Scotland had its own currency prior to the Act of Union in 1707: the pound Scots. From the fourteenth century until the end of the sixteenth century debasement of the coinage resulted in the divergence of the Scottish and English currencies. In 1560, 5 pounds Scots equalled 1 pound sterling. When James VI succeeded to the throne of England (in 1603) the exchange rate for Scots pounds to sterling was fixed at 12 to 1. The merk (worth 13 shillings and 4 pence) was mostly a unit of account, but was occasionally minted. Scotland periodically suffered from a shortage of coin, which is one reason why references to continental coins, such as the rex dollar can be found in testaments during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially in Scottish burghs. Scottish currency was withdrawn after the Act of Union in 1707, but rents, wages and the value of agricultural produce continued to be stated in Scots money.
In testaments, sums of money usually appear as abbreviations for pounds, shillings and pence. These abbreviations are normally written superscript (that is, above the other writing in that line of text) in the form:
- lb or li (with a stroke through it) signifying the Latin word libra (meaning pounds);
- s (or double s) signifying the Latin word solidus (meaning shilling)
- d signifying the Latin word denarius (meaning penny).
In the example below the sum is '10 li. 13 s. 4 d'.
Sometimes the abbreviation for shillings will be the letters s and h ligatured, or the symbol for sis, which looks like the German scharfes s, as in the example below: '13 s[hilling]is. 4d'.
The digits 1-10 in Roman numerals are: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, ix, x. So much you might have learned in Latin class at school. However, in Scots documents in the period 1500 to 1750 you are likely to come up against some variations.
Firstly, the last i digit will invariably be rendered a j, for example: ij = 2, vj = 6, xiij = 13
Secondly, numbers like 4 (iv) and 9 (ix) are just as likely to be rendered iiij and viiij. So: xiiij = 14, and viiij = 9
Other Roman numerals frequently used are: L (= 50) and C (= 100). But note that a contraction mark was often written after the C ( for example C/ ) to represent the Latin word C[entus].
Also, look out for the use of a superscript XX to represent a score (20), particularly in combination with other Roman numerals, for example C/ iij xx iiij = 164 (that is C/ = 100, iijxx = three score = 60, and iiij = 4).
The next example transcribed reads 'Lxvij li vj s viij d', that is, '67 pounds, 6 shillings and 8 pence'.
There are a couple of things to look out for when considering the way dates are written in early modern documents, such as testaments before 1800.
In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries years were often written with a peculiar form of Latin numerals, which began Jaj...
In the example below, the date 1663 is written: 'the year of God Jajvj C& saxti three'.
Before 1 January 1600 the new year in Scotland started on 25 March, so any date in the period from 1 January to 24 March before 1600 will be recorded as the previous year (in modern terms), for example what to us is 24 March 1578 would be written as 24 March 1577. In the wills and testaments index the modern date is given. The rest of the British Isles did not adopt the New Year change until 1 January 1752.
For more details on dates and numbers see the Scottish Handwriting website.