National Records of Scotland

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Scottish Parliament Records

Scottish Parliament Records


The Scottish parliament, or 'three estates' of clergy, nobility and burgesses, originated in the mid-thirteenth century though it is first mentioned in 1293. Like the very similar General Council (a term first used in 1365), it grew out of the King's council, composed of nobles, prelates and royal officials. The General Council had administrative, financial and legislative functions, but lacked the judicial powers of Parliament, the supreme court of the realm. Parliament, however, sat less frequently than the General Councils or the Conventions of Estates which replaced them in the late 16th century. Conventions could be summoned more speedily than parliament, which required 40 days notice and were often summoned for specific purposes, such as taxation. They became more formalised in the 17th century and had virtual parliamentary status, though legislation passed there could be re-enacted by a subsequent parliament.

Detail from the Berne manuscript, which contains transcripts of early Scottish laws, 13th century (NRS reference PA5/1 page 77)Early parliaments rarely lasted more than a few days and it was only at the end of the 16th century that parliament established itself permanently in Edinburgh. Theoretically every tenant in chief who held lands directly of the Crown could attend but in practice this was impossible. From 1428 the higher nobility received a personal summons from the King while smaller barons and free-holders could send representatives in their place. Burgesses, elected by the town council, attended from the mid 14th century - their presence important for financial reasons. An Act of 1587 set the presence of the Shire Commissioners on a more regularized footing. The Scottish Parliament regularly delegated its authority to committees and commissions. Committees reported back to Parliament. Commissions had power to determine matters referred to them. Under David II (1329-71) two committees were set up to deal with appeals from inferior courts.

The Committee for Causes, Complaints and Petitions, or Lords Auditors (Domini auditores ad causas et querelas), ran until 1496 after which its functions were transferred to the Lords of Council (see Court of Session).

The second, the Committee for Falsing of Dooms (appeals from judgements) ceased around 1544.

Parliament, however, continued to have residual judicial powers up to the Union, notably in cases of treason. A third committee, the 'Lords of Articles', whose members were drawn from all estates plus the officers of state, prepared legislation to be put before parliament. Unpopular because of the Crown's control of its membership, it was abolished in 1640, revived in 1660 and finally abolished in 1689. Between 1639 and 1651, 1660-1 and again in 1688-9, parliament appointed a Committee of Estates, effectively a commission as it had wide legislative and executive powers but did not have to report to Parliament.

The last session of the Scottish Parliament took place on 25 March 1707. Article III of the Treaty of Union, which took effect from 1 May 1707, stipulated that the United Kingdom would henceforward be represented by one and the same Parliament.

Pre-1707 Scottish Parliament records

Although the earliest surviving parliament roll dates from 1293, there are few original records earlier than 1466 and even thereafter there have been considerable losses. Most of the surviving records, apart from some records of the Committee of Estates for 1643-1650, some warrants and parliamentary papers, have been printed in the 'Acts of the Parliament of Scotland' (or APS), edited by T Thomson and C Innes (1814-1875). The series has a comprehensive index in volume 12.

Since the publication of this series, however, much new material has come to light. The Scottish Parliament Project, based at the University of St Andrews, has produced the Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (RPS), a new digital edition of the proceedings published on the internet. The database supersedes APS and can be searched on the Records of the Scottish Parliament to 1707 website. For other information on the records of parliament, published sources and administrative history, consult 'The Guide to the National Archives of Scotland' (Stationery Office, 1996), pp 9-19.

