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Keeping the Wolf from the Door

Woodcut showing a wolf.

The wolf was the last of the large predators to roam Scotland. Although wolves probably died out in Scotland in the 18th century, they were a threat to life and livestock for centuries, and the Scottish Parliament regularly passed acts offering rewards to those who caught and destroyed them. The document below is one of these acts in which a bounty or reward was offered to anyone killing a wolf.

This act was passed in March 1457 during the reign of James II (1437-1460). It states that during the period between St Mark's Day (25 April) and Lammas (1 August), described in the Act as the time of the 'quhelppis' (whelps, wolfcubs or young), the sheriff can gather hunting parties. Anyone who successfully kills a wolf is instructed to present the head to the local sheriff, baillie or baron to receive the reward of six pence. Hunting wolves was mandatory - although probably at the discretion of the local sheriff or landowner - and was common practice. 'The Auld Act' referred to is clearly a previous piece of legislation concerning wolves, but it is not clear which act is referred to.

There are several folk tales about 'The Last Wolf in Scotland'. In his book 'A Tour of Scotland' (1775), Thomas Pennant claimed that the last wolf in Scotland was killed by Sir Ewan Cameron of Lochiel in 1680 near Killiecrankie.

In the last ten years there has been much discussion about the possibility of re-introducing wolves into Scotland. You can read more about this discussion and the arguments for and against at The Wolves and Humans Foundation website [opens in new window].

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Act for the Destruction of Wolves


Item it is ordanit for the distructioun of wolfis, that in ilk cuntrie quhair ony is, the Schiref or the Baillies of that cuntrie sall gadder the cuntrie folk thre tymes in the yeir, betwixt Sanct Markis day and Lambnes, for that is the tyme of the quhelppis. And quhat ever he be that rysis not with the Schiref, Baillie, or Barrone within him self, sall pay unforgeuin a wedder, as is contenit in the auld act maid thereupone. And he that slayis ane wolf in ony tyme, he sall haue of ilk houshalder of that parochin that the wolf is slaine within, a penny. And gif ony wolf happinnis to cum in the cuntrie that wit be gottin of, the cuntrie salbe reddy, and ilk houshalder to hunt thame under the pane foirsaid. And they that slayis ane wolf sall bring the heid to the Schiref, Baillie, or Barrone, and he salbe dettour to the slayar for the soume foirsaid. And quhatsumeuer he be, that slayis ane wolf, and bringis the heid to the Schiref, Lord, Baillie, or Barrone, he sall have vi d.


Item: It is ordained for the destruction of wolves that in any area where there are wolves, the sheriff or baillies [magistrates] of that area shall gather the local people three times in the year, between St Mark's Day [25 April] and Lammas [1 August], for that is the time of the whelps. [Presumably those gathered were to go on a hunting trip although this is not actually stated.] Whoever does not join with the sheriff, baillie or baron shall pay a fine of a wedder [either a castrated male lamb or the current market value of one] as the old act stipulates. If anyone slays a wolf at any time, every householder in the parish shall pay him a penny. If it is known that a wolf has been spotted in an area, every local householder should be ready to hunt it under the pain of the wedder fine above. If anyone slays a wolf, he must bring the head to the sheriff, baillie or baron and the sheriff, baillie or baron will be debtor to [pay] the wolf slayer the sum aforesaid. Anyone who slays a wolf and brings the head to the sheriff, lord, baillie or baron, shall be paid six pence.



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