Centre for the History of the Book

Volume I: From Earliest Times to 1707

Edited by Alastair Mann and Sally Mapstone

One of the most distinctive aspects of book production, ownership, and circulation is evident from early in this period: manuscript remains a significant means of transmission of written material, long after the introduction of printing into Scotland and continues to be an important medium for the preservation of legal and literary works to the end of the period. Networks of contacts in and among particular families remain a key element in the creation, circulation, and preservation of this kind of witness.

The comparatively localised nature of Scottish political and social life led, initially, to the production of books within aristocratic and clerical households. The royal court was not a major locus for literary production until well into the sixteenth century. Nor did monastic scriptoria have much importance for the copy of manuscripts. Rather, a major role was played by notaries public, who copied works for a variety of institutions and individuals throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Many Scots continued their education in Paris or the Low Countries in the later Middle Ages, and these places are also important sources for the dissemination of a huge range of manuscript and printed books into Scotland. Scottish books continued to be printed outwith Scotland during the sixteenth century, but the native printing trade developed, particularly after 1550.

The Scottish Reformation of 1560 played a crucial part in the production, and destruction, of texts in the second half of the sixteenth century. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 did not lead to a decline in the volume of Scottish printing: that increased vastly in the seventeenth century. But the story of which writers were printed where, in Scotland, England, and on the Continent, remains complex. The breaking-up of monastic libraries led to the loss of many pre-Reformation texts, but also to the growth of significant individual book collections. This antiquarian element in Scottish book production is also connected with a nationalistic interest in historical matters which caused the recopying of texts and the highly politicised publishing projects of certain printers in the run-up to the Union of the Parliaments in 1707.