Britannia, by William Camden

⌈The Orcades, or Isles of Orkney.⌉

Orcades.
Orkney.
* Only 26 inhabited. See below.
Big A AS we coast from the Hebudes to the north east, we come in sight of the Orcades, now Orkney, being a cluster of * thirty Isles, separated from one another by little arms of the Sea: they are said in a certain old manuscript to be so call’d from Argat, that is (as it is there explain’d) Above the Getes: But I had rather interpret it, Above the Cat; for it lies over-against Cath, a Country of Scotland, which, from the promontory, is now called Catness; the Inhabitants whereof seem to be falsly called, in Ptolemy, Carini instead of Catini. These Islands, in Solinus’s time, were without Inhabitants, and overgrown with rushes; but now they are cultivated, and † † See below.produce much barley; but no wheat, nor woods, nor trees.

⌈But to be more particular, concerning the Situation, Air, Seasons, and Tides; we will follow the account, which Mr. James Wallace (a person well vers’d in Antiquities, and Minister of Kirkwall,) hath given, in his Description of these Isles.

Orkney lies in the Northern temperate Zone: in longitude 22 degrees 11 minutes; in latitude 59 degrees 2 minutes. The length of the longest day is eighteen hours and some odd minutes. For a great part of June it will be so clear at midnight, that one may read in their chamber: yet what a late writer tells us cannot be true, that from the hill of Hoy a man may see the sun at midnight. It cannot be the true body of the sun, but only the image of it refracted through the sea, or some watery cloud about the Horizon; seeing it must be as far depressed under our Horizon in June, as it is elevated above it in December; and from that hill, the sun is to be seen in the shortest day of December, above five hours and a half.

The air and clouds here, by the operation of the sun, do sometime generate strange things. For instance; Not many years since, while some fishermen were fishing half a league from land over-against

meteorite merry may phenomena

Copinsha, in a fair day, there fell down from the Air a Stone about the bigness of a foot-ball: it fell in the midst of the Boat, and sprung a leak in it, to the great hazard of the lives of the men who were in it: which could be no other but some substance generated in the clouds. The Stone was like condensed or Petrified Clay, and was a long time in the custody of Captain Andrew Dick, at that time Stewart of the Country.

Seasons. Here, our Winters are generally more subject to rain than snow: nor does the frost and snow continue so long here, as in other parts of Scotland; but the winds, in the mean time, will often blow very boisterously. Sometimes the rain descends not by drops, but by spouts of water, as if whole clouds fell down at once. About four years ago, after a thunder, in the month of June, there fell a great flake of Ice more than a foot thick.

Situation. This Country is wholly surrounded with the Sea; having Pightland-Frith on the south, the Deucaledonian Ocean on the west, the Sea that divides it from Zetland on the north, and the German Sea on the east. Zetland stands north east and by east from Orkney; and, from the Start in Sanda to Swinburgh-head, the most southerly point in Zetland, is about eighteen leagues, where there is nothing but Sea all the way, save Fair-Isle, which lies within eight leagues of Swinburgh-head.

Pightland-Firth. Pightland-Firth, which divides this Country from Caithness, is in breadth from Duncans-bay to the nearest point of South Ronalsha in Orkney, about twelve miles: in it are many tides (to the number of twenty four) which run with such an impetuous current, that a Ship under sail is no more able to make way against the tide, than if it were hinder’d by a Remora; which I conceive is the cause, why some have said, that they have found the Remora in these seas.

In this Firth, about two miles from the coast of Caithness, lies Stroma,Stroma. a little Isle, but pleasant and fruitful: and because of its vicinity to Caithness, and its being still under the jurisdictions of the Lords of that Country, it is not counted as one of the Isles of Orkney. On the north-side of this Isle, is a part of the Firth called the Swelchee of Stroma; and at the west-end of it, betwixt it and Mey in Caithness, there is another part of it, called the Merrie Men of Mey; both which are very dangerous.

Tides. The Sea ebbs and flows here as in other places; yet there are some Phænomena, the reason of which cannot easily be found out: as, in the Isle of Sanda, it flows two hours sooner on the west side, than on the east; and in North Faira (which lies between Eda and Westra) the Sea ebbs nine hours, and flows but three. And at Hammoness in Sanda, both ebb and flood runs one way, except at the beginning of a quick stream, when, for two or three hours, the flood runs south.

The Sea here is very turbulent in a storm, and as pleasant in a calm. The Tides are very swift and violent, by reason of the multitude of the Isles, and narrowness of the passage; for when all the rest of the Sea is smooth, these tides carry their waves and billows high.

The Tides run with such violence, that they cause a contrary motion in the Sea adjoining to the land, which they call Easter-birth, or Wester-birth, according to its course: Yet, not-withstanding all this rapidity of the tides and births, the Inhabitants do almost daily travel from Isle to Isle, about their several business, in their little Cock-boats.

Picts. The first Planters and Possessors of this Country, are said by the Inhabitants, and the generality of Historians, to have been the Picts; and the same Historians call Orkney, Antiquum Pictorum regnum, the ancient Kingdom of the Picts: There being in this Country several strange antick Houses (many of which are overgrown with Earth,) that are still call’d Picts Houses; and the Firth that runs between this and Caithness, is from them call’d Pictland Firth: i.e. the Firth that runs by the Land of the Picts. Though Buchanan (to establish his Opinion) would rather have it called Fretum Penthlandicum, from Penthus, a man of his own making. These Verses of the Poet Claudian,

Maduerunt Saxone fuso,
Orcades, incaluit Pictorum sanguine Thule
.

