The Haddington brods
The 16th century Reformation in Scotland changed more than the way that communities worshiped. Before the overthrow of Catholicism a benefactor might have willed money or property to the support of an altar (and its priest) in the parish Church in return for masses said in remembrance. After, that avenue was no longer available. Instead, parishioners were encouraged to remember the poor in their legacies. Eventually, such generosity might be acknowledged in the Church by the display of a ‘paintit brod’ – a picture board – expressing the amount and terms of the bequest. The display of brods was not without its detractors. Some ministers felt that brods were ‘abuses in the kirk (that) have crept in’; in other places they simply went out of fashion.
Haddington is fortunate that a number of brods have survived, some of which remain in St Marys and some in the Museum Service collection. Most of the bequests date from the second half of the 17th century or the early 18th century. They provide a fascinating window on the past.
The donations came from the congregation or former congregants. Nearby landowners are amongst them, but also those relocated elsewhere in Scotland and even abroad – one bequest came from the colony of Virginia.
The name of the donor is always present, often modified by a title or office held – provost (the head of the town council) and bailie (a magistrate and councillor) appear more than once as do portioner (a minor landholder) and burgess (an enfranchised citizen). About half the donors are women.
The value of the donations is recorded in various currencies: Merks, Pounds Scots and even Dollars.
A Pound Scots was by the period of the Haddington brods equivalent to 1 shilling and 8 pence Sterling (12 Pounds Scots equalled 1 Pound Sterling).
Merks were seldom coined, being originally the weight of gold reckoned in money terms; a merk was equivalent to 13 shillings and 4 pence Scots (itself equal to 13 1/3 pence Sterling: now about 5 ½ pence).
Dollar was applied to variously to Scottish coinage at different times (and for two centuries before being adopted as the currency of the United States). Amongst the confusing coinage issued by the Stewart kings ‘Thistle Dollars’ were worth 2 Merks, which may be the intent of the term on the Haddington brods.