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1604 - 1604
domestic abuse in Aberdeen

14 Oct 1604

This case was brought before the kirk session of Aberdeen by Katherine Thornetoun who had suffered domestic abuse from her husband William Allane. She says that she had endured his cruelty for many years, but finally had to appeal to the session because of the poverty of her children and her, caused by his neglect and his taking legal action against her. She asked the session to order him to return to her and maintain his family. Allane did not appear to contest the case and was threatened with excommunication. The case shows the expectations that society had about a husband's responsibility to his family, but also how wives reacted to such abuse.

The document below is a translation from the original Scots.


The which day, anent the complaint given in to the session by Katherine Thornetoun, spouse of William Allane, merchant burgess of Aberdeen, agains the said William, her husband. Making mention that where it pleased God that the said William and Katherine were lawfully married together eleven years ago, at which time the said William faithfully promised before God and his kirk to do his honest duty to her, as becomes a faithful husband to his married wife, and to love and treat her [well] during her lifetime. Nevertheless, far from the duty of a faithful husband, he has violated and broken his said band and promise (although the said Katherine, for her part, has kept her honest duty to him, and that he got an honest tocher [dowry] with her, that is, the sum of 800 merks) by so far as often since then, in his rage and fury, he has abused her by many extraordinary forms of dealing, as by giving her strikes, both bloody and bruising, cutting of her clothes, burning the same in the fire, with many other oppressions and cruelties which the said Katherine is ashamed to report. And notwithstanding of all this unnatural form of dealing, the said Katherine endured therewith, as the town and good neighbours thereof can testify, until now, that great necessity and indigence compells her to plead her lamentable case, for by the space of these six and a half years bygone he has removed himself from keeping of honest society with her, wherethrough she and her bairns have lived in great misery, and have contracted many debts for her and her bairns' sustenance and house rent. As also, he had converted all his lands, goods and resources to sums of money in defraud of his said spouse, has put other men in the right thereof, had left his residence here and passed to England, as he is presently minded to go there, and to convey all his substance and goods there with him, and to make such assignations thereupon, whereby she nor her bairns shall get nothing of him. And true it is, that he has removed himself from her society, and has given her nothing these 6 or 7 years bygone to sustain her and her bairns, and to pay her house rent, but about 60 pounds, and now for plain necessity she is likely to perish. Like as, now at least, without any fear of God or regard of his duty, of mere malice, he has served and registered an inhibition against her, that no person shall lend or let her anything on her credit, which she is far from deserving, upon wrong narration. Desiring therefore the said William to be ordered to adhere to the said Katherine his spouse and to do his honest duty to her and entertain her as becomes the faithful husband his betrothed spouse, and to give her a testimonial and supplication to the judges ordinar [the relevant judgeds] of her bypast behaviour, both for loosing and suspending the said inhibition, and for her honest living expenses these six year bygone, and suchlike in time coming, until his adherence to her, as at more length was contained in the said complaint. The said Katherine Thornetoun complainer being personally present, and the said William Allane her husband, party complained upon, being personally warned to appear this day, for the second term, to answer to the said complaint, with certification that if he did not appear the session would proceed with the censures of the kirk against him for his contumacy, who being often called and not appearing, but most contemptuously absenting himself, although he was personally summoned, as said is, the session in respect of his contumacy orders the ministers to proceed against him with the censures of the kirk, to the sentence of excommunication, and to intimate the same from the pulpit next Sunday, for the first admonition.


Selections from the Records of the Kirk Session, Presbytery, and Synod of Aberdeen. ed. John Stuart (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1846)   pp 40-2. Translated by E. Ewan