The Orkney Isles with Saxon Blood were wet,
And Thule with the Pictish gore did sweat;

do evidently prove, that the Picts, with some other Colony of the German Nation (particularly the Saxons) were at that time the Possessors and Inhabitants of these Northern Isles. Moreover, to this day many of the Inhabitants use the Norse, or old Gothick Language, which is not much different from the Old Teutonick, or the Language which the Picts used. Besides, the Sirnames of the ancient Inhabitants are of a German Original; for the Seaters are so called from Seater, one of the old German Idols which they worshipped for Saturn: The Taits from Twitsh, i.e. the Dutch, who had that name from Twisco the son of Noe and Tythea, the famous progenitors of the Germans; The Keldas, from the ancient Culdees or Keldeis (as Spotswood thinks) who were the ancient Priests or Ministers of the Christian Religion among the Picts, so call’d because they liv’d in Cells: The Baikies, from some small running water, which in the Teutonick is called a Baikie. So, the names that end in Stane; as Hourstane, Corstane, Yorstane, Beistane, &c. which is a Pictish or Teutonick termination of Sirname, signifying the superlative degree of comparison. And many more might be added, if it were needful, to shew that the Pictish Blood is as yet in this Countrey, and that that People were the first Possessors of it.

But at what time the Picts first planted these Isles, is controverted by our writers: some say, that in the year of the World 4867, the Picts having left their native Country, to seek out some new habitation, came first to Orkney; where they left a Colony to plant the Country, and then, with their main body, ferrying over Pictland-firth, and passing through Caithness, Ross, Murray, Marr, and Angus, at last settled themselves in Fife and Louthian, which, from them, is by our Writers called Pictlandia. Others more probably think, that the Picts did not settle here till the time of Reuther King of Scots; when the Scots, by an intestine division, warring upon one another, each Party being assisted by a considerable number of the Picts, they fought so desperately, that, besides Gethus King of the Picts, the greatest number both of Scots and Pictish Nobility were killed, with many thousands of the Commons of both Nations. Which great slaughter, with the invasion of the Britons at the same time, constrain’d the Picts (who perceived themselves unable to resist) to fly, some by land and others by sea, to Orkney, where they abode for a time, and made Gothus, brother of the foresaid Gethus, their King. And after a few years, having left some of their number to people and plant the Countrey, they return’d to Louthian; and having expelled the Britons, settled themselves again in their ancient possessions.

The Countrey being thus planted, the People grew and multiplied, and for a long time were govern’d by Kings of their own, after the manner of the Picts and other Nations. There is still a place in this Country, that by reason of its name and antick form, should seem to have been the Residence of some of those Kings; for it is call’d Cuningsgar, though now a dwelling-house of the Minister of Sandwick. But the memory of the Names and Actions of these Kings, are, by iniquity of time, and carelesness of Writers, buried in silence; except a Memorial of one of them (viz. Belus) which is at this time on a Stone in the Kirk of Birsa (where probably the King had his principal Residence, and at this hour, one of our King’s chiefest Palaces remains,) having the name, Belus, engraven on it, in ancient Characters. Romans. The knowledge which the Romans had in these parts, appears, among other Testimonies, from the Names which they gave to some of the Islands:⌉ The chiefest, and most remarkable of which, is PomonaPomona. ⌈since⌉ a Bishop’s See, call’d by Solinus Pomona Diutina, from the length of the days there, but by the present Inhabitants * * See below.Mainland, as if it were a Continent. It is adorn’d with a Bishop’s Seat, at KirkwalKirkwal. a little Town, and with two Castles; and abounds in Tin and Lead. Ocetis. Ocetis is also reckon’d among these Isles by Ptolemy; I suppose it may be that, which we now call Hethy.Hethy. But whether Hey,Hey. which is one of these, be Pliny’s Dumna, is a question that I cannot yet resolve. If it is not, I should be more apt to think Fair-Isle, to be DumnaDumna. (in which the only town is call’d Dum,) than Wardhuys in Lapland, as Becanus does.

Julius Agricola, the first who sail’d round Britain,Tacitus. discover’d the Orcades in that Voyage, (unknown to the World till that time,) and conquer’d them. So little right has Claudius to this conquest, as St. Hierom, in his Chronicle, would have it, that Juvenal, in Hadrian’s time, writes thus of them,

Arma quid ultra?
Littora Juvernæ promovimus & modo captas
Orcades, & minima contentos nocte Britannos
.

What tho’ the Orcades have lately own’d our power,
What tho’ Juverna’s tam’d, and Britain’s shore
That boasts the shortest night?—

Afterwards, when the Roman Empire was extinct in Britain, * * See before.the Picts planted themselves in these Islands; and Claudian says in his poetical way,

Maduerunt Saxone fuso
Orcades
.

The Orcades with Saxon gore o’reflow’d.

Ninnius also tells us, that Octha and Ebissus, both Saxons, who serv’d under the Britains, sail’d round the Picts in vl Kyules, and wasted Orkney.

† See below.After that, they came under the dominion of the Norwegians (by which means the Inhabitants speak Gothick) upon the grant made by Donald Ban, who after the death of his brother Malcolm Can Mor King of Scots, had excluded his nephews and usurp’d the Kingdom; and hop’d to be supported by the Norwegians in these wicked Usurpations. The Norwegians continu’d in possession of them till the year 1266. ¦ ¦ See below.Then, Magnus the fourth of that name, King of Norway, being exhausted by a war with Scotland, surrender’d them to Alexander the third King of Scots by treaty; and they were afterwards confirm’d to King Robert Brus in the year 1312, by Haquin King of Norway. * * See below.At last, in the year 1468, Christian, the first King of Norway and Denmark, renounc’d all right and title for himself and his Successors, to James the third, King of Scotland, upon a marriage between him and his daughter; and so transferr’d his right to his son-in-law, and his successors for ever; and to corroborate it further, it was also confirm’d by the Pope.

⌈But to give a larger (tho’ somewhat different) View of those Revolutions in Government here; let us betake our selves to our former Guide.Mr. Wallace.

This Country, it is like, continu’d under the Government of their own Princes, till the fatal ruin and subversion of the Pictish Kingdom in Scotland,Scots. in the year of our Lord 839. At which time, Kenneth the second, that martial King of Scots, having in many battles overthrown the Pights, at last expell’d them out of Scotland, and seizing on Fife and Louthian, and the other large territories they had therein, pursued them to Orkney; vanquishing these Isles, and adding them to his other Dominions.

