In the original inventory (a copy of which is at MS.3581, folios 6-7) signed by Thomas Ruddiman, then Underkeeper of the Library, the papers are listed in thirty-eight bundles. Most of these were arranged and bound during the period 1820-1849. Of the remainder, Adv.MSS.19.1.24 and 29.2.9a were bound in 1896, when it was not realised that Adv.MS.19.1.24 belonged to the collection. Adv.MS.16.2.3, now a small quarto volume, had also become separated from the rest of the papers, but can be identified from the original inventory. A few items in that inventory are missing, notably letters of Darnley and of James Sandilands, Lord Torphichen, and papers giving the keys of cyphers.
The papers fall into three periods: the middle of the 16th century (Adv.MSS.29.2.1-5); the late 16th century (Adv.MSS.19.1.24, 29.2.6-29.2.9, 29.2.9a); and the 17th century (Adv. MSS. 16.2.3 and 29.2.9). The first of these groups relates chiefly to Mary of Lorraine, Queen Consort of James V. The second consists largely of papers compiled or collected by John Lindsay, Lord Menmuir, who was the grandfather of the first Earl of Balcarres. To some extent, they reflect his varied activities as a Senator of the College of Justice, a royal commissioner for the visitation of the University of Saint Andrews, Master of the Metals and Minerals, and Secretary of State to James VI. In this latter capacity, the papers concern foreign and ecclesiastical affairs. The third group is rather more miscellaneous, and the papers concern the first Earl of Balcarres, the Covenanters, and the erection of baronetcies in Nova Scotia.
Where a reference to a published work is recorded in an abbreviated form in the catalogue descriptions the expanded form is cited under `Bibliography`.
Summaries of those items which do not appear to have been published or summarised elsewhere are given in the catalogue descriptions.