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George Buchanan 1506-1582

Virtual exhibition of Buchanan's books


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George Buchanan Vita ab ipso scripta, from his Opera omnia
Edinburgh: Robert Freebairn, 1715.
Sp Coll Bo 1.7

First published as late as 1595, the Vita really ends with Buchanan's return to Scotland and some doubt has been cast on its authorship, but it contains facts and names that can have been known only to Buchanan. Thomas Ruddiman makes extensive annotations and additions to it in his magnificent edition of Buchanan complete works.



Title-page: Vol 1

Robert Wodrow Collections upon the life of Mr. George Buchanan
MS 1732.
MS General 1210

Out of a series of over two hundred lives written by Wodrow (1679-1734), an ecclesiastical historian, Buchanan's is the only one to occupy a whole volume, running to 133 closely written pages. While it includes little original material, it is a useful digest of opinions expressed over the previous century and a half.

Wodrow's closely written script

Buchanan's typically humanist preoccupation as a grammarian spanned his whole career.

Illustrated here are his two principal works on Latin: the translation of Linacre's Rudimenta grammatices, which appeared in 1533, and the De prosidia, which was written in the late 1570s. Buchanan's interest in the teaching of good Latin is further proved by the extract from Montaigne's Essais.


Thomas Linacre Rudimenta grammatices
trans. Buchanan, Paris: Robert Estienne, 1540
Sp.Coll. q371

Buchanan's translation of Linacre's work was first printed in Paris in 1533, and appeared in at least 25 further editions before 1559. Dedicated to his pupil Gilbert Kennedy, Earl of Cassillis, the work reflects Buchanan's desire to reform the teaching of Latin, through concentration on clarity and orderliness.


Thomas Linacre Rudimenta grammatices
trans. Buchanan, Lyon: Sebastian Gryphius, 1544

The seriousness of Buchanan's purpose as a Humanist grammarian is illustrated by his inclusion of the De ratione studii puerilis of Juan Luis Vives, whose reputation was second only to that of Erasmus.


Michel de Montaigne Les essais
Paris: Abel L'Angelier, 1598.

The great French moralist, Michel de Montaigne, was taught by Buchanan at the College de Guyenne in Bordeaux in the 1540s. In the Essais Montaigne says that Buchanan applauded, and followed the example of, the method by which the moralist was taught Latin.


Engraved title-page
Joannes Despauterius Grammaticae institutionis ... libri VII
Edinburgh: heirs of Andrew Anderson, 1708.

Buchanan's De prosodia stemmed from a move in 1575 to improve and standardise the teaching of Latin in Scottish schools. Although this initiative foundered, Buchanan's contribution was eventually published in about 1595, and continued to be published, in updated versions, in Despauterius' Grammatica well into the 18th century, as is revealed by this well-worn copy.


Apart from his activity as a grammarian, Buchanan also taught, both in institutions and privately. Perhaps his most famous pupil was the young King James VI, and we are lucky to have a record of the books which were in James's library at the relevant time. Professor McFarlane describes the curriculum devised for the King as essentially "that of the French Renaissance geared to the needs of a monarch living at a rather later period". The books exhibited in this section reveal some of the breadth of learning comprehended in Buchanan's view of education.
Alessandro Piccolomini De sphaera libri quattuor, ex italico in latinum sermone conversi.. Joan. Nicol. Stupano Rheto interprete Basel: Petrus Perna, 1568.

James VI had copies of this work in Latin and French, the latter given him by Buchanan who was acquainted with the translator Jacques Goupil. Piccolomini was the first person to produce printed star charts. Buchanan was himself responsible for a work on the astronomical spheres.

Roger Ascham The scholemaster...
London: John Daye, 1571.

Ascham, who was acquainted with Buchanan, dealt in the Schoolmaster with subjects dear to Buchanan's heart, being concerned with the effective teaching of Latin, as well as with the moral aims of education, and as such was eminently suited to the young king's library.

Synesius of Cyrene Hymnoi...
Paris: Jean Bien-né, 1570.

Synesius (ca. 370-430), neo-platonist, and Bishop of Ptolemais, wrote 9 hymns, of which James VI possessed a copy with Latin translations. Buchanan himself presented the king with a copy of Synesius's discourse on kingship.

Eusebius of Caesarea Ecclesiasticae historiae
Paris, Robert Estienne, 1544.

A copy of this magnificently printed "standard work" was in James VI's library.


Woodcut Initial, opening page (ii)
Pierre Belon La nature et diversité des poissons
Paris: Charles Estienne, 1555.