Orkney being thus annexed to the Crown of Scotland, continued many years under the Government of Scottish Kings and their Lieutenants, till about the year 1099. At which time, Donald Bain, Lord of the Isles (having usurped the Crown, and caused himself to be proclaimed King of Scotland, and being thereupon put hard to it by the the injur’d Heir, and discontented Nobility;) that he might not lose what he had unjustly usurp’d, invited Magnus King of Norway, to come to his assistance, with an offer of the Isles for his pains. Who coming with his Navy, invaded Orkney and the Western Isles; putting Garrisons in all convenient places.

Norwegians. By this means, the Norwegians got possession of this Country, and held it for the space of 164 years; when they came to lose all again upon this occasion. Anno 1263, Alexander the third being then King of Scotland, Acho (by some called Hagin) King of Norway, hoping (from the divisions that were then in the Kingdom, and the famine that then press’d the land) to make some further conquest in Scotland, comes with a great Navy and Army of Danes and Norwegians to the West Isles, and conquers Arran and Bute (which were the only Isles at that time, under the Dominion of the Scots:) and from this success, hoping for greater, he lands on the Continent, and takes-in the Town and Castle of Air. But King Alexander having assembled a great Army, assaults him in battle at Largis, kills his Nephew, a person of high renown, and after a great slaughter of his Soldiers (to the number of twenty four thousand) puts the remainder to flight. Immediately upon this defeat, King Acho hears of another sad loss, namely, that his Fleet, consisting of an hundred and fifty Ships, were, by the force of an outragious tempest, all cast away, and broken against the rocks; except four, in which he presently embarked, and fled to Orkney. Being come thither, he sent to Norway and Denmark for a new Army and Fleet, with an intention to invade Scotland the next Summer; but he died in the beginning of the following year,Jan. 22. 1264. and was buried in that place, where the Cathedral now stands, under a marble Stone, which is seen to this day.

After his death, King Alexander invaded the Isle of Man and the Western Isles; which, after some opposition, he recovered, and intending to make the like attempt for the recovery of Orkney and Zetland, there came Ambassadors to him from Magnus King of Norway and Denmark (who succeeded his father Acho in these Kingdoms) a person well enclin’d, and one that feared God. After several Treaties, it was at last agreed on, that King Alexander should pay to the King of Norway the Sum of four thousand Marks Sterling, with the Sum of an hundred Marks by year: And that for this, Magnus King of Norway, should quit all right that he might pretend to in the Isles of Orkney and Zetland, and the other Isles of Scotland: which accordingly he did by Letters under his great Seal; renouncing and giving over all right or claim that he had, or might have, both for him and his Successors, to these and all the other Isles of Scotland. And for the better confirmation hereof, a marriage was agreed on between the Lady Margaret, daughter of Alexander, and Hangonanus (or Hannigo, or Aquine, as others call him) son to King Magnus, both children, to be compleated when they came to a marriageable estate.

This Magnus King of Norway was a Prince of great piety and devotion; for which he was reputed a Saint, and commonly called Saint Magnus. He greatly advanced the Christian Religion in this Country, whose Patron he is held to be; and is thought to have founded that stately edifice in Kirkwall, which is now the Cathedral, call’d from him St. Magnus’s Kirk.

The opinion of his Sanctity and Miracles, made him so famous, that the day wherein King Robert Bruce gave that great and memorable defeat to the English at Bannockburn, there was seen riding through Aberdeen (as the tradition hath gone) a horse-man in shining armor, who told them of the Victory, and afterwards was seen riding over Pightland Firth: Whereupon, it was concluded (saith Boethius, who tells this story) that it was St. Magnus. And upon that account, the King, after the Victory, order’d, that five Pounds Sterling should be paid for ever to St. Magnus’s Kirk in Kirkwall, out of the Customs payable by the Town of Aberdeen.

Having thus far treated of the Isles of Orkney, in general; we will now proceed to a more particular Enumeration of them. And whatever the Ancients have writtenNumber, and Nature, of the Isles of Orkney. of the number of the Isles of Orkney, it is certain, there are but twenty six at present inhabited, viz. South Ronaldsha, Swinna, Hoy, Burra, Lambholm, Flotta, Faira, Cava, Gramsey, Mainland, Copinsha, Shapinsha, Damsey, Inhallo, Stronsa, Papa-Stronsa, Sanda, North Ronaldsha, Eda, Rousa-Wyre, Gairsa, Eglesha, North-Faira, Westra, Papa Westra. The rest of the Isles are called Holms, and are only used for Pasturage; all of them being separated from one another, by some narrow streights here. You may remark that most of the names end in A, or Ey, which in the Teutonick Tongue signifieth water; to shew that these Isles are pieces of land surrounded with water.

They are of different natures; some sandy, some marish; some abound in moss, and some have none; some are mountainous, and some plain. Of these, some are called the south-Isles,South-Isles. and others the north-Isles; and this, as they stand to the south or north of the greatest Isle, called the Mainland.

South Ronalsha. South Ronalsha is the Southermost of these Isles; being five miles long, and fertile in Corn, and abounding with People. To the South-east, lie the Pightland-Skerries; dangerous to Seamen: but to the North, is St. Margaret’s Hope, a very safe Harbour for Ships, which has no difficulty in coming to it, save a Rock in the midst of the Sound, betwixt this Isle and Burra, called Lippa. From Burwick in this Isle, is the usual Ferry to Duncans-bay in Caithness.

