52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 45: the oldest institutional binding in St Andrews, re-used

Friday 20 April 2012
The front board of St Andrews item UYUY150/1, a collection of copies of key documents from the University’s history, covering the period 1413-1539.

This register of evidences and privileges of the University of St Andrews (Registrum evidentiarum et privilegiorum universitatis Sancti Andree) contains transcripts or copies of key documents from the University’s history, covering the period 1413-1539. It is one of the most important items in the University’s muniment collection. Cartularies of this nature were compiled as record books, to ensure the preservation of an institution’s most significant archives. So, in this volume we find copies of the texts of all six bulls granted by Pope Benedict XIII in 1413 which established the University, copies of documents granting and confirming privileges issued to the University by Scottish Kings from 1432, evidence of freedom from taxation and of ownership of land from 1419, as well as sources which trace the relationships between the colleges and the wider university, and between the university and the church.

Two leaves from St Andrews item UYUY150/1, notice the figure in the 'O' of Omnibus.
Notorial mark of John Guthrie, leaf 90r of UYUY150/1.

This book contains a summary, then, of the first 125 years of the University’s history, a period which saw first the growth of teaching through the Faculty of Arts and its Pedagogy, and then the foundation of St Salvator’s College (1450), St Leonard’s College (1512) and St Mary’s College (1538). The book was written for the rector of the University in about 1539, probably by or under the authority of John Guthrie (see left) and William Hunter whose notarial attestations appear on folios 90 r and v. One leaf has an 1850 addition of the text of oaths of entrants and rectors. This book’s significance to the university and town of St Andrews is shown by citations of it and by its binding.

George Martine who wrote his Reliquiae Divi Andreanae in 1797, includes details about Bishop Henry Wardlaw taken from ‘the universitie register, MS. Parchment, bound black and clasped’ so we know that the book bore its present binding at that date.

Detail of the brass clasp plate found on St Andrews item UYUY150/1.
Detail of front cover.
The 15th century University seal matrix (below) and a wax impression (above).

The black-stained calf binding on this book bears the earliest university stamp in gold on both boards.The stamp is based on the 1414-18 seal matrix of the University, still to be found within the muniment collection (see right). Both matrix and book stamp give a rare visual representation of academic life in the medieval institution. It shows either a class of seven scholars along with a regent at his desk accompanied by the ‘luminator’ sitting with a lantern, or a rectorial court, with the seated official attended by the bedellus carrying the mace that habitually accompanied the rector on his official duties. Above is a triple canopy bearing three coats of arms, describing in heraldic form the founders of the university. The cover may have been re-used from one of the Royal foundation gift volumes c. 1620 (see examples below), dating from establishment of the Common Library for the University in 1612. One clasp plate also remains. There is an ownership inscription of that library: Ex Lib Bibliothecae Publicae Univ Andreanae on the fly leaf. In the 19th century the book was repaired and the spine was titled and stamped with oval university stamp.

Three volumes from the Royal Collection bearing the same institutional stamp.

The tooled cover seems originally to have been used on a volume which was about an inch wider across the spine, hence the crests are half an inch off centre on the present boards. The fore-edges have been stained blue, and this, together with its binding and ownership inscription, indicates its treatment by the institution as a book rather than as an archival item. Indeed, the choice of a ‘royal foundation gift’ binding for this book is a physical tribute to the significance the institution placed on one of its key books of record.

RH & DG (pictures)

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1 thoughts on "52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 45: the oldest institutional binding in St Andrews, re-used"

  • 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 23: Images of St Andrew « Echoes from the Vault
    Thursday 29 November 2012, 9.34pm

    [...] seal was used as an institutional binding stamp used throughout the 18th century. It can be found on volumes throughout the Rare Book and Muniment Collections. The scene from this [...]


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