linen law


The process of laying a corpse in a coffin is called kistin in Scotland. This was more than a necessary act in a funeral parlour, it was a religious ceremony and either the minister himself or one of his elders was performing the solemn task. The reason being, there was a law concerning the way a body should be buried.

Act for Burying Scots in Linen

“In the second Session of the First Parliament of James VIII, held at Edinburgh, 1686, an Act was passed called the ‘Act for Burying Scots in Linen’, in which it was ordained, for the encouragement of the linen manufacturers within the kingdom, that no person whatsoever, of high or low degree, should be buried in any shirt, sheet or anything else, except in plain linen or cloth, of Hards made and spun within the kingdom, and without lace and point.”

Life and Times of Rev. John Wightman, D.D., of Kirkmahoe (1762 – 1847)

This was of course decreed to strengthen the local economy and ward-off the Dutch cloth influence. To be able to control that, the ministers were supposed not only to register every death but also control that the law was being followed.

Generally, a funeral was of high importance in the community and very much a social event with explicit rules. Especially in the 18th century funerals were lavish affairs and the family spent as much as they could on food and drink and general services rendered..

sources and further reading:

Margaret Bennett: Scottish Customs From the Cradle to the Grave. Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2004


Liked the post? There’s more here…

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. These stories have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

graveyard travel guide

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and everything about Scotland except whisky, sheep and tartan.

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

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