John Scot 1585-1670

From Book Owners Online

Sir John SCOT 1585-1670 of Scotstarvit

Biographical Note

Born to Robert Scot of Knightspottie in Perthshire and Margaret Acheson of Gosford. He matriculated at St Leonard’s College, St Andrews in 1600, and graduated in 1605 having studied philosophy and law. In 1611 he acquired Tarvet and other lands in Fife, and afterwards went by Scot of Scotstarvit. Over the course of his life Scott had three wifes: Anne Drummond (d.1636/37), sister of William Drummond of Hawthornden (married in ca.1609), Elizabeth Melville daughter of James Melville, Laird of Hallhill (married ca.1638/39), and Eupham Monypenny, daughter of the Laird of Pitmilly (married ca.1647).

Scot had a successful career as both a statesman and scholar. He was a knighted by James VI in 1617, and from 1622 was a Privy Councillor. In 1629 was appointed an extraordinary lord of the Court of Session, though he was replaced and became an ordinary lord of session in 1632. Following this, Scott turned his attention to the advancement of Scottish culture and learning, and became a patron to many Scottish authors. Along with Arthur Johnston, he was responsible for the publication of Delitiae poetarum Scotorum (1637), an anthology of Latin poetry authored by Scots, intended to disseminate Scotland’s literary achievements among a European humanist audience. After making the acquaintance of the printer Joan Blaeu, Scot became heavily involved in the publication of his Atlas Novus (Amsterdam, 1654), supplying the maps of Timothy Pont and securing the involvement of Robert Gordon of Straloch.

In 1638 Scot subscribed to the [organisations::National Covenant], and subsequently served on the committee of the Estates for the defence of the country. He also served on the war committee between 1648 and 1649. However he lost his positions of high office during Cromwell’s rule, and did not regain them after the restoration. This fall from grace was reflected upon in his work The Staggering State of the Scottish Statesmen, which circulated in manuscript in his lifetime. He died at Scotstarvet in 1670.


In 1620 Scot endowed a Chair of Humanity at his former college of St Leonards, in St Andrews, and presented nine books to form a class library, ‘for the use of the Regent of Humanity and his class.’ Scot ensured that the library had a strong foundational collection by persuading over fifty associates to donate volumes. The men who subscribed to his project included many members of the legal profession in Edinburgh, as well as his brother in law William Drummond of Hawthornden. Books donated by Scot’s friends are inscribed 'Philologiae bibliotheca.'

Volumes donated by Scot in 1620 include:

De situ orbis (Venice, 1502) by the Greek geographer Strabo (Scot PA4438.A2B02)

A Froben edition of Commentariorum urbanorum Raphaelis Volaterrani octo (Basel 1530), by the Italian humanist Raffaello Maffei (Scot AE3.M3B30)

And the Italian humanist Antonio Bonfini’s history of Hungary Antonii Bonfinii Rerum Ungaricarum decades quatuor cum dimidia… (Frankfurt am Main, 1581) (Scot DB924.B7) Another copy of this book with Scot’s gift inscription is in the University of Glasgow (Bm7-c.3)

In 1646, following a trip to the Low Countries, Scot made a further donation of sixteen books to the college, of which ten works (fifteen volumes) survive. He provided the library with the most up to date works of European humanists. Examples from the 1646 donation are:

Theodor Zwinger’s encyclopedia Theatrum Humanae Vitae (Basel, 1604) Scot f B785.Z9C04B

The new edition of the works of Flemish anatomist Adriaan van de Spiegel (1578-1625), printed by Blaeu in Amsterdam in 1645 (Scot QM21.S6).

Jules César Boulenger (1558-1628) De Imperatore & Imperio Romano libri XII (Lyon, 1618) (Scot DG272.B7C18).

Further research is required to understand Scot’s own private library, which contained at least 127 volumes, as evidenced by the list entitled "Catalogus librorum meoru" in his commonplace book (St Andrews, msPR3671.S3). The commonplace book also contains extracts in the hand of Scott from George Buchanan's De Jure Regno Scott traveled abroad on numerous occasions over his life, especially to the Low Countries, which afforded him the opportunity to buy books.

Characteristic Markings

The books which form the 1620 donation to St Leonard’s are inscribed by Scot with variations of the words 'In usum et utilitatem Regentis humaniorum literarum et ejusdem classis in Gymnasio Leonardino Andreapoli erect hoc munus donavit Joannes Scott de Scottistarvet eques auratus Cancellarie S.D.A. regis director anno d[omi]ni millesimo sexcentesimo vigesimo Scottistarvett.' This distinguishes them from the books donated to the college library by his contemporaries as part of his project. Books from 1646 are inscribed “Post sum e Belgia reditum dono dedit D. Joannes Scotostarvatius Col. Leon. Anno Dom. 1646.” These books were specially bound in a uniform style in calf "with triple blind fillet on both boards, spine divided into seven compartments by raised bands set off by single gold rules, gold stamped short title in compartment two and gold stamped floral ornaments in remaining compartments, all edges of text block sprinkled red." Description from Catalogue record Scot f PA4438.A2C20)