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Wappons an Weirs

Fitba haes a lang history in Scotland tho it wisna necessar the gemm that awbody kens the day, played wi ae set o rules. Oor ordnar accoonts o the gemm taks tent o its history maistly fae the 1860’s but haesna ower muckle tae say anent the hunners o year aforehaun. In the Middle Ages the gemm wis cryed doun acause it drew men awa fae airchery, a skeel o airms Scotland’s kings wantit for tae fend the kinrik agin Ingland. Aince Scotland brak fae Rome in 1560, fitba wis affen regairdit bi the new kirk as a relic o Catholic fests an disrespectfae o the Sabbath, an sae the meenisters noo dung it doun for thae reasons. In mair modren times fitba haes affen oxtert wi fechts, stramashes, an releegious hatrents, baith on the grund an aff. For aw that, mony fowk wad caw it, tae lift Pele’s words - the bonnie gemm - full o skeel an pass, rare tae watch, an the springheid o kenspeckle characters.

We first hear o fitba in the ring o King Jeems I (rang 1406-37) that wantit tae gie a heize til airchery sae that he haed skeely airchers for the weirs. But the king maun’a fund that fitba wis gettin in the road o airchery practice. Feart that his subjects wis lossin oot on guid practice, Jeems brocht the Estates o Scotland thegither tae pass a puckle acts comprehendin a ban on fitba. At the pairlament held in Perth in Mey 1424 it wis inactit:

   “ITEM it is statut and the king forbiddis þt na man play at þe fut ball vnder þe payne of iiij d to be raysit to þe lorde of þe lande als oft as he be tayntyt or to þe shiref of the land or his ministeris gif the lordis will nocht punisch sic trespassouris.” [i]

 (Item it is inactit an the king forbids aw men fae playin at the fitba unner the penalty o fower pence tae be liftit wi the lord o the land whaur thae men bides, as affen as thay dae it, or bi the sheriff or his officers whan the lord fails tae punish them.)

The proveesion that the sheriff an baillies shuid fine fowk “...gif the lordis will nocht...” gars a body think that the lairds an nobles affen turnt a blin ee tae tenants playin the gemm, or, deed, that the lords and lairds likit a kick aboot thairsels. The fact that Jeems II o the Fiery Face (rang 1437-60) passt anither act in 1457 shaws that some men gied deif lugs tae the first act. The backgrund tae this wis the ootbrek o weir wi Ingland again, an Jeems II lichtit on the borders tae siege hooses o strength that haed been taen bi the Inglis years afore. The king wantit his subjects tae haud wapponshaws braid Scotland fower time in the year wi the ettle that thay wad become skeely in airchery as the commons in Ingland wis. The act pit throu threapit:

 “And at þe fut ball ande þe golf be vtterly cryit doune and nocht vsyt Ande at þe bowe makaris be maid at ilk paroch kirk a pair of buttis and schuting be vsyt ilk Sunday... “ [ii]

(An that the fitba an the gowf be awthegither cryed doun an no practised. An that the bow makars maks a pair o butts at ilka paroch kirk an shootin be practised ilka Sunday...)

Jeems III (rang 1460-88) - a king that isna quotit in feats o airms - fund that his ettles at peace wi Ingland didna win him freens at hame. Or lang he wis aw oot wi Ingland an in 1471 passt anither act gey near self an same as the twa that haed gane afore:

 “ ITEM Swa þat in defawt of þe said wapinschawyn our Soverane lordis leigis be nocht destitut of harnes quhen þai haf neid and at þe futbal & golf be abusit in tym cummyng & þe buttis maid vp & schuting vsit eftir þe tenor of þe act of parlyament.” [iii]

(Item sae that in defaut o the said wapponshaws oor Sovereign lord’s subjects isna left in want o the richt geir whan wantit, an that the fitba an gowf isna used ony mair, an the butts made up an shootin is giein a heize conform tae the act o pairlament.)

The acts abuin shaws that fitba wis awready faurben the herts o mony fowk in Scotland in the 15t century an this liking wis common amang the nobles an the royal coort forby. Jeems IV (rang 1488-1513) like his forebears took a parteeclar intress in weirfare an in the weys he cuid fend Scotland agin Ingland, tho the tentie wad say that Flodden shawed Jeems wisna ony general. As the ambassador fae Spainy aince remarkit, the king sterts tae fecht afore he gies his orders. Jeems IV wis a rare king wi mony an intress in medicine, the airts, langage, an sports forby, but whan it cam tae the maiter o makkin weir, he follaed the auld acts. In 1491 the Estates convened in Embra an approved anither decreet agin ‘vnproffitable’ fitba an gowf:

“ITEM...And attour that In na place of the Realme be vsit fut bawis gouff or vthir sic vnproffitable sporte bot for commoun gude & defence of the realme be hantit bowis schuting...”.[iv]

( mair abuin that in nae place o the realm shuid fitba, gowf or ither wastefae sports be practised but only the custom o shootin bows for the common guid an fendin the realm.)

This time ony body fund playin at fitba wis tae be fined 11 shillings bi the sheriff or baillies. But we ken that King Jeems didna adhere til his ain act acause the accompts o his ain thesaurer shaws that in Aprile 1497 twa shillings wis “...giffin to Jame Dug to by fut ballis to the king.” [v] Nooadays we wad caw him face-aroond, but he wis the king efter aw.


[i] The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, (House of Commons, 1845) , II, held at Perth 26 Mey 1424, p.5.

[ii] Ilk, held at Embra 6 Mairch 1457/8, page 48.

[iii] Ilk, held at Embra 6 Mey 1471, p.100.

[iv] The Acts Of The Parliaments Of Scotland, II, held at Embra 28 Aprile 1491,  p.226

[v] Thomas Dickson (ed), Accounts Of The Lord High Treasurer Of Scotland, I 1473-1498, (Edinburgh, 1877), p.330.