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The System of Weights
Pundlars and bismars were the traditional weighing beams used for weighing rents paid in kind.
Earl Robert Stewart and Earl Patrick Stewart were the last of the last of the feudal Earls to look on Orkney as a power base to exert their authority. After the removal of Earl Patrick, the collection of rents and skat (an ancient Norse land tax) of the Earldom estate were managed on business lines by a tacksman who paid for the right to collect. When there was no Bishop, the Bishopric estate was also managed in the same way.
The successors to the Stewart Earls, the Earls of Morton and subsequently Sir Lawrence Dundas and successors were absentee landlords who kept aloof from the Orkney lairds. The dispute between Sir James Steuart and John Hay of Balbithan, the factor of the Earldom estate lead to allegations that the weights had been tampered with and that James Douglas, Earl of Morton has increased the Orkney weights to increase the value of goods which he obtained by way or rent and skat.
The weights were easily manipulated and some lairds kept two weigh beams, one for buying and another for selling. There were weights kept by the Deacon of Hammermen for standardising new bismars and pundlars and these too were highly suspect. These were examined and caused some ridicule at the meeting of the lairds in April 1743.
It is thought that in Scotland generally that the weights increase around two and a half times between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries and the same is likely true of those in Orkney.