V. – The Abridgement of the Black Book, pp.63-68.

[Notes on the Black Book Contents]

   Dr. Skene remarks1 that no sooner had the Scotichronicon appeared than there seems to have arisen an outcry against its intolerable diffuseness and irrelevant sermonizing, and Bower himself proceeded to prepare an abridgement, which is represented by the Book of Cupar. In 1501 the Paisley copy of the Scotichronicon was abridged by John Gibson, Junior. This abridgement, which formerly belonged to Sir Robert Sibbald,2 is now in the Advocates Library, and has at the beginning this title –

     De libro Scoticronicon hec aliqua extrahuntur, qui niger liber Pasleti dictus est:

   And the colophon is – “Quarto Martii huius libri finis exstetit anno millesimo quingentesimo primo per me Johēm Gibson, junioren. On the the recto of the fly leaf at the end of the MS. is  

Laus omnipotenti Deo

ac Virgine Marie gloria. 

     Huius opusculi possessor venerabilis et circumspectas vir magister Johannes Gibson, canonicus Glasguensis ac Rector de Renfrew.

     Qui liber extractus est de magno ac nigro libro Pasleti,

     Continens Quaternas LXXIX papiri integras ac quaternas XIX ut patet intuenti,

     Et in qualibet quaterna earum fuit integra.”

   The proprietor of the volume, therefore, was John Gibson, at that time a Canon of Glasgow, and Rector of Renfrew. He had been previously Chamberlain of Glasgow,3 and Master of Work of the Church of St. Kentigern,4 and was an active man in his day. In the year in which the abridgement was made, he was elected one of the Procurators of the Four Nations in the University of Glasgow,5 an honour which was conferred upon John Gibson, Junior, in 1503.6 Father Hay mentions that there is a defaced copy of the Black Book of Paisley in Bennet’s, that is, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, written by John Gibson, Canon of Glasgow, in the year 1500.7 This is no doubt the Corpus Christi College manuscript enumerated in Naismith’s Catalogue,8 and noticed by Dempster,9 Bishop Nicolson,10 and Mr. Skene.11 The latter says that there is nothing to indicate by whom it was transcribed. Formerly however there was a pencil memorandum upon it, said to be in the handwriting of Archbishop Parker, in which the copyist was stated to be a Canon Gibson; Baker, said “Aurelianensis,” but Hay suggests that this was an error for ‘”Glasguensis.”12 It is little wonder if this note has now disappeared, as more than a century since the manuscript was described as “semiesus et a muribus in multis locis corruptus.”13 It is on paper, and contains the sixteen books of the Scotichronicon, and is remarkable for its coloured illustrations of incidents mentioned in the text; four of which have been reproduced in the National Manuscripts of Scotland.14 If the transcriber was Canon Gibson, it is not improbable that he had the Black Book of Paisley before him, and the illustrations, which have been made at the same time as the text was written, may have been executed in the Abbey of Paisley itself. At the date of this MS. the monastery was ruled over by Robert Shaw, nephew of the celebrated George Shaw, “who like his uncle, carried on the extension of the newly-founded burgh of Paisley, and reaped his reward in various important benefactions to the monastery from the citizens.”15 There was then much life and stir in the Abbey, and while architecture was predominant, it may have awakened or encouraged a love for the sister arts.

   David Buchanan describes an abridgement of the Black Book of Paisley, which he attributes to Henry Sinclair, but Nicolson suggests16 that this was a slip of memory, and that he intends to refer to Gibson’s work. Henry Sinclair,17 a man of great eminence in his time, was a member of the Roslin family. He obtained the Rectory of Glasgow in 1538. Three years later, he became Abbot or perpetual Commendator of the Abbey of Kilwinning, and in 1550 he exchanged this with Gavin Hamilton for the Deanery of Glasgow. Subsequently he was appointed Bishop of Ross and then President of the Court of Session. He was the encourager of John Ferrers, a Piedmontese, who continued Hector Boece’s history, and was a person of literary tastes and a well-known book collector. He made considerable notes on historical subjects,18 and as he was also owner of the abridgement, report by connecting the two facts may have attributed the authorship of this work to him.

   On the upper margin of the Abridgement at the commencement of the text of Book I., the Dean has written his name – “Hen. Sinclair,” and again at the foot of the last page. Sir William Sinclair has struck his pen through both signatures, and has substituted his own name, – “W. Sinclair of Roislin, Knecht.”19 He has likewise interpolated it between two of the lines on the fly leaf.

