The Crowns of Scotland and England were united in 1603 and in 1611 the Privy Council of James I passed an act to suppress disorders in the City of Edinburgh. Following an instruction to the magistrates and Council, Constables were elected to serve through the Burgh. The Constables were given powers to enlist the support of neighbours to prevent disorder and to arrest suspected criminals.
The practice of electing High Constables has changed over the years and now the Society elects its own members. There is no longer a restriction on the maximum period of service and one member recently completed 50 years with the Society. Currently there are 23 Wards of 12 members in the Society, giving a total membership of 276.
During its long existence the Society has been involved in many notable events in Edinburgh's history. For example the instruction by the Magistrates in 1788 for the Constables to meet and patrol the streets on New Year mornings as a result of increased rioting and frequent disturbances. Accordingly the Constables dined together on Hogmanay and thereafter patrolled the streets until 6 o'clock in the morning. This was the start of the "Hogmanay Patrol" which would be continued until the latter part of the 19th century.
In 1810 in order to distinguish the Society from the new police force, the Society requested and received permission to use the title "High Constables of the City of Edinburgh". Since the creation of the new body of High Constables, relationships with the Chief Constable and the police force have always been extremely friendly and currently all Society inspections and parades are held at the Headquarters of Lothian and Borders Police at Fettes Avenue.
The Society regularly parades with the Lord Provost and Council to St Giles' Cathedral and other venues and attends other important civic occasions. The Lord Provost attends the Annual General Meeting and inspects the Society on parade twice a year.
The Constitution of the Society has been modified over the centuries and a radical change took place in 1997 when the members agreed by a two thirds majority to permit women to become members. This was done at the request of the City of Edinburgh Council and ensures that the close association with the Council will continue as the Society moves forward into the 21st century as an active organisation which still maintains the best traditions of a long and honourable history.