Caveat emptor: the curious case of Scotland’s Astorga Collection

Paul Joseph Lennon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Astorga Collection comprises 3,716 pre-1800 volumes and forms part of the Special and Named Printed Collections at the National Library of Scotland. In this study, I revisit the nineteenth-century historical narrative surrounding the movement of the Astorga library from Spain to France, the result of political pressures, and its sale in England to raise funds. The buyer, Thomas Thorpe (1791-1851), was a London bookseller who subsequently went bankrupt and sold Astorga volumes to the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. I interrogate the documentary evidence of negotiations preceding the purchase and demonstrate why the Faculty paid £3,000– a hefty price – for seven thousand volumes, but instead received fewer than half the expected number. Extensive use is made of hitherto unexplored archival sources to illuminate the personal involvement of Fernando VII in relaxing property laws to help the Marquis clear his debts; the effect of the Decretodel 6 de agosto de 1811 on the Marquis’ income; the involvement of the Scottish publisher Archibald Constable (1774-1827) in the Faculty’s purchase; and how a misunderstanding in the Scottish chapter of this collection’s history may have resulted in the costly mistake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-71
Number of pages19
JournalThe Library
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • Faculty of Advocates
  • National Library of Scotland
  • Archibald Constable
  • Thomas Thorpe
  • David Irving
  • Thorleifur Guðmundsson Repp
  • Marqués de Astorga
  • Mayorazgo


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