Celebrating World Book Day with Shetland's Oldest Known Book - Boece

For anyone who wants to read about Shetland, the archives is a good place to come. Our book collection, we like to think, is perhaps the most comprehensive libraries of Shetland-related titles anywhere in the world. If you are trying to find a book about Vikings, farming, birds or any other subject connected to Shetland, the archives has something for you to enjoy.

Our book collection is growing all the time. For a small place like Shetland, it is remarkable how many titles keep appearing. We love adding new books to the shelves, especially ones written by people who have spent hours and hours in the searchroom, patiently reading through old documents or listening to some of our oral history material.

But as well as acquiring books published now, we are always keen to enhance our collection with very rare items when they come along. One such item was added to our catalogue recently, and we suspect that it may be the oldest book now in existence in Shetland. (If you do know of anything older, please get in touch because we’d be fascinated to find out more). The book is an early history of Scotland, written by a man called Hector Boece. The volume, to give its full title Scotorum historiae a prima gentis origine, was published in Paris in 1527.

Hector Boece, also known as Hector Boethius, was born in Dundee in 1465. He attended St Andrews University and later went to the University of Paris, where he became friends with the great Dutch scholar Erasmus. In 1500 he returned to Scotland, taking up the position of Principal at the newly established University of Aberdeen. He died in the city in 1536, and is now best remember for the Historia. When looking through our copy of the book, it’s nice to think that somebody was doing exactly the same in the years when its author was still around.

The archives copy has a note (in the handwriting of the book’s former owner, E.S. Reid Tait) to indicate where the small section about Shetland can be found. However, that passage, which is probably the earliest published reference to the isles, isn’t easy to read because, like all learned works of the time, the book is written in Latin. Fortunately a Scots translation was done in 1536 by a man called John Bellenden, the archdeacon of Moray. In the translation, Boece says the Shetland folk ‘ar nakit of all ambitioun and vice’, and that they are as ‘happy as ony uthir peple of the warld’. It’s hard to imagine a man who moved in such learned circles as Hector Boece had run into many Shetlanders, but, as we see, he didn’t forget about the islands when he wrote his magnum opus.

If anyone would like to see our copy of Boece, please drop into the archives and ask. A translation of the passage about Shetland can be found in John Ballantyne and Brian Smith’s book Shetland Documents, 1195-1579.

Related Posts

Research project commissioned to encourage locals to grow more aets!

Shetland Amenity Trust has commissioned a research project with two local straw makers to understand more about the growing of ...

Read more

‘Logical Confusion’, a retrospective exhibition of Mike McDonnell opens at the Shetland Museum

An ambitious new exhibition dedicated to the artistry of well-known local artist Mike McDonnell opened this weekend at the Shetland ...

Read more

New poetry book - ‘Love in Human Herts’

‘Love in Human Herts’, a new publication celebrating Vagaland’s finest poetry has been launched today by the Shetland Amenity ...

Read more

The funny story behind some of Lerwick's street names

In the 1880s Lerwick was changing rapidly. As the great herring fishery of that era developed, there were new streets, and potential ...

Read more

Film celebrating the achievements of Johnnie Notions launched by Shetland Museum and Archives

A new film which brings to life the incredible story of 18th century inoculation pioneer and Shetland crofter Johnnie Notions has been ...

Read more

Keep a look out for Skeklers this Halloween

We had a great time at our recent Skeklers Hat workshop with local artist Eve Eunson in preparation for Halloween.

Read more

Pre-school Activity Mornings

Bring your little explorers to the Shetland Museum & Archives for our heritage-filled fun sessions, designed especially for under 5's ...

Read more

National Poetry Day

To celebrate National Poetry Day we asked assistant archivist (and poet) Mark Smith to uncover a hidden gem from the archives. This ...

Read more

October Holiday Workshops

Join us this October Holidays for heritage inspired workshops and some spooky Halloween fun! From witchcraft to skeklers and faas ...

Read more

Treasure Trove Comes to Shetland

Members of the public are invited to come along with their ‘treasures’ and meet experts from Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit ...

Read more

Bold exhibition featuring photography by legendary Diane Arbus opens at Shetland Museum and Archives

A new display of powerful and iconic photographs by Diane Arbus, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, opened ...

Read more

Shetland Museum and Archives Launches New Online Archive Catalogue

A new online Archives catalogue has been launched today (Tuesday 8 August) at the Shetland Museum and Archives.

Read more

CLOSED: Friday 12 noon - Sunday 12 noon

Shetland Museum and Archives will be closed from 12 noon on Friday 21 July until 12 noon on Sunday 23 July, due to a private ...

Read more

A celebration of Shetland’s maritime heritage at the museum

Shetland’s maritime heritage will be at the heart of Shetland Museum and Archives’ summer programme, with a series of themed ...

Read more

Alanbrooke and the Kearton Brothers

When archivist Angus Johnson started to read through his copy of Alanbrooke's War Diaries, he did some digging in the archives to see ...

Read more