Identifying Early Scottish Notaries Database: (Slow) Progress During Times of Covid

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


This paper outlined the scope of a planned research project to create a database of medieval Scottish notaries. The database will be built around the distinctive individual marks that notaries used and will offer high-quality images along with samples of written documents; biographical profiles of individual notaries and maps showing the geographical range of their operations will also be included. The resource will be fully searchable and freely accessible online. Large-scale funding will be required to develop the database and achieve coverage for the whole of pre-Reformation Scotland. This is an ambitious undertaking: even limiting chronological coverage to the period before 1563 the data comprises thousands of notaries and tens of thousands of documents. Since 2019 we have been developing a pilot project based on a selection of 150 notarial documents held in the University of St Andrews Library’s Special Collections. The pilot project has been funded by a seed corn grant from the Geoffrey Barrow Awards (Society of Scottish Medievalists), but the Covid pandemic has severely delayed progress. The process of digitising the original documents involves identification, location, and assessment of condition, work that must be done in person at-shelf in the archives. Several specialisms (conservation, photography, image processing, archival input) are required to create the raw materials that will underpin the database, and some documents may need a range of interventions to permit successful image capture. Possible prototypes for the database itself were developed by Computer Science students at St Andrews during the 2020 lockdown, and these form the basis for more detailed design work to be commissioned during 2021-22. Several interesting examples of individual notaries were highlighted in the presentation, drawing attention to the rich seams of research that the database will prompt and support.
Period2 Oct 2021
Event titleScottish Legal History Group Annual General Meeting and Conference
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • notary
  • Scottish
  • early modern
  • medieval
  • Law
  • scribe
  • manuscript
  • Robert Ewyn
  • Digital Humanities
  • heritage