Legal practice and legal institutions in seventeenth century Aberdeen, as witnessed in the lives of Thomas Nicolson of Cockburnspath and his associates

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Thomas Nicolson of Cockburnspath was an advocate central to Aberdonian legal life and practice in the early seventeenth century. Initially an advocate in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, he came to Aberdeen to serve as judge in the local ecclesiastic (‘commissary’) court. He was later named on a royal commission which reintroduced law teaching to Aberdeen, and was named as the first master of civil law (‘civilist’) thereafter. Framed principally around an examination of the career of Nicolson and some of his colleagues, this article aims to enrich our knowledge of local legal history with a particular focus on Old Aberdeen. It examines the local legal community, the personnel and activity of the commissary court, and the post-Reformation abolition and 1619 re-establishment of law teaching at King’s College. It develops or challenges existing historiography on some of these points and provides a first detailed examination of others. In doing so, it offers a new local perspective on a critical period in the development of Scotland’s legal profession by placing a range of record categories – Old Aberdeen’s civic registers as well as local, national and institutional sources – into dialogue with each other.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-128
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Irish and Scottish Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019


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