LESLIE, John, Bishop of Ross.


LESLIE, John, Bishop of Ross. De Origine moribus et Rebus gestis Scotorum.

Rome, in Aedibus populi Romani, 1578


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (xl) 588 (xxxii) a-e , A-R , S , T-2O , 2P-2R , 2S , two parts in one. Roman letter, index in Italic, text within printed box rule, woodcut historiated initials, head and tail-pieces. Both titles within printed line rule with large woodcut printer’s device, repeated on verso of last, ten full page engraved plates of genealogical tables including fine royal portraits in medallions and royal arms, one full page engraved plate of Mary Queen of Scots’ tree of descent, large double page fldg. engraved map of Scotland and Isles, small engraving of the Scotch royal arms. Light age yellowing, small worm track, and a few single worm holes in title and next few leaves, single worm hole at gutter in first half of book, small worm track in margins of quires X-Z, another at upper margin, scattered single holes in index and last few leaves of text, the rare mark or spot. A very good copy, crisp and clean, with excellent impressions of the map and plates, in contemporary Scottish[?] dark calf over thick bevelled wooden boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, outer panel filled with a wide, gilt scrolled roll, small gilt scrolled corner pieces to inner panel, gilt stamped strap-work oval to centres, title and author gilt stamped to upper cover, in imitation of title page, 1597 gilt lettered below, brass corners pieces, spine with raised bands, lacking clasps and catches, surfaces rubbed and worn with much of the gilding absent, worm holes, spine worn at head, joints cracked.

First edition of the principal work of John Leslie Bishop of Ross (1527-1596), Catholic disputant, politician, accomplished man of affairs and historian, long one of the principal agents of Mary, Queen of Scots and sometime her ambassador in England, in a most interesting contemporary probably Scottish binding, likely made for presentation. The binding style and materials are almost English, but not quite, and are not identifiable from elsewhere. Despite his diplomatic status Leslie suffered imprisonment, including periods in the Tower of London, and examination by the Council. In 1574 he was released on the condition that he leave England. During his confinement in the Tower, he gathered the material for his grand history of Scotland, written in the Scots language and presented to Mary for her amusement in captivity. He never returned to England, though he continued to be active in Mary’s, and after her death, Scotland’s interests in France and Rome for the rest of his life. He took up the national history from the death of James I, where Hector Boece had stopped, continued it to the year 1561 and presented the manuscript to Mary in 1571 in prison, for her personal perusal. That fragment was followed up by this much more ambitious text in which he narrated the national history from its origins. In 1596, this was translated into Scots by Father James Dalrymple, a Scottish monk at Ratisbon, but the manuscript was not published till 1888. The first seven books are mainly an epitome of Hector Boece, and he is as credulous as Boece himself regarding freaks of nature and his country’s legends, though his descriptions of the counties and islands was based to a considerable extent on independent observation and learning and no small portion of the topographical matter is first-hand. In the later portions of his work, however, he writes with seriousness and moderation. The history from 1436 to 1562 is much more detailed and his narrative of events during the reign of Mary is one of the most valuable sources for the period, particularly as a Catholic account of the events leading up to the Scottish reformation of which he had first hand knowledge. It is a valuable supplement, and a corrective in many details, to the works of Buchanan and Knox. The map, very often missing, is of particular interest as one of the earliest maps of Scotland, preceded only by Abraham Ortelius’s 1573.

An excellent copy of the rare first edition of this important history in its original, most probably a presentation binding, suggested by the gilt lettering of the title on the upper cover and the high quality of the design and gilding.

BM STC It. p. 376. Adams L 541. Lowndes L 1121. Brunet III 1011. Graesse IV, 176 “On ne connaît que 3 ex. avec la carte”.
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