Cambuskenneth Collection


Cambuskenneth Collection


A collection of 15 volumes of early French and Venetian printing from the 15th and early 16th centuries, with an early Scottish provenance. The books were traditionally supposed to have been looted from Holyrood Palace by an invading English army. However, evidence from inscriptions in the books links them not with Holyrood but with Cambuskenneth Abbey, an Augustinian monastery on the banks of the River Forth, near Stirling in Scotland. The abbey also maintained a property in Edinburgh from where the books are thought to have been taken. Eight of the 15 books can be definitely linked with Patrick Panter [Paniter] and Alexander Mylne, two early l6th-century abbots of Cambuskenneth, and it is likely that the other books also belonged to the abbots.

Fourteen of the 15 large folio volumes which make up the collection are texts of, or commentaries on, civil or canon law. The 15th is a copy of the Latin Vulgate Bible printed by Robert Estienne at Paris in 1532. Inscriptions in 12 of the books reveal that they were taken from Edinburgh by an English nobleman, Sir William Norris (d. 1568) of Speke Hall near Liverpool, in 1544, at the start of the 'Rough Wooing', a period of repeated English invasions of Scotland. Two of the law books (the texts of Roman law) do not bear the Norris inscription, but this may be because they have lost their initial leaves (perhaps in the course of repair and rebinding in the early 19th century) on which it may be expected to have appeared. Another anomaly is the appearance in the 1505 Codex Justinianus of the following inscription just after the colophon: 'Est liber michaelis shefellddei'. The identity of this Michael Sheffield is not known, but his inscription may suggest a history for this volume in some way different from that of the others, prior to their acquisition by the Athenaeum in 1825. Even so, it seems on the whole more likely than not that the two volumes that lack the Norris inscription left Edinburgh in company with the others, to spend the next two and a half centuries at Speke Hall, the home of the family of Norris of Speke.

In 1736 the Norris estate passed by marriage into the possession of the family of Beauclerk, and at some time between then and 1797, when Charles George Beauclerk sold the estate to Richard Watt, a Liverpool merchant, the books seem to have been removed from Speke Hall, eventually to pass into the hands of the Liverpool solicitor, W. Henry Brown, at the sale of whose large library in 1825 they were purchased, among other books, for the Liverpool Athenaeum Library. The 1532 Estienne Bible came into the possession of the Athenaeum in a different way, having been presented by the Marquess of Salisbury after its discovery in 1853 at the village of Childwall, four miles north of Speke, in a cottage that belonged to the Marquess. Despite this separate history, however, the Bible's earlier association with the Norris family (Sir William and his son, Edward; and (in 1695) one Doctor Norris) is attested by inscriptions.


The books have been catalogued individually and have the shelfmark 'Cambusk.'.


The collection was purchased in 2008 by the Library from Liverpool Athenaeum.


'An early Scottish ex-libris: Alexander Mylne and the Cambuskenneth missal', TA Cherry, The Bookplate Journal, new series vol. 3, no. 2, 2005.




French history, language and literature

Incunables (in NLS collections)