A little separated from this, to the South-west, lies Swinna,Swinna. a small Isle, and only considerable for a part of Pightland Firth, lying a little to the west of it, and called the Wells of Swinna, which are two whirlpools in the Sea (occasioned, as it is thought, through some hiatus that is in the earth below;) and these turn round with such violence, that if any boat or ship come within their reach, they will whirl it about, till it be swallowed up and drown’d. They are only dangerous in a dead Calm; for if there be any wind, and the boat under sail, there is no danger in going over them. If a boat happen to come near them in a Calm, through the force of the tide, the Boats-men take this way for their preservation; they throw a barrel, or oar, or any thing that comes next to hand, into the Wells, and when it is swallowed up, the Sea remains smooth, for a time, for any boat to pass over.

Beyond this, and to the west of South-Ronaldsha, lies WaesWaes and Hoy. and Hoy; which are but one Isle, about twelve miles long, full of high Mountains, and but thinly inhabited, unless in Waes, where the ground is more pleasant and fertile. From Snel-setter, is the other Ferry out of this Country, to Ham in Caithness. Here are several good Harbours, Kirk-hope, North-hope, Ore-hope, and others; but not much frequented.

To the North of South-Ronaldsha, about a mile, lies Burra,Burra. a pleasant little Isle, fruitful in Corn, and abounding with Rabbets.rabbits

Betwixt it and the Main-land, is Lambholm;Lambholm. and to the west, toward Hoy-mouth, lie Flotta, Faira, Cava, and Gramsey, all of them fruitful and pleasant Isles, though not large.

Main-land. Next to these, is the Main-land before-mention’d; some twenty four miles long, and well inhabited. About the middle of this Isle, looking to the North, stands Kirkwall, the only good Town in all this Country. There are in it four remarkable and excellent Harbours for Ships: One is, at Kirkwall, both large and safe, without danger of shoals or blind rocks as they come to it, unless they come from the West by Inhallo and Gairsa: Another is at Deirsound, which is a great Bay, and a very safe road for Ships; having good anchoring-ground, and capable to give shelter to the greatest Navies. The third is at Grahamshall, toward the East-side of this Isle, where is a convenient road; but the Ships that sail to it from the east, keep betwixt Lambholm and the Main-land; for the other way, betwixt Lambholm and Burra (which appears to be the only open way,) is found very shallow and dangerous, even for small Ships. The fourth is at Kairston, a small Village at the west-end of the Main-land; where is a very safe and commodious Harbour, well-fenced against all winds and weathers by two small Holms that stand at the entry.

Copinsha. To the East of Main-land, lies Copinsha, a little Isle, but very conspicuous to Sea-men; in which, and in several other places of this Country, are to be found in great plenty excellent Stones for the game called Curling. To the North-east of this Isle, is a Holm called The Horse of Copinsha.

North-Isles. To the North of Main-land, lie the North Isles; the first of which is Shapinsha,Shapinsha. betwixt five and six miles long, with a safe Harbour for Ships at Elwick.

Of an equal bigness to that, toward the South-east, lies Stronsa,Stronsa. which hath two convenient Harbours, one at Lingasound, fenced with Linga-holm; the other at Strynie, fenced with a little pleasant Isle to the North of it, called Papa-stronsa.

Beyond these, to the North, at a pretty distance, lies Sanda,Sanda. about eleven or twelve miles in length, but very narrow; well stored with Corn and Rabbets. rabbits It hath two roads for Ships, one at Kitle-toft, guarded by a little Holm, called The Holm of Elness; the other at Otterswick, guarded by the most Northern Isle in all this Country, called North-Ronalsha,North-Ronalsha. which is a little fruitful Isle; but both it and Sanda are destitute of moss-ground, and are forced to bring their peits or turfs a great way off, from the adjacent Isle Eda.peat ponies

Eda. This Eda lieth to the South-east of Sanda, and is near five miles in length, and full of moss and hills; but thinly inhabited, unless it be about the skirts of it: It hath a safe road to the North, call’d Calf-sound, guarded by a large Holm call’d The Calf of Eda, in which is a good Salt-Pan.

Damsey. Three miles to the West of Kirkwal, at the bottom of a large Bay, lies a little Isle, called Damsey, with a Holm beside it, as big as it self.

Rousa. To the North-west lies Rousa, a large Isle, about six miles long, full of heatherly hills, and well-stored with Plover and Moor-fowl: it is but thinly inhabited.

Inhallo. Betwixt it and the main land, lies Inhallo; and toward Kirkwal lies Wyre and Gairsa, small, but profitable, Isles.

North from Kirkwal, at eight miles distance, stands Eglesha,Eglesha. something more than two miles long, but pleasant and fertile, having a convenient road for Ships betwixt it and Wyre. There is in it a little handsome Church, where it is said that St. Magnus, the Patron of this Country, lies buried.

Westra. To the North of Eglisha is Westra, seven miles long: it is pleasant, fertile, and well-inhabited, and hath a convenient Harbour for Ships at Piriwa: At the East end of it lies Faira, called for distinction Faira be North; and to the North-and-by-east is Papa-Westra, a pleasant Isle, three miles in length, and famous for St. Tredwel’s Chapel and Loch; of which many things are reported by the vulgar.

Product of the Isles. All these Isles are indifferently fruitful, well stored with fields of Corn and herds of Cattle; and abound with Rabbets, but are destitute of Wheat, Rye, and Pease.

The chief Products of this Country, and which are exported yearly by the Merchant, are Beer, Malt, Meal, Fish, Tallow, Hides, Stockings, Butter, Selch-skins, Otter-skins, Rabbet-skins, Lamb-skins, white Salt, Stuffs, Writing-Pens, Downs, Feathers, Hams, Wool, &c.

They have good store of field and garden-plants; and make great quantities of Butter. Their Ews are so fertile, that most of them have two at a birth, and some three; nay * * Mr. Wallace.my Author affirms, that he has seen four at a birth all living, and following the Dam. Their Horses are but little, yet strong and lively: they have great herds of Swine, and Warrens (almost in every Isle) well stor’d with Rabbets. That they can want either Fish or Fowl, considering the situation of the Country, we cannot well imagine. The Eagles and Kites are there in great plenty, and are very troublesome, seizing sometimes upon young Children, and carrying them a good way; so that if any one kills an Eagle, he may by law claim a hen out of every house in the Parish where it is killed. Hawks and Falcons have their nests in several parts of the Islands; and the King’s Falconer comes every year and takes the young, who has twenty pounds Sterling in Salary, and a Hen or a Dog out of every House in the Country, except some Houses that are privileged.

