A mysteriously unfinished document from the 18th Century revealing insights into Scotland’s parliamentary past has been discovered by researchers.
The historical record, showing the last, incomplete entry from the parliamentary register of 1706, forms part of a major new parliamentary record to be launched on Thursday (May 15th).
In a project of unprecedented scale and complexity, researchers from the School of History at the University of St Andrews have created a fully searchable digital database of the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament from its first surviving act of 1235 to its dissolution by the Act of Union of 1707.
The publication online of The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 at www.rps.ac.uk makes freely available to all the 16.5 million words which document almost 500 years of Scottish parliamentary history.
Project Manager, Dr Gillian MacIntosh explained, “The parliamentary register contains the laws and acts of parliament and other relevant proceedings, properly authenticated by officials. It was written up by scribes after each session had finished, as much as up to a year later.
“No-one really knows why the record from 27th November 1706 stops mid-sentence. It may be that after the parliamentary union of 1707 the scribes were no longer being paid and they simply put their pens down. However, they could also have been called away for other business and the task of completing the record of Scotland’s final pre-union parliament was overlooked.
“The union parliament sat into March 1707 and so there is a huge gap in documentation which is missed out of the official register. Some private ratifications were irretrievably lost, but the bulk of the public record can be drawn from surviving minutes contained in the warrants of parliament.”
The project has taken 11 years to complete and presents the records of the Scottish Parliament in a format that is amongst the most technologically advanced and most user-friendly of any historical record yet published, employing cutting-edge methodology to highlight the historical importance of the Parliament of Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland, said, “I want to congratulate everyone at the University of St Andrews who has been involved in this landmark project to make publicly available, in an accessible form, some of the most important documents in Scotland’s history.
“Anyone with an interest will now be able to read for themselves about the goings-on in Scotland’s original national parliament over nearly 500 years. What’s particularly fascinating about these records is the fact that our parliamentary predecessors were legislating on many issues that are still of concern to Scots today, from binge drinking to the cost of fuel.
“Most importantly, perhaps, this database is a reminder that Scotland has a long and proud tradition of representative government that provides the backdrop for our present-day democracy.”
The project team was led by Professor Keith Brown of the School of History, University of St Andrews and has been supported by the National Archives of Scotland, Scotland’s oldest national collection, where most of the records of the old Scottish Parliament are preserved.
Professor Brown said, “From its origins in the 13th Century to its termination in the 18th Century, Scotland’s parliament represented a political legitimacy that could not be ignored. Furthermore, far from being a rudimentary institution, parliament evolved rituals, procedures and a level of self-conscious awareness on a par with any other representative body of that age.
“Scotland has every reason to be proud of its lengthy parliamentary history and the record the institution left behind. It is with great interest that we await to see what new research is created by the users of the resource produced by the project.”
The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland website, which features full translations of the original documents from Scots, French and Latin into English, is designed to replace and update a 19th Century printed version.
Mr George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland said, “We’re delighted that the latest technology is being used to widen access to the invaluable historical material contained in the acts of the old Scottish Parliaments. The standard printed edition was produced in Register House in the 19th century, and the National Archives of Scotland are pleased to have been able to support the work of St Andrews University in creating the new online edition in the 21st century.”
Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson MSP, will host the formal launch of The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday (May 15th).
He said, “This project is the perfect blend of old and new. Taking documents and texts, some over 700 years old, and bringing them alive today through the use of the most technologically advanced methods currently available.
“It will provide our people with a greater understanding of their past and the historic chapters of Scotland’s parliamentary life.”
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