James Balfour 1600-1657

From Book Owners Online

Sir James BALFOUR, 1st bart of Denmiln and Kinnaird, 1600-1657

Biographical Note

Son of Sir Michael Balfour of Denmiln ca.(1580.1652)and Jane or Joanna Durham d.(1640), daughter of Sir James Durham of Pitkerro. His youngest brother was Andrew Balfour, the botanist and antiquary. Balfour graduated M.A in 1614 from the university of St Andrews, and afterwards went travelling on the continent.

On his return from the continent, Balfour devoted himself to the study of antiquities, especially heraldry. He traveled to London in 1628 to expand his knowledge of the latter. Through the recommendation of his patron [[associates:: George Hay, Earl of Kinoul],] Balfour was created Lyon King at Arms by Charles I in June 1630. He was knighted by Charles I in May 1630, and created a baronet in December 1633. Though he was a supporter of Charles I, he was also a staunch Presbyterian, and retired to his Scottish estates during the civil war to avoid the conflict. He produced Annals of the History of Scotland from Malcolm III to Charles II (published in 1824/25) as well as other manuscript treatises.


Over the course of his life Balfour amassed an impressive library which largely reflected his antiquarian interests. He collected manuscripts, especially those related to heraldry and the of registers Scottish religious houses. Robert Sibbald described that Balfour “With unwearied industry and at great expense he collected a voluminous library stored with the choicest books in every department of literature but more especially rich in works illustrative of the history the antiquities and the heraldry of Scotland. Scottish history indeed he proposed as the principal object of his study and with this intent he accumulated all that bore any subsidiary relation to this his favourite pursuit.” (Quoted in Haig’s preface, Vol 1, p.xxii)

James’s library passed to his brother Andrew, and his printed books were subsequently sold with Andrew’s in 1699. His manuscripts were sold separately in 1698, many of which were acquired by the National Library of Scotland. The NLS also holds a large number of printed books from his library, bought at various times.

Books from Balfour’s library include a first edition of John Major’s Historia Maioris Britanniae (Paris, 1521) (NLS H.34.c.33a), and a Froben edition of the works of Galen (Basel, 1542), previously owned by Thomas Henryson (St Andrews TypSwB.B42FG)

Characteristic Markings

Frequently inscribed volumes with the date of acquisition, his name and position. St Andrews TypSwB.B42FG is inscribed "1639 Ja Balfouris Kynardus Miles Leo Armorum Rex"

Inscription of James Balfour (NLS R.H.S.94)


  • A Catalogue of curious manuscripts, being historical, political, theological, juridical, physical, and philosophical, with some poets and orators, their writing, ancient and modern. Collected by Sir James Balfour. Kept in his famous study of Denmilne: and now exposed to sale, Edinburgh, 1698
  • Balfour, James. The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour, James Haig (ed.), Edinburgh, 1824
  • Catalogus selectissimorum in quavis linguâ & facultate librorum, quorum maxima pars pertinebat ad clarissimos fratres D.D. Balfourios, Jacobum, de Kinnaird ... et Andream ... quorum auctio habebitur duodecimo die Junii, 1669, Edinburgh, 1699
  • Cunningham, I. C. 'Sir James Balfour's Manuscript Collection: The 1698 Catalogue and other sources' in Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, Volume, VI, Part 6 (2004), pp.191-255.
  • Sibbald, Robert. 'M'emoria Balfouriana, sive Historia rerum, pro literis promovendis, gestarum a clarissimis fratribus Balfouriis, D.D. Jacobo, Barone de Kinaird, Equite, Leone, Rege Armorum: et D.D. Andrea, M.D. Equite Aurato',' Edinburgi, Typis Hæredum Andreæ Anderson, 1699
  • Toit, Alexander Du. "Balfour, Sir James, of Denmiln and Kinnaird, first baronet (1600–1657), antiquary and herald." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.