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The Palyce of Honour: Introduction


1 On the origins and distribution of this myth, see Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 1:xx–xxi, xxiii–xxvii; further, see Broun, Irish Identity, pp. 5n29, 11–15, 119–21.

2 The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie, lines 345–46 (Poems, ed. Bawcutt, 1:211).

3 Eneados, “Exclamatioun,” lines 43–44 (ed. Coldwell, 4:193). All Eneados quotations are from Coldwell’s edition.

4 Eneados, “Conclusio,” line 11 (ed. Coldwell 4:186); Eneados, Prologue to Book 1, line 343 (ed. Coldwell, 2:12).

5 Palyce of Honour, lines 1403, 1429, 1443, 1452, 1790, etc. (while Palice appears twice in the London print, L, lines 264 and 293), and in referring to it subsequently (Eneados, “Direction,” line 122 [ed. Coldwell, 4:191]; “Mensioun,” line 6 [ed. Coldwell, 4:139]). Palice predominates in E, the Edinburgh print.

6 Paul, Scots Peerage, 1:183–85; Bawcutt, “New Light on Gavin Douglas,” p. 96.

7 Mair, History of Greater Britain, ed. Constable, pp. xxxi–xxxii; Broadie, “John Mair’s Dialogus,” pp. 421, 425, 430.

8 Historic Environment Scotland, “Tantallon Castle.” Online at http://canmore.

9 ODNB, “Douglas, Archibald [nicknamed Bell-the-Cat], fifth earl of Angus (c. 1449–1513), magnate and rebel.”

10 Macdougall, James IV, p. 87.

11 Macdougall, James IV, p. 88.

12 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, p. cvi.

13 Macdougall, James IV, p. 152.

14 Acta Facultatis Artium Universitatis Sanctiandree, ed. Dunlop, 1:lxxxiv.

15 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:iv–v.

16 Bawcutt, “New Light on Gavin Douglas,” p. 95.

17 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:v.

18 Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, eds. Brown et al., A1496/6/4; Macdougall, James IV, p. 174.

19 Protocol Book of James Young, eds. Donaldson and Paton, no. 790, p. 173; Macdougall, James IV, p. 284.

20 Fraser, Douglas Book, 3:161–64; Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 6.

21 Acts of the Lords of Council in Civil Causes, eds. Neilson and Paton, 2:81–82.

22 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, p. cxxxiii; ODNB, “Drummond, Margaret (d. 1502), royal mistress.”

23 On the Hepburn rivalry, see Paul, Scots Peerage, 1:180; ODNB, “Douglas, Archibald [nicknamed Bell-the-Cat], fifth earl of Angus (c. 1449–1513), magnate and rebel.”

24 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:vi.

25 Acts of the Lords of Council in Civil Causes, eds. Neilson and Paton, 2:241, 284; Bawcutt, “New Light on Gavin Douglas,” p. 97.

26 Calendar of Negotiations between England and Spain, ed. Bergenroth, 1:170.

27 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, pp. ccxxxi–ccxxxii.

28 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, pp. cclxxi, 391.

29 Letters of James the Fourth, eds. Hannay and Mackie, p. 55; quotation from Macdougall, James IV, p. 217.

30 Fawcett, Scottish Architecture, pp. 304–20; Dunbar, Scottish Royal Palaces, pp. 10–18, 40–49; MacDonald, “Princely Culture in Scotland,” pp. 165–66.

31 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, pp. cclxv–cclxvi, 286; Cooper, “Ornamental Structures,” p. 821.

32 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, pp. cclxv–cclxviii, 386, 389, 390.

33 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. Dickson, p. clxvi.

34 For a counter-argument, see Lyall, “Stylistic Relationship,” p. 70.

35 DOST, loun, lown (n.). This interpretation follows Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 215n10. For earlier attempts to connect Of Lundeys Lufe the Remeid to Ovid’s Remedia, see, for example, Poetical Works, ed. Small,1:cxxviii.

36 Morse, “Gavin Douglas: ‘Off Eloquence,’” p. 110; Suetonius, “The Life of Virgil,” 2:454–57.

37 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:vii; Macdougall, James IV, p. 284.

38 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:viii; Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 49; Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament, p. 185; Bawcutt, Dunbar the Makar, p. 80.

39 Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 28.

40 Rutledge, “Development of Humanism,” p. 259.

41 Broadie, “John Mair’s Dialogus,” p. 426.

42 Eneados, “Tyme, Space and Dait,” lines 1–4, 8, 12 (ed. Coldwell, 4:194); with skepticism on this count, Morse, “Gavin Douglas: ‘Off Eloquence,’” pp. 118–19n2.

43 History of Scotland . . . by John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, ed. Thomson, p. 101. For a photo-facsimile of this volume, see the Internet Archive: /n6/mode/2up.

44 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:lxii–lxiii

45 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:lxxxii.

46 Harrison, Music in Medieval Britain, p. 15.

47 Lindesay, Historie and Cronicles of Scotland, 1:281–82; compare History of Scotland, trans. Aikman, 2:278–79.

48 Lindesay, Historie and Cronicles of Scotland, 1:283.

49 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:xciii–xciv.

50 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:civ.

51 Polydore Vergil’s English History, ed. Ellis, pp. 105–08.

52 Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 31.

53 Sir David Lyndsay: Selected Poems, ed. Hadley Williams, pp. 58–59.

54 History of Scotland . . . by John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, ed. Thomson, p. 117.

55 History of Scotland, trans. Aikman, 2:280.

56 Quoted in Geddie, Bibliography of Middle Scots Poets, p. 239.

57 Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, pp. 16, 108.

58 Dickson and Edmond, Annals of Scottish Printing, pp. 105–35. The identification of Davidson as the printer of D has more recently been only tentatively supported; Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 193; Mapstone, “Editing Older Scots Texts,” p. 322.

59 Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament, pp. 47–48.

60 Beattie, “Fragments of ‘The Palyce of Honour,’” p. 34.

61 It is “used repeatedly” in his Den oorspronck onser salicheyt, 1517, and also appears in his Thuys der Fortunen Ende dat Huys der Doot, 1518 (quoted in Beattie, “Fragments of ‘The Palyce of Honour,’” p. 34).

62 The following differences are noted, with readings in D followed by their uncorrected counterparts in L: silvir/silver; nold/nolde; stone/stunr; tyll/tyl; Cau[s]ys/Causis; twystis/twystes; amourous/amorous; fresch/fresche; neuyr/neuir; [ter] mys rud/termes rude; bene/byn; monsturis/monstruis; onblomy [t] /vnblomyt; [l] auchys/lauhcys. For a fuller listing of all variants, including punctuation and capitalization, see Beattie, “Fragments of ‘The Palyce of Honour,’” pp. 40, 43–46; it is still a very small list.

63 Beattie, “Fragments of ‘The Palyce of Honour,’” p. 33.

64 Mapstone, “Editing Older Scots Texts,” p. 323n59.

65 Small (Poetical Works, 1:clxviii) comments that “copies of the two are sometimes bound in one volume.”

66 Mapstone, “Editing Older Scots Texts,” pp. 315–16; Bawcutt (Shorter Poems, p. xvi) considered “Copland himself” to be the author of these notes.

67 Morse, “Gavin Douglas: ‘Off Eloquence,’” pp. 111–12.

68 Shorter Poems, ed. Bawcutt, pp. xxi–xxii.

69 Scotish Poems, ed. Pinkerton, 1.51.

70 Lyall, “Stylistic Relationship,” p. 73n9.

71 Mapstone, “Editing Older Scots Texts,” p. 323.

72 The Kingis Quair, ed. Norton-Smith, p. xxx.

73 National Library of Scotland, Scottish Books 1505–1700. Online at

74 Mann, Scottish Book Trade, pp. 140–41.

75 McKerrow, Printers’ and Publishers’ Devices, no. 189, p. 71.

76 Charteris, “Ane Adhortatioun of All Estatis,” lines 17–24 (Works of Sir David Lindsay, ed. Hamer, 1:404); sig. A2r.

77 Mapstone, “Editing Older Scots Texts,” p. 323.

78 Shorter Poems, ed. Bawcutt, pp. xxi–xxii.

79 “Wills of Thomas Bassandyne, and Other Printers,” ed. Laing, Scott, and Thomson, pp. 189, 205, 212, 214.

80 Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 193.

81 Bawcutt (Shorter Poems, p. xix) cites William Beattie’s groundbreaking discussion of these annotations, in a letter to The Times Literary Supplement (23 February 1946).

82 Simpson, Scottish Handwriting 1150–1650, p. 16.

83 Shorter Poems, ed. Bawcutt, p. xxv.

84 L has a comparatively high proportion of accidental errors: mistakes with similar letter forms (for instance, f/long s; t/c, r/x), reversed pairs of letters (for instance, monstruis for monsturis), and punctuation, especially opening and closing parentheses: about 130, or roughly one every sixteen lines overall. For E, the incidence of accidental error is about 35, or roughly one every 62 lines — almost four times more accurate.

85 Shorter Poems, ed. Bawcutt, pp. xxvi–xxvii.

86 For evidence and discussion, see the Textual Notes for lines 772–1287.

87 Select Works, ed. Scott, p. 149.

88 Scotish Poems, ed. Pinkerton, 1.122.

89 In the Introduction to Shorter Poems (pp. xxiv–xxv), Bawcutt provides a list of these; in several of the cases cited, it is possible to perceive a historical priority in the options in L. See the Textual Notes, below, for discussion of individual cases.

90 In Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, pp. 117–18, Kratzmann resolves the difference firmly in E’s favor. No less firmly does Hasler emphasize “armypotent” (Court Poetry, p. 99 and n37).

91 Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. Fox, p. lx.

92 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:clxx; Geddie, Bibliography of Middle Scots Poets, pp. lxxxviii, 244.

93 In The Lily and the Thistle (pp. 48–51), Calin compares PH to the Séjour d’Honneur. For opposing views, see Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:cxxxvii; Kratzmann, Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, p. 108; Gray, “Gavin Douglas,” p. 152. Saint-Gelais completed his long allegorical poem in 1494, rather late for sustained influence on PH.

94 In revising Shorter Poems, Bawcutt commented further on the importance of L, for the “medieval forms” of several of the names, but even more for the increased recognition of possibly superior readings therein (p. 300).

95 Mapstone, “Editing Older Scots Texts,” pp. 323–24; Mapstone notes a prior edition of lines 1828–90 from L, in Late Medieval Verse and Prose, ed. Gray, pp. 320–23, 477–78.

96 Smith, Older Scots: A Linguistic Reader, p. 30.

97 This vowel represents the confluence of close and open -e, which are distinct in earlier Scots; Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. Fox, p. 492.

98 The Kingis Quair, ed. Norton-Smith, p. xxx.

99 For a more systematic introduction to these features, see Smith, Older Scots: A Linguistic Reader, pp. 25–34.

100 Such false friends are a prime focus of the Glossary to this edition.

101 Further discussion of these features can be found in Smith, Older Scots: A Linguistic Reader, pp. 45–50; see also Macafee and Aitken, “A History of Scots to 1700,” section 7.

