The History of Scotland by George Buchanan, 1690


This item is the first published English translation of The History of Scotland by George Buchanan (1506–1582). Buchanan wrote the work in Latin and it was first published in Edinburgh in 1582 with the title Rerum Scoticarum historia. Buchanan, a Calvinist, was Scotland’s foremost humanist scholar of the period and well-known in Europe. He wrote poetry, plays and literary translations as well as historical and political works. In the 1560s he returned to Scotland and became tutor to Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1570 he became tutor to the young King James VI.

Buchanan, in this and other works, was a key proponent of the theory that monarchy was and should be limited. His theories strongly contradicted James’s ideas of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings. Buchanan believed that a monarch’s authority derived from their subjects and that they should rule in accordance with some form of social contract with them.

Buchanan’s History engaged with constitutional issues and ideologies much more so than previous Scottish chronicles had done. It includes a justification of the overthrow of Mary, Queen of Scots, and among its themes are the ideas that sovereignty derives from the people and that Scotland’s troubles derive from its monarchs rather than its subjects.

The History of Scotland and Macbeth

Buchanan’s History is regarded as a possible source text for Macbeth. Some similarities and possible influences include Buchanan’s showing of the inner workings of Macbeth’s mind and his depiction of Lady Macbeth’s taunting of her husband.

The extract digitised here contains the account of the reigns of Malcolm II (Duncan and Macbeth’s grandfather and the first Scottish king to take up the throne by hereditary rule rather than election), Donald VII (also known as Duncan and who is portrayed as a slothful king) and Makbeth.

Full title:
The History of Scotland … Faithfully rendered into English
1690, London
Book / Folio / Image
George Buchanan, Robert White [illustrator], J. Fraser [translator]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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