A copy of a work, by a major writer on natural history, donated by Buchanan to James VI. The publisher was a personal friend of Buchanan.


La Raye Bouclee, Page 71
Johannes Sturm De demonstratione liber unus, qui dialecticarum partitioned est tertius
Strasbourg: Wendelin Rihel, 1543.

Among other works by Sturm, his Dialectica is mentioned twice in the catalogue of James VI's library. Sturm's school in Strasbourg became a model for Protestant education during the Reformation: he is the dedicatee of some of Buchanan's verse.


Guillaume de la Perriere La morosophie...
Lyon: Macé Bonhomme, 1553.
S.M. 689

An emblem book, typical of the genre which was itself typical of Renaissance humanism, one of several in James VI's library.

John Leslie De origine, moribus et rebus gestis Scotorum libri decem
Rome: in aedibus populi Romani, 1578.

Leslie's history of Scotland presented a strongly Catholic view, in keeping with its author's convictions and political standpoint. Given its subject matter, the work had an inevitable place in James's library.

For Buchanan's history of Scotland see section Buchanan the Historian.

Map of Scotland, folded plate after dedication and before  main text.

Buchanan's dramatic work consists of translations into Latin of two tragedies by Euripides and two Biblical tragedies of his own composition. Largely didactic in purpose, Buchanan's plays were to become important in the development of much European drama.
Euripedes Medea
trans. Buchanan, Paris: Michel Vascosan, 1544.

With the possible exception of one liminary verse, the Medea was Buchanan's first literary publication, and this is an unrecorded copy of the first edition, in which Buchanan's work follows translations of the Hecuba and the Iphigenia in Aulide by Erasmus. At the end of the Medea one reads: "Acta fuit Burdegalae an. M.D.XLIII." which refers to the play's performance at the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux in 1543 while Buchanan was a teacher there.


The first page of Medea
Euripedes Alcestis
trans. Buchanan, [No place of publication]: Henri Estienne, 1567.

Generally considered to be the better of Buchanan's two Euripides translations, the Alcestis was translated in the mid-1550's and published in 1556. This edition, part of a collection of Greek tragedies with parallel Latin translations, came, like many of Buchanan's publications, from the great humanist publishing house of the Estienne family.


The three volumes of Euripedes Alcestis
George Buchanan Jephthes
Paris: Guillaume Morel, 1554.

The Jephthes was probably written in the 1540s but not published until 1554, when this edition appeared. The most dramatically satisfactory of Buchanan’s plays, its reputation and influence spread throughout Europe, in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles. As can be seen from the image, the title-page is badly damaged and has been repaired at some point.

George Buchanan Jephté
trans. Florent Chrestien, Paris: Robert Estienne, 1573.

A French translation of the Jephthes by the Orléans humanist, Florent Chrestien, one of many vernacular translations of the 16th century.

George Buchanan Baptistes
London: "et prostate Antuerpiae aped Jacobum Henricium", 1578.

The origins and textual history of Buchanan's Baptistes are surrounded in mystery - it may even have been his first substantial literary work, dating from the 1530's, but in the form in which it was first published in 1577 it had become connected with the author's role as tutor to James VI, as well as acquiring political overtones concerning the nature of kingship.

The copy shown is from one of the seven editions or states which appeared in the years 1577-1579.

Michel de Montaigne The essayes
trans. John Florio, London: Val. Sims for Edward Blount, 1603.
Sp Coll q57

The French moralist Michel de Montaigne asserts the educational efficacy of acting in tragedies, having himself played the ''chiefest parts" in Buchanan's plays while a pupil under Buchanan at the College de Guyenne in Bordeaux.

See also Michel de Montaigne Les essais in section Buchanan the Grammarian.

First page with a dedication to the Countess of Bedford

Buchanan's anti-copernican poem on the astronomical spheres is in the tradition of Renaissance scientific poetry, and one of a number of poems on the subject. The textual history of this unfinished work is complicated, and it most frequently appeared in collective editions of Buchanan's poetry, but a few independent editions were published early on.
George Buchanan Franciscanus et fratres ... &c
[No place of publication or printer named]: 1584.

This collective edition of profane poems contains a fragment of the Sphaera which seems to derive from an early state of the text. Buchanan is known to have been working on the poem at least as early as 1566.

George Buchanan Sphaera
Paris: Fredéric Morel, 1585.

Although the title of this first independent edition of the Sphaera announces five books, this copy contains only the first two. No other copy of the second book is known, and only one other of the first.


