Monday 20th December

Today we look at one of Edinburgh’s writers, memorialised on the walls of St Giles’, in Writer’s corner

John Stuart Blackie, an Edinburgh based scholar, poet and writer. A professor of Greek at Edinburgh University he was also proud of his Scottish heritage, he wrote a song about St Giles’ infamous Jenny Geddes who is known for provoking a riot after hurling a stool at the Dean of the cathedral in protest of the Anglican prayerbook in 1637.

The Song of Jenny Geddes

  ‘Twas the twenty-third of July, in the sixteen thirty-seven,
On the Sabbath morn from high St. Giles the solemn peal was given;
King Charles had sworn that Scottish men should pray by printed rule;
He sent a book, but never dreamt of danger from a stool.

The Council and the Judges, with ermined pomp elate,
The Provost and the Bailies in gold and crimson state,
Fair silken-vested ladies, grave doctors of the school,
Were there to please the King, and learn the virtues of a stool.

The Bishop and the Dean came in wi’ muckle gravity,
Right smooth and sleek, but lordly pride was lurking in their e’e;
Their full lawn sleeves were blown and big, like seals in briny pool;
They bore a book, but little thought they soon should feel a stool.

The Dean he to the alter went, and, with a solemn look,
He cast his eyes to heaven, and read the curious-printed book:
In Jenny’s heart the blood upwelled with bitter anguish full;
Sudden she started to her legs, and stoutly grasped the stool!

As when a mountain wildcat springs upon a rabbit small,
So Jenny on the Dean springs, with gush of holy gall;
Wilt thou say mass at my lugs, thou popish-puling fool?
No! No! She said, and at his head she flung the three-legged stool.

A bump, a thump! A smash, a crash! Now gentle folks beware!
Stool after stool, like rattling hail, came twirling through the air,
With, well done, Jenny! Bravo, Jenny! That’s the proper tool!
When the Devil will out, and shows his snout, just meet him with a stool!

The Council and the Judges were smitten with strange fear,
The ladies and the Bailies their seats did deftly clear,
The Bishop and the Dean went in sorrow and in dool,
And all the Popish flummery fled when Jenny showed the stool!

And thus a mighty deed was done by Jenny’s valiant hand,
Black Prelacy and Popery she drove from Scottish land;
King Charles he was a shuffling knave, priest Laud a meddling fool,
But Jenny was a woman wise, who beat them with a stool!

No prizes for guessing who Blackie sympathised with! His memorial was erected in 1895 with a plaque which was designed by Robert Lorimer.

by John Moffat, albumen carte-de-visite on paper mount, 1860s.
Source: National Portrait Gallery, London