A spread from the copy of The xiii. Bukes of Eneados of the famose Poete Virgili… of 1553 sold by Bellmans at £24,000.

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A work of 1553 billed as the first translation of a major poem from antiquity into any form of the English language was one of a small selection of just 25 books and manuscripts in an October 11 sale held by Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) that came mostly from one exceptional Scottish collection.

Finely bound in scarlet crushed morocco gilt by Rivière in the 19th century and sold at £24,000, this was The xiii. Bukes of Eneados of the famose Poete Virgili Translated out of Latyne verses into Scottish metir… by Gawin, or Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkel (c.1474-1522).

It is defined in the extended title as a work presented in Scottish form, though printed in London for William Copland – who is not named but whose device appears on the title.

Ezra Pound, a later admirer of Douglas, said that “…he gets more out of Virgil than any other translator”.

Bellmans had given the lot an estimate of £3000-5000. In December 2019 that same estimate had been placed on a copy in a 17th century calf gilt binding that was offered by Sotheby’s as part of the library of the Earls of Haddington. And that one went on to sell at £50,000.

The Sotheby’s catalogue had summed up the work’s significance with quotes from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: “In the early 1500s no major classical work had been translated into English, and Douglas’s Eneados was a pioneering work… [he] shared the values of the humanists: an antipathy to scholasticism, respect for classical authors, and a zeal for education.”

It continues: “He wished to communicate to his countrymen a knowledge of the Aeneid, and also to enrich his native ‘Scottis’ tongue with something of the ‘fouth’, or copiousness, of Latin.”

Further successes

Bellmans enjoyed a number of other successes in its Billingshurst, West Sussex, saleroom.


Bid to £86,000 at Bellmans was an illuminated Latin Bible of the late 13th or early 14th century, believed to be of Parisian origin.

An illuminated manuscript on vellum, a Latin Bible thought most likely to have come from a Parisian workshop in the 13th or early 14th century, was expected to sell for £20,000-30,000, but after fierce bidding on the phones and internet, with some bidders occasionally trying to speed up the process by suggesting higher increments, it eventually sold at £86,000 to a European dealer.

A copy of the famous 1493 Liber Chronicarum of Hartmann Schedel, more familiarly known as the ‘Nuremburg Chronicle’, sold at £50,000 to a German collector.