102 “Inflected infinitives in -in occur as an anglicism (also spelled -ing)” (Macafee and Aitken, “History of Scots to 1700,” section 7.8.9). See also the discussion of this hallmark of Douglas’ style in Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, pp. 144–45.

103 Lewis, Allegory of Love, p. 291.

104 Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, pp. 64–65.

105 The Kingis Quair, ed. Norton-Smith, p. xxix.

106 Lydgate, Poems, p. 169n218–23, quoted in Chaucerian Dream Visions and Complaints, ed. Symons, p. 122n218–24; on the prevalence of catalogues as the “basic structural device” of PH, see Fox, “Scottish Chaucerians,” p. 198.

107 Lyall, “Stylistic Relationship,” p. 75.

108 Quoted in Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages, p. 365. See also Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 57 for the poet’s “fondness” for this rhetorical color.

109 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:cxxviii.

110 Blyth, "The Knychtlyke Stile," p. 164.

111 Amsler, “Quest for the Present Tense,” p. 195.

112 As consideration of the Glossary to this edition will reveal, Douglas can rely on a repetitiveness of phrasing; for instance, the high frequency of the phrase I saw can be detected through the profusion of citations of saw in the review of the forms of the verb se. Very often, however, he handles repetition with grace and skill.

113 Kratzmann, Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, p. 105.

114 Fox, “Scottish Chaucerians,” p. 197; see also Spearing, Medieval Poet as Voyeur, p. 241.

115 Saintsbury, History of English Prosody, 1:276 and footnote.

116 See the Explanatory Note to line 330.

117 Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, p. 78.

118 Miskimin, “The Design of Douglas’s Palice of Honour,” p. 400.

119 A particular interest seems to adhere to forthright, incompletely motivated criticism of a powerful being, when the likely consequence would be harsh punishment. While this event is comparable to Cresseid’s renunciation of Venus and Cupid in Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid, it may be more productive to consider both as instances of a larger trend.

120 Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament, p. 187; typical in critical comment on PH, the E text is quoted.

121 Given the shaping of the narrator’s poetic vocation, it is understandable that some readers of the poem have considered it a Portrait of the Artist; e.g., Kinneavy, “Poet in The Palice of Honour,” p. 281; Amsler, “Quest for the Present Tense,” pp. 186–87. For a countering emphasis on “the moral agency of the narrator,” see Honeyman, “The Palice of Honour: Gavin Douglas’ Renovation of Chaucer’s House of Fame,” p. 66.

122 In contrast to the optimistic readings of, e.g., Kinneavy (“The Poet in The Palice of Honour,” pp. 281, 283, 295–303) and Ebin (Illuminator Makar Vates, pp. 91–97; see also Honeyman, “The Palice of Honour”), Bawcutt has held that the dreamer “often reverts to the fearful, uneasy mood in which his dream began” (Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, p. 60). As Leahy has noted, “That Douglas’s dreamwork is not so easily dissolved into a moral interpretation is what distinguishes it from many of its antecedents: there are real trees in his allegorical forest” (“Dreamscape into Landscape, p. 157).

123 Spearing, Medieval Poet as Voyeur, p. 238.

124 Compare this interpretation with Fradenburg’s comment on the vision of kingship as the “reward” of the dreamer’s quest (City, Marriage, Tournament, pp. 190–91).

125 Meyer-Lee, Poets and Power, pp. 82–83.

126 Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament, p. 188.

127 Morse queries, “Can Honour’s Palace encompass Dis-Honour?” (“Gavin Douglas: ‘Off Eloquence,’” p. 112).

128 Johnston and Rouse, “Facing the Mirror,” p. 180; Mitchell, Picture Theory, p. 172.

129 Hasler, Court Poetry in Late Medieval England and Scotland, p. 105.

130 Cairns, “The Palice of Honour of Gavin Douglas, Ovid, and Raffaello Regio’s Commentary,” p. 25.

131 Meroure of Wysdome, eds. Macpherson, Quinn, and Macdonald, 3:118.

132 Whitelaw in 1484 and Ogilvie in 1502 (Rutledge, “Development of Humanism,” pp. 239, 242–44).

133 Norton-Smith, “Ekphrasis as a Stylistic Element,” p. 240; Blyth, “The Knychtlyke Stile,” p. 158.

134 Hasler, Court Poetry in Late Medieval England and Scotland, p. 100.

135 Gray, “Gavin Douglas,” p. 156.

136 Spearing, Medieval Poet as Voyeur, p. 236.

137 See the discussion of lines 243–44 in the Explanatory Notes. Later in the poem, there is the marvelous moment when the Muses and their entourage offer prayers of gratitude to “gret God” for the success of their journey (line 1462).

138 Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, p. 363.

139 Meroure of Wysdome, eds. Macpherson, Quinn, and McDonald, 3:121–22.

140 Wood, “Folkloric Patterns in Scottish Chronicles,” p. 121.

141 These misgivings have been ascribed to a “deeply engaged but strongly ambivalent” attitude to sexuality (Spearing, Medieval Poet as Voyeur, p. 238).

142 Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament, p. 187.

143 Gray goes so far as to ascribe to PH a “daring juxtaposition of a high seriousness that is almost mystical with pantomime knockabout” (“Gavin Douglas,” p. 153).

144 Kratzmann, Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, p. 114.

145 The Dreme, lines 31, 39, 44 (Sir David Lyndsay: Selected Poems, ed. Hadley Williams, p. 2).

146 Hasler, Court Poetry in Late Medieval England and Scotland, p. 101.

147 Kinneavy, “The Poet in The Palice of Honour”; Amsler, “The Quest for the Present Tense”; Ebin, Illuminator Makar Vates, pp. 92–96; Honeyman, “The Palice of Honour: Gavin Douglas's Renovation.”

148 Johnston and Rouse, “Facing the Mirror,” p. 173.

149 See above, footnote 29.

150 Martin detects a deftness and evocativeness in the allusions Douglas makes to Gower’s Confessio Amanatis, especially in “the subtle echo and reworking of narrative episodes, images, and diction” (“Responses to the Frame Narrative,” p. 571).

151 Generally skeptical about the influence of The Kingis Quair on late fifteenth-century Scottish poetry, Norton-Smith made something of an exception for Gavin Douglas, “who may have seen the manuscript in [Henry, third lord] Sinclair’s library” (The Kingis Quair, p. xiiin2).

152 R. D. S. Jack argued that Petrarch’s Trionfi, especially the sequence of triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Fame, provided a precedent for the cavalcades of Minerva, Diana, and Venus. He went further by suggesting that Petrarch’s Trionfi provided inspiration for “the whole scheme of Douglas’s poem” (Italian Influence on Scottish Literature, pp. 23–27, quote on p. 24). This proposal has not been widely accepted.

153 Boffey and Edwards comment that “we have only the evidence of some jotted extracts from the Fables in a student notebook (the ‘Makculloch’ manuscript) that [Henryson’s] poems circulated at all during his lifetime (“Literary Texts,” p. 564). Edwards has also noted the paucity of evidence for circulation of Lydgate’s poems in Scotland prior to 1500 (“Lydgate in Scotland,” pp. 191, 194). The Maying and Disport of Chaucer is included with this title in the Kingis Quair manuscript, Bodleian Arch. Selden. B. 24, fols. 120v–129v (title given in colophon).

154 Poetical Works, ed. Small, 1:cxxxviii.

155 Leahy, “Dreamscape into Landscape,” p. 156.

156 Galloway, “John Lydgate and the Origins of Vernacular Humanism,” p. 446; see Boutcher, “Vernacular Humanism in the Sixteenth Century,” p. 196.

157 Kristeller, “Humanism,” p. 125.

158 Kristeller, “Humanism,” p. 125.

159 McDiarmid, “Early William Dunbar and His Poems,” pp. 130–32; noting references to events post 1500, Bawcutt expresses skepticism about so early a date, but suggests that the Flyting may have been revised before it was printed in 1508 (Poems, 2:429, 428).

160 Hasler, Court Poetry in Late Medieval England and Scotland, pp. 106.

161 Moss, Renaissance Truth and the Latin Language Turn, p. 243.

162 Cairns, “The Palice of Honour of Gavin Douglas, Ovid, and Raffaello Regio’s Commentary,” pp. 20–25. Quotation from Knox, “Commenting on Ovid,” p. 336.

163 James, “Ovid and the Question of Politics,” pp. 343–44.

164 Lyall, “Stylistic Relationship,” p. 77.

165 For these elements of versification and diction, see also the opening Epistill and Prologue of Sir David Lyndsay’s influential Ane Dialog betwix Experience and ane Courteour, for the latter especially lines 135–38 (Sir David Lyndsay: Selected Poems, ed. Hadley Williams, pp. 183–93).

166 Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, pp. 194–95.

167 Rutledge, “Gavin Douglas and John Bellenden,” pp. 94–98, quote in pp. 95–96. Rutledge also identifies echoes of PH in Bellenden’s Prologue to his translation from Livy’s History, ed. Craigie, p. 96.

168 Ane Treatise Callit The Court of Venus, ed. Gregor, pp. xx–xxiv; Bawcutt, Gavin Douglas: A Critical Study, pp. 195–96.

169 For a discussion of the satirical depiction of court life in the Séjour d’Honneur, see Armstrong and Kay, Knowing Poetry, p. 150.

170 Sage, “Life of Gawin Douglas,” p. 15.

171 De animi tranquillitate dialogus, ed. Sutton, 2.95–3.258.

172 Poems of John Stewart of Baldynneis, ed. Crockett, 2.193–268.

173 Melville, Ane Godlie Dreame, pp. 4–7, 9, 11.

174 Sage, “Life of Gawin Douglas,” p. 15.

175 Warton, History of English Poetry, 2:294.



The Palyce of Honour (PH) occupies a pivotal moment in Scottish literary history. Daringly combinative in style and subject, the poem exerts lasting influence into and beyond the Reformation. Its moment and maker are clearly identified. Completing his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid in the summer of 1513, Gavin (or, as the name continues to be spelled in library catalogues, “Gawin”) Douglas describes himself as having written “my Palyce of Honour” twelve years earlier. Douglas was a priest and a scion of a dominant noble family. In the 1490s he had maintained connections with the court of James IV, and the king had supported his efforts to gain ecclesiastical preferment. What is known about Douglas, and especially about his later political and ecclesiastical career, adds significance to the fact that, at the inception of that career, he writes about "Honour" as both a moral and a martial value. The poem embodies a vision of literature as the prime means to strengthen connections to the classical past and instill spiritual knowledge and moral renovation, but also to inculcate these values as intrinsic to kingly and noble power. With such high aspirations, The Palyce of Honour reflects its context in its striking combinations: medieval and humanist; comic, visionary, and epic; regional and international; Christian and pagan.