George Buchanan Sphaera
Herborn: Christopher Corvinus, 1586.

This is the second edition of the Sphaera to be published independently and appeared from the same press as Chytraeus's highly successful edition of the Psalms paraphrase. In a liminary epistle to the Count of Nassau the Scotsman Robert Howie calls for possible improvements to the text of the Sphaera from persons in possession of other manuscripts of the work.



Buchanan's Latin paraphrase of the Psalms had a remarkably long and successful publishing history. More than twenty editions had appeared by the end of 1582, and more than 110 by 1700. The paraphrase was still being published early in the 19th century having become a popular work for the teaching of Latin.
Davidis Psalmi aliquot Latino carmine expressi a quattuor illustribus poetis...
[No place of publication]: Henri Estienne, 1556.

The earliest appearance in print of a selection of Buchanan's Psalm paraphrases. Buchanan is here described as an "illustrious poet" and the liminary epistle reveals Estienne's particular admiration for the Scotsman.


PSALMS: Paraphrasis Psalmorum Davidis poetica ... auctore Georgio Buchanano, Scoto
Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1567: with Buchanan's Jephthes.

This is the edition of the Psalms which most closely fits that described in the catalogue of James VI's library. As well as the Jephthes, a selection of Greek Psalm translations is appended in this copy, printed by the most famous printer of the 16th century.


PSALMS: Psalmorum sacrorum Davidis libri quinque duplici poetici metaphrasi ... Theodore Beza Vezelio & Georgio Buchanano Scoto autoribus...
Morges: Jean Le Preux, 1581.

The first edition in which the respective complete paraphrases of the leading French protestant humanist Théodore de Bèze and of Buchanan appeared together, Bèze's version on the left and Buchanan's on the right, with much editorial matter.

Page 350 Showing Beze's paraphrasis Page 351 showing Buchanan's Interpretatio
PSALMS: Psalmorum Davidis Paraphrasis poetica Georgii Buchanani
Scoti, ed. Nathan Chytraeus Frankfurt: Christopher Corvinus,  1585.

The edition of Nathan Chytraeus was much reprinted until 1702 and included extensive critical apparatus, appended under a separate title. Chytraeus's early editions also provided the earliest biographical notes on Buchanan, present here in what seems to be the first Chytraeus edition.

PSALMS: Psalmorum Davidis Paraphrasis poetica Georgii Buchanani Scoti
ed. Nathan Chytraeus, Herborn: [no printer given], 1646.

Chytraeus's edition included simple four-part musical settings by Statius Olthoff, which are illustrated here. One musical setting was provided for each metrical pattern used. Olthoff (1555-1629), choirmaster at Rostock, is principally remembered for the Psalm settings.

PSALMS: Paraphrasis Psalmorum Davidis poetica auctore Georgio Buchanano, Scoto, Glasgow.
Robert Sanders, 1684, with Buchanan's Jephthes and Baptistes.

The Psalms paraphrase was not printed in Scotland until the 17th century, and this is the first Glasgow edition. The low standard of printing, and the wear to which this copy has been subjected, suggest the use made of the paraphrase as a pedagogical tool.


Very worn titlepage
PSALMS: G. Buchanani Paraphrasis Psalmorum Davidis poetica. Cum versione anglica ... Andrea Waddel, auctore, Glasgow
James Mundell: Edinburgh, J. Dickson (&c) , 1797.

The Latin text of the Psalms with Andrew Waddel's translation alongside was first published in 1792. This edition also contains a simplification of the Latin syntax aimed, presumably, at helping the schoolboy reader.



As with many of his works, the textual history of Buchanan's poetry is extremely complicated, not least because it circulated widely in manuscript before being printed and because he subjected it to continuous revision. At all events Buchanan's reputation as a poet was widely established early in his career, and he continued to be held in the highest esteem until his death.
Marc Antoine Muret Juvenilia
Paris: widow of Maurice de la Porte, 1552.

One of many liminary verses by Buchanan occurs in this work by a respected French poet. In the same book there are other liminary verses by the Pléiade poets Jean Dorat, Jean-Antoine de Bäif and Étienne Jodelle.


Querolus, antique comoedia,...nunc primum a Petro Daniele Aurelio luce donata & notis illustrata
Paris: Robert Estienne, 1564.

Buchanan's liminary verse may well be linked with the fact that Pierre Daniel, a native of Orléans, had a high regard for Buchanan's scholarship, since the editorial notes mention help received from ''Georgius Buchananus, vir doctissimus". In 1567 Daniel was to supervise the printing of Buchanan's poems.


