Search the Women in Scottish History Database

1100 - 1400
laws regulating brewing in towns

Ale was a staple of the medieval diet and therefore its production in towns. was closely regulated by the urban authorities. Most brewers in Scottish medieval towns were women (known as 'brewsters'). Mead, a drink made from honey, was also brewed. Despite such laws trying to ensure that women brewed year round, it seems likely that for many women brewing was a much more intermittent activity. A cuckstool was a bench or stool on which offenders were placed in order to be publicly humiliated. This law was written in Latin and later in Scots. In the Latin title, the term for female brewers is used. The Scots version follows the translation below.


Of the maner of ale brewing be assise [of the manner of ale brewing [decided] by an assise]

What woman will brew ale to sell shall brew all the year through after the custom of the town. And if she does not she shall be suspended from her craft for the space of a year and a day. And she shall make good ale and approvable as the time asks. And if she makes evil ale and does against the custom of the town and is convicted for this, she shall pay a fine of 8 shillings or suffer the law of the town, that is to say to be put on the cuckstool, and two-thirds of the ale shall be given the poor, and a third to the brethren of the hospital. And the same punishment shall be done for mead as for ale. And each brewster shall put her alewand outside her house at her window or door so that it may be publicly seen by all men, and if she does not do so, she shall pay a fine of 4 pence.

What woman that wil brew ale to sell sall brew al the yhere thruch eftir the costume of the toune. And gif scho dois nocht scho sal be suspendyt of hir office be the space of a yhere and a day. And scho sall mak gud ale and approbabill as the tym askis. And gif scho makis ivil ale and dois agane the costume of the toun and be convykkyt of it, scho sall gif till hire mercyment viii s. or than thole the lauch of the toune, that is to say be put on the kukstule, and the ale sall be geyffin to the pure folk the tua part, and the thryd part send to the brethyr of the hospitale. And rycht sic dome sal be done of meide as of ale. And ilke broustare sal put hir alewande ututh hir house at hir window or abune hir dur that it may be seabill communly til al men, the whilk gif scho dois nocht scho sal pay for hir defalt iiij d.


Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland, Vol. 1.1124-1424 ed Cosmo Innes (Edinburgh: Scottish Burgh Records Society, 1868), Leges Burgorum, no.63, pp 30-1. Translation by E. Ewan