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.

And the winner is… The sad history of the Faculty Mummy

Once upon a time, a long time ago (660-330 BC, to be slightly more precise) a man lived, died and was mummified in ‘late period’ Egypt. Sadly that is all we currently know about this person, but death was only the beginning of his story…

WordPress annual stats declared this to be my most popular post of 2015. I thought I’d celebrate by posting it again! Click here to read the whole story

The sad history of the Faculty Mummy (EDIT)

In 2008 I put on a small, internal exhibition at the Faculty of Advocates. The exhibition was based around the unique and wonderful ‘Mummy file’, a collection of letters and newspaper clippings held in the Faculty’s archives.

This file was the result of the huge (and hilarious) interest generated by an article The Scotsman published in May 1958. This is the wonderful story behind the Faculty’s letters…

A Very Fine Library

The Earl of Morton
In the year 1748 James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton, presented an Egyptian mummy to the Faculty of Advocates Library*. It is not known exactly why the Earl chose to bestow this gift but it was duly accepted and “set up in the Library”. The Advocates Library was always more than just a repository for books. From the earliest times Members were collecting artworks and curios as well as books and manuscripts. The Library became something of a museum and guests – such as the English writer Samuel Johnson – were often shown round the exhibits.

No doubt coincidentally, just 18 months after the Mummy had been stowed away among the stacks, the Faculty Records note an application from the Earl of Morton, on behalf of the Philosophical Society, to hold “their monethly meetings in their Library”**

Pharaoh’s Daughter
During its time in the vaults the Faculty Mummy suffered more…

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Order in Council – update


“On the chart accompanying this Order are marked all the limits referred to therein”

My sea chart of the Cromarty Firth arrived in the post this morning – and what a thing of beauty it is! You can’t really tell from this image but the lovely folk at the Privy Council Office have scanned the original in sections then pieced them, almost seamlessly, back together. It is glorious and – as my lovely assistant demonstrates below, quite enormous!

Mo and chart

Mo with the chart

This is why I love these types of enquiries. It’s never just ‘looking stuff up and printing it out’. There’s always some investigation, searching, checking, double checking and – fairly often – some asking for help from another organisation. When I do have to seek assistance, in 90% of cases I encounter friendly, professional and endlessly helpful people who go above and beyond to get me what I need. So I want to say THANK YOU! to Margaret and her colleagues at the PCO. Your beautifully crafted chart has made my day, and I’m sure will make my enquirer very happy too  🙂

Orders in Council, old charts and the PCO

Last week I was asked to locate “the Order in Council dated 19th December 1913 (made pursuant to the Dockyard Ports Regulation Act 1865)” and concerning the Dockyard Port of Cromarty. You know I love these old ones!

Orders in Council are orders which have been personally approved, at a meeting of the Privy Council, by the monarch. If the order had been recent it might have been available via the Privy Council website – but 1913 is not recent (even by our standards).

Orders in Council fall into two broad categories, Statutory and Prerogative:

  • Statutory Orders in Council are issued as Statutory Instruments – they are numbered and are published with other SIs
  • Prerogative Orders are not SIs. They are published in the London Gazette and Edinburgh Gazette.

I had no way of knowing which I was looking for…

I began by checking our holdings of published SIs and our unique collection of local SIs (ones which don’t get re-printed). I did find a reference to the Order in Council in the back of the published volume but there was no detail there. Next, I checked online and quickly found what I wanted in the Edinburgh Gazette.

So far, so disappointingly easy.

However, my enquirer soon got back to me. The Order in Council stated:

On the chart accompanying this Order are marked all the limits referred to therein.

“On the chart”? There was no chart reproduced in the Edinburgh Gazette. I had a quick check in the National Records of Scotland online catalogue but they don’t seem to hold anything on this Order. I decided to try contacting the Privy Council Office – the first time I’ve done so. I emailed and explained my request. Today I got a lovely wee message back:

We have searched our archive records and managed to find a copy of the chart. Unfortunately it is extremely large – much too big  for our copier and scanner.

Therefore we have done a ‘cut and paste’ job and I am putting a paper copy in the post to you.

Best regards…

I fervently hope any cutting was only figurative in nature. I would hate to be in anyway connected to the disassembly of a 102 year old sea chart…

Anyway, after a wee bit of treasure-hunting and the help of the friendly folk at the PCO, my patchwork chart is in the post it seems. I really do love these old ones  🙂

RLS music recital – my visuals

Last Friday evening, after months of planning (and talking about it), we finally put on our recital:

Robert Louis Stevenson  The Story of His Life in Word and Song Narrated by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith – Narrator Anna Poole QC – Soprano, script and fiddle James Mure QC – Baritone John Cameron – Piano Jane A Condie – Visuals

The idea for this recital, and the script, all came from Anna Poole – a trained singer as well as a QC. My job was to create a visual backdrop to the music. I decided that, for copyright reasons, I should gather images from as few places as possible. That way I could easily credit my sources. So, most of my images originated on two sites:

Although this made them easy to credit, it was a challenge locating the right pictures from such limited sources. garden of verses The old photographs come mainly from the Gallery section of the RLS Website and most of the colour illustrations are from the NLS Digital Gallery. The fun bit for me was making the images to illustrate songs based on A Child’s Garden of Verses. Via the RLS Website I found and downloaded a digital version of the work from 1895, illustrated by Charles Robinson (as pictured above). I located the poems we were using, cut and manipulated the illustrations and turned them into a usable format. It was time consuming work but so worth it. I love the way those pictures look on screen.