They have several Mines of Silver, Tin, and Lead, and perhaps of other Metals; but none are improved. They find abundance of Marle, which turns to good account to the Husband-man. Free-stone quarries, with grey and red Slate, are in many places; and in some, Marble and Alabaster.

When the Winds are violent, the Sea casts-in pieces of trees, Ambergreese, exotick Fowls, and other things.

Forest or Wood they have none; nor any Trees, except in the Bishop’s gardens at Kirkwall, where are some Ashes, Thorn, and Plum-trees. Here and there, in a Gentleman’s garden, there are Apple and Cherry-trees; but the Fruit seldom comes to any degree of maturity. Yet it should seem, that there have been Woods formerly; for they find Trees in the Mosses, of twenty or thirty foot in length, with their branches entire.

Where the Country is divided into so many small Islands, it cannot be expected there should be any large Rivers: yet bourns and torrents they have, well replenished with Trouts. There are many Lochs; but they serve for no other use, than affording water to their Mills or Cattle. The many excellent roads, bays and ports, make it exceeding commodious for navigation.

Thus much of the several Isles, and the Products of them. As to particular places, The only remarkable Town in this Country, is Kirkwall; and being the only one of note,Mr. Wallace’s Account of Kirkwall. in which also is the Cathedral Church, and Bishop’s Palace, and both the Civil and Ecclesiastical Administration of the Isles; we cannot pass it over, without a particular description of the state of it. This then is an ancient Borough, long possess’d by the Danes, by whom it was called Cracoviaca, and built upon a pleasant Oyse or inlet of the Sea, near the middle of the Main-land. It is near a mile in length, with narrow Streets; and has a very safe harbour and road for Ships. Here is the Seat of Justice: the Stewart, and Sheriff, keeping their several Courts in this place; where all publick business is done. Almost all the Houses in it are slated; but the most remarkable Edifices, are St. Magnus’s Church, and the Bishop’s Palace. As for the King’s Castle, it is now demolished, but by the ruins, it appears to have been a strong and stately Fort, and was probably built by some of the Bishops of Orkney; as appears from a remarkable Stone set in the midst of the wall that looks towards the Street, which has a Bishop’s Miter and Arms engraven on it. There is in it a publick School for the teaching of Grammar, endow’d with a competent Salary; and at the north-end of the Town, is a place built by the English, ditch’d about; on which, in time of war, they plant Cannons for the defence of the Harbour against the Ships of the Enemy. As it fell out anno 1666, when there was war between our King and the Hollanders, and a Dutch man of war coming to the road (who shot many guns at the Town, with a design to take away some of the Ships that were in the harbour) was by some Cannon from the Mount so bruised, that he was forced to flee with the loss of many of his men.

This Town had been erected into a royal Borough in the time of the Danes:Dat. Edinb. Mar. ult. 1486. and Anno 1480, King James the third gave them a Charter, confirming their old erection and privileges, and specifying their Antiquity, and giving them power to hold Borough-Courts, to arrest and imprison, to make Laws and Ordinances, and to elect their own Magistrates yearly, for the good government of the Town: to have a weekly Market on Tuesday and Friday, and three Fairs in the year, one about Palm-Sunday, another at Lammas, and the third at Martinmas, each to continue three days. He moreover bestowed on them some Lands about the Town, with the customs and shore-dues, and the power of a Pit and Gallows, and all other privileges granted to any Royal Borough within the Kingdom; exempting them at the same time from sending any Commissioners to Parliament, unless their own necessities requir’d it. And in the year 1536,Febr. 8. King James the fifth ratified the former Charter, by a new Charter of Confirmation. And in the year 1661, King Charles the second, after his Restoration, ratified the former Charters by a Signature under his Royal hand. Dated, Whitehall, May 25. Aug. 22. 1670. Whereupon the Parliament at Edinburgh confirmed all by their Act; yet with this special provision, That what was granted to them by that Act, might not prejudice the interest of the Bishop of Orkney.

The Town is govern’d by a Provost, four Bailiffs, and a Common Council, as in other Boroughs.

Church-Government. The Church of this Country, as also that of Zetland, was under the government of one Bishop, stiled the Bishop of Orkney and Zetland. Bishop. The Bishop’s Revenue was great heretofore, but afterwards did not amount to much more than eight thousand Marks; Chamberlains, and other Officers Fees being paid.

St. Magnus. The Cathedral Church is St. Magnus’s Church in Kirkwall. It was founded (as is thought) by St. Magnus, King of Norway, but afterwards greatly enlarged by some of the pious Bishops of that See. Bishop Stewart enlarged it to the east, all above the Grees; and Bishop Reid, with three Pillars to the west. It is a very beautiful and stately Structure, built cross-ways, and for the most part free-stone, standing on Pillars, all most curiously vaulted. The three Gates by which they enter into it, are chequer’d with red and white polish’d Stones, embossed and flower’d in an elegant way; and the Steeple is raised to a great height (standing on four stately Pillars) in which is a set of excellent and harmonious Bells. In the year 1670, the Pyramid of the Steeple, being covered with wood, was burnt by Thunder; but, by the industry of Bishop Mackenzie, and liberality of some charitable persons, it was again repair’d, and the largest Bell (which had been damaged by the fall it had at the burning of the Steeple) hath been re-founded, and cast again, in Holland.lightning

Besides the Cathedral, there are thirty one Churches more in this Country, wherein Divine Service is celebrated; as also a great many ancient Chapels, above an hundred in number; which shews, that the Country was no less anciently, than it is at present, serious in Devotion.