This blend seems distinctively, pervasively Scottish, grounded in national aspirations and anxieties. Scotland had a national myth of origin with its own eponymous founders, Scota and Gaythelos (as in “Scots” and “Gaels”).1 Asserting direct access to and legitimate descent from the ancient world, Scottish chroniclers had long asserted the antiquity of their kingship. This myth guaranteed an unmediated right of participation in European culture at large. Such myth making also countered English claims of hegemony, in a war of words that sharpened recurrently into conflict. The neighboring kingdoms were not tidily fenced off from each other, the Borders between them remaining very much debatable land. In part for that reason, an awareness of the linguistic distinctiveness of Scots as the variety of English dominant in Scotland was only gradually emerging; and the linguistic landscape was further complicated by the continuing, if retreating, presence of Gaelic, identified as the link to national origins. It was still possible, if in a humorous context, for the poet Walter Kennedie to announce at court that “Irische” ought to be “all trew Scottis mennis lede” (“all loyal Scots' tongue”).2 It is in this setting of rising cultural distinctiveness, sustained political rivalries, but also a certain volatility of affiliation, especially along the Borders, that The Palyce of Honour can be located.

PH is a dream vision that responds strongly to Chaucer’s poems in this genre. It is not the earliest Scottish dream vision; that is the early fifteenth century Kingis Quair, ascribed to King James I of Scotland. As he would later with Virgilian epic, Douglas advances beyond his literary models toward a distinctively Scottish rendering of the dream form. No mere imitator of Chaucer, Douglas devises a plot for PH that is designed to exhibit his inventiveness, not least in the foregrounding and combination of motifs. A would be poet of love falls asleep and dreams of a wilderness through which divine cavalcades pass. Denouncing Venus, he faces her wrath and retaliation; but Calliope argues for leniency. The poet dreamer joins the Muses en route to the mountain location of the palace of the god Honour. Aided by Calliope’s nymph, the dreamer ascends and tours the palace within which he catches a glimpse of Honour and falls unconscious. The nymph teaches him that Honour judges traitors and usurpers; then she summons him across a moat into the garden of the Muses. He stumbles, awakens, and sings praises to Honour and James IV. Despite this freshness of design, critical commentary on PH has generally focused on its affinities with Chaucer’s House of Fame in particular; but for much of the allusive fabric of his invention, Douglas is looking beyond Chaucer and especially to Ovid. It is as if he is legitimating his own literary lineage, much as Scottish historical writers had done in their cultivation of a Scottish myth of national origin.

Though only a shred of manuscript evidence exists for the text of the poem, and the earliest printed evidence dates to at least a decade after the poet’s death in 1522, the textual situation of this poem is perhaps better grounded than has previously been assumed. With advances in research into the text, language, and interpretation of The Palyce of Honour, it has become possible to re-evaluate the status of the earliest extant complete witness of the poem, the London print of The Palis of Honoure, c. 1553 by William Copland. Several copies of Copland’s print survive, and eight of them have been studied closely for the present edition. As a result of this attention, it has been possible to restore several readings to the text of the poem, and to reinstate an appreciation of the language of the poem as represented in that print. It is thus Copland’s print that serves as the copy-text for the present edition, with emendations admitted sparingly from the other witnesses. Accepting Copland thus has involved a detailed reconsideration of the text at every point, especially with reference to the particulars of the 1579 Edinburgh print by John Ross for Henry Charteris; an important instance where the Edinburgh print is superior is its inclusion of lines 1711–19, a stanza omitted by Copland that itemizes a notably wide assortment of tales.

One might already go a little further in contrasting the London print to the Edinburgh: where the former relies on an assumed linguistic and cultural commonality between its Scottish and English readers, the latter contributes to a new national literary canon. Neither goal lies beyond Douglas’ scope, however; with characteristic assertiveness, the poet espoused both nationalism and cosmopolitanism. In 1513, he declared that his Scottish version of Virgil’s Aeneid would be “with every gentill Scot . . . kend, / And to onletterit folk be red on hight” (“known by every gentle Scot and read aloud to illiterate people”).3 He also envisioned its being read “[t]hrow owt the ile yclepit Albyon”; akin even in terms to the circulation of Chaucer’s verse, “throu Albion iland braid.”4 Already in PH can be detected an eclecticism of language, style, and cultural affiliations that foreshadows this competitive spirit.

It has proven important, therefore, to situate this edition afresh in relation to the main print witnesses. This task has even affected the form of the title. Given these considerations and especially the affiliation this edition has with Copland’s print (L), there is a sense in which the title should be The Palis of Honoure, as it appears on Copland’s title page, and in the 1992 METS edition. The change to Palyce has been made to reflect what can be glimpsed of the poet’s own general usage in the poem itself and subsequently.5 In the present edition, Palis refers to William  Copland’s London print of the poem (L); Palice designates the later Edinburgh print by Ross and Charteris (E). The title has been changed to reflect the ways in which L has emerged more clearly than before as a sturdy platform from which to see an array of evidence about the making, transmission, and reception of the poem. It has proven to be valuable to see the poem as more than L. On this basis, it has been possible to revisit the literary affiliations of PH, for instance to re-evaluate its relations to Ovid and Chaucer in particular in the light of its purposive, thematically cohesive scriptural references and allusions. Reconsideration of the textual and literary evidence makes it possible to gain a new appreciation of PH as a vehicle of cultural continuity through the sixteenth century in Scotland, a period of extreme change.


The dramatic political and religious alterations coming to Scotland (the defeat and death of James IV in 1513; the Reformation Parliament in 1560; the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1567; the coronation of James VI as James I of England, 1603) had roots in the fifteenth century. During this earlier period, however, dynastic struggles may have seemed to be part of the continuing fabric of public life. The changing fortunes of the Douglases, not least of the Angus branch of that family, exemplify this familiar pattern. At the age of fourteen, Archibald Douglas succeeded his father in 1463 as the fifth earl of Angus. Five years later, he married Elizabeth Boyd, eldest daughter of the Chamberlain of Scotland. Robert Lord Boyd was at the summit of his power, having taken control of the adolescent James III in 1466 as his official guardian. Boyd soon fell and went into exile; Archibald Douglas served on the parliamentary assize that condemned his father-in-law. In 1474 or 1475, but possibly as late as 1476, Elizabeth Boyd and Archibald Douglas had a son, Gavin, their third among four sons and three daughters.6

The prominent philosopher and academic John Mair (“Major”) alluded to Gavin Douglas’ having been born “not more than a Sabbath-day’s journey” from his own home town of Gleghornie, near the burgh of Haddington; elsewhere he refers to their being linked by “the stretch of land between Tantallon and Gleghornie.”7 Mair’s comments point to Tantallon Castle as the birthplace of Gavin Douglas. Tantallon still forms an impressive landmark on the Lothian coast along the Firth of Forth. The natural advantages of the site made it possible to be defended with a single enclosing wall, an imposing curtain of red sandstone, blocking access from the mainland. Bracketing the wall stood two towers, the north-western one connected to a hall and probably containing the residence of the noble family.8 Within that wall, one looks north toward the prominent Bass Rock. The promontory the castle encloses makes an excellent natural fortification. Apart from a fortified sea-gate, it would have been difficult or impossible to land at the foot of the steep basalt cliffs of that promontory. The buttresses of those cliffs do not invite convenient ascent from the sea.

The earlship of Angus was strongly but not solely based in the Borders, from Tantallon on the east coast to Kircudbright in the southwest. From this base, Archibald Douglas played a leading role in James III’s attack on England in 1479. By 1482, with their discontent rising against James, the nobles met to decide how to nullify the coterie of royal advisors. At this meeting, as the seventeenth-century historian Hume of Godscroft depicted it, the fable of the mice and the cat was recounted. When the question was asked, “Who will bell the cat,” Archibald volunteered. In later times, he was remembered as “Bell-the-Cat.”9

In 1488, another aristocratic rebellion led to James’ defeat and death at Sauchieburn, and the adolescent James IV took the throne. Among the power brokers, Patrick Hepburn, newly created earl of Bothwell, was Archibald Douglas’ great rival in the Marches, the three militarized districts forming a buffer along the English frontier. The Hepburns and their allies the Homes amassed many honors, rewards, and offices from the overthrow of James III. The Hepburns’ threat to Douglas’ fortunes was mitigated by James IV’s evident pleasure in Archibald’s company. They played dice and cards, but such pastimes were not sufficient to counterbalance the progress of Bothwell’s strategies.10 Archibald sought recourse elsewhere and by other means. He visited Henry VII of England in 1489, and in 1491 promised to act on Henry’s behalf by advocating peace between the two nations.11 James besieged Tantallon because of the bond Angus had made with Henry VII.12 Still, Douglas’ fortunes were advanced by other means. The earl’s niece Marion Boyd became the king’s mistress, and Archibald became the king’s Chancellor soon after.13

By 1489, when he was thirteen years old, Gavin Douglas’ education had progressed to the point that he was matriculated at the University of St. Andrews. His studies would begin in Logic, then Physics and Natural Philosophy, then Metaphysics; all along, Aristotle would be the foundational authority.14 In 1492, Douglas was named among those confirmed as Bachelors, and in 1494 he was listed among the Licentiati, or Masters of Arts, those who were qualified to teach the seven Liberal Arts.15 The direction of his studies indicates the career for which he was intended, in the Church; a more specific indication of that purpose came in the form of a papal supplication in February 1489 for various ecclesiastical benefices, a canonry among them.16 This request was based on the assumption that Douglas would do well in his studies at St. Andrews: an advanced academic degree was a legal requirement for becoming a Canon.17 It was a time of increasing interest in education: an Act of Parliament (June 1496) required sons of noble and freeholding families to attend grammar school, acquire familiarity with Latin, and then receive basic legal training.18

Gavin Douglas was aspiring to positions that would demonstrate his family’s prominence in ecclesiastical affairs. During the mid-1490s, he was spending at least part of his time at court: in the king’s chamber in April 1495 he witnessed a legal deed and was described on that occasion simply as the Chancellor’s son.19 The papal chancery registers for 1494/96 contain a reference to “Gowinus de Wglas” as dean of Dunkeld; similarly identified as “dene of Dunkeldene,” Douglas witnessed an indenture in Edinburgh in 1497 between his father and Lord Kennedy.20 Signaling his direct interest, James IV attended a hearing of his Lords of Council in October 1497 to assert Douglas’ right to this deanship.21 By the end of the decade, however, the earl of Angus was entering a politically rocky time with gloomy implications for his family’s future prospects. His cachet was no longer enhanced by the king’s romantic attachments. Margaret Drummond had replaced Marion Boyd as the king’s mistress; in 1496, Drummond was installed in Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Palace.22 Archibald Douglas lost the Chancellorship in 1497, and his enemies the Hepburns made further inroads into his power.23 About twenty-one at the time of his father’s fall from office, Gavin Douglas would have to find his own way to advancement. The previous year, Douglas had been awarded an income from the proceeds of the parish of Monymusk (in Aberdeenshire); in 1498, the king granted him the parsonage of Glenholm (in Peeblesshire; now Tweeddale) when it should next become vacant; possibly at about the same time, Douglas became parson of Lynton and Rector of Hauch near Dunbar.24 In passing, it is worth noting how much contentiousness was involved in the award of these positions; for instance, Douglas’ royally supported appointment as dean of Dunkeld was successfully resisted by master George Hepburn — the family rivalry operating even at this level.25 With the king’s support, Douglas was nevertheless making some progress, despite his father’s political eclipse.

