One of the really fun things about the Fiddle Tune a Day experience is learning the history of the tunes I have played for a long time. This tune has a very interesting story to tell. Stool of Repentance, is a Scottish Jig, and the Stool of Repentance was also a kind of Scottish institution between th 16th and 18th Centuries, the church equivalent of being forced to put on a dunce cap and sit in the front of the class. (More details from Wikipedia on the Stool itself are listed at the end.)
Stool of Repentance according to the Fiddler’s Companion
STOOL OF REPENTANCE, THE. Scottish (originally), Canadian, American; Jig. USA, New England. Canada, Prince Edward Island. A Major (Alburger, Athole, Carlin, Cranford, Hardie, Hunter, Kerr Vol. 1, Miller & Perron, Perlman, Phillips, Skye, Songer, Sweet, Williamson): G Major (Kerr Vol. 3). Standard. AABB. “Old” (Gow). Several authorities report that in the Old Scottish Kirk transgressors, particularly adulterers, were often given the penance of sitting themselves for one or two weeks before the entire congregation on the “stool of repentance,” actually a special seat or stool dedicated for the purpose. See Robert Burns’s satirical verse “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” among others, inspired, perhaps, by his own experience of being made in 1784 to sit before the congregation on the famous stool, “Clad in the black sackcloth gown of fornication” (McIntyre, 1995), in consequence of his dalliance with Elizabeth Paton:
But my downcast eye be chance did spy
What made my lips to water,
Those limbs so clean where I, betweeen,
Commenc’d a Fornicator.
History of the Stool of Repentance according to Wikipedia (the Stool Itself)
The Stool of Repentance in Presbyterian polity, mostly in Scotland, was an elevated seat in a church used for public penance of persons who had offended against the morality of the time, often through fornication and adultery. Often, at the end of the service, the offender had to stand upon the stool to receive the rebuke of the minister.
The humiliation associated with sitting on the stool and publicly repenting one’s sins often drove people to suicide, or women to conceal their pregnancy and even to kill their child, rather than to face the congregation of the Kirk Session. An alternative to, or commutation of, the Stool of Repentance was payment of buttock mail.
Buttock mail was the colloquial term for a Scottish Poor Law tax which was introduced in 1595. Enforced by the ecclesiastical courts who had responsibility for the moral behaviour of the laity, buttock mail was levied as a fine for sexual intercourse out of wedlock.
In the 17th century, and perhaps earlier when the law that became known as buttock mail was passed, buttock was a colloquial term for a prostitute. The term mail is an old Scots word meaning a monetary tribute or payment, from the same root as the word blackmail. Thus, the term buttock mail literally means a monetary payment related to prostitution, referring to its being a fine for fornication, or sex outside of marriage.