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Significant Scots
Walter Chepman


CHEPMAN, WALTER, who appears to have been chiefly concerned in introducing the art of printing into Scotland, was a servant of king James IV., who patronised him in that undertaking. None of the hounours of learning are known to have been attached to the name of Walter Chepman; but it is to be inferred that his office in the royal household was of a clerical or literary character, as we find that on the 21st of February, 1496, the lord treasurer enters the following disbursement in his books: "Giffen to a boy to rynne fra Edinburgh to Linlithq, to Watte Chepman, to signet twa letteris to pas to Woddis, 12d." His name is frequently mentioned in this curious record; for instance, in August, 1503, amidst a variety of expenses "pro servitoribus" on the occasion of the king’s marriage, eight pounds ten shillings are given for "five elne Inglis (English) claith to Walter Chepman, ilk elne 34 shillings," which may show the high consideration in which this individual was held. Walter Chepman is found at a somewhat later period in the condition of a merchant and burgess of Edinburgh, and joining with one Andro Millar, another merchant, in the business of a printer. It appears to have been owing to the urgent wishes of the king that Scotland was first favoured with the possession of a printing press. A grant under the privy seal, dated in 1597, recites the causes and objects of this measure in the following terms: -

JAMES, &c. – To al and sindrj our officiaris lieges and subdittis quham it efferis, quhais knawlage thir our letters saleum, greting; wit ye that forsamekill as our lovittis servitouris Walter Chepman and Andro Millar burgesis of our burgh of Edinburgh, has, at our instance and request, for our plesour, the honour and profit of our Realme and leigis, takin on thame to furnish and bring hame ane prent, with all stuff belangand tharto, and expert men to use the samyne, for imprenting withis our Realme of the bukis of our Lawis, actis of parliament, croniclis, mess bukis, and portuus efter the use of our Realme, with addicions and legendis of Scottish sanctis, now gaderit to be ekit tharto, and al utheris bukis that salbe sene necessary, and to sel the ammyn for competent pricis, be our avis and discrecious, thair labouris and expens being considerit; And because we understand that this cannot be perfurnist without rycht greit cost labour and expens, we have granted and promittit to thame that thai sall nocht be hurt nor prevenit tharon be ony utheris to tak copyis of ony bukis fortht of our Realme, to ger imprent the samyne in utheris countries, to be brocht and sauld agane within our Realme, to cause the said Walter and Andro tyne thair gret labour and expens; And als It is divisit and thocht expedient be us and our counsall, that in tyme cuming mess bukis, manualis, matyne bukis, and protuus bukis, efter our awin scottis use, and with legendis of Scottis sanctis, as is now gaderit and ekit be ane Reverend fader in god, and our truist consalour Williame bischope of abirdene and utheris, be usit generally within al our Realme, alssome as the sammyn may be imprected and providit, and that no manner of sic bukis of Salisbury use be brocht to be sauld within our Realme in tym coming; and gif ony dois in the contrar, that thai sal tyne the sammyne; Quharfor we charge straitlie and commandis yow al and sindrj our officiaris, lieges, and subdittis, that nane of yow tak apon hand to do ony thing incontrar this our awm promitt, devise and ordinance, in tyme cuming, under the pane of esheting of the bukis, and punishing of thair persons bringaris tharof within our Realme, in contrar this our statut, with al vigour as efferis. Geven under our prive Sel at Edinburgh, the xv day of September, and of our Regue the xx yer.

(Registrum Sec. Sig. Iii. 129.)

This typographical business would appear to have been in full operation before the end of 1507, as, on the 22d of December that year, we find the royal treasurer paying fifty shillings for "3 prentit bukes to the king, tane fra Andro Millaris wyff." The Cowgate, a mean street, now inhabited by the least instructed class of citizens of Edinburgh, was the place where that grand engine of knowledge was established; as appears from the imprints of some of Chepman and Millar’s publications, and also from a passage in the Traditions of Edinburgh, where the exact site of the house is thus made out: - "In the lower part of the church-yard (of St Giles, adjoining the Cowgate) there was a small place of worship, denominated the Chapel of Holyrood. Walter Chepman, the first printer in Edinburgh, in 1528, endowed an altar in this chapel with his tenement in the Cowgate; and, by the tenor of this charter, we are enabled to point out very nearly the residence of this remarkable person. The tenement is thus described: - ‘All and haill this tenement of land, back and foir, with houses, biggings, yards, and well, thereof, lying in the Cowgate of Edinburgh, on the south side thereof, near the said chapel, betwixt the lands of James Lamb on the east, and the lands of John Aber on the west, the arable lands, called Wairam’s croft, on the south, and the said street on the north part.’" It is probable that the site is now covered by the new bridge thrown across the Cowgate at that point.

