Early Western manuscript books
Our oldest books.
Some of the most beautiful books in Scotland are preserved in our collection of about 270 western medieval manuscripts. These are all books and documents written by hand, from the 11th to the 16th centuries. Many are finely illuminated and decorated.
The greatest treasure of the collection is the small, brightly-coloured copy of the Psalms known as the Celtic Psalter (MS.56), which dates from the early 11th century and is possibly the oldest surviving Scottish book still in Scotland. There are also Books of Hours produced for royalty, copies of classical works by authors such as Virgil, medical treatises and examples of pre-Reformation Scottish music. There are manuscripts in English, French, Gaelic and Greek, as well as Latin.
The collection was formed by bringing together pre-Reformation manuscripts from across the library. About half the manuscripts come from the David Laing collection. Many manuscripts display evidence about their different owners through the centuries, from monks to rich private collectors. We occasionally purchase medieval manuscripts, and have received some very fine examples as donations, such as the 14 manuscripts, mainly Books of Hours, received through the Cathcart White bequest in 1943.
The manuscripts can be consulted in the Centre for Research Collections. The collection is well-used, particularly by students of the history of art and by people researching pre-Reformation religious culture. Work is in progress to create a full online listing. 230 of the manuscripts are described in detail by Catherine Borland, 'A descriptive catalogue of the western mediaeval manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library' (Edinburgh, 1916). Most of the remaining manuscripts are catalogued in Neil Ker 'Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries' volume II (Oxford, 1977). All the manuscripts have shelfmarks starting “MS.”