In tracing the historical factors leading to PH, special significance can be attached to the development of the Scottish king’s interests, pursuits, and concerns. Born in 1473, James IV was only a few years older than Douglas; the king was to exert particularly strong influence on the poet. Reaching the age of majority in 1495, James IV assumed direct control of his own government. The following year he was studied closely by the Spanish ambassador Pedro de Ayala, who wrote a detailed report to Ferdinand and Isabella about the young king, his realm, and his people. It was a flattering but also judicious portrait de Ayala provided of the multilingual, handsome, devout, courageous prince who “loves war” too much, not least for its being “profitable to him and to the country.”26 At the same time, the king made regular donations to religious houses and foundations.27 James’ religious devotion had a strongly penitential strain that led him to show particular favor toward the Observant Franciscans, a strict order gaining prevalence in many Scottish burghs. James’ interest in this order led to his endowing the Observant house in Stirling, afterwards his annual retreat each Easter week.28 James later commented to Pope Julius II that among the Observants “he found cleansing for his conscience.”29 Real or perceived complicity in the rebellion against his father James III helped motivate such acts of expiation.

During the first decade of his majority, James took up his father’s interest in improving the royal palaces at Stirling Castle and Linlithgow.30 Construction of the so-called Palace at Stirling Castle commenced in 1496. James also found time to cultivate an interest in gardens at both sites: payments for repairs and new planting may suggest a growing awareness that a garden is an integral appurtenance of a royal palace.31 Building at Stirling was accompanied by the establishment of new kitchen gardens and orchards but also by more decoratively landscaped garden spaces. Hundreds of trees were purchased and planted. Much effort went into the digging of irrigation canals (“stankis”), and ponds stocked with fish and fowl.32 Especially in the description of Honour’s palace and its precincts, PH may reflect these royal projects.

Despite all his interest in building and landscaping, James was a monarch on the move. In March 1498, having completed “his perfyte aige of twenty-five yeiris,” James IV made a formal revocation of all grants made in his name during his minority. He spent the next few months on a typically fast-paced round of visits to strategically, politically, and spiritually important places in his realm. His movements in early April display a criss-crossing of the realm: Dumbarton, Ayr, and the ancient religious center Whithorn in the southwest; then retracing his route and arriving at Stirling; then to Edinburgh, but returning to Stirling to celebrate Easter week there; soon to Dunbar, and thence to Linlithgow via Restalrig and its royal chapel housing the relics of St. Triduana. “[W]ith his characteristic restlessness and rapidity of movement,”33 he returned to Dunbar in early May; then it was back to Dumbarton and thence by boat at Newark to Kintyre. It may be worthwhile to compare this strenuous royal itinerary with the cavalcades that dominate much of the first and second parts of PH.

It is possible to see PH’s genesis in the poet’s intermittent attendance at court in the mid to late 1490s. Work on the poem would thus coincide with his embattled quest for ecclesiastical preferment. Years later, in the summer of 1513, with his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid nearing completion, Douglas looked back at his making of the earlier poem:

. . . now am I fully quyt,
As twichand Venus, of myn ald promyt
Quhilk I hir maid weil twelf yheris tofor,
As wytnessith my Palyce of Honour,
In the quhilk wark, yhe reid, on hand I tuke
Forto translait at hir instance a buke.
Sa have I doyn abufe, as ye may se,
Virgillis volum of hir son Enee,
Reducit, as I cowth, intill our tong.
         (Eneados, “Direction,” lines 119–26)
concerning; promise
Which; fully twelve years ago

you may read, I undertook
Thus; done
was able, into

In this passage, the writing of the Palyce appears to be synchronous with the experience of the dream that is recounted therein. It is difficult to treat this statement as the factual basis for a chronology of composition.34 Douglas mentions the earlier poem again in the final addenda to his Eneados, but if anything complicates its compositional history even further:

Lo thus, followand the flowr of poetry,
The batellys and the man translait have I,
Quhilk yoir ago in myne ondantit youth,
Onfructuus idylness fleand as I couth,
Of Lundeys Lufe the Remeid dyd translait,
And syne Off hie Honour the Palyce wrait —
“Quhen paill Aurora with face lamentabill,
Hir russet mantill bordowrit all with sabill, etc.”
        (Eneados, “Mensioun”)
following the flower of poetry (Virgil)
I have translated
Which long; unrestrained
Unprofitable; evading; was able
Fleshly Love; Remedy

From this comment, it would appear that the Palyce was the second literary project Douglas completed, preceded by a mysterious work of which no trace survives beyond this reference. Attempts have been to identify Ovid’s Remedy of Love as the first translation Douglas made; and Lundeys can be derived from loun(d), “ruffian, rascal” (in later sixteenth century instances, explicitly “lecher” or “strumpet”).35 Possibly Douglas is depicting his literary development in Virgilian terms: three works; twelve years between the second and the third.36 It may be prudent, if less tidy, to consider PH as a product of the years 1497–1503.

Early in the new century, Douglas was awarded a significant ecclesiastical position with royal patronage, as Provost or Dean of the Collegiate Church of St. Giles in Edinburgh.37 St. Giles’ Church had very high status among collegiate (self-governing) churches in Scotland, next in importance and wealth only to the Chapel Royal at Stirling. As its Provost, Douglas presided over a community including sixteen endowed priests (prebendaries), a curate, and seven other clerics, and a well-funded array of altars and chaplainries. It is tempting to consider the Provostship as James IV’s reward to Douglas for writing The Palyce of Honour, dedicated to the king, “Throw quhais mycht may humyll thyng avance” (line 2160) — through whose power a humble thing (like PH) can succeed.38 Given Calliope’s advocacy for the dreamer when he is under sentence in Venus’ court, one might speculate that Douglas would be aware of the way his poetic vocation could also carry him through the controversies and competitions of his waking life.

After this inception on the literary stage and having achieved a leading position in an important ecclesiastical institution, it is all the more striking that Douglas vanishes from the extant Scottish records from 1505 to 1509.39 At least some of this time, he appears to have been in Paris.40 With the theologian David Cranston, he compiled the Index for the internationally famous Sorbonne scholar John Mair’s commentary on the Fourth Book of Peter Lombard’s Sentences (1509). Prefatory to the next volume of Mair’s commentaries (on the First Book; 1510) appears a Dialogue in the persons of Douglas and Cranston. In this Dialogue, Cranston is depicted defending Mair’s own scholastic commitments in theology. Douglas is given the role of the forward-looking humanist (virum non minus eruditum quam nobilem; “a man no less learned than noble”) who cites the controversial Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla’s critique of dialectic and Aristotelian philosophy, and who encourages Mair himself to “abandon school exercises and to return to his native soil, and there cultivate the Lord’s vineyard.”41 In such an intellectually rigorous environment, and at a stimulating distance from the duties of the provostship of St. Giles, Douglas’ own humanist interests take a momentous step toward his translation into Scots of Virgil’s Aeneid.

In 1513, Douglas took care to record the occasion of his completion of the Eneados on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, 22 July: eighteen months had elapsed, he declared, since he “fyrst set pen to wryte” this project.42 Less than fifty days later, James IV and many of his earls, lords, knights, and soldiers had been killed at the Battle of Flodden. The King left a widow, Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, and their two sons (along with six illegitimate children from his liaisons with a series of four mistresses). For Douglas, Flodden effectively ended his literary career.

Politics claimed him. Douglas was appointed by the Lords of Council to attend Margaret Tudor; eleven months after Flodden, in August 1514, she wedded the sixth earl of Angus, another Archibald. A scant month later, the Lords of Council sent for John Stewart, duke of Albany and a descendant from James II, to assume the Governorship of Scotland. For a short period, September–November 1514, Gavin Douglas was Chancellor and being appealed to by Henry VIII’s agents to assist the Queen and her two sons to depart Scotland for England. At this time Margaret and her brother recommended Douglas to Pope Leo X as the next Archbishop of St. Andrews. Once again, a family foe stood in opposition: John Hepburn, Prior of the Regular Canons at St. Andrews, claimed the right of election to the archbishopric and ousted the supporters of Douglas.43 It was yet another candidate, Andrew Forman, bishop of Moray, who was ultimately successful in the competition. Undaunted, Queen Margaret nominated Douglas to be Bishop of Dunkeld, and in this she was again supported by her brother Henry VIII.

In May of 1515, the Duke of Albany arrived from France. As Governor, he acquired proof that Douglas had attained the bishopric of Dunkeld through the support of Henry VIII and hence sought to depose Douglas for treason. Called before the Lords of Council, Douglas argued that they were a secular court and had no jurisdiction over “ane spirituale man”; unsurprisingly, the Lords rejected this plea.44 Found guilty, Douglas was imprisoned. Albany also warded Margaret in Edinburgh Castle, apart from her sons, but she escaped and fled to London. Frustrated in his aim to control potential rivals and adversaries, Albany released Douglas and allowed him to assume office as Bishop of Dunkeld. Even at this point of vindication, Douglas faced violent opposition. A rival’s supporters barricaded the steeple and episcopal palace at Dunkeld and fired on the celebrants in the cathedral.45

The embattled beginning was an omen of things to come but hardly represented the best traditions of the bishopric. Housing relics of St. Columba, Dunkeld was an ancient center of Christianity and a gateway to the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. The Cathedral had a reputation for being tended by previous bishops, and for musical excellence.46 Douglas did not long have the opportunity to contribute to these traditions. By 1517 he was in France as one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Rouen. His opponent the Duke of Albany also went to France, leaving his domestic duties to a cluster of earls, including Angus. Margaret Tudor, meanwhile, returned to Scotland, her marriage to Angus rapidly descending into estrangement. Angus continued to rely on his uncle the Bishop of Dunkeld. In 1520, the Earl of Arran plotted to capture Angus in Edinburgh. Arran and his associates gathered in the residence of James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow. Angus sent Gavin Douglas there to negotiate the retreat of Douglas forces from Edinburgh. According to an apocryphal story, Beaton assured Douglas that he could not prevent Arran’s hostilities; in a gesture of sincerity he struck his chest, and the armor he was wearing under his robes clanged. Douglas commented, “I persaue, me lord, your conscience be not ‘goode for I heir thame clatter.’”47 During the ensuing fracas, later known as “Cleinye Calsay” (cleanse the causeway), Douglas is supposed to have rescued Beaton.48

In the last year or so of his life, Douglas experienced both the collapse of his political ambitions and a resurgence of his cultural commitments. Angus’ re-ascendancy ended late 1521 when Albany returned to Scotland. Angus responded by sending his uncle to England to request Henry VIII’s help, to convey tales of intimacy between Margaret and Albany, and to paint a pathetic picture of the young James V, neglected and threadbare at court.49 Learning about this mission, Margaret sought to deprive Douglas of the bishopric and to have him prosecuted in England. In his own defense, Douglas admitted to Cardinal Wolsey that he was “so full of sorowe and displesour that I am wery of my avne lyfe.”50 In London, Douglas had the good fortune to meet the historian Polydore Vergil. Douglas insisted that Vergil pay no heed to a recent history — almost certainly John Mair’s History of Greater Britain (1521) — which treated skeptically the old stories about the royal descent of Scotland from an Athenian prince and a Pharaoh’s daughter.51 Priscilla Bawcutt observes that Mair, “the schoolman, is here aligned with Vergil, often regarded as the type of the new, rational historian”; Douglas, who had years earlier proclaimed his support for Lorenzo Valla and the new learning, now seems old-fashioned in his advocacy for the medieval narrative of Scottish origins.52 One might reflect further, however, on Douglas’ remarkable assertion of the potency of the national myth; finally, that myth, and the legitimacy it guaranteed, have outweighed all the allure of cosmopolitanism and progress.

