Monthly Collection Highlight: No.2

This is the second in a series of monthly posts highlighting items from our varied collections.

The Friends of Aberdeen University Library generously supported a project to catalogue the records of the King’s College Archive. The project is now completed and successfully replaced a series of handwritten paper catalogues with a searchable online catalogue. Comprised 2889 records, the catalogue includes 130 records for materials previously unlisted on the paper catalogues.

The original catalogues listed and arranged items according to their original storage in either the Old or New Charter Chest. What did these chests look like? With assistance from a number of colleagues the location of the original chests was discovered in the Crown Tower building. The two large wooden chests appear to have been adapted and renovated over their course of their existence. However some original features of the chests remain, such as the front wooden drawer panels. The drawers are long and narrow, which required many of the rare documents formerly stored within to be heavily folded to fit within them.

The collection is a unique and rich resource, documenting the life of King’s College from its foundation, through its political and religious struggles, to the union with Marischal College. A large number of legal documents are contained within the collection, recording the College’s property and land ownership in the surrounding area. Additionally, the records capture the College’s relationship with the Burgh Council and the wider community revealing the cultural, political and economic landscape of the area.

The earliest official record of the College is the Papal Bull, issued under the petition of James IV who stated that the northern part of his Kingdom was ‘inhabited by a rude illiterate and savage people’. The bull was issued by Pope Alexander the VI in 1495, however it wasn’t until 1497 that Bishop Elphinstone made the Foundation Bull public. The collection holds a number of Papal Bulls issued to the College, which confirm and ratify the rights and privileges of the College until the reformation.

Papal Bull of Clement VII, in favour of the Professors of the University, 1526


Alongside the official records of the College, beautifully written and adorned, are the more routine records of the college. The personal stories of the staff and students of the College are captured in a variety of records including registers of entrants, lists of bursars and faculty minutes. These records document the everyday administration required to run the College and even the frequent lapses in the discipline of the students. The bloody events of the student riots of the seventeenth century, which started in retaliation to the ‘poaching’ of students between the colleges and ended with serious injuries and large scale property damage, are vividly recorded in witness statements.

Lack of discipline, or certainly respect for the staff, is wonderfully penned in a small document called the Student Litany. The Litany describes ‘the useless, needless, headless, defective, elective masters of the King’s College of Aberdeen, 1709’. This mischievous note was retained within the College Charter Chests so must have made an impression on somebody.  


The Student Litany

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