Rosebery Collection


Rosebery Collection


This large collection (over 7,000 items) of Scottish books formerly held in Barnbougle Castle, near Edinburgh, was from the collection of Archibald Primrose (1847-1929), the 5th Earl of Rosebery and former Prime Minister of Great Britain (1894-1895). The 5th Earl was a keen historian and book collector, in addition to his political career and various sporting interests. He was one of the key players in getting the Library established in 1925 and he donated these books to augment its collections of early Scottish printing.

There are over 2,000 single pamphlets and 120 volumes of pamphlets covering Scottish history, politics and society from 1585 to 1923 (Ry.1.1-7). There is a general collection of early printed books, around 700 items, on Scottish subjects - history, topography, literature, music, military affairs and religious controversies. Items include Nemorarius Jordanus, 'Arithmetica' (Paris, 1496), which contains the earliest known reference to a Scot engaged in the printing trade (David Lauxius, or Lowis, working as a printer's proof corrector). There are also examples of early Continental printing such as a French translation (Rouen, 1513) of the letter from James IV of Scotland to Henry VIII of England with the declaration of war that led to the defeat at Flodden in 1513.

Other rarities include one of two recorded copies of the Edinburgh, 1599 printing of James VI's 'Basilikon doron', a set of playing cards from 1691, 'Cards Armorial', with the arms of the Scottish nobility, a copy of the 1637 Book of Common Prayer in a binding for King Charles I, and a copy of Sir Walter Scott's 1792 thesis for admission to the Faculty of Advocates. There are also over 300 volumes relating to Mary, Queen of Scots, including a contemporary account by William Patten of the Duke of Somerset's expedition into Scotland to secure a marriage between Mary and Edward VI, Pierre de Ronsard's 'Elegie sur le despart de la royne Marie' (Rouen, 1561) on Mary's return to Scotland after the death of her husband Francis I, and a number of contemporary accounts of Mary's execution in 1587. There are also volumes of Scottish broadside ballads dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and a volume of printed ephemera relating to West Port murders carried out by Burke and Hare.


The books have been catalogued individually and have the shelfmark 'Ry.'. The incunable, Nemorarius Jordanus, 'Arithmetica' (Paris, 1496), is part of the Library's Incunabula Collection (Inc.270).


The collection was presented in 1927 to the newly established National Library by the 5th Earl of Rosebery.

Related collections

Books from 5th Earl's library at The Durdans in Surrey were bequeathed to the Library by his eldest daughter in 1956 (see Durdans Collection).

Rosebery's correspondence and papers, bound in 216 volumes, were presented to the Library in 1966 by Lord Primrose, later the 7th Earl of Rosebery. The manuscripts are held at MSS.10001-10216. They are described and indexed in Volume 8 of the Library's Catalogue of Manuscripts.


'Catalogue of pamphlets in the Library at Barnbougle Castle' (chronologically arranged with index, text in MS, with a printed title page), 2 volumes, [GP Johnston compiler], Edinburgh, 1903.

'Catalogue of the early and rare books of Scottish interest in the library at Barnbougle Castle', [GP Johnston compiler], [Edinburgh], 1923.

'A Bibliography of works relating to Mary Queen of Scots, 1594-1600', J Scott, Papers of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 2 (1896), 1-96.

'The Rosebery Collections: an exhibition held in the National Library of Scotland, 26 August-30 September, 1958 [exhibition catalogue]', Edinburgh, 1958.

'Barnbougle Castle. (Unfamiliar Libraries, 7)', E Primrose, Countess of Rosebery, The Book Collector, 11 (1962), 35-44.

'Archibald Philip, 5th Earl of Rosebery', BP Hillyard, Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Book-Collectors and Bibliographers: Pre-Nineteenth-Century Bookmen (online resource)

‘Rosebery as Book Collector’, BP Hillyard, The Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 7 (2012), 71-114.




Ballad literature


French history, language and literature

Incunables (in NLS collections)

Mary, Queen of Scots

Scottish history and literature