Jan 24 2009

Scots law books; some stolen and recovered, others for sale

The Edinburgh Legal History Blog, from Professor John W. Cairns and Dr Paul du Plessis of the Edinburgh Centre for Legal History, is the latest addition to the stable of blawgs from the School of Law at Edinburgh University. Its mission statement is “to raise issues of interest to legal historians, especially those interested in the history of Scots law and of the civilian tradition“.

One recent post notes the return to Scotland (for money paid to the resetters, rather than, as would have been more appropriate, by the police) of sixteen books looted in Edinburgh by an English knight in the Rough Wooing in 1544. The National Library of Scotland has more details. As they seem to have been the law library of the first Lord President of the Court of Session1, perhaps they should be held in the Advocates Library.

There are shades here of the theft and recovery of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, and this deal lends the weight of the NLS to the theory that “There is absolutely no impropriety whatsoever. There is an interesting, but benign, explanation, but no wrongdoing has been done…” in the events surrounding the Madonna’s recovery in 2007. Isn’t fencing stolen property a crime in England these days? The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 doesn’t seem to apply, as the theft and removal from Holyrood was pre-commencement of the Act, but guidance to museums doesn’t distinguish on this basis.

Regiam Majestatem

Regiam Majestatem

Meanwhile, anyway, Lyon and Turnbull, in their next Books Maps and Manuscripts sale on 4 February, have an interesting range of Scots law books for sale. Many of these appear to come from the late Lord Macfadyen’s library. They range from a 1609 edition of the Regiam Majestatem, to an 1821-2008 set of Session Cases with Morison’s Dictionary thrown in, a snip at its estimate of £600-900. Ten years ago, a full set of Session Cases might go for £5000; but now, of course, they’re all (or at least from 1893) on Justis. But does anyone buy old law reports these days? I can’t remember when I last looked in a volume of Rettie, let alone Morison.

There’s also a rather smaller range of antiquarian Scots law books in the Oxfam bookshop in Stockbridge at the moment, including Bells Principles and Commentaries, and a shelf of nineteenth century textbooks.

  1. Alexander Milne, Abbot of Cambuskenneth. His portrait, in stained glass, is in the South Window of Parliament Hall. [back]

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