Gillian H. MacIntosh, Alastair J. Mann and Roland J. Tanner
The preparation of this online resource The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland [RPS] by the Scottish Parliament Project based at the University of St Andrews has been both long in gestation and complex in development. The following provides an introduction to the editorial background to this 16.5 million word project. This brief overview will proceed under seven headings:
- The foundation of the old printed record
- The nature of the parliamentary record, 1235 to 1707
- Establishing a new record of parliament: scope and content
- Editing and organising the manuscript record
- The translation text
- Additional apparatus
- Screen display
Manuscript editions of the acts of parliament were produced from the fourteenth century onwards as collections for use by lawyers. The first printed edition of the acts of a parliamentary session appeared in the reign of James V, in 1542 for the legislation of the 1540 session, and from The Actis and Constitutiounis of the Realme of Scotland (Robert Lekprevik, Edinburgh, 1566) ‘official’ printed editions of the acts since 1424 appeared periodically with royal permission. However, such was the concern to produce an accurate and comprehensive text that various law commissions were established to facilitate this work, including that set up in 1592 which resulted in the printing, under the editorial guidance of Sir John Skene of Curriehill, clerk register, of The Lawes and Actes of Parliament (Robert Waldegrave, Edinburgh, 1597).
At the beginning of the eighteenth century antiquarians and enthusiasts began, with a similar concern for accuracy, to plan a more comprehensive and ‘entire’ record of the pre-1707 parliament. In 1804 a complete edition of the acts was begun, and the first volume printed, edited by William Robertson, entitled The Parliamentary Records of Scotland in the General Register House 1240-1571; but this volume was suppressed and the series discontinued after criticism of Robertson’s editorial techniques. However, between 1814 and 1875 a complete edition of The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland [APS] recording any material judged to be law or in any way parliamentary between 1124 and 1707 was published at the behest of the House of Commons in twelve folio volumes, and edited by Thomas Thomson and Cosmo Innes. This vast edition was by far the most complete version of the acts of parliament published until that point, and has remained the key work used by historians ever since. It is for this reason that it was the starting point for the preparation of this new record.
In planning the content of APS Thomson realised that an edition of the acts could not simply print the legislation available in the Scottish governmental archive at General Register House in Edinburgh, now the National Archives of Scotland [NAS]. The gathering of a fulsome record had to involve bringing together material from a diversity of sources. For example, before 1466 only six ‘official’ rolls of parliament survive, one of which was then unknown even to Thomson (see NAS, PA1/1-6). Therefore, the remainder of the acts before that date had to be found in non-official copies of legislation made by lawyers, and in charters, treaties and numerous other types of document that were produced by parliament but which tended to be kept in the private records of the Scottish aristocracy, in the governmental archives then held in the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, and in the British Museum. Thomson’s achievement in bringing together these disparate sources, at a time when archives were often chaotic and cataloguing poor, was indeed monumental, but it is not surprising that since publication much new material has come to light which was not included in APS. Equally his decision to exclude substantial amounts of committee material available to him from the seventeenth century has similarly left significant gaps in the APS parliamentary record. One of most important tasks of this new edition is to include this missing material.
How effective were the nineteenth-century editors at creating the great but flawed resource used by researchers for the last century and a half? In fact, the editorial techniques used in APS clearly justify this new edition. Firstly, APS is printed in record type (sometimes known as Domesday type), the objective of which was to reproduce all the scribal abbreviations found in the original manuscripts. As a result many of the acts printed in APS, especially before 1600 when scribal abbreviations are used more frequently, are hardly more accessible to modern readers than the original manuscripts. Secondly, although Thomson and Innes certainly made deliberate editorial judgments about the arrangement and inclusion and exclusion of the acts, there is almost a complete lack of comment on where a particular document is to be found, what it is, or why it has been placed in the record where it is. At times the criteria for inclusion of particular documents vary at the whim of the editors. Also, notes on the manuscripts, essential for a proper understanding of many of the documents, are completely absent. Finally, it has now been shown that in some instances Thomson went so far as to invent phrases, alter the original terminology and rearrange the order of material in an effort to ‘tidy up’ or ‘correct’ what he considered to be errors. The end result is that APS often appears to represent an authoritative text drawn from a straightforward source, and leads the reader to trust the printed version of the acts when he or she should proceed with caution. Therefore, it has been essential to check as much APS material as possible against the various manuscript records.
