Helen Leighton-Rose

An Irregular Marriage: The Subversion of the Scottish Kirk by Isabel Clinckscales


My quantitative and qualitative analysis of eighteenth century Scottish Kirk Sessions had shed light on Scottish women’s subversive and consistent challenges to patriarchal control. Numerous women argued against the judgement of these sessions and petitioned the Presbytery courts.
My paper will highlight some illuminating examples of women’s subversion including the subversion of the Scottish Kirk by Isabel Clinckscales who irregularly married Thomas Lyon, unknown to her to be a twice bigamist. Over eighteen months Isabel was called before the Kirk Sessions and ordered to perform penance as an adulteress which she consistently refused. She subverted the kirk authority to such a degree she was placed under the penalty of lesser excommunication. There is no record of Thomas Lyon receiving any rebuke. On the 25th January 1722 Elders of Duns Kirk deem

‘..after all the serious dealings with Isabel Clinkscales she still persisted in her obstinacie, he therefor this day according to the recommendation did lay the said Isabel Clinkscales under the sentence of the Lesser excommunication’.

My paper will raise the profile of the richness of archival material for Scottish border towns and enable me to connect and network with academics and fellow doctoral students working on related topics.


Part-time doctoral candidate Helen Leighton-Rose gained her Master’s Degree in History with distinction from Northumbria University in 2019. This paper is based on her Master’s dissertation research entitled ‘Public Scandal, Private Sin: Scottish Border Town Women and the Subversion of Patriarchal Control, 1707-1756’. Helen’s doctoral project, exploring the changes wrought by industrialisation on women workers in the textile and garment trades of south east Scotland over the period 1740-1890, is supervised by Dr Leona Skelton of Northumbria University.