This plaque, and the woman that it commemorates, is unfortunately nothing to do with our branch of the Geddes family, who came from Caithness. The plaque is in St Giles Kirk, on the Edinburgh Royal Mile.
"CONSTANT ORAL TRADITION AFFIRMS THAT NEAR THIS SPORT A BRAVE SCOTCH WOMAN JANET GEDDES ON THE 23 JULY 1637 STRUCK THE FIRST BLOW IN THE GREAT STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE WHICH AFTER A CONFLICT OF HALF A CENTURY ENDED IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES"
Jenny Geddes (c. 1600 – c. 1660) was a Scottish market-trader in Edinburgh, who is alleged to have thrown her stool at the head of the minister in St Giles' Cathedral in objection to the first public use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in Scotland. The act is reputed to have sparked the riot which led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War.
Since the early years of the 17th century, the Scottish Church had been established on the same Episcopalian basis as its English cousin, but was far more puritan, both in doctrine and practice. In 1633 King Charles I came to St Giles' to have his Scottish coronation service, using the full Anglican rites, accompanied by William Laud, his new Archbishop of Canterbury. In the years that followed he began to consider ways of introducing Anglican-style church services on Scotland. The King arranged a Commission to draw up a prayer book suitable for Scotland, and in 1637 an Edinburgh printer produced: The BOOKE OF Common Prayer AND Administration Of The Sacraments:And other parts of divine Servicefor the use of the CHURCH OF SCOTLAND. These developments met with widespread opposition.
The first use of the prayer book was in St Giles' on Sunday 23 July 1637, when James Hannay, Dean of Edinburgh, began to read the Collects, part of the prescribed service, and Jenny Geddes, a market-woman or street-seller, threw her stool straight at the Minister's head. Some sources describe it as a "fald stool" or a "creepie-stool" meaning a folding stool as shown flying towards the Dean in the illustration, while others claim that it was a larger, three-legged cuttie-stool. As she hurled the stool she is reported to have yelled: "De'il gie you colic, the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?" meaning "Devil cause you colic in your stomach, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?".
This was the start of a general tumult with much of the congregation shouting abuse and throwing Bibles, stools, sticks and stones. Prebble reports the phrase "Daur ye say Mass in my lug?" as being addressed to a gentleman in the congregation who murmured a dutiful response to the liturgy, getting thumped with a Bible for his pains, and describes Jenny as one of a number of "waiting-women" who were paid to arrive early and sit on their folding stools to hold a place for their patrons. The rioters were ejected by officers summoned by the Provost, but for the rest of the service hammered at the doors and threw stones at the windows.
More serious rioting in the streets (and in other cities) followed, and the Provost and magistrates were besieged in the City Chambers, to the extent that it became necessary to negotiate with the Edinburgh mob. At the suggestion of the Lord Advocate it appointed a committee known as the Tables to negotiate with the Privy Council. Characteristically, Charles turned down the Tables' demands for withdrawal of the Anglican liturgy and more riots ensued with talk of civil war. This led to widespread signing of the National Covenant in February 1638, with its defiance of any attempt to introduce innovations like the Prayer Book that had not first been subject to the scrutiny of Parliament and the General Assembly of the Church. In November of the same year, the bishops and archbishops were formally expelled from the Church of Scotland, which was then established on a full Presbyterian basis. Charles reacted by launching the Bishops' Wars, thus beginning the Wars of Three Kingdoms.
In the aftermath of the riots definitive evidence is hard to come by, and some doubt if Jenny Geddes started the fight or if she even existed, but she remains a part of Edinburgh tradition and has long had a memorial in St Giles.
© Jo Edkins 2014 - Return to Geddes index