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Chronicle of Fortingall purchased by the National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland was able to purchase a manuscript known as the Chronicle of Fortingall during an auction last month. It was bought for  £25,000. 

Scribes compiled the manuscript between 1554 and 1579 at Fortingall in Highland Perthshire, which contains contemporary annals, poetry and other short texts in Latin, Scots and Gaelic. The scribes belonged to the MacGregor family who also compiled the slightly earlier Book of the Dean of Lismore, the earliest surviving collection of Gaelic poetry compiled in Scotland. Scholarly research and evidence shows the two manuscripts were almost certainly compiled by members of the same family.

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“We consider the Chronicle of Fortingall a partner volume to the Book of the Dean of Lismore, the Library’s single most important Gaelic manuscript and one of our greatest treasures,” explains Ulrike Hogg, Manuscripts Curator at the National Library of Scotland. “The two manuscripts are so closely connected that it’s difficult to describe one without reference to the other. It’s a great privilege for us to be able to bring the manuscripts together again after their compilation some 450 years ago.

Image courtesy the National Library of Scotland

“The Gaelic contents of the Chronicle of Fortingall make a significant addition to our Scottish Gaelic manuscripts collection, which is the largest in the world. And securing the manuscript for the national collections means we can make the contents publicly accessible and ensure its professional preservation.”

The contents of the manuscript include:

  • lists of kings of Scots and notes on their reigns in Latin
  • a list of battles from Bannockburn (1314) to Flodden (1513), also in Latin
  • a chronicle recording the deaths of prominent men and women within the Highlands from 1390–1579, written in Latin and Scots
  • a Gaelic poem written in a writing system based on Middle Scots
  • poetry in Middle Scots by Robert Henryson and William Dunbar
    verses, proverbs and aphorisms in Latin
  • miscellaneous short prose texts in Latin and Scots covering everything from the size and divisions of Ireland to medicine and cures, religion and belief, and commentary against women and inebriation
Image courtesy the National Library of Scotland

“It is a relief that the National Library was successful in securing the Chronicle of Fortingall, especially as they hold the companion volume, the Book of the Dean of Lismore,” added Martin MacGregor, Senior Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Glasgow. “The Chronicle of Fortingall is a highly significant manuscript which provides insight into public life in the Highlands in the later Middle Ages. It is an important source for the history of the Highlands – social, political, cultural, economic and religious. It also has great linguistic importance as it embodies the interplay of Latin, Scots and Gaelic as written languages in then Gaelic-speaking Scotland.”

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To learn more about the National Library of Scotland, please visit their website.

Image courtesy the National Library of Scotland

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