2014 marked the 500th anniversary of the death of William Elphinstone, the founder of the University of Aberdeen. The Special Collections Centre holds 34 printed books and manuscripts that formed all, or part, of the private library of Bishop Elphinstone.

Elphinstone was one of the finest lawyers of the period and the larger part of his library consists of legal texts, which apart from one printed book are all hand-written manuscripts. The printed books are all incunabula (books printed before 1501) and consist of theological works and some philosophy and politics.

The books belonging to Bishop Elphinstone formed the foundation of the University Library. There are 13 incunabula, which he seems to have read and studied closely as there are many marginalia and underscores in his hand. Unusually for the time, the library of Elphinstone holds a high proportion of printed books. Printing was only invented during Elphinstone’s lifetime but he was obviously aware of the significance of this newer medium and was instrumental in bringing the first printing press to Scotland.

Caracciolo, Roberto. Quadragesimale de poenitentia. (Basel: Ruppel, 1480?). Inc 167.

The inscription shown here is from Inc 167, a collection of sermons for Lent by the hugely popular Franciscan preacher, Roberto Caracciolo da Lecce, whose works were circulated widely through the new medium of print.

The inscription is by Elphinstone, continued by Hector Boece, the first principal of King’s College and de factolibrarian.

It reads:

Lib[er] Willi[am] de elphynston [Elphinstone’s hand] datus p[er] eu[n]de[m] venerabil[em] p[at]r[e]m suo collegio universitatis Ab[re]donen[sis] 1510 [in Hector Boece’s hand]

A loose translation of which is:

William Elphinstone’s book. Given by the venerable father of the College of the University of Aberdeen in 1510.

In the margin is a drawing of a bishop’s mitre with the initials VE [William Elphinstone] underneath.