The Aberdeen Breviary and Compassio Beate Marie

Item date: 1509-10 and 1520
Grant Value: £10,000 from FNL's B. H. Breslauer Fund
Item cost: £585,945
Item date acquired: 2014
Item institution: National Library of Scotland
Town/City: Edinburgh

These are two of the first books printed in Scotland which are, together, of great significance for the history of printing in Scotland and for the evidence they contain about the wider cultural context and history of Scotland at this time.

This purchase provided the opportunity to add to the Library’s collections the Glamis Castle copy of the Aberdeen Breviary, the last still in private hands. The Glamis copy is recognised as one of the best surviving examples of the Aberdeen Breviary, and is particularly noteworthy for the contemporary annotations it contains, including a set of verses and music. Bound in one of its two volumes is the only known copy of the Compassio Beate Marie, printed by John Story in Edinburgh around 1520.

The Aberdeen Breviary, printed in 1509-1510, is the book for which printing was introduced to Scotland. Although NLS holds one two-volume set and a single volume already, no two surviving copies of the Aberdeen Breviary are identical, and all are incomplete. Every copy of the Aberdeen Breviary makes a contribution to our understanding of how Scotland’s first books were printed. Having these variants available for study is all the more important because every other work printed by Chepman and Myllar which survives only exists in one copy. The Aberdeen Breviary is the only work on which this kind of analysis can be done.

Compassio Beate Marie, a small book consisting of eight leaves which contain two liturgical offices and the unique text of a set of readings about the arrival of St Andrew’s relics into Scotland, is a unique witness to a lost period of early Scottish printing. No-one knows what happened to printing in Scotland between the end of Chepman’s work on the Aberdeen Breviary in 1510 and the first surviving printing by Thomas Davidson, which cannot be earlier than 1532. The Compassio is the only witness to the fact that there was still printing in Scotland during these years.

These newly-acquired volumes have been completely digitized and are freely available to view on the National Library of Scotland website.  This grant was awarded from FNL's B. H. Breslauer Fund, thanks to the generosity of the President and Officers of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation; they also made a substantial additional donation to make this acquisition possible.