Saturday, August 1, 2009
“Egyptians” (Gypsies) Banished from Scotland
The Gypsies or Romani people were spread widely throughout Europe by the 17th century. They were first noted in the British Isles in the 1500s. As with Jews, the Gypsies were feared, persecuted, and exiled. Scotland and Ireland, being among the westernmost outposts of Europe, have often served the same frontier function that, by analogy, California or Alaska have provided for Americans. Go west to seek freedom. On August 1, 1609, by Scots law, Gypsies were banned from Scotland.
The name or descriptive, “Gypsies,” as such, and linked to "Egyptians" (their imagined origin), appear several times in the Shakespeare plays.
Antony & Cleopatra
ANTONY ….Betray'd I am.
O this false soul of Egypt! this grave charm-
Whose eye beck'd forth my wars and call'd them home,
Whose bosom was my crownet, my chief end-
Like a right gypsy hath at fast and loose
Beguil'd me to the very heart of loss.
What, Eros, Eros!
PHILO. ….His captain's heart, Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan To cool a gipsy's lust.
Romeo & Juliet
Ben. Here comes Romeo! here comes Romeo!
Mer. Without his roe, like a dried herring.
O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!
Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in.
Laura, to his lady, was but a kitchen wench
(marry, she had a better love to berhyme her),
Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy,
Helen and Hero hildings and harlots...
As early as 1541, the Scots King James V (grandfather of James Stuart VI / I) issued an order evicting all gypsies from Scotland. However, After the elder James died in 1542, the gypsies started returning en masse to Scotland, led by their putative ‘king,’ one John Faw, “Lord and Earl of Upper Egypt.” There are several popular ballads extant - usually called “The Gypsy Laddie" - which give memory to the gypsy king, Faw.
After the younger James ascended to the throne of Scotland in 1567, an act was passed against ‘the idle people calling themselves Egyptians,” with regular renewals from 1592-1603. This final act, concerning the ‘Egyptians’ became law on August 1, 1609, demanding that all gypsies leave Scotland, never to return on pain of death. After August 1, 1609, any of the King’s subjects could, ‘take, apprehend, imprison and execute to death the said Egyptians, either men or women, as common, notorious and condemned thieves’. Most gypsies fled Scotland. Others assimilated. In subsequent decades gypsies who were found in Scotland were forcibly emigrated to colonies in Virginia, Jamaica and Barbados.