A Knight's Tale; Love and War: First Scots Book Was about a Knight's Romance John Lydgate: Medieval Best Seller

Daily Mail (London), March 22, 2008 | Go to article overview
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A Knight's Tale; Love and War: First Scots Book Was about a Knight's Romance John Lydgate: Medieval Best Seller


Byline: Jim McBeth

HE was a Benedictine monk whose time should have been devoted to God'sword.

Instead, Brother John Lydgate's thoughts were on his latest best seller thatwould establish him as the John Grisham of his day.

For on April 4, 1508, he would write a fresh chapter in Scottish history whenhis bodice ripper The Complaint of the Black Knight - the story of a medievalwarrior who had lost his true love - became the first book to roll off aprinting press north of the Border.

It was not what James IV had in mind when he awarded the first royal patent forthe new contraption from France.

His Majesty hoped for an 'impression' of the devotional Aberdeen Breviary ofBishop William Elphinstone, but then, as now, romance sells better.

And today, the value of Lydgate's book as history is incalculable.

The only existing copy is in the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and theprecious tome will emerge from the vaults for a major exhibition as part of ayear of 500th anniversary celebrations.

The advent of printing would establish Scotland as a literary powerhouse withinfluential publishing firms and authors of international repute.

Printed works were not unknown in Scotland before the book was produced inEdinburgh's Cowgate by Walter

Chepman and Androw Myllar. Printing with moveable type had been done in Germanysince the Gutenberg Bible of 1454 and, in 1476, William Caxton set up hisWestminster press.

But in 1507 James IV brought the revolution to Scotland when he granted theroyal licence to Chepman and Myllar.

The patent was 'to furnis and bring hame ane prent (printing press) with alstuf belang and tharto and expert men to use the samyne'.

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