Marcus Tullius Cicero Academicarum quaestionum... [libri]
Paris: Michel Vascosan, 1544 (with other works of Cicero).

This typically Parisian edition of Cicero has Buchanan's signature at the bottom of the title-page. On a fly-leaf at the back of the volume is a poem very possibly in Buchanan's hand.

Titlepage with Buchanan's signature
George Buchanan Elegiarum liber I (&c)
Paris: Robert Estienne, 1567.

An early collective edition, edited by Pierre Daniel, in which Buchanan received from Estienne the accolade "Poetarum nostri saeculi facile principis'' ("easily the prince of poets of our time") which was to be repeated in many editions of his work.



George Buchanan Francisanus et fratres, quibus accessere varia eiusdem & aliorum poemata ... eiusdem Psalmos ...
Basel: Thomas Guarinus, 1568.

A collective edition of the poems brought out by Buchanan's friend and collaborator Charles Utenhove, based on different textual sources from Pierre Daniel's edition of 1567. Buchanan's work again appears alongside that of some of the Pléiade.

Selectorum Carminum ex doctiss. poetis collectorum, ...,libri quattuor
[No place of publication]: Israel Taurinus, 1590.

An anthology of works by various authors, including some unpublished items by Buchanan, bearing witness to the regard in which he was held in his own century.



George Buchanan Poemata quae extant
Leiden: Elzevier, 1628.

A watershed in the publication of the profane poems was marked in 1615 when a more or less standard arrangement was formulated in the Edinburgh edition of Andro Hart. This edition is from the famous Leiden firm who produced many popular works in small format.

Title-page with Buchanan portrait

Although he had been tutor, interpreter and poet at the court of Queen Mary, Buchanan turned against her after Darnley's murder and her marriage to Bothwell. He became a supporter of the Regent Moray and played a considerable part in preparing anti-Marian literature.

His work for the Privy Council survived the murders of Moray and of his successor Lennox, who had appointed him director of Chancery and Keeper of the Privy Seal; but with Morton as Regent. from 1572, his political prestige declined, though he remained active in the Privy Council until 1579.

George Buchanan De maria Scotorum regina ...
[London: John Day, 1571 ?].
Sp Coll 817

Written for the Regent Moray but not published until after Moray's death, this anti-Marian narrative of the treatment of Darnley and the Queen's marriage to Bothwell is accompanied by the Actio contra Mariam, a more emotive work covering the same events and portraying Mary as motivated by an insatiable lust for power as well as by her passion for Bothwell.

George Buchanan Ane detectioun of the duings of Marie Quene of Scottes
[London: John Day, 1571?]

One of the translations of the De Maria Scotorum regina which were published very soon after the original Latin edition.
George Buchanan Histoire de Marie Royne d'Escosse
Edinburgh (i.e. La Rochelle): Thomas Waltem, 1572.
Cn 3.43

A French translation of De Maria Scotorum regina.


George Buchanan Detectio Mariae
MS, 17th century.
MS Hamilton 103

This manuscript copy of De Maria Scotorum regina is evidence of the continuing demand for the work after Buchanan's death.


Handwritten title-page
George Buchanan Ane admonitioun direct to the trew Lordis mantenaris of the Kingis Graces authoritie
London: John Day, 1571.
Mu 5O-h.l

Primarily a bitter invective against the Hamilton faction: one of whose number had murdered the Regent Moray, the Admonitioun brings up to date the events outlined in De Maria Scotorum regina and is part of Buchanan's scheme to expose the major enemies of his country as he then saw them - Mary herself, the Marian faction, and Maitland of Lethington as well as the Hamiltons.



The conditions of Buchanan's age neither required nor allowed him to pursue impartiality as an historian. He wrote his Historia largely as an illustration of the principles of democratic monarchy expounded in his De Jure regni one of his stated reasons being the example it would provide for James VI, to whom it was dedicated.

The Historia, which began to take shape in the 1560's, can also be seen as part of Buchanan's attempt to Justify the claims of the Regent Moray to the throne: Moray's murder in 1570 was a principal reason for its completion being delayed.

George Buchanan De Jure regni apud Scotos
[No place of publication or printer]:1579.

In dialogue form Buchanan here gives voice to his political theories of kingship. He sets out the duty of monarchs and subjects to each other, laying stress chiefly on the former, includes a plea for the right of popular election of kings and does not shrink from upholding tyrannicide in cases of extreme wickedness. The work was widely read, seven editions and re-issues being recorded by 1581, and modern editions show that interest has not flagged.