The records of parliament before 1466 pose some of the greatest problems in terms of complexity to the modern editor. Before that date there is no surviving official register of parliamentary acts, and few official rolls listing those present, so the remainder of the acts have to be assembled from copies made by contemporaries for legal reasons, from charter chests, monastic cartularies and foreign archives. For instance, three of the earliest surviving documents recording the proceedings of colloquia and parliaments in Scotland survive in the cartularies of the abbeys of Melrose and Dunfermline and the muniments of the earldom of Lennox, while a fourth, a letter from the Guardians of Scotland to Edward I, survives in the Public Record Office (now The National Archives) in London. In each case the document survives as it was sent out from the crown to a recipient who had an interest in the business transacted; such as recording an agreement over a land dispute that took place in parliament, or, as in the case of the fourth document mentioned above, giving consent to Edward I for negotiation of the marriage of Margaret, queen of Scots to Edward, prince of Wales [see, for example, RPS, 1235/1 and A1248/1].
In view of this complexity, therefore, documents have to be dealt with on an individual basis and, to assist reader interpretation, notice must be given regarding each document's precise nature, such as a listing of any seals appended and whether the document survives in an original or a later transumpt (transcription). Legislation in this early period tends to survive only in manuscript collections of acts put together by notaries and lawyers, and the editor can be faced with several different versions of the same acts recorded in collections produced around the same time. In such cases there is often no one version that is to be relied upon and the different versions have, in RPS, been collated and compared, with detailed noting of discrepancies. In such circumstances the editorial practices used in APS are particularly deficient as it sometimes presents a collated edition to the reader, but with no notice of which manuscripts were used, or of the differences between manuscript sources.
The best illustration of this process in action is the surviving record of the acts of James I and James II between 1424 and 1460. In this period the editor is faced with eleven manuscripts and one printed edition recording the acts of parliament dating from between the 1450s and the 1560s, and at a time when the institution was becoming increasingly important to Scottish affairs. The editorial decisions of Thomas Thomson, when editing the APS edition of these particular acts, are recorded only in a short preface to the second volume. Here Thomson noted that the acts only survive in copies, and he therefore argued that the ‘most authoritative basis of an accurate text’ was the earliest printed edition of the acts, printed at the request of the crown in 1566. Thereafter he used the manuscripts, some of which predated the printed edition by over a century, as ‘useful correctives’ and a means to supply ‘some omissions and mutilated passages, of amending many smaller errors, and of reducing the language and orthography (spelling) of the whole to a state more nearly approaching the mode and fashion of the age to which these statutes belong’ [APS, ii, xiii-xv]. In other words, Thomson reproduced the 1566 printed edition, but ‘corrected’ it by changing the orthography to that of the earlier manuscripts. The end result, although adequate in providing the majority of the surviving legislation, is something that does not accurately reproduce any version of the acts ever in existence, and occasionally includes phrases and sentences that are pure invention, and so weakening the value of APS as a linguistic treasure.
In this new edition the eleven extant manuscript versions of the acts between 1424 and 1460, along with the 1566 printed edition, are properly collated and compared (see detailed discussion in Notes on the Sources for the parliaments of Scotland, 1424-1466). It will come as no surprise that the 1566 edition was far from an authoritative reproduction of the original acts made in the fifteenth century. Comparison of the manuscripts has instead shown that the statutes of several early parliament of James I’s reign were in fact ‘re-edited’ around 1450, and it was the 1450 version that has tended to be copied thereafter, and which Thomson printed. The 1450 version is, of course, of interest in itself, but careful comparison of the acts has revealed earlier versions of the acts which represent the legislation actually made in the 1420s and sent out to the localities for proclamation. On other occasions, ‘new’ legislation found in the manuscripts, but omitted by Thomson either on the basis that it was not to be found in the 1566 acts, or because he was unaware of manuscripts that have since come to light, has as much as doubled the amount of material available for particular parliaments. For example, APS includes 22 acts under the parliament held at Perth in March 1430 while RPS contains 55 [see APS, ii, 17-19; RPS, 1430/1-55].
