23rd July 1637. Casting of the Stool.
When James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne, the two nations were united as one kingdom, but in his zeal he also wanted to unite church practice, despite the Reformation having taken root deeper in Scotland than England.
The Scots thus were wary of any religious observances imported from England, especially the new Service Book written by Scottish Bishops and revised by the English, Archbishop of Canterbury the High Churchman, William Laud.
Wisely James didn’t press the case, but when his son came to the throne in 1625 as Charles I he decided to plough ahead with religious unification.
Matters came to a head Today in 1637 when a small riot broke out in St.Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, ‘When the Dean…opened the service book and began to read the prayers, this multitude was struck with horror which defied all control’.
‘They raised their voices in discordant clamours and abusive language, denouncing the Dean as, ‘the progeny of the devil’, and the bishop as a ‘belly-god’, calling out that it was rank popery they were bringing in’.
As was the custom then the men sat in the pews whilst women sat on stools in the aisles, one of which was hurled by Jenny Geddes at the head of the Dean, Richard Hannay, presiding in the pulpit. An action since known to history as the ‘Casting of the Stool’.
This was followed by ‘whole sackfuls of small clasp-bibles’. After the formal dismissal of the now disorderly congregation, the officiating clergy including the bishop escaped, but were mobbed in the street narrowly escaping with their lives.
The incident was one of those seemingly minor occurrences in history which appear out of all proportion to what follows, as in this case Charles pursued his pressures on the Scots to accept the new Prayer Book, with its inherent Catholic overtones.
What followed were the skirmishes of the Bishops’ Wars, the rise of the Scottish Covenanters in 1637, a civil-war and the execution of a king in 1649.
W&R Chambers Book of Days (1864).