The next year, 1522, Douglas died and was buried in the Hospital Church of the Savoy, in London. Polydore Vergil remembered him as a good as well as noble man, fired with commitment to scholarly debate and a vision of national identity. Within a few years of his death, Douglas was being praised by Scots poets as pre-eminent among literary figures of his nation. In his Testament of the Papyngo (1530), a poem rich in echoes of Palyce of Honour, Sir David Lyndsay praises Douglas more than he does any other poet, English or Scots:

Allace for one, quhilk lampe wes of this land!
Of eloquence the flowand balmy strand
And, in our Inglis rethorick, the rose.
As, of rubeis, the charbunckle bene chose,
And, as Phebus dois Synthia presell,
So Gawane Dowglas, byschope of Dunkell
Had, quhen he wes in to this land on lyve,
Abufe vulgare poetis prerogatyve,
Boith in pratick and speculatioun.
I saye no more. Gude redaris may discryve
His worthy workis, in nowmer mo than fyve,
And speciallye the trew translatioun
Of Virgill, quhilk bene consolatioun
To cunnyng men, to knaw his gret ingyne
Als weill in naturall science as devyne.
        (lines 22–36)53
who was the shining light
flowing, fragrant stream
English rhetoric; finest bloom
rubies; carbuncle is choicest
the Sun surpasses the Moon

when he was living in this country
precedence over vernacular poets
craft and theory
Good readers can describe
more than five in number

skilled; great ingenuity

In giving Douglas a higher status than “vulgare poetis,” Lyndsay may well be ascribing to him cultural leadership in forging the link between Scottish poetry and classical tradition.

In his History of Scotland (1571), John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, called Douglas “ane learned man, and ane guid poet.”54 Less disposed to praise bishops, George Buchanan concurred:

[B]esides the splendour of his birth, and the dignity of his personal appearance, [Douglas] was distinguished for learning, exemplary conduct, and peculiar moderation of spirit, and for his unshaken probity and authority among adverse factions in turbulent times. He left some admirable monuments of his learning and genius in his native language.55

The leading poet in early seventeenth-century Scotland was William Drummond of Hawthornden, who alluded to Douglas in similar terms, as “a man noble, valiant, learned, and an excellent Poet, as his works, yet extant testifie.”56 Drummond likely knew PH; he owned the copy of E now in Edinburgh University Library. The combination of personal and literary excellence may be merely a eulogistic convention, but its consistency across sectarian and political divisions suggests that the poet’s character and works were widely regarded as estimable and deserving of continued attention. In the storms and stresses of reformed Scotland, it was necessary that the writer of a good and important poem be seen as a good man, even if he was a bishop. In this way, Douglas and his poems retain standing in the national literary canon emerging in Drummond’s lifetime, long enough to have influenced late sixteenth-century works such as Alexander Montgomerie’s The Cherrie and the Slae and Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame, poems that would continue to attract audiences into the next century and beyond.

The Palyce of Honour is important for the course and direction of its maker’s life, and the reverse is true also. Aspects of the poet’s upbringing, education, and early career shed light on things in the poem: the understatedly wry handling of Aristotelianism; the allusions to noble families shoved aside by importunate interlopers and schemers; the bad examples of rebellious and lecherous princes; possibly the sense of cultural openness to England, but more importantly to France, Italy, and the ancient world; behind it all, indeed, maybe even the noble family and its household in the castle at the top of a cliff with a stormy sea roiling below. As well, elements in the poem have a curious way of cropping up later for Douglas, at moments of controversy: the legal plea that one’s judges are not competent to hear one’s case; the insistence on retribution against those who seek advancement at others’ expense and for their own particular benefit. The biographical connections suggest a further rootedness in the continuing public life of the nation; and the poet’s own reputation in public memory served to keep knowledge of The Palyce timely and fresh.



The following discussion provides a description and comparison of the textual witnesses of PH. In this section appears a list of the key points at which these witnesses vary; this list leads into a discussion of the ways these variations offer evidence of relations between the witnesses themselves. Comparison of variants includes reference to possible causes of variation: for instance, textual descent based on more than one authorial draft or version in circulation; or editorial intervention by a scribe or a printer. A goal of this discussion is to establish principles for the selection of one witness as the basis for this edition, and to identify particular circumstances in which the text of that witness should be emended. These activities and the decisions stemming from them underpin virtually every aspect of this volume, from its title to the form and spelling of each word in the poem as presented, to the emphases and conclusions in the introduction and explanatory notes.

The overall textual history of PH deserves some initial reflection. If one accepts Douglas’ statement that he completed the poem in 1501, at least thirty years pass before the production of surviving material evidence for the circulation of its text. The textual history of PH depends almost entirely on evidence in printed editions. This state of affairs contrasts with the textual history of Douglas’ major literary work, Eneados, his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, which has a robust transmission in manuscript, with an early copy produced under Douglas’ supervision.57 During this pre-history, the only signs of that circulation are admiring allusions to PH, in poems by John Bellenden and David Lyndsay. Given their close associations with the court of James V and their own literary activities, Bellenden and Lyndsay were sufficiently well-placed, committed, and expert to play a role in the transmission of PH. The earliest extant text is the printed edition by Thomas Davidson, conjecturally dated c.1530 to c.1540. This edition exists in only one highly fragmentary copy, as follows:

· D [Gavin Douglas.] The Palyce of Honour. [Edinburgh: Thomas Davidson (?), c.1530–40.] STC 7072.8. Edinburgh University Library De.6.123. [4+] leaves, 4º.

This edition is represented by four uniquely surviving fragments from the first sheet of four leaves of the printing. William Beattie identified one of the typefaces as identical with the black-letter type in Thomas Davidson’s three other extant publications, and the other as identical with the smaller roman type in the chapter-headings of Davidson’s edition of John Bellenden’s translation of Hector Boece, The Hystory and Croniklis of Scotland (1541–42).58 Ascribing D to Davidson is attractive on various counts, not least his “favored” status as printer of “government documents and ‘croniklis.’”59 A royal connection might suggest continued interest at court in Douglas and his poem.

William Beattie identified the watermark (in the design of a hand below a star) as identical with one used in two books in which Davidson is named as printer: Bellenden’s Boece and Ad serenissimum Jacobum Quintum Strena. F. S. Ferguson identified a partially surviving woodcut with one in Jan van Doesborch’s 1521 edition of Die historie vanden stercken Hercules, depicting Hercules prevented by Laomedon from entering Troy.60 Also from van Doesborch is the fragment of a woodcut illustration on sig. 3v.61

D is a quarto in which the poem is presented twenty-nine lines to a page, as it is in both L and E (described below). The paginal distribution of the text matches that in L, with which it is also very similar orthographically.62 The marginal note in L at lines 39–41 likely did not appear in D. At the bottom of the first recto of text (missing the top of the leaf, beginning at line 39 and ending at line 58) appears a signature, “A ii.” but no catchword. The catchword at the bottom right of sig. B1v (the last page in D) reads “Certis”; given that the last line on this page appears to be 184, the following line (in L, “Quhilk is allace sa freuch and variant”) appears to have been omitted in this copy. Beattie proposes that Copland, printer of L, may have been working from “a cognate edition now lost.”63 The comparable page in L is unusual in that it contains thirty lines instead of the usual twenty-nine, with some consequent compression and slight tipping of the text evident, especially at the top of the page. It remains possible that L derives from D but that at least at this point it was corrected with reference to another witness.

Manuscript evidence exists for the Scottish readership of D or perhaps another print roughly contemporary with and closely related to it. The Protocol Book of David Bowsie (alias David Alexander; Edinburgh, National Records of Scotland, MS B 21/1/1, fol. 1r) commences with the following inscription:

My febill mynd seand this gret supprys
was thane of wit and euery blys full baire
          Heir end the first part of this tret[. . .]
          And followis the secund part & c.

The lines correspond to 770–71, the end of the First Part of the poem; the inclusion of the rubric may suggest that the leaf was originally part of a longer transcription of the poem, and had been pressed into duty for a different purpose, and perhaps by a different scribe. Mapstone notes the similarities between the phrasing of this rubric and the one ending the “preambyll” in D; she observes that the entries in the protocol book proper commence in the early 1540s.64

· L The | Palis of | Honoure Compyled by | Gawyne dowglas Bys-|shope of Dunkyll. | ¶Imprinted at London in | fletstret, at the sygne of | the Rose garland by | wyllyam | Copland. |God saue Quene | Marye. [1553?] [39] leaves, 4º; signatures A3, B–K4. Running title: The Palys | of Honour.

Printed in black letter type, this is a quarto edition in ten gatherings, each of which is indicated in turn by the alphabetical signatures ABCDEFGHIK. For the present edition, the following copies of this item (STC 7073) have been consulted: Bodleian Library, Oxford (Mal.965, in which the fourth gathering has each pair of leaves in reverse order); British Library (G.11231); Cambridge University Library (Syn.6.55.9; missing the last leaf of the first gathering); Edinburgh University Library (De.6.37); Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D. C. (HH71/21); Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California (60151); John Newberry Library, Chicago (Case 4A 906); John Rylands Library, Manchester (2039.2); National Library of Scotland (RB.m.517; incomplete, missing the last two gatherings); and Queen’s College Library, Oxford (Sel.e.244[2]).

While Copland’s edition was in press, a few changes were made in it, not all of which are obvious improvements. Most apparent are the alterations on the title page, which in some copies (Newberry’s, for instance) reads as Compeyled, in others (such as Huntington’s) as Compeled, and in still others (for instance, Folger’s) correctly as Compyled. The edition does not move uniformly toward improvement, however: line 118 is complete in the Compyeled and Compeled copies, but in the copies with the apparently correct title page, that line lacks its last two words, “a space.” Finally, two of the Compyled copies examined, Queen’s and Rylands’, add a marginal gloss at line 630: “He curseth the worlds felycité, fortune and all his pleasure.” It is thus possible to glimpse four stages in the production of this edition: three evident in the changes on the title page, and one in the late inclusion of a new gloss.

Though no date of publication appears, it has been surmised to coincide with Copland’s publication in 1553 of Douglas’ Eneados, which has the following text on the title page:

THE | .xiii. Bukes of Eneados of | the famose Poete Virgill | Translatet out of Latyne | verses into Scottish me- | tir, bi the Reuerend fa- | ther in God, May- | ster Gawin Douglas | Bishop of Dunkel & | vnkil to the Erle | of Angus. Euery | buke hauing hys | perticular | Prologe. | Imprinted at London | 1553.