Such problems decrease significantly from 1466, from which point the official centrally held registers of acts of parliament survive, and continue largely uninterrupted until 1707. Nevertheless, substantial complexities remain in the manuscripts. Parliamentary material absent from the register continues to survive and has been inserted into the main record of RPS, such as the acts of the parliamentary committee the lords auditors of causes and complaints from 1466-96, which were published separately from APS. Particular periods, such as the 1540s and 1550s, continue to suffer from a breakdown in the survival rate of government records, and at these points it is sometimes once again necessary to supplement the register with copies of acts from other sources. For instance, the ‘Reformation’ parliament of 1560, perhaps parliament’s most famous session before the Union of 1707, was not ratified by the crown, and the parliament’s acts were made at the behest of the party then rebelling against the legitimate regime led by Marie de Guise, queen regent of Scotland. They are therefore absent from the official register, but of the utmost importance to the history of parliament [see RPS, A1560/8/1-18]. Likewise the acts of 1563 are also missing from the register, although no obvious reason for their absence is known. A relatively reliable version is found in the printed edition made only three years later, but secondary sources hint at additional statutes that are not contained in the printed record [see RPS, A1563/6/1-27]. Only in the reign of James VI do problems with the source manuscripts generally decrease as the parliamentary register becomes more comprehensive. In James’s reign, however, the numerous meetings of conventions create new editorial problems in finding sources and agreeing inclusions, and it is not until 1598 that a separate manuscript register of conventions is begun and continued into the seventeenth century [see NAS, PA8/1].
By the late 1630s and into the 1640s, the problem is no longer the lack of an official record but the explosion in business and the survival of supplementary sources in addition to the parliamentary register, especially in the Covenanting parliaments. Official minutes of parliament survive for the sessions of 1640 and 1641 [see especially RPS, M1641/8/1-76], as do those of the lords of the articles for the crucial session of 1639 [RPS, C1639/8/1-78]. Published for the first time in the online record is a set of parliamentary minutes for 1648, written by an apparent observer of events, which add significant detail to the ‘official’ version of proceedings [RPS, A1648/3/1-22]. Yet from May 1650 until the last session of the Scottish parliament prior to the Cromwellian union in May 1651, there are serious deficiencies in the record, with the parliamentary minutes being the only extant continuous record of proceedings. Whether the registers for this period were never written up due to the Cromwellian invasion, or lost at sea when a ship carrying Scottish state papers sank on its voyage home in December 1660, is not entirely clear; but a series of ‘indexes of the acts of parliament’, again never before printed, fill some of the gaps, as do numerous other petitions, draft acts and military papers which survive mainly by happy accident.
Whereas previously those records coming under the Additional Sources headings in RPS tend to be actual proceedings of the estates contained outwith the official parliamentary register, or perhaps the odd surviving act, supplication or charter from a secondary source, from 1639 onwards a vast amount of petitions, overtures, draft legislation, printed speeches and other papers submitted to the estates during the course of parliamentary business survive in the warrants and supplementary papers series (NAS, PA6 and PA7). These are contained in date order in RPS. For those sessions in which the parliamentary register is wanting, much can be gleaned from these exceptionally varied records.
At first glance the sources for the post-Restoration (1660) parliamentary record seem straightforward enough. While there are some supplementary sources, such as the separate registers for forfeiture cases (1685-95), the main parliamentary registers are continuous from 1661, the first session of Charles II’s restored regime (1660-85). Each manuscript register mainly consists of a chronological record of public and private acts. At the start of each reign – but more especially in 1661 and 1689 when the Restoration and Revolution regimes sought to legitimise themselves through the ratification of charters to lands and titles and the forfeiture of enemies - the level of business is particularly high, and this is coupled with the fact that the general volume of legislation expands decade on decade up to 1707. The increase in business and procedural reforms in the 1690s has provided a complex source record that is a challenge to edit and to present in digitised form.
