It’s not every day you have to wait half an hour in a queue to get into a library, but then the Chepman and Myllar Prints are not just any books. They are, to use a term used sparingly by the discerning bibliophile, important. Not to my mind especially because of their content – a series of short chapbooks of vernacular literature in Scots and English, including perhaps my favourite Scots poem, The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie – but because of what they represent: the arrival of printing in Scotland. These unique survivors – now bound in a 1951 vellum binding – are a link back over 500 years to what has been regarded as a golden age in Scottish history. They were put on public display yesterday for 2 hours to mark the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden.
Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar founded their press in 1508 under a charter issued by James IV in 1507. James IV is seen as a highly cultured figure, a renaissance prince who, in addition to introducing printing to Scotland, was a patron of the arts generally, and a sponsor of the Scots makars in particular. His reign brought much-needed stability to a Scotland often riven by internecine fighting and the ever-restless Highlands. He finally brought the Lord of the Isles under control in 1493, and built up the Scottish navy of 38 ships, including the Great Michael, at 240 feet and 1000 tonnes the largest ship in Europe at the time of its launch in 1511.
James IV’s reign finally came to an end on the battlefield at Flodden, exactly 500 years ago on 9 September 1513. The Scots defeat at Flodden was comprehensive, with thousands dead, with barely a noble family unaffected. The battle did however give rise to two cultural highlights: Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion, and the haunting lament Flowers of the Forest.
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