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Commonplace book of James Gray, priest of the diocese of Dunblane.

Identifier: Adv.MS.34.7.3

Scope and Contents

Composite manuscript produced in Scotland and compiled in the late 15th century, probably circa 1500, by James Gray, priest of the diocese of Dunblane and secretary to William Scheves, Archbishop of St Andrews.

The manuscript is a commonplace book and consists of a variety of religious, historical, legal, and literary material.

There are several hands evident throughout the manuscript. Anderson states that folios 1r-24v are written by very similar hands, and could possibly be ascribed to only one hand. Stevenson suggests that the longer vernacular poems can be confidently ascribed to James Gray, with the other vernacular works in a hand of the first half of the 16th century. The other hands present appear to all be contemporary with the late 15th and early 16th centuries. There are several 18th-century marginal annotations throughout the work referring to pages in the 'Critical Essay' of Thomas Innes.

The contents of the manuscript are as follows:

Religious material, detailed further below. Folios 1r-15v.

Legend of St Serf. Folio 1r.

Prayers. Folio 1v.

Blessing of Holy Water. Folios 2r-3v.

Prayers for collects at Mass and Canon of the Mass. Folios 4r-10v.

Masses of various saints, for the Pope, and for the dead. Folios 11r-15v.

Historical and miscellaneous material, detailed futher below. Folios 16r-26v.

A recipe for ink. Folio 16r.

'Sex mundi aetates', or the Six Ages of the World. Folio 16v

'Cronica Brevis', a genealogy of the kings of Scotland, from Adam to King James IV. Folios 17r-19r.

Series or catalogue of the Pictish kings. Folios 19v-20r.

Continuation of the series of the Scots kings from Kenneth MacAlpin until Malcolm Canmore, including what Innes terms a 'Chronology of some of the chief religious transactions in first ages, much of it uncertain dates' on part of folio 21v . Folios 20v-21v.

Continuation of the Scots kings from Malcolm Canmore until King James IV. Folios 22r-22v.

Short Chronicle account of the deaths in battles in Scotland?. Folios 23r-24v.

A later, 16th-century, added note concerning the birth and baptism of James duke of Rothesay, the son of King James V. Folio 25r.

A later 16th-century addition of a note concerning the birth and baptism of James VI. Folios 25v-26r.

Folio 26v is blank with pentrials.

Legal material, detailed further below. Folios 27r-70v.

Style book for a public notary, with copies of styles and forms of letters. Folios 27r-61v.

Acts of parliament during the reigns of James I-IV, concerning the encroachments of the court of Rome in Beneficial matters, and against drawing money out of the kingdom. Folios 62r-66v.

Style book for a notary public. Folios 67r-70v.

Literary and miscellaneous material, detailed further below. Folios 71r-80v.

Robert Henryson, 'The Annunciation', in Scots. Folios 71r-72v.

A minute of a grant to be made to the pope in favour of Mr John Chisholm, Chancellor to the Cathedral Church of Dunblane, to be coadjutor to Mr George Newstone in the office of Archdeacon of Dunblane, and to be his successor on his demise. Folios 73r-74v.

Verses beginning 'This is goddis awne complaint / fro man to man that he has boucht...'. Incomplete. Folios 75r-76v.

Verses beginning 'In me als lang / as ȝouthhed Rang...'. Incomplete, cropped at end. Folio 76v.

Another three stanzas added by a later hand, of the the missing stanzas from 'This is goddis awne complaint..', above. Folio 77rv.

Verses beginning 'To the maist peirlas prince of pece / With all my power I þe pray...'. Folios 78r-79r.

Verses beginning 'Man haue mynd and þe Amend / Of all thi mys quhill at þou may...'. Folios 79r-80v.

18th century notes on the manuscript and a table of contents by Thomas Innes. Folios 81r-83v.

Folio 84 is blank, recto and verso.

The decoration of the manuscript is not consistent. Some sections have litterae notabiliores stroked with red, as well as underlining in red. In other sections the large initial letters are in red. There are plain pen-flourished initials throughout.

Parts of the manuscript have been lined in red, but this is also inconsistent.

There are three sets of foliation running throughout the manuscript. A 16th-century foliation running 2-75, beginning on folio 2r and ending on folio 80r. This early foliation skips at folios 3 and 43, and has two folios numbered as 19. A pencil set of foliation then attempted to rectify this misfoliation, but also made errors. This has since been scored through and replaced by another set of pencil foliation.


  • Creation: Late 15th century.


Conditions Governing Access

This item is currently out for exhibition and is not available for consultation until May 2025.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal reproduction conditions apply, subject to any copyright restrictions.


1 Volumes ; 12.5cm x 9.5cm x 3.2cm

Language of Materials




i-xvi + 84 folios + xvii-xxxii, as well as a paper endleaf to front and a paper endleaf to the rear.

Collation, excluding folios i-xxxii (modern paper flyleaves):

a¹⁶ (16 stub), b¹⁶ (11 stub, wanting 13), c¹⁶, d¹⁶ (wants 15 and 16), e¹⁴, f¹² (6 and 8 stubs).

Custodial History

The manuscript was compiled, and written in part, by James Gray, priest. The heading on folio 32v reads: 'Incipit formular[iu]m s[e]c[un]d[u]m usum curie quo[n]d[am] bone memorie Iacobi Kennedi ep[iscopi] Sancti Andr[ee], et Reve[r]en[d]i p[at]ris modern Will[el]mi Scheues p[ri]mi eiusd[em] Archiep[iscopi], pro curtisano sc[ri]pt[um] p[er] me Iacobum gray, not[arium] pub[licu]m, Art[iu]m mag[istru]m, p[res]b[yte]r[u]m dunblanen[sis] dioc[esis], una cum p[rese]nti brevario'. An ownership inscription belonging to James Gray is also in the lower portion of folio 1v.