The official registers are clearly vital but are not a perfect record of the business of parliament. Some material is missing, blank pages are found, headings are omitted, acts are placed out of chronological sequence and, in the case of the register for 1681, the record has been rationalised into four separate chronological listings: public acts, private acts, ratifications and warrants (mostly for markets and fairs). The editors of APS reacted to this untidiness by sanitising and re-ordering the official record. RPS renders the parliamentary text in a manner that accurately reflects the original manuscripts.
At first it appears that the clerks maintaining the early modern records were more conscientious than Thomson and his associates. By 1660, and no doubt before, the upkeep and safety of the registers and records were seen as vital to underline the legitimacy of parliamentary proceedings. This was emphasised by the loss of some state records in the Cromwellian period, and the subsequent parliamentary enquiry in 1661 [RPS, 1661/1/18-19; 1661/1/124]. The clerk register was the officer of state responsible for maintaining the integrity of the parliamentary records; both the manuscript registers and the regularly printed statutes following each session of parliament. Not every clerk register, however, was conscientious in carrying out these responsibilities and particular problems arose after the Revolution of 1688/89 from inadequately clear lines of responsibility, and plain incompetence. For example, the chaos in the register covering the period and two sessions from 14 April to 10 September 1690 is the greatest of any compiled since the Restoration. Thomson’s efforts to tidy this record hide a very confused manuscript volume where legislation is inserted out of chronological order, gaps are left in the record for insertions, though some are left blank, and in the end the clerks gave up and inserted a quantity of mostly private acts at the end of the register under the last day of the second session, 22 July [see especially RPS, 1690/4/169-184]. Clearly the Edinburgh secretariat sometimes found it difficult to maintain a continuous parliamentary record. Nothing illustrates this more than the fact that the final register of parliament stops half way through a sentence on 27 November 1706, leaving us to assemble the business of the remaining few months through minutes and fragments [see RPS, 1706/10/97]. In each case RPS re-introduces the contemporary muddle while ensuring that screen display and clear dating retain the clarity of the record.
As well as the main parliamentary registers, the remainder of the surviving parliamentary record consists of a variety of fragments and bound volumes of disparate papers. Indeed, in RPS the main parliamentary record has been supplemented by the minutes of parliament, the minutes and proceedings of committees and a selection of additional source material of significance. As far as the minutes of parliament are concerned, official minutes survive for individual parliaments, such as the 1661 and 1669 sessions. Previously unpublished minutes for the parliamentary session of 1685, found in the Buccleuch archives at Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries, are likely to be an authentic copy of the lost official record, having been transcribed for the use of William Douglas, duke of Queensberry, then lord high commissioner for the session. In general, however, official minutes do not survive continuously until the point when printed minutes were introduced in 1693. After this date a series of draft manuscript and official printed minutes exist, the comparison of which has thrown up some curious alterations to the official record which have been cited. In addition, alternative sources of minutes exist for some sessions, for example the parliament of 1681 and the convention of estates in 1689, and in these cases both records are provided in the digitised record and each annotated to show textual differences. This kind of detailed work has thrown up occasions when the parliament clearly met on days not recorded in APS or the main registers.
A range of additional sources, absent from the register and minutes, and equivalent to the material which forms the main record before 1466, have also provided such ‘new’ information. These have been added to the digital record at the end of each parliament or convention, or integrated in note form as the record progresses. A particularly rich series of such records exists from 1700 to 1707, where voting figures are provided and much useful deliberative detail found. These include notes inserted in RPS referring to ‘Diurnalls of the Parliament of Scotland’ by William Bennett of Grubbet, a commissioner (member) of parliament for Roxburghshire, covering 1704, and details from Leven and Melville muniments which provide voting figures for 1700-1 and which are not included in the main record [see RPS, M1704/7/1-25; M1700/10/3-56]. Another important additional source are the minutes of the convention of estates of 1678, written by Sir John Nisbet of Dirleton, lord advocate, and his notes, located in the Biel Muniments at the NAS, have also been added to provide supporting detail [see RPS, A1678/6/1-18]. Even when such additional materials merely offer the text of a parliamentary speech not included in the main record, they nevertheless add greatly to the overall impression of a lively parliament in action.
