James VI of Scotland took a keen interest in Scots literature. In 1585 he published Reulis and Cautelis to be observit and eschewit in Scottis Poesie (‘Rules and Directions to be followed and avoided in Scots Verse’, 1585) in which he remarks:
‘… as for thame that hes written of late [i.e. about poetry], there hes never ane of thame written in our language. For albeit sindrie hes written of it in English, quhilk is lykest to our language, yit we differ from thame in sindrie reulis of poesie, as ye will find be experience.’
James not only distinguishes here between ‘English’ and ‘our language’ Scots, but between English and Scottish tastes in poetic composition — proof that the distinctive Scots literary tradition which had developed steadily from Barbour’s Bruce (c. 1376) onwards was still going strong by the end of the sixteenth century.
Finding Older Scots Texts Online
TEAMS Middle English Texts Series
Despite its name this series includes many Older Scots works, from the complete works of Robert Henryson to Hary’s Wallace to comic tales (The Freiris of Berwik), dream visions (King James I’s Kingis Quair, the Quare of Jelusy) and romances (Lancelot of the Laik, Gologras and Gawain, Ralph the Collier). All have handy side-glosses and on-screen explanatory notes. The list provided here has been divided into named authors and anonymous texts.
Scottish Text Society
The Scottish Text Society (STS) publishes scholarly editions of Older Scots literary texts in hard copy, but the National Library of Scotland has digitised STS Series 1-3.
These have detailed introductions, commentaries and separate glossaries, but no on-page glossing. Although only goes up to the 1950s, some of these editions remain the scholarly standards, e.g. Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Chronicle (series 1); the Scottish Legendary or Legends of the Saints (series 1); the Buik of Alexander or ‘octosyllabic Alexander’ (series 2), the complete works of Sir David Lyndsay/Lindsay (series 3), the poems of Alexander Scott (series 1 and Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie’s History and Cronicles of Scotland (series 1).
Members of the STS receive that year’s volume as part of their subscription: for 2022 this is the final volume of Gavin Douglas’s Eneados as edited by Priscilla Bawcutt (rrp £60, though members will received it for their £40 p.a. subscription).
Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707
A searchable database of the surviving proceedings of the Scottish parliaments from 1235 to 1707, organised by reign. Associated documents in Scots start appearing in the reign of James I (1406-37). Modern English translations are provided for all documents along with text in the original language, whether Latin, French or Scots.
Under ‘ideas for further research’, have a look at ‘I’m interested in researching the Scots language. What sort of material can I find in RPS?’