Bawbees and Merks – Old Scottish Money

Did you know Scotland used to have its own currency?

James VI 1-4 thistke merk 160111

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The photo above shows a James VI Thistle Merk.

During the Independence Referendum and all the political bluster surrounding it there was much talk on currency which is when it was first highlighted to me that Scotland once had its own currency.

Reading into some of my ancestors I have come across references to merks and pounds long before Scotland became part of the UK and used pounds and pence sterling which sparked an interest about what the old Scottish money was.

The old Scottish Money was made up of doyts, bodles, groats, bawbees, shillings, merks and pounds.

Whilst the English also had pounds, the Scottish pound was worth considerably less taking twelve Scots pounds to make one pound sterling.

A doyd, a bodle or a groat and shillings were all worth pennies.  It took 20 shillings or 240 pennies to make a pound.

Then we had Bawbees and Merks.

A bawbee was worth 3 scots pence or ha’a penny (half a pence in sterling)

A Merk was a strange one and worth about 2/3rds a Scots pound or 13 shillings and 4 pennies.

A tad confusing in today’s terms.

Whilst I had not heard of merks until I was reading of some of the members of the Clan Bain who were fined in merks and pounds. The Bawbee I had heard of in an old Scottish Nursery Rhyme, Ally Bally which I remember getting sung to me as a child.

Ally bally, ally bally bee,
Sittin’ on yer mammy’s knee,
Greetin’ for a wee bawbee,
Tae buy some Coulter’s candy.

Poor wee Jeanie’s gettin’ awfy thin,
A rickle o’ banes covered ower wi’ skin,
Noo she’s gettin’ a wee double chin,
Wi’ sookin’ Coulter’s Candy.

I think there are more verses but we never did sing them all.  It’s funny how folklore and songs pass down the generations.

For the non Scots reading this;

  • greetin = crying
  • wee = small
  • tae = to
  • awfy = awfully
  • banes = bones
  • ower = over
  • noo = now
  • sookin = sucking

Now going back to what brought my attention to this subject in the first place, the Bain’s that were fined in Merks and Scots Pounds.

In a bid to put an end to old quarrels between his Clan and the Colquhouns of Luss, Alexander MacGregor took a party in 1602 to the borders’ of Luss’s territory, where he expected, by mediation of friends, to reach an amicable adjustment. However the effort failed and MacGregor started homewards. He was followed and only his alertness enabled him to withstand a surprise attack in which he lost a brother and another man and Luss lost two hundred.  The Laird of Luss promptly sent notice of the disaster to the King, misrepresenting the affair in such a way as to greatly incense the King.  The Clan MacGregor’s version was not yet available, so the King most unfairly proclaimed them rebels and appointed the Earl of Argyle to rout them out and extirpate them, making it a crime to aid or commune with them. Argyle would enjoy this but the Highlanders greatly resented such cruel and inhumane action, especially those in Ross and many would not be bribed. Amongst those that were fined were: William Bane, dyer in Dingwall, one pound; Alastair Bane of Logie, 1000 merks; and John MacEane vic Bayne, in Caldwell, 100 merks.

Source:  The Clan Bain and its Ancestral & Related Scottish Clans by A J Lawrence.

Now many of you may be familiar with the Clan Gregor from the Rob Roy films (although I don’t know how much of the film is factual).  Rob Roy MacGregor was born in 1671 but his story comes from the events which unfolded in the tale about regarding how Clan MacGregor came to be outlaws almost 70 years before he was born.

Hundreds of years later I can say I feel an immense pride in the Bain men above that stood there ground are refused to see their neighbours and fellow humans be treated in such an inhumane way.

I will need to find out more about each of them and tell their stories but for now a mention is the least I can do.

  • William Bane of Dingwall
  • Alastair Bane of Logie
  • John Bayne of Caldwell

I think the quote below is a fitting tribute and a lesson for us all.

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.

Albert Einstein



5 responses to “Bawbees and Merks – Old Scottish Money

  1. Pingback: Bawbees and Merks – Old Scottish Money — Our Scottish Clan – Hunter Ancestral Tree·

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