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Friday 6 January 2017

Feature: Licence to print - 500 years of printing in Scotland

On 15 September 1507 King James IV of Scotland issued the first licence for printing in Scotland. It was granted to Walter Chepman, an Edinburgh merchant, and his business partner, a bookseller named Androw Myllar.

In 2008 it will be 500 years since Chepman and Myllar produced the first printed book in Scotland on 4 April 1508. To mark the start of commemorative events for the 500th anniversary, the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) displayed the original royal licence for the press on Friday 14 September 2007 at General Register House. It was recorded with other royal grants in the Register of the Privy Seal (NAS reference PS1/3, folio 129). An image of part of the first page of this grant, along with a transcript of the whole grant can be seen below.

500 years of printing in Scotland

The first printed book with a definite publication date in Scotland was John Lydgate's popular poem 'The Complaint of the Black Knight', printed in 4 April 1508 on a printing press in Edinburgh's Cowgate by Chepman and Myllar. The only known copy is in the National Library of Scotland, where it will form the centrepiece of a major exhibition in summer 2008.

However the book for which the licence was granted was the more serious 'Aberdeen Breviary'. This was a service book containing Scottish church practices and lives of local saints, ('efter our awin Scottis use, and with legendis of Scottis sanctis', in the words of the licence). It is called after its compiler, William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen (1431-1514).

There will be commemorative events and initiatives across Scotland, starting in October 2007 at Napier University in Edinburgh, and running throughout 2008. They will allow the public to see everything from the first Chepman and Myllar book to a modern day printing press. The National Archives of Scotland (NAS) is supporting the commemorative year, along with other national and local bodies. A special website ( provides details of what's going on across Scotland.

Licence to Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar (NAS PS1/3, folio 129)

Patent granted by King James IV to Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar, 15 September 1507
from the Register of the Privy Seal (NAS reference PS1/3, folio 129).

Transcription Translation from the original Scots

James, &c., to al and sindrj our officiaris liegis and subdittis quham it efferis, quhais knawlage thir our lettrez salcum, greting:

James etc, to all and sundry our officers, lieges and subjects whom it concerns, [to] whose knowledge these our letters shall come, greeting;

Wit ye that forsamekill as our lovittis servitouris Walter Chepman and Andro Myllar burgessis of our burgh of Edinburgh, has at our instance and request, for our plesour, the honour and proffit of our Realme and Liegis, takin on thame to furnis and bring hame ane prent, with all stuff belangand tharto, and expert men to use the samyne, for imprenting within our Realme of the bukis of our Lawis, actis of parliament, croniclis, mess bukis, and portuus efter the use of our Realme, with addiciouns and legendis of Scottis sanctis, now gaderit to be ekit tharto, and al utheris bukis that salbe sene necessar, and to sel the sammyn for competent pricis, be our avis and discrecioun thair labouris and expens being considerit:

Know you that forsasmuch as our beloved servants Walter Chepman and Andro Myllar burgesses of our burgh of Edinburgh, have at our instance and request, for our pleasure, the honour and profit of our realm and lieges, taken on themselves to furnish and bring home a printing press, with all stuff belonging thereto, and expert men to use the same, for printing within our realm the books of our laws, acts of parliament, chronicles, mass books, and breviaries after the use of our realm, with additions and legends of Scots saints, now gathered to be added to them, and all other books that shall be seen as necessary, and to sell the same for competent prices by our advice and discretion, their labours and expense being considered.

And because we wnderstand that this can not be perfurnist without Rycht greit cost labour and expens, we have grantit and promittit to thame that thai sal nocht be hurt nor prevenit thairin be ony utheris to tak copyis of ony bukis furtht of our Realme, to ger imprent the samye in utheris cuntreis, to be brocht and sauld agane within our Realme, to cause the said Walter and Androu tyne thair gret labour and expens;

And because we understand that this cannot be carried out without very great cost, labour and expense, we have granted and promised to them that they shall not be hurt, nor forestalled therein by any others, by taking copies of any books furth of our realm, to cause print the same in other countries, to be brought and sold again within our realm, and to cause the said Walter and Androu to forfeit their great labour and expense;

And als it is divisit and thocht expedient be us and our counsall, that in tyme cuming mess bukis, manualis, matyne bukis and portuus bukis efter our awin Scottis use, and with legendis of Scottis sanctis, as is now gaderit and ekit be ane Reverend fader in God, and our traist counsalour Williame bischope of abirdene and utheris, be usit generaly within al our Realme alssone as the sammyn may be imprentit and providit, and that na maner of sic bukis of Salusbery use be brocht to be sauld within our Realme in tym cuming; and gif ony dois in the contrare, that thai sal tyne the sammyne:

And also it is decided and thought expedient by us and our council, that in time coming mass books, manuals, books of hours and breviaries after our own Scottish use, and with legends of Scottish saints, as are now gathered and added to by a Reverend Father in God and our trusty counsellor, William, Bishop of Aberdeen and others, be used generally within all our realm as soon as the same may be printed and provided, and that no manner of such books of Salisbury use be brought to be sold within our realm in time coming; and if any does the contrary, that they shall forfeit the same:

Quharfor we charge straitlie and commandis yow al and sindrj our officiaris, liegis, and subdittis, that nane of yow tak apon hand to do ony thing incontrare this our promitt, devise, and ordinance in tyme cuming, under the pane of escheting of the bukis, and punising of thair persons bringaris tharof within our Realme, in contrar this our statut, with al rigour as efferis.

Wherefore we directly charge and command you all and sundry our officers, lieges, and subjects, that none of you take in hand to do anything contrary to this our promise, decision and ordinance in time coming, under the pain of confiscation of the books, and punishing of the persons of the bringers thereof within our realm, contrary to this our statute, with all rigour as appropriate.

Geven under our prive Sel at Edinburgh, the xv day of September, and of our Regne the xxti year.

Given under our Privy Seal at Edinburgh, the 15 day of September, and of our Reign the 20th year [1507].

Note on the text
Based on the transcription published in 'Register of the Privy Seal' vol I, 1488-1529, ed. Malcolm Livingstone (1908), pp. 223-4, with minor changes from comparison with the original (NAS ref. PS1/3, f.129). A less accurate version can be found in Robert Dickson and John Philip Edmond, 'Annals of Scottish Printing' (Cambridge, 1890), pp. 7-8.

Note on the translation
Translated in September 2007 from the original Scots in Register of the Privy Seal (NAS PS1/3, f.129), and the printed version in 'Register of Privy Seal' vol I 1488-1529 (1908), pp.223-4.


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