Atlas Historique

This image depicts the ‘riding of parliament’, the colourful ceremonial procession held at the opening and closing of each session, as portrayed in Nicholas de Gueudeville’s Atlas Historique, ou Nouvelle Introduction à l’Histoire à la Chronologie & à la Géographie Ancienne & Moderne (Amsterdam, 1720). From the dress and the procedure described, it is thought that the illustration depicts a riding from between 1680 and 1685. In the background is the only surviving image of the Scottish parliament in session.

The translation of the French text is as follows:

Scotland governs itself somewhat after the same laws as England, which consist of the civil law, ordinances of the kings and acts of parliament, which they call municipal laws. The royal authority over Scotland has the same prerogative as in England, for adjourning, proroguing or dissolving parliament, and increasing or diminishing the number of deputies which compose it. The crown is the soul of justice and of the laws. The power of making war and peace is entirely in the hands of the crown. All the officers, both on sea and land, and all the troops of the kingdom, are dependent on the king. He can raise loans, impose taxes and customs on all sorts of merchandise which enters or goes out of the kingdom, he can also force his subjects to furnish him with twenty thousand footmen and twenty thousand cavalry. The parliament represented in this plate is composed of the high nobility, the clergy, the deputies of the provinces and the deputies of the burghs. The clergy are represented by the archbishops of St Andrews and Glasgow, and the bishops of the kingdom; the archbishop of St Andrews is primate of the kingdom, the bishops are peers of the realm, and have, like those of England, courts wherein they judge without colleagues [? assessors], and all the acts of court proceed in their name and not that of the king. They preside at the provincial synods of their diocese, which are held twice a year in April and October, for reformation of habits. The nobility is divided into two classes: those of the first order are the lords, or peers of the realm, who are dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons. The number of these is almost as great as in England. The second degree of nobility comprises the lesser barons, who are the nobles sent by the provinces to attend in their name in parliament. They had formerly the right to appear personally, or to send as deputies whoever they wished, but the great expense in which they were involved made them beg James I to relieve them. This was accorded by an act in 1430, by which the king gave them liberty to come in person, or to send their deputies, without a fixed number. They lost this privilege by negligence or misfortune of civil war in such manner that, to re-establish the ancient form of government, James VI ordered each province to elect two nobles by a plurality of votes, that the deputes they sent should have the rank and quality of lesser barons, and ordained them to be called commissioners of counties. The people were represented in parliament by the deputies of the towns and burghs. When it pleased the king to convoke a parliament, the deputies travelled to Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, and assembled at the abbey of the Holy Cross, or Holyroodhouse, in order to proceed on foot or on horseback, as here represented. Having proceeded in this manner, the lord high commissioner seats himself on his throne, and near him the great officers of the crown, and in two ranks the prelates and the secular peers, the deputies of the provinces to the right and those of the burghs to the left. The honours are put on the table by the high constable and the Earl Marischal. After prayers by the bishop of Edinburgh, the list of the deputies is read. Thereafter, the lord chancellor approaches the throne on his knee, and receives from the hands of the lord high commissioner the king’s commission, which he gives to a secretary to read. Then is read the formula which is the manner and letter of the assembly, after which the lord lyon king-of-arms descends from the throne and places the lords and deputies according to their rank. The lord high commissioner then declares the intentions of the crown, which are more amply explained by the lord high chancellor, and the oath is tendered to the deputies, and they name the commissioners for arranging a reply to the king’s letter. They then proceed to election of the commissioners who are called lords of the articles, for drawing the acts which have to be proposed in parliament. For this purpose are chosen eight bishops, eight lords, eight knights, eight burgesses, for the four orders of the kingdom. Here is the manner of proceeding to this election: the bishops choose the lords, who are two dukes, a marquis and six earls. The lords name the bishops, who are ordinarily two archbishops and six bishops. These commissioners, with the great officers of the crown, who are commissioners in all affairs, choose the twenty-six others, eight for the provinces and eight for the burghs. All these preliminaries being achieved, they lead back the lord high commissioner in the same way. On the other days they come to parliament without ceremony. There is another parliament seated at Edinburgh, which was established by James V [the Court of Session]. Before this, there was an ambulatory one, which went from town to town, dealing out justice and interpreting laws. The Scots have still several sovereign courts, the high justiciary for criminal matters of each province, and as well as these ordinary officers there are hereditary sheriffs, who judge issues, civil and criminal.

The figures in the illustration are separately numbered and the table shows: 1. The throne; 2. The lord high commissioner; 3. The lord chancellor; 4. The officers of state; 5. The table for the Honours of Scotland; 6. The lord high constable; 7. The Earl Marischal; 8. The lord advocate; 9. The secretary of state; 10. The lord lyon king-of-arms; 11. The usher; 12. Heralds and pursuivants; 13. Clerks of parliament; 14. The archbishops; 15. The earls; 16. Bishops and viscounts; 17. The barons; 18. The county and burgh commissioners; 19. Pallas representing Scotland, holding in one hand a sword, in the other the Scottish arms, treading upon trophies beneath her feet and with the flag of liberty upon her breast.

Translation of the French text taken from Thomas Innes of Learney, ‘The Scottish Parliament, its symbolism and its ceremonial’ in Juridical Review, 44 (1932), pp.88-90.