In the course of a few years, Chepman and Millar produced works of which hardly any other set is known to exist than that preserved in the Advocates’ Library.

The privilege granted to Chepman and Millar was of a rigidly exclusive kind – for at this early period the system of monopolizing knowledge, which is now an absurdity and a disgrace, was a matter of necessity. In January, 1509, we find Walter Chepman asserting the right of his patent against various individuals who had infringed upon it by importing books into the country. The lords of council thus re-inforced the privilege they had formerly granted to him: -

ANENT the complaint maid by Walter Chepman, that quhar he, at the desire of our soverane lord, furnist and brocht hame ane prent and pretaris, for prenting of croniclis, missalis, protuuss, and utheris buikis within this realme, and to seclue salisberyis use; And to that effect thair wes lettres under our said soverane lordis priue sele direct, till command and charge oure soverane lordis lieges, that nain of thaim suld inbring or sell ony bukis of the said use of Salisbury, under the pane of escheting of the samyn; Neuirtheless, Wilyiam Frost, Francis Frost, William Sym, Andro Ross, and diuers others, merchandis within the burgh of Edinburgh, hes brocht haim, and selis daly, diuers bukis of the said use, sik as mess bukis, mannualis, portuiss, matinbuikis, and diuers uther bukis, in the disobeying of the said command and lettres, lik as at mar lenth Is contenit in the said complaint: The saidis Walter, William, Francis, William and Andro, being personally present, And thair Richtis reasons and allegacious herd sene and understand, and thair with being Riply avisit, The Lordis of Counsale forsaidis commandit and chargit and saids William Frost, Francis Frost, William Sym, and Andro Ros, personally, that nain of thaim, in tyme to cum, bring hame, nor sell within this Realme, ony misale bukis, manuals, portuise, or matinbukis, of the said use of Salusbery, under the payn of escheting of the samyn; And that letters be written in dew forme to the provest and balyles of Ed. And to officeris of the kingis Sheriffes in that pairt, to command and charge be oppin proclamation, all utheris merchandis and persons, that nain of thaim bring haim, nor sell within this Realme, ony of the bukis abonewritten of the said use of salusbury, in tyme to come under the said pain, according to the said lettres under our souerane lordis prine sele direct thairuppon; And as to the bukis that ar ellis brocht hame be the saidis merchantis and uther persons, that thai bring nain to the market, nor sell nain, within this Realme, bot that thei have the samyn furth of this realme, and sell thain, and that the saidis provest, baillies, and officiaris forsaidis, serche and seik quhar ony of the saidis manuale, bukis, mesbukis, matinbukis, and portuiss, of the said use beis brocht haim in tyme focum, or sauld of thaim that ar ellis brocht hame, and exchete the samyn to our soverane lordis use; And als, that na persons tak copijs of the buikis abonwrittin and donates, and . . . .or uther buikis that the said Walter hes prentit ellis for till haf thaim to uther Realmes to ger thaim be prentit, brocht haim, or sauld, withint this Realme In tyme tocum, under the pain of escheting of the samin; And quha dois in the contrair, that the said pain be put to execution on thaim, And that lettres be direct herapon, in dew forme, as said Is. (Acta Dom. Cone. xxi. 70.)

The troubles which befell the kingdom in 1513, in consequence of the battle of Flodden and the death of the king, appear to have put a stop for another age to the progress of the typographical art in Scotland. There is no further trace of it till the year 1542, when the national mind was beginning to feel the impulse of the Reformation. Nothing further is known of Walter Chepman, except what is to be gathered from the above passage in the Traditions of Edinburgh – namely, that he was employed in 1528 in bequeathing his property to the church, being then in all probability near the end of his life.


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