Cathedral. This Diocese had its several ancient Dignities and Privileges for a long time; but these, by the constant trouble that this Country was in by the change of Masters, being lessen’d; Bishop Robert Reid made a new erection and foundation, consisting of seven (a) Dignities, seven Prebends, thirteen Chaplains or Vicars Choral, one Sacrist, and six Choristers; a particular Account of which we insert, by way of Note, to gratify the Curiosity of the Reader.

Mr. Wallace’s Account of the ancient Constitution of the Cathedral of St. Magnus. (a) The chief was a Provost, to whom, under the Bishop, the correction and amendment of the Canons, Prebends, and Chaplains was to belong; he had allotted to him the Prebendary of the Holy Trinity, and the Vicaridge of South Ronaldsha, with the maintenance of the Kirk of Burra. 2. An Arch-Deacon, who was to govern the People according to the disposition of the Canon-law; and to him was allotted the Arch-Deacon’s ancient rights, the Vicaridge of Birsa, and Chaplainry of St. Ola, within the Cathedral Kirk of Kirkwall; together with the maintenance of the Kirk of Hare. 3. A Precentor, who was to rule the Singers in the Quire; and to him were allotted the Prebendary of Orphir, and Vicaridge of Stennis. 4. A Chancellor, who was to be learned in both Laws, and was bound to read in the Pontifical Law publickly in the Chapter, to all who ought to be present; and to look to the preserving and mending the Books of the Quire and Register, and to keep the common Seal and Key of the Library; to him was allotted the Prebendary of St. Mary in Sanda, and Vicaridge of Sanda. 5. A Treasurer, who was to keep the Treasure of the Church, and sacred Vestments; and to have care of the Bread, Wine, Wax, Oyl, and nourishment for the Lights of the Kirk; to him was allotted the Rectory of St. Nicholas in Stronsa, and Vicaridge of Stronsa. 6. A Sub-Dean, who was to supply the place of the Provost in his absence, for the amending of the defects of the Chapter; to him was allotted the Parsonage of Hoy, and the Vicaridge of Waes. 7. A Sub-Chantor, who was bound to play upon the Organs each Lord’s day, and Festivals, and to supply the place of the Chantor in his absence: to him was allotted the Prebendary of St. Colme.

Likewise, he erected seven other Canons and Prebendaries, to wit, 1. The Prebend of Holy Cross; to him was given the Parsonage of Cross-kirk in Sanda: he was to be a special Keeper of Holy Things, under the Treasurer, and was to take care of the Clock, and ringing of the Bells at hours appointed, and to take care that the floor of the Kirk was cleanly swept. 2. The Prebend of St. Mary; to whom was given the Chaplainry of St. Mary, and Vicaridge of Evie: he was to have the care of the roof and windows of the Cathedral, and to see them amended if need were. 3. The Prebend of St. Magnus; to whom was allotted the Prebendary of St. Magnus: he was to be Confessor of the housholds of the Bishop, Provost, Canons and Chaplains, and the Servants in the time of Easter, and to administer the Eucharist to them. The fourth Prebend was to have the Chaplainry of St. John the Evangelist, in the said Cathedral Kirk. The fifth Prebend, was to have the Chaplainry of St. Lawence: The sixth was to have the Prebendary of St. Catherine: and the seventh Prebend, was to have the Prebendary of St. Duthas. To which seven Dignities, and seven Prebendaries, he moreover assigned and allotted (besides the former Kirks, and Titles) the Rents and Revenues of the Parsonages of St. Colme in Waes, and Holy Cross in Westra, as also the Vicaridges of the Parish-Churches of Sandwick and Stromness with their appurtenances, for their daily distributions.

Besides these, he erected thirteen Chaplains: To the first was allotted the Chaplainry of St. Peter, and he was to be Master of the Grammar-School. To the second was allotted the Chaplainry of St. Augustin, and he was to be Master of the Singing-School. The third was to be Stallarius, or the Bishop’s Chorister. The fourth, the Provost’s Chorister. The fifth, the Arch-Deacon’s. The sixth, the Precentor’s. The seventh, the Chancellor’s. The eighth, the Treasurer’s. The ninth, the Sub-Dean’s. The tenth, the Prebendary’s of Holy-Cross. The eleventh, the Prebendary’s of St. Mary. The twelfth, the Prebendary’s of St. Catharine. The thirteenth, the Chaplain’s of Holy-Cross. Every one of these Choristers were to have twenty four Meils of Corn, and ten Marks of Money for their Stipend yearly, besides their daily distributions, which were to be raised from the Rents of the Vicaridge of the Cathedral Kirk, and from the foundation of Thomas, Bishop of Orkney, and of the twelve pounds amortised by King James the third, and King James the fourth, Kings of Scotland. The office of which Choristers, was to sing Mass, evening and morning, by turns.

To these he added a Sacrist, who was to ring the Bells, and light the Lamps, and carry water and fire into the Church, and to go before the Procession with a white rod, after the manner of a Beadle; and for this, he was to have the accustomed Revenue, together with forty Shillings from the Bishop yearly.

Moreover, he ordained six Boys, who were to be Taper-bearers, and to sing the responsories and verses in the Quire, as they were to be ordered by the Chantor. Of which six Boys, one was to be nominated and maintained by the Bishop. The second, by the Prebend of St. Magnus. The third, by the Prebend of St. John. The fourth, by the Prebend of St. Lawrence. The fifth, by the Prebend of St. Catharine. The sixth, by the Prebend of St. Duthas. And every one of them, besides their maintenance, was to have twenty Shillings Scotch, a year.

Moreover, to every one of the aforesaid Dignities, Canons and Prebends, he assigned certain Lands in Kirkwall for their Mansions.

The Charter of this Erection, is dated at Kirkwall, October the 28th, Anno 1544. And, in the following year, it was confirmed by another Charter, granted by David Beaton, Cardinal of St. Stephen in Monte Celio, Presbyter of the Church of Rome, and Archbishop of St. Andrews; having authority so to do. It is dated at Sterling, the last of June, and the eleventh year of Pope Paul the third, and was confirmed by Queen Mary at Edenburgh, the last of April, Anno Regni 13.

