A Royal Burgh was a type of Scottish burgh which had been founded by, or subsequently granted, a royal charter. Although abolished in law in 1975, the term is still used by many former royal burghs. <ref>Select Committee on Privileges Second Report, September 1999</ref> Most royal burghs were either created by the Crown, or upgraded from another status, such as burgh of barony. As discrete classes of burgh emerged, the royal burghs—originally distinctive by virtue of the fact they were on royal lands—acquired a monopoly of foreign trade. An important document for each burgh was its burgh charter, creating the burgh or confirming the rights of the burgh as laid down (perhaps verbally) by a previous monarch. Each royal burgh (with the exception of four 'inactive burghs') was represented in the Parliament of Scotland and could appoint bailies with wide powers in civil and criminal justice. <ref>George S Pryde, The Burghs of Scotland: A Critical List, Oxford, 1965. The four inactive burghs were Auchtermuchty, Earlsferry, Falkland and Newburgh</ref> By 1707 there were 70 royal burghs. The Royal Burghs Act 1833 reformed the election of the town councils that governed royal burghs. Those qualified to vote in parliamentary elections under the Reform Act 1832 were now entitled to elect burgh councillors.
Before the reign of David I Scotland had no towns. The closest thing to towns were the larger than average population concentrations around large monasteries, such as Dunkeld and St Andrews, and regionally significant fortifications. Scotland, outside Lothian at least, was populated by scattered hamlets, and outside that area, lacked the continental style nucleated village. David I established the first burghs in Scotland, initially only in Middle-English-speaking Lothian
The earliest burghs, founded by 1124, were Berwick and Roxburgh. However, by 1130, David had established burghs in Gaelic areas: Stirling, Dunfermline, Perth and Scone, as well as Edinburgh. The conquest of Moray in that same year led to the establishment of burghs at Elgin and Forres. Before David was dead, St Andrews, Montrose, and Aberdeen were also burghs. In the reigns of Máel Coluim IV and William, burghs were added at Inverness, Banff, Cullen, Auldearn, Nairn, Inverurie, Kintore, Brechin, Forfar, Arbroath, Dundee, Lanark, Dumfries and Ayr. New Lothian burghs also came into existence, at Haddington and Peebles. By 1210, there were 40 burghs in the Scottish kingdom. Rosemarkie, Dingwall and Cromarty were also burghs by the Scottish Wars of Independence.
David I established the first burghs, and their charters and Leges Burgorum (rules governing virtually every aspect of life and work in a burgh) were copied almost verbatim from the customs of Newcastle upon Tyne. He essentially imported the burgh into his "Scottish" dominions from his English ones. Burghs were for the most part populated by foreigners, rather than native Scots or even Lothianers. The predominant ethnic group were the Flemings, but early burgesses were also English, French and German. The burgh’s vocabulary was composed totally of either Germanic terms (not necessarily or even predominantly English) such as croft, rood, gild, gait and wynd, or French ones such as provost, bailie, vennel, port and ferme. The councils that governed individual burghs were individually known as lie doussane, meaning the dozen.
Royal burghs were abolished in 1975 by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. Article XXI of the Act of Union 1707, which states "That the Rights and Privileges of the Royal Boroughs in Scotland as they now are Do Remain entire after the Union and notwithstanding thereof", has been deemed by Her Majesty's Government to be abrogated by the 1973 Act.<ref>Select Committee on Privileges Second Report, September 1999</ref> The towns are now sometimes referred to officially as "former royal burghs", for instance by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.
List of Royal Burghs
- North Berwick
- St Andrews
- Roxburgh (suceeded by Kelso)