First Scottish books on display

Rare chance to see print legacy of Scotland's Renaissance king

The only known copies of the first books printed in Scotland are to be put on public display at the National Library of Scotland on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden.

James IV, who was killed in the battle, introduced printing to Scotland through his royal patronage. In 1507 he granted merchant Walter Chepman and bookseller Androw Myllar a patent to begin printing in Scotland. They established their press in the Cowgate in Edinburgh soon after.

The public will get a rare chance to see the first books printed by Chepman and Myllar when the National Library of Scotland puts them on display on Monday September 9. Expert curators will be on hand to explain the background to their unrivalled place in Scotland's printed heritage.

Helen Vincent, Senior Rare Books Curator, said: 'These are the most treasured printed books in the National Library’s collections. Without James IV's authorisation, printing might not have come to Scotland when it did. He saw the possibilities of this new technology and the need for the country to be able to print its own books.'

James was the last king of Scotland to be killed in battle. He has been acclaimed by historians as the king whose reign brought the Renaissance to Scotland. The introduction of printing was part of his patronage of the arts and sciences — the Chepman and Myllar prints include poems in Scots by William Dunbar and Robert Henryson, two of the greatest writers of the day.

The Library is marking the anniversary of the battle and celebrating the contribution of James IV to printing in Scotland by displaying the books in its boardroom between 12pm and 2pm on September 9. There is no need to book: people can just turn up on the day to view the books, which are very rarely taken out of the Library's vaults.

'These books were printed five centuries ago a short distance from where they are now kept,' said Helen. 'They are a physical link back to a golden age of Scottish culture which came to a sad end after James was killed at Flodden. We look forward to welcoming people to see them.'

The historical importance of the books was recognised three years ago when they were included in the first UK Memory of the World Register. This is an online register which promotes the importance of documentary heritage across the UK and the world. It is run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Chepman and Myllar prints have been digitised and are freely available to view online on the NLS website.


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5 September 2013

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