The surviving parliamentary committee records also add enormously to our understanding of the procedures of the Scottish parliament from 1660. This is in spite of the fact that, if we exclude the committee of the lords of the articles (ever-present from 1661 to 1686 and responsible for drafting legislation), minutes of only sixteen session committees survive from over fifty established between 1661 to 1707. Session committees became especially common after 1690, and thereafter a reasonable quantity of committee minutes survive, especially before 1702 when the three most regular committees were those for controverted elections, trade and security. All these have been added to the RPS digital edition, as has the surviving material for the lords of the articles for 1669, 1670, 1672, 1681 and 1685 which provide fascinating details of the workings of parliament [see RPS, C1669/10/1-25; C1670/7/1-12; C1672/6/1-2; C1681/7/1-38 and C1685/4/1-40]. Although the nature of this record can be frustratingly brief, there is much useful information on the general passage of legislation – for example the 1685 parliament sat on sixteen days, yet the articles sat for thirty-seven days. Furthermore, while the main parliamentary record gives the impression that the 1685 session established only two session committees, the lords of the articles had no less than eleven sub-committees covering a range of subjects from trade, taxation and the rights of the burghs to the consideration of treason law and the operation of inferior courts. As well as information on committees, these minutes also provide much useful detail on parliamentary procedure and the passage of individual pieces of legislation. Acts which historians previously believed were merely passed are now seen to have been subjected to various drafts, amendments and fulsome scrutiny. A parliament much derided for being inferior in procedural terms to the English House of Commons is now seen to be much more sophisticated than previously supposed, and the new digitised record reflects this level of complexity.
The above survey of manuscript records indicates that RPS has much new material not found in APS and brought together with the official record for the first time since the contemporary medieval and early modern periods. Nevertheless, some material that might be expected to be included has been omitted. Only the official records of parliaments and conventions of estates while in session have been assembled. For example, non-parliamentary minutes and decisions of the committees of estates and interval committees in the 1640s and 1660, the proceedings of the government of Scotland during the Interregnum, and the commissions of trade and commissions to negotiate Anglo-Scottish parliamentary union in 1670, 1702-3 and 1706-7 have been excluded, even though some of these are found in the APS series. Also excluded, but found in the first volume of APS, are the 'Auld Laws', those various acts of council, assizes, burgh laws and early statutes dating from before the reign of Alexander II, and agreed by assemblies that either cannot or cannot certainly be defined as meetings of the estates. These omissions include Regiam Maiestatem, an early law treatise compiled in the fourteenth century, and the principle text of medieval Scots law. Although Regiam Maiestatem was mentioned at the parliament of 1425 as an authoritative source of Scots Law, and a guide to its interpretation was frequently printed with the acts of parliament from 1597, its origins remain obscure. Finally, general reportage has not been added to RPS which must be seen as an official record.
Another difficulty concerns the numerous conventions, especially in the reign of James VI and mostly before 1603. These are sometimes clearly conventions of estates and at other times conventions of the nobility, or, in essence, expanded privy councils. RPS incorporates, firstly, only those sessions of conventions of estates where it seems clear that all estates (clergy, nobles and burghs) were present and secondly, only those where an official record is available. Prior to June 1598, when a separate book for conventions was established, the main source for these meetings is the records of the privy council. Yet even after the new register was begun, there were many occasions when the proceedings of conventions continued to be recorded with those of the privy council (in September 1601, May 1608 and January 1609, for example). In fact, it was not until 1643 that conventions of estates began to be recorded exclusively in the correct register. Conventions of estates that appear to have taken place, evidence for which is a reference in, say, a burgh record, contemporary chronicle or secondary correspondence, are not included unless supported by an official state record, although citations to such sources are frequently provided to aid the reader. In the future, as our knowledge-base grows and new material is discovered, it will be possible to add new sessions of the estates and so update RPS. The philosophy of the editors of RPS is to recognise the importance of maintaining a living record that is updated and improved as new information becomes available. It would be true to say, however, that RPS is a record of the estates of Scotland rather than a complete record of Scottish government from the thirteenth century to 1707.
