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A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

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First published 2001 (DOST Vol. X).

Towel(l, Towal(l)(e, n. Also: towelle, towl(e, towll, touell, toual(l, toull, touvel(l, tovel(l, towald, twal(l, twell, tual(l, tuel(l, toill(e, tol(l. [ME and e.m.E. tuell (Cursor M.), towel (1378), towale (Chaucer), towell, touel (both 14th c.), twell (1507), towle (1542), towall (1557), touall (16th c.), OF toail(l)e, med. L. toualia, etc.]

1. A towel for use after bathing, etc. Also applied to a cloth used for wiping the fingers at table.(a) ?1438 Alex. ii 452.
His men him keipit euer ilkane. The watter him gaif schir Floridas, And the touell [F. la touaille] schir Perdicas
c1420 Wynt. viii 4865.
Thai warpyt at the wall gret stanys … And … qwhen thai castyne hade, Wyth a towalle a damyselle … Wipyt the wall, that thai mycht se, To gere thaim mare anoyid be
14.. Burgh Laws c. 104 (A).
The lorde or the ayr sall haf til his hous the insicht that is to wyt the met burd a bord clath a towall a basing a lawar a principal bede [etc.]
1478 Acta Aud. 67/1.
Tua towalis vj pewder dischis iiij gret pewder chargeouris [etc.]
a1500 Seven S. 2586.
Ȝe sall me the basyng hald And my moder the towall fald With gret honour apon ȝour kne
1504 Treas. Acc. II 426.
iiij elne Holland clath, quhilk wes bocht for the quene and hir almessar … and syne the maister cuke maid towales for the king of it
1522 Dunferm. B. Rec. I 209.
Ane burd claitht witht tovalis and vilecot, ane pair of schetis and nychtcurch
1539 Ex. Processes (Reg. H.) No. x (Scott v. Scott & McDowall).
Ane stand of napre claithis towellis and seruiottis
1551 Reg. Cupar A. II 71.
Burd clathis, towallys, pottys, pannis, platis, dischis, and vthiris necessarys, conuenient for our hale kichyng, pantre, baikhous, brewhous and cellar
1570 Canongate Ct. Bk. 189.
The inventar of the airschip guddis of … Gilbert Clewch … ane meit almorie estimat to viij markis … ane towall to ij s. [etc.]
c1575 Balfour Pract. 614.
Gif ony of thame be rebelland aganis him [sc. the master] … he sall tak the towel or boord-claith away that is befoir the mariner, or he put him out of the ship
?1666 Kirkcudbr. Sheriff Ct. Processes No. 8.
Sax dussane naiprie pryce of the dussan £3 inde £18 … six toualls pryce of the peice overheid 12 s. inde £3 12 s.; … ane old silver saltfat pryce £12
(b) 1611 Brechin Test. III 184a.
Ane burdclaythe ane twall ane seruit
(c) 1651 Buccleuch Mun. II 290.
Sex dussone of dornik servetts … sex tollis

b. With qualifier indicating the type of towel or the function for which it was used. See Basin n. c, Drinking vbl. n. 2, Drying vbl. n. 2, Hand n. D 16 and Nek n.1 5 for further examples.(1) 1456 Hay II 143/34.
Efter the stoving and bathing, men suld sytt on faire bynkis … and rubbit his fete and his handis … with a fair lynnyn towale, apon a fair fut schete
1499–1500 Acta Conc. II 406.
Ane burd claith of braid claith, fowre towellis of braid claith
1519 Reg. Episc. Aberd. II 176.
Inuentare of all the geyr left … within the bischoippis palice … The pantre … iij ald buyrdclathis … ij ald towellis of lynning … vj smal towellis of lynning haile … ane grit towell holit … ane lang towell riffin at the tane end … vij seruiatis
1563–4 Prot. Bk. Thomas Johnsoun 138.
Four lang hardin towells
1598 Black Bk. Taymouth 325.
Off hardin tueillit towallis
1623 Edinb. Test. LII 21a.
Tua dussin of serveittis sex burdclaithes and four hardin toilles
1651 Edinb. Test. LXV 203b.
Twa watir cloathes … twa mouth cloathes … ane pearled toill
1654 Edinb. Test. LXVIII 40.
Ane lynd wark towell
1685 Soc. Ant. LVIII 359.
5 dornick tuells
(2) 1529 Antiq. Aberd. & B. IV 230.
Ane wesching towell of dornik with basyne and laware of siluir
1542 Rec. Univ. Aberd. 572.
Ane lang weschein towale
1562 Will A. Betoun.
vii sewit weschin towlys
1581 Brechin Test. I 48b.
Ane basine twell
1635 Haddington Corr. 304.
Ane lang drinking towll, tuo lining drinking cloths
1704 Sc. Ant. I 129.
The … inventar of the gear … of Jean Campbell … four dornick servet … tuo hand towells with a lining hand towelle … Ane table cloath of lining of tuo elnes lenght with tuo towells of lining [etc.]

