The Elchies Manuscript and the Method of Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington

Adelyn L. M. Wilson

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This article examines the text of a collection of mid-sixteenth-century legal decisions found in the so-called Elchies manuscript: Edinburgh, Advocates Library, Adv. MS. 31.2.2 (i). This manuscript’s text has previously been identified as the authorial holograph of that collection, which has been attributed to the contemporary Scottish judge, Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington. This article confirms that attribution but refines the understanding of the nature of the Elchies manuscript’s text. It sets out a method for revealing material distinctions between the authorial holographs of cumulative temporal compilations and the descendant manuscript copies of them. This method of material analysis reveals that the Elchies manuscript was used as Maitland’s authorial holograph for only the first decade of the period during which he collected decisions. However thereafter the text appears to have been only a copy; evidence supporting this conclusion can be found in some of the earliest witnesses to the text as well as the Elchies manuscript itself. Thus another volume seems to have superseded the Elchies manuscript as Maitland’s authorial holograph. This insight into the Elchies manuscript allows this article to reconstruct Maitland’s method as a collector of legal decisions from the scribal evidence of the early part of its text. This in turn provides a fresh opportunity for comparison with the practices of other judges in this task, such as Haddington and Stair in the seventeenth century. This research thus gives the first significant insight into the method
of Scottish judges in the early-modern period, both in their practice in hearing cases and in the collection of notes on those cases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-146
Number of pages51
JournalManuscripta: A Journal for Manuscript Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

ISBN: 978-2-503-57857-6

The author is grateful to the Bibliographical Society for their generous support of this research with a Major Grant Award in 2015. She is also grateful to Professor John Ford, Professor Gero Dolezalek and Dr Andrew Gordon for reading earlier drafts of this article, and to Professor Dolezalek and Dr Ian Williams for sharing with her their notes on some of the manuscripts mentioned. She is also grateful to the Keepers and staff of the Aberdeen, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow University Libraries as well as the British Library in London and the Advocates Library, National Library of Scotland, National Records of Scotland and Signet Library in Edinburgh for allowing her access to their collections, and to the Yale University Beinecke Library (New Haven, CT) for providing her with a digital copy of the text of their manuscript Osborn fb 246.


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