The typeface of Copland’s Palis is identical with that used in his Eneados. It is conceivable that the Palis was designed by Copland to be a tailpiece to that much longer book, to comprise a Works of Douglas; the two are bound thus in the copy at Queen’s College, Oxford (Sel.e.244).65 As in Copland’s Eneados, the text of Copland’s Palis is accompanied by printed marginal notes that may show indications of being written by a Scot or for a Scottish readership.66 As described below, these notes offer important evidence of early readership of the poem. At two points, the commentary has attracted critical attention. First and less controversially, when Venus hands the dreamer a “buke” (line 1749) a note appears saying, “By thys boke he menis Virgil,” a point that is necessarily implicit in the text — Douglas has not yet written the translation, and to predict it might create expectations impossible to fulfill, not least if the poet does not receive the wherewithal to enjoy “mare lasere” (line 1757). A more tendentious note accompanies the Nymph’s comment that the mirror of Venus “[s]ignifyis” nothing other than “the greit bewtie” (lines 1761–63) lovers find in their ladies’ faces: alongside appears the note “The Auctors conclution of Venus merour.”67 Here the commentator has assigned authorial intention to a character’s judgment. Evidently, the paratext of L repays close attention.

With some justice, L has been described as crudely edited and printed.68 Given its persistence, this characterization calls for further attention. Evidence of a lack of sophistication is not far to seek: the text of the prologue begins on the verso of the title page. The first gathering is anomalous, as it contains three leaves, and the title page is the unsigned recto of what would have been the second; the signature “Aiii” appears on the recto of the second leaf of the first gathering as it stands. On the face of it, the book does have a certain roughness of design: section headings are inconsistently applied, with the Preamble headed only with the running title, and The First Part (sig. B1r) headed with the poem’s title entire (and no running title), as The Palys of Honour. The later headings are better provided: ¶The seconde parte. (signature [D4]r); ¶The thyrd parte (signature G1r). The large capital letters at the beginning of sections are rather inconsistent: at the start of the Preamble, the “Q” in “Quhen” is framed and historiated six lines deep; at the start of the First Part, the calligraphic “T” in “Thow” stands without historiation, and is only three lines deep; the L of “Lo” at the start of “The seconde parte” is, again historiated, and five lines deep; and at the start of “The thyrd parte,” the anthropomorphic Y of “Ye,” has no frame and is again five lines deep.

Still, as edited and printed, the volume shows indications of care in its design. The text block is consistent, page for page. The imprint is clean and regular. Spellings and word distributions are consistent. Catchwords are generally correct; but see, for example signature E2v, where the catchword is written correctly as Bydand, and the corresponding word commencing the text on E3r is Byddand. After the initial errors noted above, the running titles are consistent; signatures are regularly provided for the first and second leaf of each quire, though one is missing for C2. The first lines of most of the stanzas begin with a pilcrow, or, less frequently, a fleuron or a manicule. Aligning Douglas and his poem with English interests, Copland places a woodcut of the Tudor arms at the end of the Prologue. The ornamental frame of the title page displays triumphally classical elements. At each bottom corner is a cupid bearing a mace, the left one inscribed VEL and the right one VT (velut, “just as”); these inscriptions correspond to those in the pendants in the upper corners (the left one SIC, the right VT; sicut, “even so”). Around the box in which the title, author, and printer appear is a wreath Copland also used for The History of Herodian (1556; STC 13221), and for his edition of Douglas’ Eneados. The impression evidently aimed for is one of prestige and authenticity.

Perhaps L has received more than its fair share of criticism. Copland evidently took care to correct errors in his text of PH. Faulty imposition of type evident in some copies are generally corrected in others, though occasionally new errors intrude. Where Copland’s text of Eneados has been castigated for its numerous errors, his Palis appears comparatively tidy and correct. This difference can be ascribed to Copland’s working here from printed copy rather than manuscript; and the admittedly fragmentary evidence suggests he followed D (or a related edition) with care. The eighteenth-century editor of the poem, John Pinkerton, exerted lasting influence on the reputation of L when he generalized that its “spelling . . . is more English,” while that of the later Edinburgh print was “more Scottish; but minutiae are not attended.”69 R. J. Lyall has asserted that the later print E “is much closer to Douglas’ OSc. orthography” than L, a relationship “confirmed by the readings of the surviving fragment” of D.70 In fact, a comparison of L to D shows considerable similarity between the two texts, although Copland does not follow the rubrics in D.71 As well, study of the language of L (see below, section 4) reveals a fairly consistent representation of late fifteenth-century word forms and Northern spellings. For its stalwart advocate John Norton-Smith, L “may well represent transcription direct from an authoritative manuscript or a previous printing which reflects such a manuscript.”72

The Palis of Honoure occupies a distinctive place in William Copland’s considerable output. During the reign of Edward VI (1547–53), Copland was heavily involved in the production of Protestant tracts: for instance, Lancelot Ridley, Exposition upon the Epistle of Jude (1549?); William Tyndale’s Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1549); Thomas Paynell, The Piththy and Moost Notable Sayinges of al Scripture (1552). During the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor (1553–58), the scope and focus of his booklist changed: John Skelton, Colyn Clout (1554); Thomas Malory, The Story of the Moste Noble and Worthy Kynge Arthur (1557); The Godly Advertisement or Good Counsell of the Famous Orator Isocrates, Intitled Paraenesis to Demonicus wherto is annexed Cato in olde Englysh meter (1577–78). Into Elizabeth’s reign, Copland printed several medieval romances: Bevis of Hampton (c.1560, c.1565), Sir Degaré (c.1565), Sir Isumbras (c.1565), Sir Tryamour (c.1561, c.1565) Sir Eglamour (c.1555; c.1565), The Squire of Low Degree (c.1560), and A Mery Geste of Robyn Hoode and of his Lyfe, with a New Playe for to be played in Maye Games (c.1560). In this context, and together with his Eneados, Copland’s Palis stands out as a distinctively Scottish work. As such, the pair might represent an attempt to capitalize on Douglas’ continued reputation in England as a proponent of rapprochement between the two kingdoms. It is more likely, however, that, given the evidence of Scottish circulation and ownership in some of the extant copies, the publication of the Palis and Eneados provides some indication of Copland’s attempt at marketing north of the border. To judge from the limited evidence of a very few surviving copies, Scottish printing was not thriving in the 1550s: copies of a scant eight titles survive for the entire decade, including John Scot’s two printings of Sir David Lyndsay’s Dialog Betwix Experience and an Courteour (1554, 1559).73

It may make sense to consider L as in many ways a rather utilitarian, mercenary attempt by a London printer to take advantage of what appears to have been a lull in the Scottish book trade. The small evidence of L’s reception suggests that it may have had some success: of the extant copies, several contain marginal annotations. Up the edge of one verso in the copy in the National Library of Scotland, a reader has inscribed with some ornate flourishes (and uncertain formation of some letters) the following lines:

1 I vm[beth]ocht quhow Jhoves and all Satorne
2 In tell a wolfe they did lycaon turne etc.
3 All haille dreid I tho forgett in hye
4 And all my woe Bot 3it I wist not quarwhy

The last word is repeated, with less flourish, to the right of the line. Here a reader may be taking initial, perhaps wobbly, steps into retracing the poet’s steps, or the dreamer’s.

Owing the quality of its text to its likely derivation from D or a closely related Scottish print no longer extant, L preserves a great deal of linguistic and textual evidence that would otherwise have been lost or obscured. As will become clear in a discussion of the language of PH, L occupies an important place in the developing relations between two geographically and politically distinct varieties of English, one increasingly identified as Scots and another increasingly recognizable as the standard for vernacular texts printed in London. In seeking a mutually comprehensible linguistic ground with identifiably Scots features, L may indeed have remained in some sense true to the values of the poem: it cuts a path by which Scottish power and culture may achieve distinction, while at the same time it maintains active discourse with the southern interlocutor. In this sense, Copland’s publication of The Palis alongside Eneados preserves some opportunity to glimpse the poet’s balance between the national and the cosmopolitan. With minimal effacement of the poem’s embodiment of a Scottish manner and ambition, the English printer would effectively be foregrounding its role in sustaining cultural dialogue — now, in 1553, between two precariously Catholic realms of Britain, Scotland effectively under the redoubtable Marie de Guise, and England under Mary Tudor.

· E ¶Heir beginnis | ane Treatise callit the Palice | of Honour, Compylit | be M. Gawine | Dowglas |Bischop of | Dunkeld. [Printer’s emblem, McKerrow no. 187] Imprentit at Edin-| burgh: Be Iohne Ros, | for Henrie Charteris. Anno. 1579. | Cum priuilegio Regali. 40 leaves 4o: signatures A–K4. Running titles: The Prologue. [signatures A2–4]; The Palice | of Honour. [signatures B1v–K4r, paginated 2–71].

Like L, this edition is a quarto in ten signed gatherings. The distribution of text per page in E differs from that in L: for example, the first page of The First Part contains 21 lines (in L, 29).

To judge from its surface indications, the 1579 Edinburgh Palice of Honour (STC 7074) is designed to outshine its predecessor. The reference to royal privilege is easy to overvalue: Ross and Charteris were never the King’s printers but claimed royal patronage under the institution of copyright in Scotland.74 On the final verso appears the larger of John Ross’ two devices, featuring the emblem “of a woman with book labeled Verbum Dei ("the Word of God") and a lit candle. The motto is Vincet tandem Veritas ("Truth will conquer at last"). These devices also appear in John Rolland, The Court of Venus (1575).75

The Edinburgh Palice deserves to be seen as part of a sequence of older literary works brought back in printed copy for educated, patriotic readers in recently reformed Scotland. Through the initiative of John Scot, John Ross, Robert Lekprevick, and with the increasingly active support of Henry Charteris, items such as Hary’s Wallace (1570; STC 13149), Barbour’s Bruce (c.1571; STC 1377.5), Henryson’s Fables (1571; STC 185.5), the anonymous Rauf Coilyear (1572; STC 15062), John Rolland’s Court of Venus (1575; STC 21258), and The Palice of Honour came into print in Scotland in the 1570s. Most prominent in this group of literary titles is Sir David Lyndsay’s Works, printed no less than four times in Edinburgh between 1568 and 1580 (STC 15658, 15660, 15661, 15662). It may make sense to see this modest flurry of literary interest owing more to association with the status of Lyndsay as a forerunner of Reformation than it does to any uprush of antiquarian spirit.

