John Scot, Commonplace Book, 1620-1644

Scope and Content

Commonplace book of Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit.[The volume comprises two distinct elements and the arrangement of the volume, originally sequentially foliated from one end to folio 80, and also originally sequentially paginated from the other to p.106 [= folio 39], reflects this. For convenience of reference both foliation and pagination have been extended to the respective ends of the volume].

  • f.i Extracts in the hand of Scot from George Buchanan's De Jure Regno with marginal scribbles in a different hand which occasionally extend into the text. This hand does not occur elsewhere in the volume.
  • f.1r Dedicatory preface in a formal, italicised, hand with elaborate flourishes recording the intention of Scot to commemorate the donors to the library of the Humanity Class in the College of St Leonard, University of St Andrews, and their gifts.
  • ff.2-5r Further notes on Buchanan in the hand of Scot.
  • ff.6-9 Subscription list of donations to the Humanity Class Library, initiated 1 August 1620. The titles are listed for the most part in one hand but occasionally in the hand of the donor. The signature of the donor accompanies the entry. In three ruled columns are entered details of size, and place and date of publication.
  • f.10r signature of Scot. [This occurs at the head of every tenth folio to f.80].
  • f.10v scribbles
  • f.11 list of titles with three ruled columns, the first blank, the second and third giving details of place and date of publication. The latest date of publication is 1644. The hand is not that of Scot. [The titles and bibliographic details match very closely the titles and details of books gifted to the library of St Leonard's College c.1645 by Francis Scott, 2nd earl of Buccleuch].
  • ff.13-14 further notes from Buchanan in the hand of Scot.
  • ff.16-17 a list of 127 books in the hand of Scot, headed Catalogus librorum meorum.
  • f.21 further notes [from Buchanan ?] in the hand of Scot.
  • ff.35v-92 extracts from printed works in paginated sequence: [A different hand is responsible for pp.1-74, and pp.112-113, Scot for pp.74-97 and, possibly, a further hand for the historical notes pp.97-112]:
  • pp.1-57, Theodor Zwinger Theatrum Vitae Humanae.
  • pp.57-90 Conrad Gesner De Quadrupedibus.
  • pp.90-97 Pedro Mexia Lives.
  • pp.97-112 [f.36r] Notes on classical history from an unidentified source.
  • pp.112-113 [ff.36r-35v] notes from an historical source relating to the 6th Century AD.
  • Inside back cover, notes, in the hand of Scot, headed Gemme ex Storginiano Ovidiano signed at foot 'Sir John Scott of Scottistarvatt'.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Scot of Scotstarvit (1586-1670), Lord Scotstarvit, was a judge and writer, and an important patron of Scottish literary and scholarly works. He studied at St Andrews University, bought the lands of Tarvit in Fife and called himself Scot of Scotstarvit. He was interested in scholarly pursuits, writing Latin verse and endowing a chair of Latin at St LeonardÂ’s College, St Andrews, and organising subscriptions to the college library. He was brother in law of the poet William Drummond. He was also involved in politics, serving on the privy council of Scotland from 1622 and seemed to relish the constant political infighting, helping to bring down the earl of Mentieth. He also became a lord of the court of session. From 1632 however he took a back seat in politics, concentrating on two publishing projects with the Amsterdam publisher, William Blaeu. One was to produce a volume of contemporary Latin verse by Scotsmen, which featured some of his own compositions, and the second was to publish and expand on the maps of Scotland drawn by Timothy Pont in at the end of the sixteenth century, both as parts of a series of volumes planned by Blaeu. Scot joined with the rebels against Charles I in 1637 and signed the national covenant the following year. For his actions he was removed from his post in the chancery and spent the rest of his days trying to get it back. His own writings were a response to his removal from office and his feeling of abandonment.

The commonplace book was originally a Renaissance idea to have a book into which favourite passages of text, sayings and quotations could be copied. Students created notebooks in their studies to compile a collections of ideas from their readings to be used in future speeches, compositions and if they were training for the ministry, sermons. The notebook was an aid to memory, and a store for useful passages of Scripture, commentary, philosophical extracts and historical notes for future works.


Single item

Access Information

By appointment with the Keeper of Manuscripts. Access to records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

Part of the volume formerly held in the university muniment room. At some point the folios relating to the humanity class library were removed. They were recovered by the university at the sale of Dr John Lee's library [5 April 1861, lot 358] for £1.13s.0d.


Call number used to be ms4010

Other Finding Aids

Individual Manuscripts and Small Collections database available as part of Manuscripts Database.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Binding: calf with oval shaped ornamental book-stamp on both covers flanked with the initials S.I.S. Remains of two ties.Paper: 22x35cm

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Maia Sheridan, Archives Hub project archivist, based on material from the Manuscripts Database.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Manuscripts. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.



Related Material

University of St Andrews: GB 227 msDA765.S3, John Scot, The Staggering State of the Scots, 1650.


R V Pringle, 'An early humanity class library: the gift of Sir John Scot and friends to St Leonard's College (1620)', The Bibliotheck, VII, 1974.

Geographical Names