Scoto-British or Scoto-Latin? Scottish Latin Print Culture and the Union of the Crowns, c. 1603-1637

Steven Reid, Principal Investigator

One of the aims of the project alongside the creation of a critical edition of material from the DPS is to research the social and contextual culture of Latin in Scotland, and how, when and why Latin texts appeared in print by Scottish authors is a major part of this. This task has been made much easier thanks to Roger Green's Scottish Latin Authors in Print up to 1700 (Leuven, 2012), the first attempt to comprehensively catalogue all known printed Latin texts by Scots published at home and on the Continent, which records a little over 3,000 separate works (including second and subsequent editions, but excluding the works of George Buchanan) between 1450 and 1700. The team rendered the data from this book in tabular format to create a database of all Latin printed texts by Scots authors between 1488 and 1637, which has been subsequently developed and expanded slightly following research into the lives of the DPS authors. The table below offers a headline view of the rates of publication of the three major fields that Scottish Latin authors wrote in: theology and ecclesiastical works (including works like the 'Aberdeen Breviary', 1 commentaries on the Bible, ecclesiastical histories like Boece's 'Lives of the Bishops of Mortlach and Aberdeen', 2 and work of religious polemic), philosophical tracts, textbooks and pamphlets, and poetry (which for the purposes of this table includes Psalm paraphrases and attempts at rendering other Biblical texts in meter).

There are some caveats. The table includes only first editions of texts, as broadly speaking very few authors ran to second editions (the notable exceptions being Buchanan, the works of the group of late-fifteenth and early sixteenth-century philosopers known as the 'circle of John Mair', 3 and the authors in the DPS whose work comprised reprints of the original editions of their texts). It does not take into account epigrams and smaller poems of less than 20 lines by Scots appended to works published by other authors, as this is a field that remains to be mapped. It does not include the publication of theses philosophicae, the annual graduation theses produced at most Scottish universities from 1596 onward (of which there were 89 published up to 1637), 4 and it does not include works by Buchanan, as his volumes were produced in many editions which evolved over time and so to compare them in a simple tabulated way with this body of texts would be like comparing apples and oranges. Major anthologies such as The Muses Welcome (1618) and the DPS are treated as single publications. All figures should be taken as approximate, and there is a very small amount of overlap in genre types where one author contributes to several different fields - philosophy and theology say, as in the case of the author Robert Baron, or medical and philosophical as in the case of Duncan Liddel. 5 However, the overlap is very small indeed and the overwhelming trend is largely one of authors exercising themselves in a specific field.

As can be seen, there was a small but steady stream of Latin publication by Scots from the appearance of Duncan Liddell's short scholastic tract, Exponabilia (Paris, 1488) right through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This phenomenon declined swiftly and sharply in the Covenanting era, and it is a great irony that the publication of the DPS, so great a statement on Scottish Latin culture, is also a clear marker of its demise. However, prior to the Scottish Reformation of 1560, works by Scottish authors were near-exclusively philosophical or 'ecclesiastical' in nature. Beyond Buchanan, there were less than a handful of examples of neo-Latin poetry published by Scots in this period, compared to 65 philosophical texts and 41 theological ones. Post-1560, this situation dramatically changed. Over 250 separate poetic works were published between 1560 and 1637, varying in size from short single poems to lengthy collections, and embracing a panoply of meters and genres. This figure is even more striking when one considers that around 115 theological texts and just 145 philosophical ones (56 actual texts plus 89 theses) are known to have been published in the same period.

What is the broader significance of this data? John Durkan famously stated in his seminal article, 'The Beginnings of Humanism in Scotland', that one of the two 'prevalent misconceptions' regarding the impact of the renaissance in Scotland was that 'it influenced a few and mainly Protestant figures like Buchanan shortly before 1560 and that therefore its full tide was not felt until after the Reformation had swept the clerical opposition out of control'. 6 This thesis is certainly true in most areas - art, cultural patronage, architecture, education - but it requires some modification in relation to neo-Latin poetry in two ways.

Firstly, there were less than a handful of Scottish Latin poets active in print before 1560, and the bulk of our examples occur post-reformation, which in itself prompts the question - why did this major component of renaissance humanist expression, the imitatio veterum or emulation of the great Latin authors, occur in such a pronounced way in Protestant Scotland? This does not appear to be related to the shift in religious culture per se, but the effects of that shift do perhaps explain this phenomenon. The arrival of a series of fixed printing presses in Edinburgh under the supervision of Robert Lekprevik, Henry Charteris and Thomas Bassandyne, and a further successful press in Aberdeen under Edward Raban, certainly facilitated the production of texts and allowed for the publication of literary trifles celebrating key events like the royal wedding of 1590 and the migration of King James south in 1603. 7 It is also arguable that social conditions in Scotland were right at the close of the sixteenth century for such a cultural flowering, partially as a result of the Protestant focus on universal literacy. For the first time basic nationwide education, via grammar schools in every major town, was close to being a reality; Scotland's trio of Catholic medieval universities had been expanded into a network of five Protestant arts colleges and seminaries, with close ties to the local civic communities; and there were the beginnings of a settled system of law and order thanks to legislation over the course of James VI's early adult reign. 8 Thus while this is clearly a phenomenon that emerges in the later sixteenth century, and is caused in part by shifts engendered by Protestant culture, it is not necessarily a 'Protestant' phenomenon. More research is required into the contents and themes of Latin poetry in this period to see how much religion fosters and inspires this form of cultural expression, and the project aims to tackle this in the coming months.

