Aberdeen has the oldest and most complete archive of any Scottish town, with a near continuous run of council registers from 1398 to the present day. Such is the value and significance of these records that in July 2013 the eight earliest volumes spanning 1398 to 1511 were recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as being of outstanding historical importance to the nation.
These volumes are kept by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives in the Charter Room at the Town House alongside many other historical records relating to the city. They contain the proceedings of the bailie, the guildry and the head courts that together oversaw the administration of the town.
Since 2012 these registers have been the subject of a series of collaborative projects with the University of Aberdeen, one of the major outputs of which has been the creation of a searchable digital transcription of all eight volumes.
As a result, the registers are more accessible than ever before. The 5,238 pages that comprise volumes 1-8 contain a staggering 1.54 million words, written in Latin and Scots. Many of the pages within the volumes contain watermarks that identify the source of much of the paper as being from manufacturers in northern France, with a smaller amount originating from Italy.
Constituting a unique insight into life within the medieval burgh, the volumes include information on everything from plague and public health through to trade, property disputes and the election of officials. The volume covering 1505 even contains the world’s earliest documented reference to a still for the distillation of whisky. Details of this find, together with many other stories extracted from the records, can be found on the project blog.
Other outputs and websites:
Strange Sickness video game (2021) – Nominated for BAFTA Scotland Awards (Game category) 2022, and for the Scottish Games Awards (Creativity category) 2022.
Songs of Medieval Aberdeen – Performance, with an exhibition of council register volumes at the Scottish Parliament (10 March 2020)
Podcast: Into the Headlines: Strange Sickness – March 2023
Aberdeen Registers Online: 1398-1511 website, including XML files
Search Aberdeen Registers platform, which allows for searching and browsing of images and text
Armstrong, J. W., & Frankot, E. (Eds.) (2020). Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe: Scotland and its Neighbours c. 1350 – c. 1650. (Themes in Medieval and Early Modern History). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429262869
Simpson, A. R. C., & Armstrong, J. W. (2020). The Roll of the Burgh Courts of Aberdeen, August-October 1317. In A. M. Godfrey (Ed.), Miscellany VIII (Vol. 67, pp. 57-93). Stair Society. https://doi.org/10.36098/stairsoc/misc8.3
Aberdeen Registers Online 1398-1511 (2019), eds. Edda Frankot, Anna Havinga, Claire Hawes, William Hepburn, Wim Peters, Jackson Armstrong, Phil Astley, Andrew Mackillop, Andrew Simpson, Adam Wyner (Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen), https://www.abdn.ac.uk/aro
Simpson, A.R.C., 'Men of Law in the Aberdeen Council Register? A Preliminary Study, ca.1450-ca.1460', Juridical Review, no. 2 (2019), pp. 136-159. https://uk.westlaw.com/Document/I4FF13DB0928011E99334F01C8BF12DE3/View/FullText.html
Armstrong, J.W. & Mackillop, A. (guest eds. of special issue) (2018). ‘Scottish urban archives and histories: Context and a legal historical perspective’. Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, 9(2), 1-9. https://jiss.aberdeenunipress.org/articles/10.57132/jiss.18
Havinga, A., & Wyner, A. (2018). ‘The Aberdeen Burgh Records of 1398–1531 and the Semantic Web’ Journal of Catalan Intellectual History, 151-157.
Armstrong, J.W., & Mackillop, A. (guest eds. of special section) (2017). ‘Communities, Courts and Scottish Towns’. Urban History, 44(3), 358-364. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963926816000754
Armstrong, J.W., Convery, S., Frankot, E. B. I., Macdonald, A. J., Mackillop, A., Simpson, A. R. C., & Wilson, A. L. M. (2014). The Aberdeen Burgh Records Database. Database. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/aberdeen-burgh-records-database
Armstrong, J. (2022). ‘ "This Be Trouth of Thar Vois": Writing and Speaking in Medieval Aberdeen’. History Scotland, 22(5), 48. https://www.historyscotland.com/
Hepburn, W., & Armstrong, J. (2022). ‘How we made a video game based on medieval records’. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-we-made-a-video-game-based-on-medieval-records-174984