According to Stevenson and the notes by Innes, the manuscript was left by Gray to James Belsis, who was recorded in the early 16th century as a canon of Dunblane. An inscription by James Gray on folio 1v reads: 'Liber mag[ist]ri Jacobi Graye. Memorandu[m] q[uod] post decessu[m] M Jacob[us] Gray reliquit D[omi]no Ja Belsi hunc libru[m]'. The inscription of James Belsis is also on folio 1v: 'Ia[cobo] Belfs'.

Innes further states that the manuscript was then left in a legacy to James Blackwood, also recorded as a canon of Dunblane in the 16th century. This is probably attested to in another ownership inscription on folio 1v at the very foot of the folio. This inscription, however, is extremely faded.

In the early 18th century the manuscript was next known to be in the possession of John Ker, Professor of Greek at King's College, Aberdeen. He apparently loaned the manuscript to Thomas Innes while he was writing his 'Critical Essay'.

In 1740 Ker presented the manuscript to the Library of the Faculty of Advocates, as evidenced by an inscription on folio ir which reads: 'Ex Libris Bibliothecae Facultatis Juridicae Edinburgi Dono Joannis Ker humaniorum Literarum in academia Edinburgensi Professoris 1740.'.

The previous shelfmark applied to the item by the Library of the Faculty of Advocates is on folio ir: 'rr.1.17'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented, 1925, by the Faculty of Advocates to the nation on the foundation of the National Library of Scotland.


Anderson, M. O. 'Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland', second edition (Edinburgh, 2011), pages 64-65.

Briquet, C. M. 'Les Filigranes. Dictionnaire historique des marques de papier des leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu'en 1600', 4 Volumes (Leipzig, 1923).

Broun, D. 'The Irish identity of the Kingdom of the Scots in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries' (Woodbridge, 1999), page 134.

Broun, D. 'The Genealogy of the King of Scots as Charter and Panegyric', in Davis, J. R. and Bhattacharya, S. (eds.) 'Copper, Parchment, and Stone: Studies in the Sources for Landholding and Lordship in Early Medieval Bengal and Medieval Scotland' (Glasgow, 2016).

'Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700', available online:

'Celtica Catalogue: Catalogue No. 6, National Library of Scotland' (Edinburgh, 1967), page 29, number 113.

'Digital Index of Middle English Verse', available online:

'Folio Catalogue of Manuscripts: Historical' (Unpublished manuscript, Edinburgh [18??]), folios 7-9 . NLS Reference: FR.186.

Fox, D. 'The Poems of Robert Henryson' (Oxford, 1981), pages 154-156 for 'The Annunciation'.

Holmes, S. M. 'Catalogue of Liturgical Bokos and Fragments in Scotland before 1560', Innes Review, Volume 62, Number 2 (Autumn, 2011), pages 127-212. Here page 168, number 113.

Innes, T. 'A critical essay on the ancient inhabitants of the northern parts of Britain, or Scotland. Containing an account of the Romans, of the Britains betwixt the Walls, ... With an appendix of ancient MS. pieces.' 2 Volumes (London, 1729), Volume 2, pages 627 et seq.

Kristeller, P. O. 'Iter Italicum Accedunt Alia Itinera: A Finding List of Uncatalogued or Incompletely Catalogued Humanistic Manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and Other Libraries' (London, 1989), page 15.

MacDonald, A. A. 'The Latin Original of Robert Henryson's Annunciation Lyric' in: A. A. MacDonald et al. (eds.) 'The Renaissance in Scotland : studies in literature, religion, history, and culture offered to John Durkan' (Leiden, 1994), pages 45-65.

McRoberts, D. 'Catalogue of Scottish Medieval Liturgical Books and Fragments' (Glasgow, 1953), page 12, number 66.

Seymour, M. C. (ed.) 'Authors of the Middle Ages. Vol. 3, nos. 7-11, English writers of the Late Middle Ages' (Aldershot, 1996), pages 162-163, number 6.

Smith, G. G. 'Specimens of Middle Scots, with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary' (Edinburgh, 1902), pages 8-13.

Stevenson, G. (ed.) 'Pieces from the Makculloch and Gray MSS. together with the Chepman and Myllar Prints' Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh, 1918), pages xvi-xvii, and 39-56.

'Summary Catalogue of the Advocates' Manuscripts' (Edinburgh, 1971), pages 17, number 175; page 108, number 1396.

Physical Description

Paper and vellum.

The binding is of 18th-century red morocco with gold tooling on the front and back boards, as well as further gold tooling on the edges of the boards. The volume has marbled endpapers and the edges of some leaves are coloured in red. The spine has raised bands and gold tooling, as well as a gold-tooled library stamp and shelfmark.

Folios i-xxxii, the modern paper flyleaves, are watermarked with a pro patria design. The paper of the manuscript itself has several watermarks. One of these is the design of a shield within which sits a fleur-de-lis, visible on folio 72. This is most similar to Briquet number 1563 (Clermont-en-Beauvois, 1484). The other is a design of a hand, visible on folio 66, and most similar to Briquet numbers 11417 (Troyes, 1477-80), 11418 (Troyes, 1501), or 11421 (Troyes, 1483).

The volume was rebacked in 1967 by HMSO, with a detail from the spine retained and pasted down on the inner front board. The manuscript was boxed in 1973.

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Repository Details

Part of the National Library of Scotland Archives and Manuscripts Division Repository

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