Most of the manuscripts available here were collected by the Advocates Library, the forerunner of the National Library of Scotland.

They were transferred to the newly founded National Library in 1925, as a gift to the Scottish nation, with only the legal manuscripts remaining the property of the Advocates Library.

The collection covers a wide range of subjects, and manuscripts from Scotland are complemented by many volumes of international origin.

A large collection of early Scottish Gaelic manuscripts was also included in this transfer. Many of these have also been digitised and are online: view the Gaelic manuscripts of Scotland.

Manuscripts from Scotland and elsewhere

The digitised manuscript volumes date from the 9th to the 17th century. We have also included a few manuscripts containing transcripts of a later date.

The oldest volume in the collection is a 9th-century French manuscript containing the complete epigrams of the poet Martial.

Although international in nature, a large part of the collection originated in Scotland.

The survival rate for Scottish manuscripts from this period is not high, especially for religious volumes.

It is thought that the Reformation in Scotland (1560) resulted in the destruction of over 90 per cent of manuscripts of Roman Catholic liturgy and private devotion. The dispersal of the contents of Scottish monastic libraries also caused the loss of many non-religious volumes.

Our digital collection makes available a large part of the manuscripts that survived these times, including some of the rare religious volumes.

It includes a number of volumes written in Scottish monastic scriptoria and therefore brings together an interesting group of examples of formal Scottish medieval book hands.

It also allows for a closer look at Scottish styles of illumination.

Among the manuscripts from outside Scotland, volumes from France, England, Italy and the Low Countries are strongly represented.

There are also examples from Ireland (in Latin), Iceland and Germany, and a small number of manuscripts in Greek. (For Irish manuscripts in Gaelic, see Gaelic manuscripts of Scotland collection.)


Subjects and highlights

Handwritten page with illuminated letters

A page from the 13th-century Lesmahagow Missal showing different handwriting and decorations [Library reference: MS.16495].

Illuminated manuscript page

Detail from the Borthwick Girdle manuscript, an English 15th-century folded almanac [Library reference: Acc.12059/3].

Header image: Detail from the Culross Psalter, written in Scotland around 1470 [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.8.1].