In which condition the Church continued, as long as Popery stood; but the Reformation coming in, and Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, having obtained the Bishoprick from Bishop Bothwel (by the exchange of the Abbey of Holy-Rood-House,) became sole Lord of the Country: whereupon, he, and his son Earl Patrick, who succeeded him, did in the Church as they pleased.

At last, James Law being made Bishop of Orkney, and the Earldom being united to the Crown (by the death and forfeiture of the aforesaid Patrick Stewart;) He, with the consent of his Chapter, made the following Contract with King James the sixth. They resign’d to the King and his successors, all their Ecclesiastical Lands and Possessions, with all rights and securities belonging thereto, to be incorporated and united to the Crown; especially, such as should be thought necessary to be united to it. And the King gave back, and disponed to the Bishop, several Lands in the Parishes of Ham, Orphir, Stromness, Sandwick, Shapensha, Waes, Hoy, St. Ola, and of Evie, Burra and Flotta, to be a Patrimony to the Bishop and his Successors for ever; together with (b) many other Powers, Privileges, and Jurisdictions.

This Contract was made Anno 1614; And in the year following, by an Act dated at Edinburgh the 22th of November, the several Dignities and Ministers, both in the Bishoprick and Earldom, were provided to particular maintenances (besides what they were in possession of before,) payable, by the King and Bishop, to the Ministers in their several bounds respectively.

(b) Disponing to him and his Successors, the right of patronage to all the Vicaridges of Orkney and Zetland, with power to Present qualified Ministers as oft as any Kirk should be vacant. Disponing also to them the heritable and perpetual right and jurisdiction of Sheriffship and Bailiffry within the Bishoprick and Patrimony thereof, and exempting the Inhabitants and Vassals of the Bishoprick, in all causes, civil and criminal, from the jurisdiction of the Sheriffs and Stewards of the Earldom. As also, he disponed to the Bishop and his Successors, the Commissariot of Orkney and Zetland, with power to constitute and ordain Commissaries, Clerks, and other members of Court. In which contract, it was moreover agreed, that the Minister of South-Ronaldsha, Dean; the Minister of Birsha, Arch Deacon; the Minister of Lady-Kirk in Sanda, Chancellor; the Minister of Stronsa Treasurer; and the Parson of Westra; should be a sufficient Chapter: And that their consents should be as available for any deed to be done by the Bishops of Orkney, as the fullest Chapter of any Cathedral Kirk within the Kingdom.

Thus far of the present State of the Isles of Orkney; the Antiquities which have been observ’d in them, are as follow.

Their Antiquities; from the same Author. There is in Hoy, lying between two Hills, a Stone called the Dwarfie Stone,Dwarfie Stone. thirty six foot long, eighteen foot broad, and nine foot thick; hollowed within by the hand of some Mason, (for the prints of the Mason’s Irons are to be seen on it to this hour) with a square hole of about two foot high for the entry; and a stone proportionable, standing before it for the door. Within it, at one end, is a Bed excellently hewen out of the stone, with a Pillow, wherein two men may conveniently lie at their full length; at the other end is a Couch, and in the middle a hearth for a fire, with a round hole cut-out above, for the chimney. It is thought to be the residence of some melancholy Hermit: but the vulgar Legend says, there was once a famous Giant residing in that Island, who, with his wife, lived in that same Stone, as their Castle.

At the west-end of that Stone stands an exceeding high Mountain of a steep ascent, call’d The Wart-hill of Hoy.Wart-hill. Near the top of which, in the Months of May, June, and July, about mid-day, is seen something that shines and sparkles in a surprizing manner, and which may be discerned a great way off. It hath formerly shined more brightly than it does now: but what that is (though many have climbed up the hill, and attempted to search for it) none could ever find. The vulgar talk of it as some enchanted Carbuncle; but I rather take it to be some water, sliding down the face of a smooth rock, and when the Sun, at such a time, shines upon it, the reflexion causeth that wonderful shining.

Stennis. At Stennis, where the Loch is narrowest, in the middle, having a Causey of Stones over it for a bridge;Rounds; probably Heathen Temples. there is, at the south-end of the bridge, a Round, set about with high smooth stones or flags (without any engraving) about twenty foot high above-ground, six foot broad, and a foot or two thick. Between that Round and the Bridge, are two Stones standing, of the same largeness with the rest; whereof one hath a round hole in the midst. And at the other end of the Bridge, about half a mile removed from it, is a larger Round, about an hundred and ten paces diameter, set about, with such Stones as the former, only some of them are fallen down. And both to the East and West of this bigger round, are two green Mounts, artificial as is thought. Both these Rounds are ditched about. Some conceive, that these Rounds have been places wherein two opposite Armies encamped; but others more probably think, that they were the High-places in the Pagan times, whereon Sacrifices were offered; and that these two Mounts were the places where the Ashes of the Sacrifices were flung. And this is the more probable, because Boethius, in the life of Mainus, King of Scots, makes mention of that kind of high Stones; calling them the Temples of the Gods. His words are these, In memory of what King Mainus ordained concerning the worship of the Gods, there remain yet in our days many huge Stones, drawn together in form of a Circle, and named by the people, The ancient Temples of the Gods; and it raises no small admiration, to consider, by what art or strength such huge Stones have been brought together.

You will find besides, in many other places of this Country, Obelisks,Obelisks. or huge high Stones, set in the ground like the former, and standing apart; and indeed they are so large, that who ever sees them, must wonder by what Engines they have been erected. These are thought to have been set up either as a Memorial of some famous battle, or as a Monument of some remarkable person who has been buried there; that way of honouring deserving and valiant men, being the invention of King Reutha, as Boethius says.

There is in Rousay, amidst high mountains, a place called The Camps of Jupiter Fring:Camps of Jupiter Fring. the name is strange, and should import some notable accident; but what it was I have not been able to learn.

