School Shooting, Circa 1595
ABOVE: The badge of Edinburgh, Scotland's Royal High School, scene of a tragic shooting on September 5, 1595.
by Jim McQuiston
Celtic Guide Magazine
When we hear of school shootings, we typically think of some crazed young man with an assault rifle taking the lives of sometimes dozens of innocent students in some city in America, something that happens virtually nowhere else in the world.
However, there is a story of a school shooting that took place in Scotland, whose anniversary is tomorrow (I am writing this on September 4th).
The Royal High School was the destination for many young men who were sons of wealthy families, and often the sons of clan chieftains.
The headmaster, Hercules Rollock, had been having a rough time reigning in the out-of-control adrenalin of these "rich kids".
Even though they had missed many lessons, the students still expected to get their typical autumn vacation, but Rollock refused, saying that they had lost the privilege due to their unruly behavior.
This didn't sit well with the ‘gentilmenis bairnis’ as they were called, in contemporary records.
Intent on revolt as their response, they “tuik the scooll, and provydit thauaeselfis with meit, drink, and hagbutis, pistolit and sword.”
When Rollock arrived at the school the next morning, he was not allowed to enter.
John Macmorran, one of the local baillies or magistrates, was called to assist and arrived at the head of a party of men to force an entrance.
Their presence only riled up the students more. They dared the lawmen to approach at their own peril.
The students were thought to be somewhat harmless and just a little out of control.
The main instigator of the student body was was William Sinclair, “sone to Williame Sinklar chansler of Catnes (Caithness).”
Sinclair was strongest in his defense of the vacation break that had been established through usage since anyone could remember.
It was likely William Sinclair himself who threatened instant death to any who should attempt to enter.
A history of the school tells us: “he vowit to God, he sould schute ane pair of bullettis throw his heid.”
However, Baillie Macmoran didn’t take such threats seriously, nor did he perceive that he was calling Sinclair’s bluff. He just thought the kids were out of control.
Macmorran led his men in an attempt to force the door, using a wooden beam as an improvised battering ram.
Moments later, he lay dead on the ground – as “Thair came ane scoller callit William Sinklar, and with ane pistollet schot out at ane window, and schott the said Baillie throw the heid, sua that he diet presentlie.”
The next day, the magistrates convened a meeting, the result of which was that a deputation, including the Provost, two of the Bailies, the Convener of the Trades, and seven Councillors, were dispatched to Falkland in Fife to advise the King.
The students were duly arrested but claimed that there could be no local jurisdiction as they were either the sons of barons or landed proprietors from elsewhere. They also claimed that as the magistrates were parties to the affair, they could not be impartial.
They asked the King to name an assize or jury with a majority comprising peers of the realm, which request James VI granted.
Unfortunately, what took place at that hearing isn’t known, as the record of the Justiciary Court for that period was lost. What is known is that soon afterwards, Sinclair and his cronies were set free.
This event didn't seem to hurt Sinclair's reputation long-term, as a few years down the road he was knighted as Sir William Sinclair of Mey, as his grandfather was the very powerful Earl of Caithness.
Seems that even back then the rich got away with it.