In 1625 Charles I succeeded to the British throne but, although he had been born in Scotland, he had been brought up in England and lacked his father James VI and I’s shrewd understanding of his northern kingdom. His ecclesiastical policies soon gave rise to opposition in Scotland and in 1637 there was a riot in St Giles’ by people protesting against an English-style prayer book which Charles was determined to introduce. When Dean James Hannay began to read from it, legend has it that a local woman named Jenny Geddes hurled at his head the folding stool on which she had been seated, shouting, ‘Dinna say Mass in my lug!’ (‘Don’t say Mass in my ear!’).
No documentary evidence has been found to prove the existence of a Jenny Geddes at that time, and one theory suggests that she and her friends were actually apprentices disguised in women’s clothing. Whatever the truth of it, a riot certainly followed and ‘Jenny Geddes’ earned a long-lasting reputation as a Protestant heroine who stood up for her ecclesiastical principles. Two carefully worded 19th century plaques commemorate both the Dean and herself, and in 1992 a group of some forty Scotswomen presented St Giles’ with a bronze sculpture representing her three-legged stool, by Merilyn Smith.