Street, with figured Stones. At the West-end of the Main-land, near Skeall, on the top of high rocks, above a quarter of a mile in length, there is something like a Street, all set in red clay, with a sort of reddish Stones of several figures and magnitudes; having the images and representations of several things, as it were engraven upon them. And which is very strange, most of these Stones, when they are raised up, have that same image engraven under, which they had above. That they are so figured by art, is not probable; nor can the reason of nature’s way, in their engraving, be readily given.fossils

Burying-Places. In the Links of Skeall, where Sand is blown away with the wind, are found several places built quadrangularly, about a foot square, surrounded with Stones well-cemented together, and a Stone lying in the mouth; having some black earth in them. The like of which are found in the Links of Rousum in Stronsa, where also is a very remarkable Monument. It is a whole round stone like a barrel, hollow within, and sharp edged at the top, having the bottom joyn’d like the bottom of a barrel. On the mouth, was a round stone, answerable to the mouth of the Monument; and above that, a large stone for the preservation of the whole: within was nothing but red clay and burnt bones; which was sent to Sir Robert Sibbald, but the Monument it self was broken in pieces, as they were taking it from its seat. It is like, that this, as also the other four-square Monuments, have been some of those antient Urns, wherein the Romans, when they were in this country, laid up the ashes of their dead.

Likewise in the Links of Tranabie in Westra, have been found graves in the sand (after the sand hath been blown away by the wind;) in one of which was seen a man lying with his sword on the one hand, and a Danish ax on the other: and some; who have had dogs, and combs, and knives, buried with them. This seems to be an instance of the way, in which the Danes (when they were in this country) buried their dead; as the former was of the Roman manner. Beside, in many places of the country, are found little hillocks, which may be supposed to be the Sepulchres of the antient Peights. For Tacitus tells us, that it was the way of the antient Romans, and Verstegan, that it was the way of the antient Germans and Saxons, to lay dead bodies on the ground, and cover them over with turfs and clods of earth, in the fashion of a little hillock. Hence it seems, that the many houses and villages in this country which are called by the name of Brogh, and which are all built upon or beside some such hillock, have been cemeteries for the burying of the dead in the time of the Pights and Saxons: for the word Brogh in the Teutonick Language, signifies a burying-place.

In one of these Hillocks, near the circle of high Stones, at the North end of the bridge of Stennis, there were found nine Fibulæ of Silver, of the shape of a Horse-shoe; but round.Fibulae

Ruins of ancient Buildings. Moreover, in many places, are to be seen the ruins and vestigia of great, but antique, buildings, most of them now covered with earth, and called Pight-houses;Pight-houses. some of which, it is like, have been the forts and residences of the Pights or Danes, when they possess’d this country.

Among the rest, there is one in the Isle of Wyre, called The Castle of Cubberow (or rather Coppirow,Coppirow-Castle. which, in the Teutonick Language, signifies a tower of security from outward violence:) It is trenched about: but nothing now remains, besides the first story. It is a perfect square, and the wall is eight foot thick, and strongly built, and cemented with lime. The breadth or length within the walls is not above ten foot, having a large door and a small slit for the window. Of this Cubbirow, the common people report many idle fables, not fit to be inserted here.

Unusual Fires and Lights. In the Parish of Evie,Evie. near the Sea, are some small hillocks, which frequently, in the night-time, appear all in a fire. Likewise, the Kirk of Evie, called St. Nicholas,St. Nicholas. is seen full of lights, as if torches or candles were burning in it all night. This amazes the people greatly; but possibly it is nothing but some thick glutinous meteor, that receives that light in the Night-time.

Superstition about Iron. At the Noup-head in Westra, is a rock surrounded with the Sea, called Less;Less. which, the Inhabitants of that Isle tell you, has this strange property, that if a man go upon it, having any Iron about him (if it were but an Iron nail in his shoe) the Sea will instantly swell in such a tempestuous way, that no boat can come near to take him off; and that the Sea will not be settled, till the piece of Iron be flung into it. A * * Mr. Wallace.person, being there to make an experiment of it, offered a Reward to a poor man to go upon the rock with a piece of Iron; but he would not do it on any terms.

Sometimes, about this country, are seen those men, which are called Finnmen.Finn-men. In the year 1682, one was seen, sometime sailing, sometime rowing in his little boat, at the South-end of the Isles of Eda: most of the people of the Isle flocked to see him, and when they adventured to put out a boat with men, to try if they could apprehend him, he presently fled away, with great speed. And in the year 1684, another was seen from Westra, and, for a while after they caught few or no fish: for they have this remark here, that the Finnmen drive away the fish from the place to which they come. These Finnmen seem to be some of the People that dwell about the Fretum Davis; a full account of whom may be seen in The natural and moral History of the Antilles. Chap.18. One of their boats, sent from Orkney to Edinburgh, is to be seen in the Physicians hall, with the oar, and the dart that he makes use of for killing of fish.⌉

Earls of Orkney. As for the Earls of Orkney; not to mention the more ancient ones, who also held the Earldom of Cathness and Strathern by inheritance; this title did at last by an heir female descend to William de Sentcler; and William, the fourth Earl of that Family, sirnam’d the Prodigal, who run out his estate, and was the last Earl of the family. Yet his posterity have enjoy’d the honour of Barons Sentcler, till † † Anno 1607.this time; and the title of Cathness also remains at this day, in the posterity of his brother. But as for the honourable title of Earl of Orkney, it was, * * In our time, C.together with the title of Lord of Shetland, conferr’d upon Robert, a natural son of King James the fifth; which his son Patrick Steward† Enjoys at this day, C.forfeited for Treason.

⌈In our time, the title of Earl of Orkney hath been confer’d upon Lord George Hamilton, Son of William Duke of Hamilton; on account, as well of his high Birth, as his signal Services to the Crown in the Wars of Ireland and Flanders.⌉

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06