Regiam Majestatem

Item date: 18 October 1548
Grant Value: £5,000
Item cost: £17,620
Item date acquired: 2016
Item institution: St Andrews University
Town/City: St Andrews
County: Fife

FNL has helped us to ‘bring home’ a manuscript owned by a St Andrews student in the late 16th century, significantly enhancing St Andrews’ holdings of legal manuscripts, which we make accessible for teaching and research at all levels.

The Marchmont Manuscript of the key Scottish legal text Regiam Majestatem is written in Lowland Scots.  The manuscript is signed and dated 18 October 1548 by the scribe Robert Ewyn, presented to the poet Alexander Hume by his maternal uncle, Alexander Hume of Manderston, in 1582, and bears the heraldic bookplate of Patrick Hume, first Earl of Marchmont, Lord High Chancellor of Scotland, 1702.

There are a number compelling reasons to want to acquire this mid-16th-century collection of Scottish statutes and legal texts.  We already have one copy of this text at St Andrews, our msKF51.R4 in Latin and Scots, c.1500, and make significant use of this manuscript in teaching early modern palaeography to MLitt students in the schools of English and History. In 2015 the University of St Andrews established the Institute for Legal and Constitutional Research, signalling a particular commitment to the areas of law, legal history, and constitutionalism, under the directorship of Professor John Hudson and Professor Caroline Humfress. The new MLitt in Legal and Constitutional Studies (running for the first time in September 2016), has proved popular, which clearly demonstrates the potential interest in St Andrews as a research centre for law and legal history. The new MLitt students  provide a direct student audience for the manuscript itself and its acquisition enrich teaching in addition to the MLitt in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies and the MLitt in Scottish History, and possibly also the MLitt in Intellectual History, given the manuscript’s provenance.

Obtaining another copy of the text of Regiam Majestatem provides interesting opportunities for comparison on many levels (script, format, layout, content, intended audience, known ownership contexts, etc.); this one is about 50 years later in date, providing more flexibility in the ways that we will be able to use it.  Furthermore, whilst our existing copy is in Latin and Scots, this copy offered for sale is in the vernacular - which for the teaching that we do on these particular courses will be very helpful indeed. Additionally the script is nice and clear, which is an advantage in a teaching context.

Beyond the teaching contexts there are other palpable reasons for wanting to secure this acquisition. To have anything from these islands that is signed and dated by its scribe – in this case Robert Ewyn - is rare.  Named scribes are unusual, and furthermore, the recipient of the manuscript was a student at St Andrews, which is for us a compelling reason since it will bring the manuscript 'home'. The poet and writer Alexander Hume (c.1557-1609) attended St Mary's College at the University of St Andrews, graduating BA in 1574 and was given the manuscript by his maternal uncle, Alexander Hume of Manderston in 1582.

The manuscript is now accessible for research in the dedicated Special Collections Reading Room, which is open to all registered readers, and, thanks to a special grant from FNL, it was digitised in 2017 and is now freely accessible on  St Andrews' Digital Humanities website.


Regiam Majestatem, now digitised thanks to a special FNL grant. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews.
Regiam Majestatem, now digitised thanks to a special FNL grant. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews.