Rerum Scoticarum historia.

Edinburgh, Alexandrum Arbuthnetum, 1582.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. ff. (iv), 85, (i), 74-249, (i). Roman letter. Large woodcut printer’s device on title, title within typographical border, floriated initial and woodcut ornaments, early book label removed from outer edge of title page, early autograph beneath ‘Gar Schur’ with marginal annotations in the same hand throughout, “the Rev? Professor James Copper DD from JSM and CSM” on front end paper, “W Douglas Simpson from Tho Cooper Elgin 1946 above” letters tipped in from Sir John Stirling Maxwell of Pollock House concerning the gift to Copper. Title page very slightly dusty, with a little age yellowing in places. A fine copy, crisp and clean, with good margins in contemporary vellum over thin boards, yapp edges, all edges finely gauffered, a boar, hare and a dog stamped on upper edge, vellum a little soiled.

Rare first edition of this important History of Scotland and the most important work of George Buchanan (1506-1582), Scotch historian and scholar, man of affairs and tutor to James VI. The ‘History’ was Buchanan’s chef d’oeuvre and was an immense success. It was immediately translated into the continental languages and was the chief, if not the only source from which foreigners knew anything about Scotland. By the middle of the C18 it had been reprinted nineteen times.

The first three books give a description of the physical characteristics of the country and the rest its history by the reigns of its kings. The earliest part is largely fabulous; from Malcolm on it improves, and by the middle of the C13 it is a work of value. By the reign of James V it has the merit of being written by a virtual contemporary, albeit a very partisan one. For Buchanan, Mary could do no right and her opponents no wrong. “For a time Buchanan was on very good terms with Mary. (…) Following the murder of Mary’s second husband Lord Darnley, in 1567, Buchanan turned against her and became the Queen’s most violent detractor. Buchanan was instrumental in preparing the case for the prosecution against Mary, narrating her misdeeds and attempting to justify her deposition in the polemical ‘De Maria Scotorum Regina’.. His political theory had the same aim, justifying the rights of resistance against tyrannical monarchs (…) In his Rerum Scoticarum Historia, published in 1582,the last year of his life Buchanan sought to demonstrate that his principles of resistance were embedded in the grand sweep of Scottish history.” Dr Caroline Erskine. ‘George Buchanan: Political Thought in Early Modern Britain and Europe’.

The work was immensely influential in shaping popular opinion, not just in its own time but for nearly two centuries afterwards, and no Scotch historian of the period can neglect it. The work was also particularly influential in England particularly on writers such as Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser. “It is also evident that large numbers of English readers had access to sections of Buchanan’s Rerum Scoticarum Historia, even if they could not read the Latin edition of 1582, through the admittedly hostile translation/ adaptation of Francis Thynne published in Holinshed’s Chronicles when it was revised in 1587, one of who was William Shakespeare. As it was likely, but hardly inevitable, that James VI of Scotland would succeed Elizabeth, there was an understandably widespread interest in the violent and rocky course of Scottish history in England in the late 1580’s and early 1590’s” Dr Caroline Erskine.‘

From the library at Pollock House in Glasgow which was in the Maxwell family for 700 years. In 1939 Sir John Stirling-Maxwell drew up a conservation agreement over the estate with the National Trust for Scotland, of which he was a founder member. His daughter gifted the house and estate to the City in 1966.

A very good copy of this important first edition.

ESTC S107152. STC 3991. Aldis 182. Lowndes I 300.


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