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Credit: Am Baile/ Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

'The Great Charter' or 'Golden Charter' of Inverness 1592

By Caitlin Jackson

The popular perception of the Scottish Highlands is as a series of rural communities, but this is not the case. Just as central to the Spirit of Highlands are its urban centres.

The Great Charter of Inverness was granted in 1592 by James IV. The sixteenth century had seen a reshaping of urban society in Scotland. The export trade had been in severe decline since the fourteenth century but was revived in the wake of the reformation. This instability required greater financial surety, and thus taxes had to raised. To do this the governments of the sixteenth century began to focus their attentions on developing their urban hubs. Charters set out terms and privileges granted to a burgh in return for taxation.

Where Scottish burghs differ from their English and Welsh counterparts is through the focus that was placed on trade. Scottish royal burghs had sole rights of trade and manufacture within their specified region, creating powerful trading monopolies that could severely limit the activities of the other towns and burghs around them. This was the case with the Inverness charter. The charter stated no ship containing goods, such as wine, salt and timber could land anywhere between the burgh and Tarbatness, stunting the growth of Tain, Thurso and Wick to overseas trade.

Despite this negative affect, the Inverness charter gives insight into the development of specialist craft industries, working practices, and global trade. Perhaps the greatest insight the charter given us is into the structure of urban life through the market and fair days it was granted, which allowed the trade of 'staple goods' to the region. A further eight yearly fairs were granted which allowed for international trade and allowed merchants from all over Scotland to gather and sell their wares. These centres brought wealth, skills and perhaps most importantly, notions of the wider world, which could permeate through the more rural communities of the highlands. The chartership of this hub of manufacturing, trade and commerce demonstrates the industrialised facet of the spirit of the highlands which can be so often overlooked.

The Great Charter of Inverness, 1592. Image provided by Am Baile.

We Want to Hear From You!

Share your stories of archaeological objects which you feel represent the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands

Stories are at the heart of what we do as a project and we are always looking to learn more about what the Highlands and Islands means to people who live, work, and visit here.

Objects from the history of the Highlands and Islands are all vessels for stories from past eras gone by. The stories told by the Great Charter of Inverness are no exception, and provide a unique snapshot of the people of Inverness in the 1500s. We would love to know, what objects from history do you feel represents the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands? Tell us more below, we can't wait to hear from you!

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