh. The harbour became a free harbour. The full trading powers of a royal burgh were granted to Arbroath, allowing it to trade at home and abroad. Other privileges granted to royal burghs included the right to erect a tolbooth where customs were collected and the right to erect a market cross. Magistrates could collect the small customs at markets and fairs and apply them to the common good.

In return for all of these privileges the new royal burgh of Arbroath had to pay an annual sum of 40 shillings and give the service of 1 free burgess to the king every year.

Full text of the charter is available

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