In his preface to the 1568 edition of Lyndsay’s Works, Charteris points to the working of God’s grace in preserving the poet in his criticism of contemporary abuses of religion. Charteris gives less credit to the protective function of comedy in Lyndsay’s writings, but still acknowledges that Lyndsay’s “writing was commounlie mixit with mowis, and collourit with craftie consaitis (as Chaucer and utheris had done befoir)” (signature +3r). In a poem appended to his preface, Charteris associates Douglas with the divinely inspired, excellently forthright Lyndsay:

Thocht Gawine Dowglas, Bischop of Dunkell,
In ornate meter surmount did euerilk man;
Thocht Kennedie, and Dunbar bure the bell
For the large race of Rethorik thay ran:
3it neuer Poeit of our Scottische clan,
Sa cleirlie schew that Monstour with his markis,
The Romane God, in quhome all gyle began:
As dois gude Dauid Lyndesay in his warkis.76

took the prize

showed; characteristics
whom; deception

Good poetry is a good thing, but poetry that confirms and strengthens the nation as a godly community is altogether better. In this context and spirit, the editing of Douglas by Ross and Charteris may reasonably be expected to highlight any flickerings of reforming spirit; indeed, such illuminations may even be enhanced where the opportunity exists.

For their edition of The Palice, Ross and Charteris provide a much shorter preface than they did for Lyndsay’s Works. The verso of the title page presents a single paragraph, as follows (in slightly modernized spelling):

To the Reidar. Qvhen we had sene and considderit the diuers Impressiones befoir Imprentit of this Notabill werk, to haue bene altogidder faultie and corrupt: not onlie that quhilk hes bene Imprentit at London, bot also the Copyis set furth of auld amangis our selfis: We haue thocht gude to tak sum panes and trawellis to haue the samin mair commodiously and correctly set furth: to the Intent, that the benevolent Reidar may haue the mair delyte and plesure in reiding, and the mair frute in perusing, this plesand and delectabill werk.

While the preceding editions may indeed have all been faulty and corrupt, saying so could be a good way to enhance the status of one’s own product. Interestingly, reference is made to “copyis” made in Scotland but only that one coming from London. From this, one might justifiably posit that the fragmentary D is thus all that remains of two or more Scottish editions of PH; it has been suggested that there may have been more such, though the grounds for believing so are unclear.77 The implication exists that a manuscript, now lost, may have been among the sources consulted for E; and that implication would of course heighten the status Charteris and Ross are claiming for their edition. They also appear to regard L as a unique incursion in Scotland of an English printing of this title. Although it came out about 24 years previously, it would be the principal competition for a new edition, and hence it particularly is to be regarded as “altogidder faultie and corrupt.” What Ross and Charteris promise in its place is a commodious and correct edition, one that will doubtless enhance their contemporaries’ experience of the poem. Resisting any uncritical acceptance of the Edinburgh editors’ assertions, Priscilla Bawcutt detects a possible “element of ‘knocking copy’ in Charteris’ method of advertising” that might recall his previous animadversions on the editions of David Lyndsay’s works preceding his own.78

Ross and Charteris banked on a sustained healthy interest in their edition of The Palice of Honour. Their hopes seem to have been modestly rewarded. Ross died in 1580, and among the assets included in his will were 280 unbound copies of the book (“price of the dosane, xv s”); in his will of 1585, the bookbinder Robert Gourlaw mentioned “Palice of Honour, iij, at xij d. the peice.”79 Among the owners of their book was the poet William Drummond of Hawthornden, whose copy is now in Edinburgh University Library.80

Reading the poem in this edition, one immediately notices obvious differences from L. The typeface of the preface and Prologue is roman, while the poem proper is set in black letter. The running title remains in roman: verso “The Palice”; recto, “of Honour.” Other headings are also in roman: for instance, “The Author directis his buik | to the richt Nobill and Illuster Prince Iames | the Feird [Fourth] King of Scottis” (p. 70). As well, in the third part of the poem, Latin terms and phrases are set in roman: “Se[s]que altra and decupla”; “Sancta Sanctorum”; “in periculo mortis”; “primum mobile”; “Trivmphous” (lines 495, 1454, 1705, 1840, 2143). Though each page contains twenty-nine lines of verse, as was usually the case in L, large title headings at the beginnings of the prologue and the first part produce a different spread of lines per page in E: “The Prologue” (sig. A2r); “The Palice of | Honour, Compylit be M. | Gawine Dowglas | Bischop of Dunkeld” (sig. B1r). Page numbers are printed on the outer top corners verso and recto throughout E. Signatures are provided on each leaf until the last, [K4]. In several respects, this looks a more correct, professional job than L. The right-hand margin is more regular, with extra-long lines hyphenated and remaining syllables and/or words placed immediately below on the right. With its frequent capitalization of main nouns, it also appears to present its text as having status and importance. This dignified impression is somewhat lessened by the ink from the impression on the other side of each leaf showing through the thin paper.

· E1[Handwritten emendations in the NLS copy of E]

The National Library of Scotland’s copy of E contains handwritten marginalia that call for attention in a consideration of the text of PH.81 Unlike the annotations in the Newberry Library’s copy of L, which indicate a reader’s efforts to comprehend a difficult text, those in the NLS copy of E seem more assured, as if they arise from additional knowledge about the poem and its language. The script is skillful and legible; the editorial marks are handled with precision and assurance, conveying the impression that the annotator is well-versed in commenting thus on such texts. The handwriting exhibits Scottish secretary features (for instance, “the form of c made by two short strokes . . . and the tendency for e to fall apart”)82 and may date from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. Unfortunately, cropping of the leaves for rebinding has resulted in the loss of the edges of the original pages, with consequent loss of the text of some annotations. Overall, the annotations are numerous; 53 pages of text in E contain one or more such markings.

The first of these annotations provides a meaningful example. As witnessed in both L and E, the first stanza of the Prologue contains at the end of the fifth and the eighth lines a prominent repeated word, given in E as “amiabill.” The annotator of NLS E has drawn a box around the second appearance of this word, and in the right-hand margin has written “delectabil[l],” each letter distinctly and separately formed. To the same line, the annotator has also provided a caret between the o and l of the ambiguous form “Sol,” with an i provided in the right hand margin. Such interventions sometimes seem, as here, designed to address potential semantic or stylistic difficulties. Similarly at line 167, the annotator provides “compaissit” in place of E’s “compassit”; and here, the interest seems to have been to ensure the consistency in appearance and sound of the stanza’s a-rhyme (in E, “abaisit,” “arraisit,” “betraisit,” “compassit”; compare “violate/violait” in line 220). In various cases, the annotations sometimes revert to spellings and forms in L: in place of E’s “swappis” (line 144), the annotator provides “skappis,” returning to the reading in L and indeed in D; similarly, the annotator reinstates “four” as the number of milk-white horses pulling the chariot of Venus (line 213). Numerous such examples are to be found in the Textual Notes of this edition.

These editorial interventions offer what appear to be carefully considered changes, ones that may either represent the stylistic sensibility of the commentator or access to another source, whether in print or manuscript. They have sufficient interest to constitute a witness in their own right. Although the source of these emendations cannot be identified, they are of such interest that they have been collated and will be referred to here and in the Textual Notes as E1. Speculating further about the identity of the annotator and the purpose of the emendations, one might conjecture that this is someone with marked literary interests and training who is engaging in concerted editorial work with the text, someone who deserves to be considered as the fourth early editor of the poem, whose critical acumen repays close attention.

The source of these readings, and especially of the unique items, has not been possible to determine with any certainty. Perhaps the annotator is working with L or a related witness and in addition is contributing readings based on her or his own stylistic knowledge. If so, the unique readings might be treated as purely editorial. That at any rate is the position taken here: E1’s readings are all recorded as shedding particular light on the early reading of PH, but are treated with some caution as textual evidence.


The differences between E and L can largely be explained in terms of different editorial principles, errors of understanding, or misprints. Some forms and words in L had become obsolete by the 1570s and appear to have been replaced by newer alternatives, as can be seen in a comparative sample from the first six hundred lines of PH:


Typically, where L uses “quhou,” E provides “how”; L’s “till” is often replaced by “to,” “atwene” by “betwene,” “tofore” by “befoir”; in the present participle, the suffix “-ing” occasionally replaces “-and.” For variant readings witnessed in fragmentary D, that print consistently agrees with L against E.

On the other hand, E gives indications of greater precision — and, one might add, editorial interventiveness.83 Errors of typesetting are significantly less frequent than in L.84 Apparent errors of terminology, grammar, or prosody are corrected. A sample follows:

or brounvert
involvit in dispyte
in greif disdenyeit
as of a dedly cryme
Twelf plagis in Egypt
pronounce a fals sentence
ovirbrouderit (E1 emends to “ovirbroudart”)
involupit in syte
and greit disdenyeit
of a deidlie crime
Ten Plaiges in Egypt
pronounce fals sentence

One or two such variants call for closer attention. For example, E preserves the older idiom “involupit in syte” (line 613), for which L provides “involvit in dispyte”; one way of explaining this difference would be to posit that some editorial intervention has taken place in L to make an obscure phrase accessible to southern readers; admittedly, L does not contain many such instances. Another case is E’s apparent preservation of the word “Newand” (line 1705), obsolete by 1550; L provides the less semantically accurate but more familiar and current term “Mewand.” Of special interest is E1’s agreement with L. If “Mewand” were to have been used in D or a comparable Scottish print from the 1530s, then the case might strengthen for E’s having been based here on an independent witness. A simpler explanation may be that, at this point, E1 has not recognized the validity of E’s “Newand.”

Bawcutt considered the relationship between E and L to be “complicated” and posited three ways in which the text might have been altered in transmission: authorial revision, especially in the Second Part; scribal/compositorial error; and “conscious ‘editing’ by Charteris, and perhaps by Copland also.”85 While much but not all of the variation can be explained as error, a reconsideration of the variants in the Second Part seems rather to indicate a pattern of editorial correction of apparent mistakes and updating of obscure old terms, especially in E.86 While some of the lacunae can be explained straightforwardly as the result of mechanical error (for instance, the omission in E of lines 805 and 1043), the deletion in L of the stanza on populartales (lines 1711-19) deserves further attention.  The exclusion of this stanza from the text of L is likely editorial; and here, the challenge to the English printer-editor would have been one of sheer comprehension: Piers Plowman and Robin Hood might have been sufficiently familiar, but “Raf Coilyear,” “auld Cowkewyis sow,” and the wren that “come out of Ailssay” surely would not. By the late eighteenth century, the stanza was still eliciting strongly varied responses. On the one hand, James Scott, the first modern editor of the poem, expressed “pleasure” to “find here, two of Ossians celebrated heros, viz. Gow or Gaul the son of Morni and Fyn Macoul or Fyngal — The last verse alludes to their heroic, or god-like exploits in Ireland.”87 On the other hand, the poem’s second editor, John Pinkerton, “could make nothing of the strange names” and called the stanza “ludicrous.”88 Perhaps Copland responded in a similar vein.

On balance, the evidence is surprisingly slender that Charteris and Ross had access to a superior exemplar apart from D and/or a printed edition closely related to it. As well, specific evidence is lacking for the kinds of purposive reworking that could be associated with authorial revision. What thus emerges is an adequate, economical explanation of textual relations through the occurrence of individual printers’ errors and editorial decisions. These bits of evidence accumulate to support the hypothesis of a fairly unified textual descent, with D representing the previous generation, L an older (and expatriate) sibling offspring, and E a younger sibling attaining a distinctiveness by asserting loyalty to native values and practices.

