Today from 12-2pm at NLS we are marking the 500th anniversary of the death of James IV by displaying the Chepman and Myllar prints– Scotland’s first printed books. What, you may ask, had this particular Scottish king to do with the history of the book in Scotland?
A Renaissance King
James IV (1473-1515) was the epitome of the Renaissance monarch. Famed for his expert performance in knightly tournaments, he spoke Latin and several European languages in addition to Scots and Gaelic. His interest in new ideas led him to sponsor new buildings, alchemists’ experiments, and even an attempt at flight. During his reign, celebrated scholars such as Hector Boece and Archibald Whitelaw brought the new ideas of humanism to Scotland, and writers such as William Dunbar and Robert Henryson composed some of the country’s finest poems.
James and Printing
It was probably during James’ reign that the first printed books arrived in Scotland, most likely brought back by travelling scholars, diplomats and clerics. Printing must have appealed to a king fascinated by all kinds of new technology. In 1507 James granted a patent or licence to Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar to import Scotland’s first printing press.
James saw the potential of print for spreading many copies of the same version of a text quickly and widely. He wanted Chepman and Myllar to print laws and chronicles – books which would help his project of centralising government.