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James Melville's school days, 1569

Woodcut of someone writing with a quill pen.Burghs across Scotland had grammar schools for the sons of wealthy lairds, merchants and burgesses. The boys learned to read and write, studied Latin and French and recited psalms and extracts from the Bible. They also played a variety of games including archery, golf, fencing and wrestling. Girls were taught separately, either in their own homes or in classes taken by women. They learned to sew, cook and prepare household remedies using plants and herbs and some girls learned to write and sign their names.

James Melville recorded details of his education as a boy in Montrose. Two of his teachers were William Gray and Andrew Milne. James referred to William's sister, Marjory, as his mother because she looked after him as if he were her own son. He wrote little about his lessons but remembered the mischief he got up to.

You may find the language of this transcript unusual because James Melville wrote in Scots rather than in English, and because punctuation was used differently in the 16th century. Read the transcript aloud to help you understand what James Melville is saying.

Print a copy of the transcript (Rich Text Format, 9KB, new window)


So I was put to the school of Montrose, finding, of God’s guid providence, my auld mother Marjorie Gray who parting from her brother at his marriage, had takin upe hous and school for lasses in Montrose; to her I was welcome againe as her awin sone.

The maister of the school, a learned, honest, kind man,… Mr Andro Miln,… causit us… to enter and pas throw the first part of Grammer of Sebastian,… and were exercis’d in composition;… the Georgics
[poems] of Virgill and dyvers other things. I never got a strak of his hand, howbeit I committed twa lourd [stupid] faultes as it were with fyre and sword:

Having the candle in my hand on a wintar night, before sax hours, in the school sitting in the class… playing with the bent
[rushes on the floor], it kendlit so on fyre, that we had all ado to put it out with our feit.

The other was, being molested by a condisciple
[fellow-pupil], who cutted the stringes of my pen and ink-horn with his pen-knyff, I minting [aiming at] with my pen-knyff to his legges to fley him, he feared, and… rasht [came down] on his leg upon my knyff, and strak himselff a deipe wound in the schin of the leg, quhilk was a quarter of a yeir in curing.

(The Diary of Mr James Melville, 1566-1601, Bannatyne Club (Edinburgh, 1829), p.17)




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