   On the reverse of the fly leaf at the top is the inscription:- “Codex Magri Johannis Layng rector de Kilpatrick-juxta, &c.” When Laing acquired this benefice does not appear but he was in possession in 1539.20 He was elected Dean of Faculty in the University of Glasgow in 1552 and in subsequent years.21 In 1553 he was preferred to the perpetual vicarage of Dreghorne,22 and in 1554 he was elected a Canon of Glasgow with the prebend of Luss.23 He must consequently have been possessor of the Abridgement prior to this latter date. Sir William Sinclair no doubt had it at the time of his death in 1574, and there is every probability that he acquired it from Dean Sinclair, who must have got it from Laing. The latter was incorporated as a student at Glasgow in 1519, which brings us very near the time of the Gibsons, but if the book came into his hands, when he wrote his name upon it, this must have been about twenty years later. Towards the end of the seventeenth century it became the property of Sir Robert Sibbald, and at the sale of his books in 1700 was purchased by the Faculty of Advocates, in whose library it still remains.24

   Bishop Tanner duly enters25 Canon Gibson in his roll of historians, as the author of an Epitome of the Black Book of Paisley; but he has very slender claims to authorship. His work is destitute of literary merit, being simply a bald abstract of the Black Book itself, without the addition of anything that is new. Chapter I., for instance, is abridged by taking the first sentence and the last, ipsissimis verbis, and omitting all that is between.

   The manuscript is a small 4to on paper. It commences, as in the larger MS., with the Compendium and Chronicon Metricum which are printed by Goodall.26 These occupy the first nineteen pages. On page 20 follows a Genealogy of the Scotch Kings from James lV., and ascending as in Goodall, (p. 534-537). The next paragraph in Goodall is compressed. Page 24 is blank. On page 25 commences the table of the titles of the chapters of Book I. Then comes an abridgement of the chapters themselves, and of the whole of the Black Book, to the end of C. 39 of Book XIV., “De conclusione operis,” which is reduced to four lines. At the close are the words – 

Finis huius operis 

Deo laus et Gloria. 

   There then follows an abstract of the treaty between the King of Scotland and the King of Norway, which is given at length in the Black Book. 

   On the last page is a copy of the piece Seneca ad Lucilium, Attendite famuli.27 

1  Fordun, i. p. 41.

2  He quotes from it in his History of Fife and Kinross, p. 89. (Edinburgh, 1710). 

3  Hamilton’s Descriptions of Lanark and Renfrew, p. 250.  

4  Diocesan Registers of Glasgow, ii. p. 72.  

5  Munimenta Univ. Glasg., ii. 116.  

6  lb. p. 119. As to Canon Gibson and John Gibson, Junior see Appendix, note D.  

7  Hay’s Vindication, p. 32; see Hearne’s Fordun, v. p. 1382.  

8  Catalogue of MSS. bequeathed to Corpus Christi College, p. 255, (Cantab. 1777).  

9  Hist. Eccl. Lit., vi. 543.  

10  Scottish Historical Library, p. 26.  

11  Skene’s Fordun, i. p. 16. 

12  Hay’s Vindication, p. 32; Hearne’s Fordun. v. p. 1382.  

13  Catalogue MSS. Oxon., I., par. 3, No. 133. Naismith says very much the same, Catalogue, p. 255.

14  Vol. ii. No. Ixxxiii — Ixxxvi.  

15  Lees, The Abbey of Paisley, p. 176.  

16  Scottish Historical Library, p. 27.  

17  W. B. D. D. Turnbull, Introduction to Extracta e Variis Cronicis Scocie, p. xi; Tytler, Life of Craig, p. 74; Brunton and Haig, Senators of the College of Justice, p. 58; Keith, Church History, i., p. 161, ii., p. 221; Diocesan Registers of Glasgow, ii., pp. 28, 76, 161, 167; Dempster Hist. Eccl. Gent. Scot. Lib., XV. No. 1071, 1072. 

18  Sir Robert Sibbald states that certain of the notes on the MS. of the Extracta e Variis Cronicis in the Advocates Library (including that respecting Arthur’s Oon, Printed Edition, p. 252) were made in 1569 by Henry Sinclair (Historical Enquiry Concerning the Romans, p. 43. Edr., 1707). Pinkerton mentions that at the end of a MS. at Panmure (‘Extracta e Chronicis Scotiæ’) are some valuable notes by Dean Sinclair, (Pinkerton’s Enquiry, vol. i., Advt., p. ix., [8vo 1814]); but this would appear to be merely a copy of the preceeding. (Report Hist. MSS. Comn., ii, p. 186). The notes mentioned by Sibbald which are dated 1569, cannot have been made by Henry Sinclair, as he died in 1565. It is more probable that they are from the pen of Sir William Sinclair, whose notes on the MS. are very numerous, and the one following that in question has reference to Roslin. 

19 The same thing occurs in the Carthusian copy of the Scotichronicon (Adv. Library, 35-6-7). “Hen. Sinclair” is deleted and “W. Sinclair of Roislin, Knecht,” substituted; and likewise in the Extracta e Variis Cronicis.  

20  Liber Collegii Nostre Domine, p. 60. (Maitland Club).  

21  Muminenta, Univ. Glasg., ii., p. 298, 299, i., p. 59, 60.  

22  Munimenta, ii. p. 298.

23  Of John Laing and his connexions, see Appendix, Note E.  

24 Advocates Library, 35-6-8.  

25  Tanner, Bibliotheca Britannica.s. v. Gibson, p. 316, (London, 1748).  

26  Fordun by Goodall, ii., p. 521-533. 

27  Ante, p. 24

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