Secondly, and more importantly, the production of Latin poetry clearly reached its biggest phase of expansion and zenith after 1603. The spikes in the graph are all connected to clusters of publications produced for significant events, including King James' departure south (1603), the tragic early death of Prince Henry (1612), James' visit home (1617), and the coronation visit of Charles I (1633). There is something of a paradox here: why did Scots immerse themselves in the language so fully after 1603, when one would perhaps expect a much greater focus on the vernacular as Scotland became more politically, socially and culturally entwined with England? Leicester Bradner has suggested that the removal of the court from Edinburgh to London post-1603 led to a 'further depreciation of the Scottish tongue' and that 'the incentive for a Scot to write in Latin was overwhelming' to impress the learned King James VI and I. 9 Bradner's views are echoed by Christopher Upton, who has argued even more strongly that the loss of a Scottish court, which he describes as 'a heart transplant for which the donor was not dead', led to a resurgence in Scottish Latin culture for negative reasons:

The King's departure and Scotland's increasing isolation as a cultural force lead to the virtual collapse of vernacular poetry for two centuries. We can isolate three after-effects of this situation: 1) the continued success and encouragement of Latin writing; 2) an embattled but proud nationalism, focussed on culture rather than politics; 3) a nostalgia for earlier achievements. 10

An alternative view of this process is the argument that Latin publications were used around the Union of Crowns in a positive way to express feelings of 'Scoto-Britishness' and delight that a protestant king should unite the island of Britain as a single 'godly' nation. This has been clearly demonstrated by Arthur Williamson and Paul McGinnis in their work on Andrew Melville and David Hume of Godscroft, and it can also be seen in the work of other authors such as Patrick Adamson and Adam King. 11

Thus on one hand this explosion in Latin culture can be read as a patriotic and pro-British intellectual development where the language is being used in place of Scots as a means of communicating with audiences across the British Isles, while on the other it can be seen as a display of inwards-looking and nationalist 'Scoto-Latinity' reacting to the dissolution of a Scottish courtly culture. Which of these views proves to be closer to the truth will hopefully emerge as we examine more of the post-1603 texts being translated by the project, including the works of Robert Ayton and Thomas Craig of Riccarton.


1: Breviarum Aberdonense, printed by Chepman and Myllar under the aegis of Bishop William Elphinstone, at Edinburgh in 1509-10. For a modern edition, see Alan MacQuarrie (ed.), Legends of Scottish Saints: Readings, Hymns and Prayers for the Commemorations of Scottish Saints in the Aberdeen Breviary (Dublin, 2012).

2: Hectoris Boetii Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium episcoporum vitae (Paris, 1522); see also the edition and translation by James Moir for the New Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1894).

3: Alexander Broadie, The Circle of John Mair : Logic and Logicians in Pre-Reformation Scotland (Oxford, 1985).

4: For a full account of these, see Giovanni Gellera, 'Natural Philosophy in the Graduation Theses of the Scottish Universities in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century' (unpublished Glasgow University Phd thesis, 2012). I am grateful to Dr Gellera for confirming this number for me from his own research.

5: For Baron and Liddel's works, see Green, Scottish Latin Authors, pp. 53-55, 181-184, 293, 312-317.

6: IR, vol. 4 (Spring, 1953), pp. 5-24, at p. 5.

7: Robert Dickson and John Philip Edmond, Annals of Scottish Printing from the Introduction of the Art in 1507 to the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1890); John Philip Edmond, The Aberdeen Printers: Edward Raban to James Nicol, 1620-1736 (Aberdeen, 1884-1886).

8: On education, see John Durkan (ed. and rev. by Jamie Reid-Baxter), Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633 (Scottish History Society, 2006), and Steven J. Reid, Humanism and Calvinism: Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland, 1560-1625 (Farnham, 2011). For differing assessments of the impact and importance of James' legislation on bloodfeud, see Keith Brown, Bloodfeud in Scotland, 1573-1625 (Edinburgh, 1986), and Julian Goodare, State and Society in Early Modern Scotland (Oxford, 1999).

9: Leicester Bradner, Musae Anglicanae: A History of Anglo-Latin Poetry 1500-1925 (London and New York, 1940), p. 124.

10: Christopher A. Upton, 'National Internationalism: Scottish Literature and the European Audience in the Seventeenth Century', in Studies in Scottish Literature, vol. 26/1 (1991), pp. 218-225, at p.222.

11: Paul J. McGinnis and Arthur H. Williamson (eds and trans.), George Buchanan: The Political Poetry (Scottish History Society, 1995); Paul J. McGinnis and Arthur H. Williamson (eds and trans.) The British Union : a critical edition and translation of David Hume of Godscroft's De unione Insulae Britannicae (Farnham, 2002); Paul J. McGinnis Arthur H. Williamson, 'Politics, Prophecy, Poetry: The Melvillian Moment, 1589-96, and its Aftermath', in SHR vol. 89 (April 2010), pp. 1-19; Patrick Adamson, Serenissimi ac Nobilissimi Scotiae, Angliae et Hyberniae Principis, Genethliacum (Paris, 1566); Adam King, In Jacobum Sextum Scotorum Regem, Angliae, Franciae et Hiberniae Corona, Iure Haereditario Donatum...Panegyris (Edinburgh, 1603; repr. DPS, vol. 2, pp. 227-233).