During her script research Anna discovered that, as well as writing books and poems, RLS dabbled with playing and composing music. Therefore, challenge number two was to locate sheet music for one of Stevenson’s compositions for Anna to play on the fiddle. After so many months I can’t even recall how I came across it, but eventually I learned of the Stevenson House Collection in Monterey, California. This building, formerly a hotel where Stevenson stayed while waiting for his beloved Fanny Osbourne’s divorce to be finalised, has been turned into a museum dedicated to RLS. Among their collections they hold pieces of music written in Stevenson’s own hand. aberlady links I made contact with the curator there, explained what we were doing, and managed to obtain both a copy of Stevenson’s original music (see above) and permission to use it in the recital. All they asked for was a mention – which I happily give again now:

Thank you to the Stevenson House Collection, Monterey for permission to use this sheet music

My final challenge was to create a presentation in keeping with the music, the occasion and the beautiful venue. I first put it together on PowerPoint, twiddling and tinkering over months to get the balance right. However, when I came back to it several weeks ago, as we prepared to actually stage the recital, I was disappointed by the overall look of the thing. It was flat.

So, having just purchased my gorgeous new MacBook Pro featuring Keynote presentation software, I set to work beautifying my visuals. The end result was just stunning! Keynote doesn’t just transition slides – it ushers them in and out with a wave of shimmering gold. My presentation became a thing of utter beauty. Sadly I was forced to export back to PowerPoint for practical purposes (the data-projector doesn’t talk to Macs).

However, I was happy and relieved to find that, though the golden wave was gone, most of the other Keynote additions remained. After some adjustment to sort out formatting issues, the presentation looked great. It was a huge improvement and I was very pleased. I really enjoyed setting up the animations and transitions, slowly fading stuff in and out. Avoiding jarring movements and sudden disappearances. Reading and re-reading the script to best fit the images with the text.

The slide below is my favourite for three reasons. Firstly, I just love these images: a beautiful view of Samoa and a coloured print of Robert Louis Stevenson looking rather dashing and buccaneerish. Next, it illustrates a poem called Envoy, about the way reading can transport you to another time or place – and I can obviously sympathise with that.

envoy - and death Finally, this slide also illustrates the part of the recital where we recount Stevenson’s sudden and tragically early death. I set the text, then the images to fade one by one as the narration went on – Stevenson himself fading last – to leave a blank screen. I feel that has quite a haunting effect.

As I said, we staged this recital last Friday – to a full house and rapturous applause – in Parliament Hall, Edinburgh. It lasted only an hour but it was a fabulous event. The singers and piano sounded glorious in the wonderful acoustics of the hall. Author, and honorary Advocate, Alexander McCall Smith made gently hilarious additions to the scrip and narrated in his lovely chocolatey voice. And I, couried in behind the grand piano, worked my slides and lapped up the ambiance.


After so much preparation it all seemed to be over too quickly – but I enjoyed every minute of it, and would probably like to do it all again next RLS Day… Maybe. A video version of the full slide show can be viewed here:

It’s Official! – re-postings from @natlibscot Official Publications Unit blog

Cold War intelligence 
Posted: 07 Oct 2014 02:14 AM PDT
Now available through the National Library of Scotland. A full-text collection of 2,360 formerly classified U.S. government documents (most of them classified Top Secret or higher) which provides readers with the declassified documentary record about the successes and failures of the U.S. intelligence community in its efforts to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Details on how to access this resource can be found on the NLS Website

The Smith Commission 
Posted: 09 Oct 2014 01:57 AM PDT 
You have an opportunity to have your say and respond to the Commission directly via their website from the 13th October 2014. The terms of reference for the Commission are: To convene cross-party talks and facilitate an inclusive engagement process across Scotland to produce, by 30 November 2014, Heads of Agreement with recommendations for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. This process will be informed by a Command Paper, to be published by 31 October and will result in the publication of draft clauses by 25 January. The recommendations will deliver more financial, welfare and taxation powers, strengthening the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom.


Official Publications in the National Library of Scotland

nlsWe are curators of the Official Publications collection in the National Library of Scotland (we have over 2 million government and government-related publications). You can find out more about who we are and what’s in our collections on our web pages.