"SHADES OF SHYLOCK"

Johnne Drymie "Ockerer" In Dundee

In the year 1612, Johnne Drymie in Dundee, amongst many others at this time,
fell foul of the law relating to Usury.
An Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1587 had stated the following,
"It is not lesum (lawful) to take ane greater rent for the 100 pundes
nor 10 pundes or five bolles victual".
So the taking of intrest on money lent became respectable
so long as you were willing to take no more than the stated ten per cent.

Prior to this the attitude of the church held that Usury was moraly wrong
although it was much in evidence from the records of such as, David Wedderburn
merchant in Dundee who in 1596 had "lent James Kyd...x lib in Inglis money
to be payit this day 8 dayis under the pane of dubling thairof."

In the years following this act not much attention was paid to the letter of the law
and in the following twenty years excess rates raged by connivance.
Then in 1610-11 the Government realising what was going on
began to crack down on the lawbreakers.
As this encompassed almost everyone the convention of burghs was most concerned
and appointed four commissioners to proceed to the King, to plead,
for a discharge from the "penal act" against the taking of more than "ten of the hunder."

It soon became apparent to the Government that the extent of the problem was too great
for the ordinary processes of the law and a powerful Commission was appointed,
to report on those, "poenall laws which have heirtofoir beine left in sik deswetude.......
as micht have induced the subjects to expect impunitie of contraveining the same."
Its report, embodied in an act of 1612, tendered the advice that pardon
should be extended to, all who before Martinmas 1611, had taken not more than 12 per cent.
All others were to suffer as the laws prescribed;
and during the course of 1612 some 350 "ockerers" were rounded up for prosecution.
In short, the vital distinction was clearly preserved:
what the Act of 1587 called "exorbitant profit ......taken for the lene of money"
was condemned by the laws of God and of the realm,
but any rate of 10 per cent or below was legal, if not wholly morally commendable.
The sin lay not in cutting the flesh, but in exceeding the alloted pound.

The Lord Advocate had raised an action against Jhonne Drymmie in Dundee for the above practises
and summond him and the others to appear to answer the charge,
failure to do so would result in confiscation of all their goods and punishment of their person.
Only one appeared to answer the charge and the rest including Jhonne were denounced rebels.

When we consider what punishment of their person meant it is not surprising that they were loath to comply.
In the late 1560's, for example, a series of executions took place for the importing of false coin
and the culprits; "heidis, armis and leggis" were put on display in their home towns of Dundee and Perth.



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Last Update To This Page 27th December 2004
©Alan Mitchell Drummie 2004