The first book printed at St Andrews, and a key work in Scottish religious and publishing history.
The Reformation was closely bound up with both the spread of regional printing and the use of the language of the people, rather than Latin. This book shows both of these factors in action in Scotland — but on the side of the Catholic party, not the Reformers.
The full title of the book explains its intentions: it is designed by the church authorities to make the doctrines of the faith accessible to the people. And to achieve this aim, the catechism is written in Scots — it is one of the best surviving examples of Middle Scots prose.
'The catechisme, that is to say, ane co[m]non and catholik instruction of the christin people in materis of our catholik faith and religioun, quhilk na gud christin man or woman suld misknaw: set furth be ye maist reverend father in God Johne archbischop of sanct Androus legatnait and primat of ye kirk of Scotland, in his provincial counsale haldin at Edinburgh the xxvi. day of Januarie, the yeir of our Lord 1551. With the advise and counsale of the bischoppis and uthir prelatis with doctours of theologie and canon law of the said realme of Scotland present for the tyme.'
While the doctrines in the catechism were aimed at everyone, the actual copies were sent to the clergy, for their own instruction and for that of the people, as Hamilton's preface explains:
'Heirfor it is to yow expedient to use this present Catechisme, first to your awin instructioun … Secundly, according to the decreit maid in our prouincial counsale, our will is that ye reid ye samyn Catechisme diligently, distinctly & plainly ilk ane of yow to your awin parochianaris, for thair common instructioun & spiritual edificatioun in ye word of God.'
The Archbishop wrote the preface himself, but the catechism text was probably compiled by one or all of a group of theologians at the University of St Andrews. It was intended to meet some of the challenges of the Reformers from inside the Catholic Church, as part of a programme of moderate reforms by Archbishop Hamilton.
The book itself tells us that it was printed 'at sanct Androus … the xxix. day of August, the zeir of our Lord M.D.liii'. But we know very little about how it came to be printed there.
One theory is that John Scot was an English printer, in spite of his name, who was brought to Scotland to print the 'Catechisme' by Archbishop Hamilton. Another is that he was a Scottish printer more concerned with his business than with politics — among a variety of other books, both sacred and secular, he went on to print the Reformers' Confession of Faith in 1561.
In their 'Annals of Scottish Printing' (1890), Robert Dickson and John Edmond conjecture that he was a printer working in Edinburgh who fled the capital when the English army took possession of it in 1544, and took his printing equipment with him. During the period of the Reformation in Scotland, from the 1540s to the 1570s, Scot was in trouble several times with the authorities on either side because he kept printing unlicensed material that they regarded as offensive.
Copies held at the National Library of Scotland
The copies of the 1552 catechism held in the National Library of Scotland show that this book was still being read over 100 years after its publication by Scots to whom religion was still an important issue.
While some of the personal names of these owners are now almost indecipherable, we do know more about the institutions that owned copies. Most were Scots Colleges, often based in Continental Europe, where for many years Scottish Catholics would send their children to be educated. These libraries have preserved for us copies of important Scottish books like this one, and also many other examples of what Scots were reading through the centuries.
H.36.a.14: This copy has no names of former owners, but does include a page of 18th century notes on the life and death of Archbishop Hamilton.
Ry.II.f.29: Inscription on second flyleaf: 'Charles Ritche his book 1696'; there is a long inscription on the life of Archbishop Hamilton dated 1697 on the verso, probably by the same person.
SBA.295: Inscription on title page: 'Ex libris Gulielmus Stuarti P.V.M. Scot …' (William Stuart). Further inscriptions, one dated 1639, are obscured. This book belonged to the Scots monastery of St James at Ratisbon (now Regensburg) in Germany. When that monastery was suppressed in 1860, this book was one of those brought to Scotland by one of the last remaining monks there. The monastery was refounded as St Benedict's Abbey in 1876, at Fort Augustus on Loch Ness. The Library received its library as a deposit in 1992, and bought many of its books, with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, when they were sold in 2000.