The process of compiling the text for a new edition began with the scanning and digitisation by Optical Character Recognition [OCR] of the twelve volumes of APS, a stage which saved much potential keying time. Once the OCR software had done its work, the scanned text, then transformed into straightforward Microsoft Word files, provided the editors with a basic digitised text of the vast majority of the material now included in this new edition. The scanned text at this stage still included all the scribal abbreviation marks found in APS, while the OCR software introduced numerous errors into the digital text which had to be removed. Nevertheless, this process provided us with the basic text from which we were able to build the new edition.
This text was taken by the editors and support staff and compared to the original manuscripts, held mainly in the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, in order to check for accuracy, to correct all errors, to establish the original order of the material and to carry out some preliminary work on modernising the text. At the same time we were able to make notes on the manuscripts to assist the reader with understanding the sources in the new edition and, to maintain a strong link with the original manuscripts, the correct manuscript folio reference for each record was established. This task, requiring a high level of knowledge of medieval and early modern palaeography, language and context, was one of the most time-consuming parts of the editorial process.
This first stage of the editing process was followed by a second involving the ‘marking-up’ of the proofed manuscripts to form a new edition of the parliamentary record. In other words, the core manuscript record had to be assembled in all its languages. At its most basic level, this stage involved the removal and expansion of all clerical contractions and abbreviations, the insertion of modern punctuation, and the application of consistent capitalisation rules. Also, helpful interpolations have been added, indicated in roman type in square brackets, and brief editorial comment inserted also, presented as italics within square brackets. Significant marginalia, deletions and corrections in the manuscript have been noted or recorded. In cases where detailed explanation is required, a pop-up note (equivalent to footnotes in a conventional book) has been inserted so the flow of the record is not disturbed. In essence, standard and familiar editorial conventions have been adopted, as found in the likes of the published Scotichronicon series, but these have been adapted to the nature of the record. This process has resulted in the most readable and accessible version of the parliamentary record ever produced and an updated version of the original manuscript text of the parliamentary record as presented in APS, combined, of course, with the new material which has come to light since the nineteenth century.
The next key task for the editors was to establish the most effective means to organise and display the material. The manuscript record has been arranged in parliaments or sessions within the reigns of individual monarchs, with a heading given to each meeting of the estates indicating the date (month, day and year, new style), place of meeting and the type of gathering (parliament, convention, general council etc.). Each day the estates met is identified and undated material is indicated as such and appears at the end of the reign to which it refers if there is no indication given of its place within the rest of the record. Also, the type of source displayed has been arranged under four broad headings: 1. Parliamentary record/register, general council or official record; 2. Parliamentary minutes; 3. Committee minutes and proceedings; and 4. Additional sources.
Focusing then on individual acts and items of record, the editors have assigned new reference numbers and a system of classification headings to aid understanding and accessibility. Reference numbers are placed before entries in the record, including non-legislative and procedural material, and will be used for citation purposes. Each reference number consists of the year the parliament was held and, in instances where there is more than one parliament per year, or where it aids the understanding of the reader, the month of the parliament held, followed by a sequential entry number. For example, where 1661/1/2 is the reference number, it identifies the second record of the January 1661 parliament. The date is that of the first day of meeting, even if the session continues into another month or even another year, as occurred in the winter of 1700-1. Where material is additional, that is found outwith the parliamentary register, the reference number is prefixed by A; minutes of the parliament itself are prefixed by M; and the record of the standing committees of parliament, such as the lords of the articles, are prefixed by C. Each reference number is followed by a pop-up where the manuscript source reference is given along with any supporting editorial comment and references to alternative sources. Indeed, throughout RPS this pop-up referencing system provides added editorial commentary where necessary. Also, where appropriate, inconsistencies between the original manuscript text and that found in APS are noted.
