Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

English Versions of Introductory Material and Descriptions

by Ian C Cunningham, translator of the Latin texts

Volume V of Joan Blaeu's Atlas novus, containing maps and descriptions of Scotland and Ireland, was published at Amsterdam in 1654, in Latin, Dutch, French and German editions, with a Spanish one added in 1659. No English edition was published, or even (as far as is known) projected, and so the complete text of this volume has never been available in English, although some of the introductory material has been translated from earlier versions (but not completely or entirely accurately).

The following pages attempt to redress this want, with a translation of the Latin texts (the other editions have not at present been consulted) of the introductory matter and of the Scottish descriptions. Seventeenth-century Latin rarely goes easily into modern English; I have attempted to make the text readable, without departing too far from the structure of the original.

The introductory material consists of Blaeu's letter to the reader in both shorter and longer versions, the latter with his verses in praise of Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit; Robert Gordon's letter of 1648 to Scot; and the Imperial privilege to Blaeu for 12 years (the British and Dutch privileges, for 14 and 25 years respectively, are in English and Dutch and so are not translated). All of these texts are important sources for the method of working of Timothy Pont, for the history of his maps after his death, and for Blaeu's use of them and the assistance given by Robert and James Gordon and Sir John Scot. They have been utilised (in slightly earlier versions of these translations) in The Nation Survey'd (2001), especially Chapter 1.

The descriptions of Scotland and of each area of it come from various sources, which are detailed below. Material in square brackets is from the original, either additions by Sir John Scot to existing texts, or taken from side-notes where they add something to the information in the text (mostly they are simple summaries and are omitted). Pop-up notes by the translator mostly relate to misprints and other errors in the originals.

Some of the geographical terminology has been modernised, e.g. in directions, 'aestivus ortus' ('summer rising [of the sun]'), etc., have been rendered as north-east, etc. (except in Andrew Melville's poem, where they are frequently amplified in accordance with poetic diction, and are translated literaly). Likewise 'vicecomes' and 'vicecomitatus' when they mean 'sheriff' and 'sheriffdom' have been so rendered. 'Urbs' and 'oppidum', 'montes' and 'colles' have been given their conventional equivalents of 'city' and 'town', 'mountains' and 'hills', although often there seems no distinction between them. But 'amnis', 'flumen' and 'fluvius' are all translated 'river' (sometimes 'water' if that is the modern term), while 'torrens' is 'burn'.

Place names have caused considerable problems: as the same one can appear in one or more Latin forms and also one or more vernacular forms, the only consistent and intelligible method seemed to be to modernise all, as far as possible (with the exception of unidentified places, or original forms required for an etymology, etc.), and to collect all variations in an index, with references to the original passages.


Cunningham, I., ed., The Nation Survey'd: Timothy Pont's Maps of Scotland (East Linton: Tuckwell Press in association with the National Library of Scotland, 2001)