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The History of Scotland
During the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI till the accession to the Crown of England with a review of the Scottish History previous to that period; by William Robertson, D. D. (1804) in three volumes.


I Deliver this book to the world with all the diffidence and anxiety natural to an author on publishing his first performance. The time I have employed, and the pains I have taken, in order to render it worthy of the public approbation, it is, perhaps, prudent to conceal, till it be known whether that approbation shall ever be bestowed upon it.

But as I have departed in many instances, from former historians, as I have placed facts in a different light, and have drawn characters with new colours, 1 ought to account for this conduct to my readers and to produce the evidence on which, at the distance of two centuries^ I presume to contradict the testimony of cotemporary or of less remote historians.

The transactions in Mary's reign gave rise to two parties which were animated against each other with the fiercest political hatred, embittered by religious zeal. Each of these produced historians of considerable merit, who adopted all their sentiments, and defended all their actions. Truth, however, was not the sole object of these authors. Blinded by prejudices, and heated by the part which they themselves had acted in the scenes they describe, they wrote an apology for a faction rather than the history of their country. Succeeding historians have followed these guides almost implicitly and have repeated their errors and misrepresentations. But as the same passions which inflamed parties in that age have descended to their posterity; as almost every event in Mary's reign has become the object of doubt or of dispute; the eager spirit of controversy soon discovered, that without some evidence more authentic and more impartial than that of historians by none of the points in question could be decided with certainty. Records have therefore been searched, original papers have been produced, and public archives, as well as the repositories of private men, have been ransacted by the zeal and curiosity of writers of different parties. The attention of Cecil to collect whatever related to that period, in which he acted so conspicuous a part, hath provided such an immense store of original papers for illus-prating this part of the English and Scottish history, as are almost sufficient to satisfy the utmost avidity of an antiquarian. Sir Robert Cotton (whose library is now the property of the public) made great and valuable additions to Cecil's collection; and from this magazine Digges, compilers of the Cabbala, Anderson, Keith, Haynes, Forbes, have drawn most of the papers which they have printed. No history of Scotland, that merits any degree of attention, has appeared since these collections were published. By consulting them I have been enabled, in many instances, to correct the inaccuracies, of former historians, to avoid their mistakes, and to detect their misrepresentations.

But many important papers have escaped the notice of those industrious collectors, and after all they have produced to light, much still remained in darkness, unobserved or unpublished. It was my duty to search for these, and I found this unpleasant task attended with considerable utility.

The library of the honourable faculty of advocates at Edinburgh contains not only a large collection of original papers relating to the affairs of Scotland, but copies of others no less curious which have keen preserved by Sir Robert Cotton or are extant in the public offices in England. Of all these the curators of that library were pleased to allow me the perusal.

Though the British museum be not yet open to the public, Dr, Birch, whose obliging disposition is well known, procured me access to that noble collection, which is worthy the magnificence of a great and polished nation.That vast and curious collection of papers relating to the reign of Elizabeth which was made by Dr, Forbes, and of which he published only two volumes, having been purchased since his death, by the Lord Viscount Royston, his Lordship was so good as to allow me the use of fourteen volumes in quarto, containing that part of them which is connected with my subject.

Sir Alexander Dick communicated to me a very valuable collection of original papers in two large volumes. They relate chiefly to the reign of James. Many of them are marked with Archbishop Spotswood's hand and it appears from several passages in his history that he had perused them with great attention.

Mr. Calderwood, an eminent presbyterian clergyman, of the last century, compiled an history of Scotland from the beginning of the reign of James V. to the death of James VL in six large volumes; wherein he has inserted many papers of consequence which are no where else to be found. A copy of this history, which still remains in manuscript, in the possession of the church of Scotland, was put into my hands by my worthy friend, the reverend Mr. George Wishart, principal clerk of the church.

Sir David Dalrymple not only communicated to me the papers which he has collected relating to Gowrie's conspiracy; but by explaining to me his sentiments with regard to that problematical passage tn the Scottish history, has enabled me to place that transaction tn a light which dispels much of the darkness and confusion in which it has been hitherto involved.

Mr. Goodall, though he knew my sentiments with regard to the conduct and character of Queen Mary to be extremely different from his own, communicated to me a volume of manuscripts in bis possession which contains a great number of valuable papers copied from the originals in the Cottonian Library and paper office, by the late reverend Mr. Crawford, regius professor of church history in the university of Edinburgh; likewise received from him the original register of letters kept by the Regent Lennox during his administration.

I have consulted all these papers as far as I thought they could be of any use towards illustrating that period of which I write the history. With what success I have employed them to confirm what was already known, to ascertain what was dubious or to determine what was controverted, the public must judge.

1 might easily have drawn from the different repositories to which I had access as many papers as would have rendered my appendix equal in size to the most bulky collection of any predecessors. But 1 have satisfied myself with publishing a few of the most curious among them, to which I found it necessary to appeal as vouchers for my own veracity. None of these, as far as lean recollect^ ever appeared in any former collection. I have added to the appendix a Critical Dissertation concerning the murder of King Henry, and the genuineness of the Queen’s letter to Bothwell. The facts and observations which relate to Mary's letters, I owe to my friend Mr. John Davidson, one of the clerks to the signet, who hath examined this point with his usual acuteness and industry.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2  |  Volume 3

Preface to the Eleventh Edition

It is now twenty-eight years since I published the History of Scotland. During that time I have been favoured by my friends with several remarks upon it; and various strictures have been made by persons who entertained sentiments different from mine, with respect to the transactions in the reign of Queen Mary. From whatever quarter information came, in whatever mode it has been communicated, I have considered it calmly and with attention. Wherever I perceived that I had erred, either in relating events, or in delineating characters, I have, without hesitation, corrected those errors. Wherever I am satisfied that my original ideas were just and well founded, I adhered to them; and resting upon their conformity to evidence already produced, I enter into no discussion or controversy in order to support them. Wherever the opportunity of consulting original papers, either in print or in manuscript, to which I had not formerly access, has enabled me to throw new light upon any part of the History, I have made alterations and additions, which, I flatter myself, will be found to be of some importance.

March 5, 1787

Eleventh Edition in one volume


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