Despite the difficulties arising from the changing nature of the manuscripts over the centuries covered, a classification system, both informative and flexible, has been devised and implemented by the editors. Common classification headings, such as procedure, sederunt, legislation, judicial proceeding, petitions, warrants, committee membership, letters, charters and voting record, are used in conjunction with more specific classification sub-headings such as ratifications, forfeitures, protestations, disputed elections, overtures, and indications of regular procedure, such as minutes being read, draft acts considered or the session continued. As the record becomes more complex these classifications are especially welcome. From the 1640s, and particularly after the Restoration to the Union of 1707, the nature of the official record alters and extra sign-posting is inserted to aid the user. Therefore, although the record of the 1660s and 1670s is mainly a clear listing of acts passed on certain days, from the 1680s the greater incidence of committee reports and interaction between the parliament and the committee the lords of the articles has produced a record requiring care in the use of classifications and of editorial apparatus. This complexity increases dramatically in the 1690s with reports from and remits to a great variety of standing committees, the reading and approval of daily minutes, and the introduction of enhanced procedures such as draft acts, overtures and first and second readings. From 1700, parliament began to record voting lists, and this important detail culminated in the Byzantine debates and votes over the Treaty of Union in 1706/7. Therefore, while the numerous problems posed by early modern Latin and Scots and scribal abbreviations decrease to an extent by the seventeenth century, the level of record complexity in the last eighteen years of the parliament’s existence has provided a particular challenge to the editors and brought the record classification system into its own.
One of the most advanced features of RPS is the creation of a modernised parallel translation of the parliamentary record, increasing its accessibility and readability to students and academics alike. This process has doubled the text material edited and presented by the editors of RPS, but for good reason. The translation was initially necessitated by the problems arising from searching a digital database written in three separate languages (Latin, French, and Scots/English) and with no standard orthography. In effect, the translation provides a detailed, standardised index of the entire database enabling an infinite number of search terms. It also has the side-effect of greatly increasing accessibility to the entire record for non-specialists and those without knowledge of medieval and early modern languages. While many Scots phrases and terms (especially with regard to Scots law) are still in use today and have not been translated, the modern translation provides a parallel English version of the predominantly Scots original text. However, the language retains the quality of the period in which it appeared and the editors have not over-modernised and simplified the text. For some a dictionary will still be required, though the online glossary will provide much help, as will links suggested to other helpful linguistic websites. The linguistic elements of the record have indeed been challenging for the editors and those who provided specialist assistance to the Scottish Parliament Project. In RPS Latin manuscript records are either translated in full or summarised in calendar form, while French is translated into English. Gaelic names in the record have been rendered in full Gaelic form with a pop-up indicating the English translation of the name, if relevant. Finally, to aid computer searching all personal names and place names have also been standardised and modernised; but where it has not been possible to identify the modern geographical equivalent (as appears on Ordnance Survey maps) the original manuscript spelling has been retained. Also, roman numerals and dates are rendered in standard arabic numerical form. As a result, searching the parliamentary record has never been so comprehensive or sophisticated. Modern and vernacular words and phrases, partially or in their entirety, can be searched with ease and speed. In addition, the facility to jump between manuscript and translation records enables users to search within standardised translated text and jump to the original manuscript record, and back again.
Another feature of the translation is the provision of biographical and chronological detail. Full titles and other relevant details of each identified individual mentioned in the parliamentary record have been included where possible, especially relating to members of parliament, while other information such as currency and dates of term and feast days have also been provided to aid the reader. Where such information cannot be found, the original spelling and/or dates have been left as contained in the manuscript.
To aid the general enquirer, the secondary school pupil, the college and university student or the informed academic a range of additional resources are provided in conjunction with the database of parliamentary records. The detailed Glossary provides a list of terms left untranslated within the record, Scots word still in use, legal expressions, some Latin terms and other helpful definitions. In addition, a wide-ranging Bibliography lists both old and still valuable secondary sources as well as the most recent published material, some by the editors of RPS and others associated with the preparation of this new resource. The Help page provides further details on the layout and appearance of the record, as well as a straightforward guide on how to use RPS. Lastly, the Historical Introduction, written by the editorial team, presents an overview of the history of the Scottish parliament from its earliest reference to the union of 1707.
The RPS resource has been designed with a simple interface, yet one which offers significant functionality, including the ability to display the manuscript and translated records simultaneously on the same screen, jump between the two at the click of a mouse, and print or email selected records. For further details on the layout and features of the resource, please consult the Help page.