George Buchanan De Jure regni apud Scotos. Or, A dialogue, concerning the due priviledge of government in the Kingdom of Scotland
Philadelphia: Andrew Steuart, 1766.

It is interesting to note that this translation of the De jure, which was still being published in Latin in Glasgow in 1750, should be printed in pre-Revolutionary America.

Adam Blackwood Adversus Georgii Buchanan dialogum de Jure regni apud Scotos
MS copy of the second edition printed at Poitiers in 1588.
MS General 224

The first rejoinder to Buchanan's dialogue by a Catholic Scot, albeit one who was at the time counsellor or judge of Parliament at Poitiers, Blackwood's attack propounds an early version of absolutist monarchy which is of importance for its place in the development of political theories that led to the state of Louis XIV.



Blackwood's manuscript copy
George Buchanan Rerum Scoticarum historia
Edinburgh: Alexander Arbuthnet 1582.
Hepburn q7

Published within a short time of his death, the Historia is Buchanan's most substantial and most controversial work. From its appearance James VI opposed the work both for its political principles and for the portrait painted of his mother: it was not republished in Scotland until 1700. This copy of the Historia has been extensively annotated by Patrick Galloway (1551?-1626), minister at Perth.


George Buchanan The historie of Scotland
MS, 1634.
MS General 1187

The earliest surviving translation of the Historia, made by John Reid or Read, sometime servitor to Buchanan.


Reid's English translation of the Historia

George Buchanan Rerum Scoticarum historia
Utrecht: Elzevir, 1668.

From 1583 until the end of the seventeenth century the only editions of the Historia were those printed on the continent. The dozen editions recorded between 1583 and 1700 all include the De Jure regni.


George Buchanan The History of Scotland
London: Edward Jones for Awnsham Churchil, 1690.

Although manuscript translations of the Historia were in circulation at least from the early part of the seventeenth century, the first published translation appeared only more than a century after Buchanan's death, and after the death of the last Stewart King, James II of Great Britain.



In 1578 the University of Glasgow made a grant of land to a relative of Buchanan's in view of '... the singular favour that ane honourable man Maister George Buchanan teacher of our Soverain Lord in gude lettres hes borne and shawen at all times to our College'. Buchanan, whose career as an educator had included his appointment as Principal of St Leonard's College at Saint Andrews and his reform of the university there, is thought to have interested the Regent Morton in the refounding of Glasgow University in 1572. His active interest in the university probably predates the nova erectio by considerably more than a decade, and his gift of books in 1578 remains tangible proof of his generosity and support.
Mary Queen of Scots Letter under the Privy Seal, 13 July 1563.
Glasgow University Archives 16589

This document, having set out the ruined state of the University - buildings half erected and endowments exhausted -  established five bursaries for poor students. Buchanan, who was at the time tutor to Queen Mary, is thought to have had some influence in guiding her interest in the University.

Glasgow University Annales Collegii Facultatis Artium
1451-1555, MS.
Glasgow University Archives 26614

Grant of the lands and steading of Balagan in lease to John Buchanan for nineteen years, for a yearly rent of ten bolls of oatmeal recorded in the Book of the Dean of Faculty, 4 February 1578 (p. 157).

Glasgow University Catalogus librorum communis blbliothecae Collegii Glasguensis
1578, MS.
Glasgow University Archives 26619

Contained in this volume of records of the University is a list (p.21) of the twenty books in Greek donated by Buchanan in 1578, some of which can be seen below.

Lychophron Alexandra sive Cassandra
Basel, 1546.
Eustathius Commentarii in Homeri Iliadem et Odyssaem
(one of four volumes)
Demosthenes Orationes dua[e] et sexaginta, et in easdem Vlpiani commentari[i]
Basel, 1532.

Manuel Moschopulus De ratione examinandae orationis libellus
Paris, 1545.
Strabo De situ orbis
Venice 1516.

(Page 77)
Stephanus of Byzantium De urbibus
Florence, 1521.
(Opening page)

Aristotle Commentarii in Aristotelis Rhetoricen anonymi
Paris, 1539.
Athenaeus Dipnosophistarum… libri XV
Basel, 1535.
Suidas [Lexicon]
Venice, 1514.

EuclidElementorum libri XV. In primum librum commentariorum procli libri IV
Basel, 1533.
(Woodcut Initial Page 55)
Plutarch Parallela
Basel, 1533.