Subjects in the collection

In keeping the Advocates Library's original purpose, the medieval and early manuscripts collection contains some very fine early legal volumes.

However, the Advocates also took care to provide a scholarly reference library that would offer a wider range of subjects, and from an early date onwards took on the role of a national library.

Its holdings are therefore strong in Scottish literature and historical works, and these in particular were added to after the foundation of the National Library of Scotland in 1925.

National epics such as John Barbour's 'The Brus' ('The Bruce') and Blind Hary's 'Wallace' are part of our collections. We also have important works of medieval historians, such as Andrew Wyntoun's verse history ('Oryginale cronykil') and versions of Walter Bower's 'Scotichronicon'.

The 16th-century Bannatyne Manuscript and the Asloan Manuscript are especially strong in Older Scots poetry.

Chartularies from many Scottish monasteries document the history of Scottish religious houses and their numerous benefactors and connections within Scottish society.

Among the English, French and Italian manuscripts are many devotional, scientific, medical and literary works, partly very beautifully illuminated.

One of the most lavishly decorated is the 15th-century manuscript of 'The Mirror of the Life of Christ', containing Nicholas Love's Middle English translation of St Bonaventure's work.

The two Irish manuscripts available here are an interesting pocket Gospel and the well-known Rosslyn Missal, written for Down Cathedral and later in possession of the Sinclair family of Roslin.

Selected highlights

Important Scottish manuscripts

  • The Sprouston Breviary – a Scottish liturgical manuscript from around 1300, probably used in the diocese of Glasgow. It contains the rhymed office of St Kentigern with musical notation [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.2.13B].
  • Sweetheart Breviary, a very small portable breviary from Sweetheart Abbey, dating from the first half of the 14th century [Library reference: MS.40000].
  • Commonplace book of James Gray, priest in the diocese of Dunblane. A 15th-century collection of miscellaneous historical, literary, legal and religious texts, partly in very small handwriting. [Library reference: Adv.MS.34.7.3].
  • John Barbour's 15th-century manuscript of 'The Brus' ('The Bruce') [Library reference: Adv.MS.19.2.2(i)].
  • The only manuscript of 'The Wallace', by Blind Hary, 15th century [Library reference: Adv.MS.19.2.2(ii)].
  • Andro Wyntoun, 'The origynale Chronikil' – we have two copies of this dating from the 15th and 16th century [Library reference: Adv.MS.19.2.3-4].
  • The Chronicle of Fortingall, a manuscript written in Highland Perthshire and containing annals and miscellaneous texts in Latin, Scots and Gaelic [Library reference: MS.50300].
  • The Asloan Manuscript, an important collection of Older Scots poetry compiled in the first half of the 16th century [Library reference: MS.16500].
  • The Bannatyne Manuscript, our largest collection of Older Scots poetry, compiled in 1568 by George Bannatyne [Library reference: Adv.MS.1.1.6].

Highlights from outside Scotland

  • England: The Auchinleck manuscript, a large 14th-century compilation of Middle English poetry [Library reference: Adv.MS.19.2.1] – see also our Auchinleck manuscript website.
  • England: Richard Heeg's manuscript, a 15th-century collection of Middle English poetry [Library reference: Adv.MS.19.3.1].
  • England: a 15th-century manuscript of Ranulph Higden's 'Polychronicon', including a detailed index and a coloured map [Library reference: Adv.MS.33.4.12].
  • France: The Ruskin Bible, a 13th-century illuminated Bible that is said to have inspired the Victorian philosopher and writer John Ruskin [Library reference: Adv.MS.1.1.1].
  • Germany: A collection of classical texts for use in schools, probably written in Germany in the 12th century, with glosses in Old High German [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.5.10].
  • Italy: The complete works of Catullus, copied in a humanist hand with classical decoration [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.5.2].
  • Ireland: Rosslyn Missal, written for Down Cathedral and attractively decorated [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.5.19].

Manuscripts with fine illumination

Handwritten page with illuminated letters

This 15th-century chartulary of Scone Abbey is decorated with penwork initials throughout, many of them ornamented by the talented scribes with faces and grotesques [Library reference: MS.16495].

Handwritten page with illuminated letters

A page from a tiny portable 15th-century Italian Book of Hours with a saint depicted in a gold initial [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.8.15].

Illuminated manuscript page

This page from 'The Mirror of the Life of Christ' shows a representation of St Bonaventure, the author, as a medieval scribe at work [Library reference: Adv.MS.18.1.7].

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