Records of the pre-1707 Scottish Parliament in the National records of Scotland (NRS)
NRS reference Description Dates Acts of Parliament of Scotland volume  Notes
PA1-3 Rolls, minutes and acts of parliament  1293-1389, 1424-1707,1466-1706 ii-xi  
PA5 Manuscript collections of statutes 13-15 century i-ii Including the Berne Manuscript, 13 century; Ayr Manuscript, early 14 century, (PA5/2); Drummond Manuscript, 15 century, (PA5/3); Black Book, 14-15 century, (PA5/4); Haddington Manuscript, 14-15 century, (PA5/5)
PA6 Warrants of parliament. The original minutes and papers produced or lodged in the course of parliamentary business 1526-1707   Supplemented by the parliamentary papers in PA7, 1455-1707
PA7 Parliamentary Papers  1455 - 1707   Including papers of the Lords of the Articles, 1681; the Commission for Fines and Forfeitures, 1690-91; royal letters to Parliament, 1584 - 1690; commissions to commissioners to parliament, 1567-1706 and addresses against the Union, 1706.
PA8 Convention of Estates 1598-1678 iv-viii Conventions were called for a specific purpose, normally taxation, and though they could pass legislation, this might be re-enacted by a subsequent parliament.
PA10 Commissions for Visitation of Universities 1574-1576, 1687-1702   D H Fleming, 'The Accounts of Dr Alexander Skene, provost of St Salvator's college, St Andrews…1683-1690', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, liv (1919-20) pp. 216-48 and from 1679-1689, lvi (1921-2), pp. 325-50.
PA11-12 Committee of Estates Registers and warrants 1640-51, 1660, 1689  ix, 1-37(1689) D Stevenson (ed.), The Government of Scotland under the Covenanters, 1637-1651 (Scottish History Society, 1982).
PA13 Scots Commissioners in England 1641-1647 v-vi H W Meikle (ed.), 'Correspondence of the Scots Commissioners in England, 1644-1646' (Roxburghe Club, 1917).
PA14 Parliamentary Committees 1641-1650   The papers deal mainly with financial matters.
PA15 Army and other accounts 1639-1659   Including accounts of the Commissary for the Country, 1639-40 (PA15/1), the Commissary for Expedition against the Rebellion in the North, 1644-5 (PA15/6), the Treasurer of the Army, 1644-6 (PA15/7, 7A, 8), the General Commissary, 1646-8 (PA15/9), the Treasurer of the Army and General Commissary of the Maintenance 1648-9 (PA15/10-11), the Commissary General, 1650-1, and monthly maintenance 1658-9 (PA15/2). There are also accounts of arms and ammunition received by the keeper of the magazine at Leith, 1643-8, and received for the expedition to England, 1644-7. 'Papers relating to the Army of the Solemn League and Covenant, 1643-1647', edited by C S Terry (Scottish History Society, 1917).
PA16 Warrants of Parliamentary Committees 1648-1658   Mainly vouchers of accounts of military expenditure, including warrants by the committee for common burdens.
PA17 Commission for the Communication of Trade 1699-1700 x, appendix 107-136.  
PA18 Commission for the Union of the Kingdom 1702-1706 xi, appendix 145-205.  
PA19 Commission on Public Accounts 1703-1704 xi, appendix 42-50.  

The Scottish Parliament 1999-the present

Between 1707 and 1999, Scotland was governed solely by the British Parliament at Westminster, but in a referendum on 11 September 1997, a majority of the Scottish people voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers. Arrangements for this Parliament were set out in The Scotland Act, 1998 and on 1 July 1999, the new Scottish Parliament was officially opened in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Parliament is still developing as an institution and the types of records it produces are evolving to reflect this. Until this situation stabilises, it is difficult to put together a comprehensive cataloguing scheme to cover the eventual arrangement of records in a logical and understandable way. For this reason, none of the items received from the Parliament have yet been formally catalogued. However copies of the items already held by NRS are available from other sources:

  • Electronic copies of petitions and e-petitions can be seen on the Scottish Parliament's own website.
  • Printed Parliament publications, such as the Official Report, the Business Bulletin and Written Answers, can be consulted at public libraries throughout Scotland and on the Scottish Parliament's website.
  • All Acts of the Scottish Parliament are published in full text form as originally enacted on the Parliament’s website. They are also available on the Legislation website of the Office of Public Sector Information, both in original and revised form (currently only Acts of the Old Scottish Parliament are available in revised form).

Further reading

'Guide to the National Archives of Scotland' (Stationery Office, 1996), pp. 9-19

'The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland', i-xii, edited by Thomas Thomson and Cosmo Innes (1814 - 1875).

A A M Duncan, 'The early parliaments of Scotland', Scottish History Society, xlv (1966), 36-58.

R S Rait, 'The Parliaments of Scotland' (Glasgow, 1924).

John R Young 'The Scottish Parliament, 1639-1661' (Edinburgh, 1996).

M D Young (ed.), 'The Parliaments of Scotland: burgh and shire commissioners' (Edinburgh, 1992).