Robert Leighton and his books

The latest exhibition in the Library features Archbishop Robert Leighton, who was Bishop of Dunblane and then Archbishop of Glasgow in the 17th century. You may be familiar with the Leighton Library in Dunblane, which houses Robert Leighton’s personal collection of books. As 2011 is the 400th anniversary of Leighton’s birth (we don’t know his birthday, unfortunately), the exhibition celebrates this remarkable man and his collection of books.


Leighton lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Scottish history. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, yet took up the office of Bishop of Dunblane in the restored Episcopal Church, in an attempt to reconcile Presbyterians and Episcopalians in a united Church of Scotland. Aware that he might be accused of seeking self-aggrandisement, he accepted a post in Dunblane, the smallest and poorest see in the country. He was later installed as Archbishop of Glasgow, though he failed to bring about the reconciliation in church affairs which he so desired.


Leighton was a learned scholar, with wide ranging interests. He bequeathed some 1500 books and pamphlets to the Cathedral of Dunblane. A library building was erected between 1684 and 1688 in order to house the books for the use of the local clergy. From 1734 the library became one of the first subscription libraries in Scotland and thrived until around 1870. Leighton’s collection of books was supplemented by 18th and 19th century additions, bringing the total bookstock to around 3350 items. The collection covers a variety of subject areas, including history and politics (particularly 17th century), theology, medicine, travel, language and the occult. There is also much to interest the book historian.


The Leighton Library is open to tourists during the summer months. If you would like to consult a book from the Leighton Library, please contact Helen Beardsley, Researchers are permitted to use the library’s books and manuscripts, but there are no study facilities in the library in Dunblane.  We will fetch the books you require and you can consult them in our Archives Reading Room. All of the Leighton Library’s books are included on our own online catalogue.


The exhibition highlights some of the Leighton Library’s treasures, including a 1562 edition of the New Testament in Syriac, a 1667 index of books prohibited by the Catholic Church, as well as volumes of Buffon’s Histoire naturelle (1749-1804) with their superb illustrations. We are grateful to Dr Alastair Mann for contributing his expertise to the exhibition.


There is further information and a short film about the Leighton Library at


Helen Beardsley

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