Scribes and Royal Authority: Scotland’s Charters 1100-1250

5 April – 17 May 2017

Free Exhibition, Matheson Dome, General Register House

For the first time precious examples from two of Scotland’s most important collections of medieval charters are going on show in National Records of Scotland.

1. GD_45_13_223
Charter of Thor, son of Swain for Holyrood Abbey, National Records of Scotland (GD45/13/223)

The charters from Holyrood Abbey and Melrose Abbey reveal how government developed in the period between 1100 and 1250, as part of the emergence in Western Europe of government as we recognise it today. These charters are but a tiny sample of what survives from the period and they offer a glimpse into the work of Scotland’s medieval scribes. This exhibition investigates how changes in the handwriting of the royal and monastic scribes reflect these crucial changes in charters that granted lands and rights.

Due to the fragile nature and rarity of these parchment documents, special care has been taken in presenting them to the public. Over time documents can become more sensitive and fragile to environmental conditions, such as pollution, temperature, relative humidity, and to light. Exposure to light causes fading of dyes, inks and pigments which can contribute to the ageing of parchment and paper. This type of damage cannot be reversed and is cumulative, so it is particularly important for the levels of light in an exhibition of archival documents to be measured and controlled. To help protect these rare items a special light screen has been created and spread across the top of the Dome. National Records of Scotland conservators have also prepared the cases, positioned the documents and sealed the cabinets to help preserve these special items for future generations.

‘Scribes and Royal Authority: Scotland’s Charters 1100-1250’ is a partnership with the University of Glasgow and is part of Models of Authority, Scottish Charters and the Emergence of Government, 1100-1250, a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project examined the script and physical appearance of these charters, closely analysing the diplomatic and palaeographic features as evidence in the development of the perception of royal authority and governance during a crucial period in Scotland’s history. Professor Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow said:

“This exhibition contains some of the earliest surviving documents produced in Scotland. These are well known to historians, but the scribes who wrote them are often overlooked. This exhibition is the first to focus on the scribes themselves, and their role in creating a new medium for government and lordship.”

Charter by King Maclcolm IV, National Records of Scotland (GD45/13/224)

You can read more about this project and its findings at You can also find further details on each of the charters on display in the booklet ‘Scribes and Royal Authority: Early Charters from the National Records of Scotland’, on sale in the NRS shop.

The free exhibition will be on display in the remarkable Matheson Dome in General Register House from 5 April to 17 May 2017, Monday to Friday 09:00am-4:30pm. Closed for public holidays on 14 & 17 April and 1 May.

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