The Story of a Stool

James I. after the Reformation introduced into Scotland bishops, and his son Charles I. attempted to force upon the Scottish church a book of canons and a liturgy. Both actions were regarded with strong aversion, and culminated in bitter strife. The king directed that on Sunday, July 23rd, 1637, the new service-book should be read in every parish church in Scotland. Before the appointed day arrived, opposition was manifest in all quarters, and few had the courage, even if they had the desire, to conduct their services from the new prayer-book.

On the eventful Sunday when the new order of service was to be formally introduced, the chief church of the capital of Scotland, the old Cathedral of St. Giles, was filled by an unusually large congregation. Among those present were two archbishops, several bishops, the lords chancellor and treasurer, privy council, judges, and magistrates. A large number of the humble people, composed chiefly of the wives of citizens and their maids, filled the body of the church. In those days no pews were in the church, and the poor-folk brought clasp-stools.

When Dean Hannay, attired in a surplice, commenced reading prayers from the service-book a riot arose which has seldom been equalled in the house of God. The Dean could not be heard for the clamour of many voices. The voice of a female—that of Jenny Geddes—was heard above others. She cried, “Out, out! does the false loon mean to say his black mass at my lug?” and then threw her stool at the Dean’s head.

This was the signal for a riot: an attempt was made to tear from the Dean his surplice, but he disengaged himself from it, and with difficulty made his escape. Hand-clapping, hisses, curses, &c., put an end to any attempt to conduct the service. The Bishop of Edinburgh attempted from the pulpit to restore order, but a stool was thrown at him, and, had not a friendly hand averted its course, doubtless he would have been seriously injured, or even killed. Stones and other missiles were thrown at the pulpit.

The Lord Chancellor, it is recorded, commanded the magistrates to call out the town-guard to drive the ringleaders from the church. The church was cleared of the rioters, but outside they battered the doors, broke the windows, cried out, “A Pope! A Pope!” “Antichrist!” “Stone him! Stone him!” The Dean tried to resume his reading, but the shouts of the multitude without drowned his voice.

 

JENNY GEDDES’ STOOL.
From the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh.

 

The service in Greyfriars’ Church had to be stopped on account of the rioting without, and at the college, we are told in Stevenson’s “Annals of Edinburgh,” the minister preferred the old extempore form of prayer, till he learned how the liturgy had been received in other city churches.

On leaving church the Bishop of Edinburgh was attacked by the mob, and narrowly escaped death at their hands. Other rioting occurred, and for many years the memorable day was known as “Stony Sabbath.”

The local authorities, it is recorded, desired to maintain order, and on the Monday the local magistrates repaired to a meeting of the Privy Council, and expressed their great regret at the outrage, and promised to discover the ringleaders and have them punished.

On one of the piers of St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, is a memorial brass bearing the following inscription:—

TO
JAMES HANNAY, D.D.,
DEAN OF THIS CATHEDRAL,

1634-1639.

He was the first and last who read
the service-book in this church.


THIS MEMORIAL IS ERECTED IN HAPPIER TIMES
BY HIS DESCENDANT.

In the Moray or south-west aisle is a memorial of gun-metal to Jenny Geddes, with an inscriptionwritten by the late Lord President Inglis, which reads as follows:—

CONSTANT ORAL TRADITION
AFFIRMS THAT NEAR THIS SPOT
A BRAVE SCOTCH WOMAN, JANET GEDDES,
ON THE 23 JULY 1637,
STRUCK THE FIRST BLOW IN THE GREAT STRUGGLE
FOR FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE,
WHICH AFTER A CONFLICT OF HALF-A-CENTURY
ENDED IN THE ESTABLISHMENT
OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.