c. comb. Towall burd, a table with a table-cloth; towell pyn, a pin or peg on which to hang a towel.(1) c1400 Troy-bk. i 375.
Be this was commyn tyme of mete: Braid burdis war wpborn and sete And coveryt syne with clathis dere, Cowpis out brought of gold sa clere, One towalle burdys arayit & drest
1498 Dunferm. B. Rec. I 84.
Ane curtane of burdis ordanit for ane tovall burd
(2) 1568 Edinb. Test. I 169a.
Ane towell pyn
1583 Edinb. Test. XIII 45b.
Ane sewit towell & ane towell pyn
1625 Brechin Test. IV 219b.
Ane tuall pin
1639 Edinb. Test. LIX 83a.
Ane wainscott towall pyn … ane wainscott cloak pine
1646 Edinb. Test. LXII 68b.
Ane towall pin with ane knave of aik
1661 Brechin Test. VI 205b.
Ane toull pine

2. A similar type of cloth worn as a garment, ? as a tunic or some kind of over-garment.[Alex. quot. may be influenced by F. toil(e (linen).] ?1438 Alex. ii 8711.
He had thair sa great gadering That weirit palice and tyre And silkin towellis [F. tunicles de toille] that war schire
1570 Inverness Rec. I 190.
His serwand woman rasauit certan lynyng clais to wesche, and amangis the rest ane lang small towald contenying sex elnis in lentht and sex quartar braid small lynnyng
c1632 Tailor's Acc. Bk. B 29.
Ane dowblet & ane pair breikis of saitting bowmbersay with twa paisspyellis & touvellis

3. a. A cloth for covering an altar. b. Also as hand towell, a smaller cloth for use in communion. [Cf. F. tavaiolle.]a., b. c1420 Wynt. v 1384.
Nane suld handyll … nakyn thyng that halowyit ware, Chalyce, towale, or awtare, Bot thai that … ordanyt ware
c1420 Wynt. v 1594 (W).
1432–3 Reg. Episc. Glasg. II 333.
Quatuor mappis sive twalis pro altari
1436 Reg. Episc. Aberd. II 147.
ij tualis pro altari
1474 Treas. Acc. I 64.
vj elne of brade clath for ij tovellis to the kingis alter
a1500 Coll. St. Salvator 157.
For the hee altar ane broudyn cod … for the sam fyve toualis of braid claith and tua of lynnyn
1504 Treas. Acc. II 293.
xxv elne Bertane clath, to be thre albes and hand towales to altaris
1512 Treas. Acc. IV 358.
Deliverit be the Dene of Glasgew … ane albe amyt, altar towellis, ane pendele to the altar [etc.]
1529 Antiq. Aberd. & B. IV 230.
Ane antepend befor the altar … with towellis, frontale, mes buk, corporall and vthir furnissing
1531–2 Treas. Acc. VI 22.
For sewing of x gret corsis on the altare touallis
1532–3 Treas. Acc. VI 93.
To be the alb, twa towellis, and the amicce, xvj elnis lynnyng
1540 Maxwell Mem. I 408.
Four towallis for the hee bwrd
1541 Treas. Acc. VIII 43.
For four hand towellis to the chapell
1544 Edinb. Hammermen 164a.
For ij ellis of hardyne to lay vnder the alter towellis
1559 Reg. Episc. Aberd. I lxxxix.
For the altare … 2 napkins and a rich hand towell
1559 Reg. Episc. Aberd. I xc.
Ane antipend for the sacrament house with a dornick towle to the same
1573-1600 Burne Disput. in Cath. Tr. 134/28.
It is lesum to the Papistis to adorne thair altaris sa sumptuouslie vith precious stanes, vith sa monie touallis

c. Under towel, a cloth placed under the altar cloth. Cf. 1544 quot. above. 1536 Treas. Acc. VI 278.
To be ane altar towall, v½ elnis dornik … to be ane under towall, v½ elnis blechit bartane canves

d. A cloth for use at baptism. 1589 Sc. Eccles. Soc. I 251.
That the towall and the bassin be sett on the pulpit at the secund bell to sermon
a1651 Calderwood V 344.
[Baptism of Prince Henry] The Lord Sempill caried the lavyer with water, the Lord Setoun the basine, the Lord Livingstoun a towell

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"Towel n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 28 May 2022 <>



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