Adventures with auld Acts: Pre-1707 Acts of the Scottish Parliament

I had such a fun enquiry this morning! It started off looking like a simple request for an Act of the old Scottish Parliament. Easy-peasy since we have two sets of Thomson’s Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland in stock. However, my enquirer expected c.24 of 1661 to be on the topic of diligence… but it was not (dun dun daaaaa!)

We double checked a couple of sources, including Stair’s Institutions of the law of Scotland but the Act was always cited as c.24 of 1661. Then I remembered that, although Thomson’s Acts (known as the Record edition) is considered the key text, there are various other versions of the Scottish Acts available. Also, I later realised, since Stair’s work was published in 1681 he would certainly not be referring to a set of volumes commissioned by Queen Victoria!

I went off to find one of our tiny ‘Glendook’ editions of the Acts. The two volumes look striking when juxtaposed since the Glendook is only 16cm tall while the Record edition is literally larger than my torso!

 

Glendook is tough to work with. The tiny page size means tiny text. Also, there’s no space for extraneous information, such as year of enactment! As I paged through I happened upon what looked like the Act I was after but was required to leaf back several pages to check I was, in fact, looking at the correct year.

So, I confirmed that c.24 of 1661 was an ‘Act concerning appearand airs their payment of their own and their predecessours’ debtswhich was just what we’d hoped for. I then used the Record edition index to establish the Act was noted as c.88 in that publication. Job done! All I had left was a bit of fighting with the photocopier to make big copies of tiny books and small copies of giant ones.

Happy enquirer. Happy librarian  🙂

Some information on the two editions:

Record Edition
This is ‘Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland’ or ‘Thomson’s Acts’ by Thomas Thomson and Cosmo Innes, printed in twelve folio (43cm) volumes from 1814-75. Published by command of Queen Victoria, this edition was the most complete version of the Acts of Parliament published until that point, and has remained the key work used by historians ever since. The final volume contains an index which is very useful for tracking down Acts when you only have a name or subject.

Errors:  Separate but related acts are often merged into one, numbering of statutes is erratic from volume to volume, occasionally including forfeitures and other private business, in other instances leaving such acts out altogether. Original manuscript numbering is ignored completely.  Thomson’s overzealous editing means that some of the text, especially in the older Acts, is not as originally passed (see Notes on the Sources for the Parliaments of Scotland, 1426-1466 for details).

Duodecimo (or Glendook) Edition
Duodecimo Edition refers to ‘Glendook’s Scots Acts’ or ‘Laws and Acts of Parliament made by King James the First and his royal successors, kings and queens of Scotland‘ by Sir Thomas Murray of Glendook (1682). This was published as two volumes containing statutes from 1424 to 1681.  A third volume (1685 to 1707 by William Duke of Queensberry and others) was published later. The name ‘Duodecimo’ refers to the size of the volumes. These are the smallest volumes of the Acts we hold.

Errors:  There is a note on the St. Andrews University website detailing the errors in this edition of Scottish Acts.  Glendook’s work seems to be based on previous publications rather than original records. Of the two Glendook editions published, the earlier 1681 folio has fewer typos than this duodecimo edition.  The work is incomplete, excluding public acts and occasionally entire sessions of parliament but including Acts of Sederunt as if they were statutes.

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One thought on “Adventures with auld Acts: Pre-1707 Acts of the Scottish Parliament

  1. Pingback: What can a battered old copy of Pilgrim’s Progress tell us about how books were printed in the past? | A Very Fine Library

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