Alice Glaze, “Women Before the Kirk: Godly Discipline in Canongate [Scotland], 1640-1650,” M.A. thesis, Department of History, 2009. Supervisor: Gordon DesBrisay.
The burgh of Canongate, situated next to Edinburgh, was deeply affected by the British Civil Wars (1638-49). The Canongate kirk session records, the parish-based bureaucratic and disciplinary records of the Reformed (Presbyterian) Kirk, provide a detailed portrait of daily life in Canongate during that tumultuous period. The records are particularly revealing of early modern gender history as they show how both men and women interacted with the local kirk, and reveal key social trends in the burgh, especially relating to sex and marriage. Illicit sex and its issue—adultery, fornication and illegitimacy—were a common and serious concern for the Reformed Kirk, and their persecution was more of a national preoccupation than in England or other parts of Europe. This concern is reflected in the large number of fornication and adultery cases that came before the Canongate kirk session between 1640 and 1650. The marital partnership, as the economic and social cornerstone of early modern society, was also an important issue in Canongate, and the kirk session records provide a glimpse at the nature and significance of marriage in the parish. Scotland’s kirk session records offer one of few windows into the daily lives of early modern women, and they allow us to see some of the many ways in which women were active agents in the kirk’s system of “godly discipline”. Through the Canongate kirk session records, therefore, it is possible to glean understanding about Scottish women’s lives in relation to one of the most rigorous disciplinary systems of early modern Europe.