Seeking in L and E for a preferable repertoire of editorial practices has no better results. Attempting to assign superiority to one or the other of the two prints for greater authenticity of its Scots spellings and word-forms is inconclusive at best. Southern forms occur in each, and especially in the rhetorically high-colored sections such as the Prologue, at least some of these can be identified as probably authorial: appearing in both L and E, “bonkis” (line 54) is an interesting example, with its southern -o- and northern -is; the b-rhymes in the next stanza also show what is probably the poet’s own preference for southern -o- forms (“stone,” “alone” rather than “stane,” “alane”; for similar forms in rhyme position, see lines 422 and — in L but not E — 1920, 1923, and 1924). As a feature of style, Douglas occasionally, and especially in the Prologue, employs a characteristically southern form of negation, typical of Chaucer: for example, “nolde” for “ne wolde” (line 52), “not” for “ne wot” (line 60). By such indications, episodes and passages are set alongside if not within an English tradition of eloquence.

There is a modest handful of divergent readings where each witness offers what appears to be an equally good option (such as “rebell/rebald” in line 954).89 Some of these competing options pertain to the thematic core of the poem, notably in the discrepancy between L’s “a god armypotent” (line 1921) and E’s “ane God Omnipotent” to denote the god Honour enthroned in his presence chamber.90 Less observed has been a similar variation slightly later in the poem, when the Nymph refers to the “vailyeand folk” dwelling “[v]ictoriusly” — or as E has it, “[v]erteouslie” — in Honour’s court (line 1966). One explanation for these differences would be that Charteris and Ross are restoring the spiritual sense at a point when Copland veered away from it; another would be that they have intervened at this crucial juncture to heighten appreciation of Douglas as a forerunner for the forthrightly reformist spirit of Sir David Lyndsay. If Charteris and Ross are responsible for the change, they have discreetly engaged in the sort of reforming revision that has been noted, for example, in prints of Henryson’s Fables.91 Charteris and Ross would not thus be expurgating vestiges of the old religion, but coloring the moral import of PH more vividly, to bring to the fore a figural reading of their Palice as the new Jerusalem, and their Honour as Christ.

It is not necessary to assert the superiority of L over E in order to make the case that its text deserves attention and study in its own right. What is more valuable to demonstrate is that the surviving witnesses of PH provide evidence of a reasonably coherent line of descent and may even adequately represent the text as the author left it. In this descent, L holds a worthy place and offers opportunities for insight into the workings and import of The Palyce of Honour that are not possible elsewhere. It is possible to see in both L and E the indications of standardization: Copland, through his mediation of Scottish distinctiveness; Charteris and Ross, through a linguistic updating that accommodates the poem to the norms of late sixteenth-century Scots.


This edition presents a text based on the forms of L. Editing has involved a new comparison of the witnesses, with a fuller consideration of the states of the text as represented by the various extant copies of L. Accordingly, its textual commentary, though still selective rather than exhaustive, is founded upon a more inclusive concept of significant variation than was the case in its METS predecessor, with some attention paid to accidentals. In the interest of providing an edition of use to readers at various stages of training, the actual presentation of the text throughout this edition involves some modifications to spelling and punctuation that have been made as consistently as possible:

a. The letter i represents a vowel, with j substituted where i stands for the consonant in L.

b. The letter u represents a vowel, and v a consonant. This normalization is not extended to w, which is maintained in the distribution found in L.

c. The yogh (3) is replaced by y.

d. With attention given in the notes to the punctuation of L, and especially the recurrence of punctus flexus as an indication of a brief medial or final pause, the punctuation of the text is largely editorial.

e. Capitalization is editorially adjusted, so that proper nouns are capitalized (e.g., “Musis” for “musis”); as a result the serendipitous charm of such instances as “Maryguld,” “Eliphant,” “Dragonys,” and “Dalyans” (lines 37, 330, 349, 600) has been rejected with some regret.

f. Where a final -e has phonemic value as /i/, it is provided with an acute accent, é. In the form of the second person pronoun “the,” the spelling is modified to “thee” in the interest of readability.


The following list of modern editions is presented in chronological order.

· [James Scott, ed.] Select Works of Gawin Douglass, Bishop of Dunkeld. Vol. 2 of The Scotish Poets. 3 vols. Perth: Robert Morison Jr., 1787.

The copy-text is E, moderately accurately represented, with quh generally represented by wh and 3 (yogh) by z; E’s distribution of u and v is generally maintained. The introduction dwells much upon the poet’s historical stature, and touches on the possibility that Douglas might have written “some of the pastoral and heroic ballads, or celebrated songs of his time” (p. xxx). Some effort is made to find an autobiographical reflection on the poet’s own entry into holy orders in the concluding episode of PH: “The habitation of the honourable Ladies was surrounded by a deep ditch. When he attempted to pass over by the narrow Bridge by which, no doubt, he meant the ceremony of marriage, he fell into the water, and awakened from his dream” (p. xxxi). For the editor, “[t]he allegory is of that mixed kind which introduces ideal persons with such as are real, and the Greek and Roman mythology with sacred History” (pp. xxxi–xxxii). The poet earns praise for his “great powers of invention” in a poem that “abounds not only with moral lessons, but with lively and picturesque descriptions: and the language, tho’ it may now appear barbarous to many, because of its obsolete words and seeming deficiencies in construction, is artfully compiled and wonderfully expressive” (p. xxxii). James Scott has been identified as the editor, though he is not named in the volume.92 He displays a fondness for the Gothic as it can be detected in PH, the nightmare description of what he calls the “horrid desart” earning his accolade of being “very poetical” (p. 141).

· John Pinkerton, ed. The Palice of Honour, Compylit be Mr. Gawine Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld. In Scotish Poems: Reprinted from Scarce Editions. 3 vols. London: John Nichols, 1792. Vol. 1, pp. xiv–xv, 51–142.

The copy-text is E, with some variants recorded from L. Pinkerton’s introductory note is brief, with mention of a presumed source, “the Sejour d’Honneur by St. Gelais,” and the critical comment that “[t]his poem of Douglas, amid many defects, has great merit for the age in which it was written” (p. xiv).93 Pinkerton provides somewhat antique-looking Arguments for each part, for example at the outset: “The poet gangs into a gardyne — Falls in a swoun — Is transportit to a desert,” etc.

· John Kinnear, ed. The Palice of Honour by Gawyn Douglas. Bannatyne Club. Edinburgh: James Ballantyne, 1827.

This is an accurate facsimile of E, with a list of variants from L. The Bannatyne Club was a leading antiquarian society that had been led by Sir Walter Scott and that continued to thrive on the energies and acumen of the bibliophile and editor David Laing. This facsimile upholds the Club’s interests in specifically Scottish literary and historical remains. Following on the two previous editions, the choice of E confirms the priority of that witness. That priority would be maintained in most discussions of the poem through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

· John Small, ed. The Poetical Works of Gavin Douglas. 4 vols. Edinburgh: Paterson, 1874.

Along with a groundbreaking biography of the poet, the first volume of this edition contains a text of PH that is founded on E, with a list of variants from L and facsimile pages from D. Small brought a new scholarly rigor to study of the poem: his influential account of the author’s biography and the sources of his poem, and especially his recognition of the influence of Chaucer’s House of Fame, determined the shape and emphases of research into and criticism of the poem for over a century.

· Priscilla Bawcutt, ed. The Shorter Poems of Gavin Douglas. Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 4th series, no. 3, 1967. 2nd edition STS 5th series, no. 2, 2003.

The bulk of this new edition is a paginary reprint of the excellent first edition with its authoritative discussion of text, language, and literary affiliations. Also including texts of King Hart (no longer attributed to Douglas) and the short poem “Conscience,” this includes a parallel edition of L and E, with E being given some priority by virtue of its fuller editorial treatment and principal attention in the notes and glossary. In each part of the volume, effort is taken to distinguish between the various texts presented; the combination is such that the distinctive features of L, though often cited, sometimes recede from focus. The second edition includes some valuable new notes on, for instance, aspects of the sources, reception and influence of the poem. Some of this new material presents additional evidence for the strength of variant readings in L. Given this evidence, this second edition opens the door for fuller attention to Copland’s text in the further study of the poem.94

· David J. Parkinson, ed. Gavin Douglas: The Palis of Honoure. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992.

Sally Mapstone commented that this was “in fact the first full modern edition to prefer the London edition to the Edinburgh one.”95


The following comments provide a basis for the contention that, as represented by L, the language of PH balances authoritatively between readability and distinctiveness. Thus represented, this is a recognizably northern, Scottish poem with international connections. In its spellings and vocabulary, it intermittently signals an affiliation with southern English. It is both conservative in its forms and innovative in its coinages. At various levels, from sound and spelling to style and versification, these principles work cohesively in PH.


To a great extent the vowels in the L text of PH can be determined from its rhymes. As discussed below, the dominant stanza form consists of nine lines with only two rhymes, with a secondary form in three rhymes and two inset passages of ten-line stanzas. Despite the formal demands across the 240 stanzas of the poem, the rhymes tend to be full and consistent. Understandably, rhymes are commonest where lexical resources are richest, so that the vowel /i/ (as in “see”), for instance, recurs frequently, while the diphthong /Bi/ (as in “joy”) rhymes rarely. Given the poem’s ample length, study of its rhyming vowels produces sufficient evidence to show consistency with currently accepted accounts of phonology as represented in late-medieval Scottish texts. The effects of the major sound-change known as the Great Vowel Shift are evident here in ways consistent with Jeremy Smith’s description of the consequences: “Whereas in the South all Middle English long vowels were affected, in the North . . . only front vowels underwent raising or diphthongisation.”96 One aim of the following discussion is to muster the evidence to consider whether L might represent this process accurately and coherently. For this reason, considerable attention is paid to the phonological evidence provided by rhymes, and to specific features of grammar. International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols and descriptions are meant to offer some standard orientation for the sounds involved. Following is a survey of the vowels and diphthongs detectable in the rhymes of PH as witnessed by L:


see (close unrounded front vowel), e.g., seis, tapestreis, greis, gleis, treis; heid, reid (OE read), deid
(OE dead); yeir, cleir (ME cler), speir (OFr espere), heir; complete, hete (OE hæto), swete (OE swéte),
sprete (AN spirit), replete; nystee, thee; remede, dede, rede, plede (AN plaid); virginité, fre (OE freoh), feminyté; slep (OE slapan), pepe, depe (OE díop, déop);97

say (mid-close unrounded front vowel), e.g., curage, age, rage, vissage; May, affray, day (OE dæg), away (OE aweg); naturale, availe, ale, assaile; space, face, cace, place, grace; twane, frane (OE fregnan), slane;

pin (mid-close unrounded centralized vowel), e.g., mycht, sycht, wycht, lycht (OE leoht; ME ligt, liht), richt; blys (OE blisse), this, yys, i-wys; lippis, eclippis; king, livyng; salusyng, bening, sudjournyng;
_ pen (mid-open unrounded front vowel), e.g., fret, set, wet, yet; cruell, sell, tell, Hell; effek, blek, nek;

father (open unrounded front vowel), e.g., wary, vary, sary, tary, fary; infernall, naturall, fall, boryall; agast, wast, upcast, blast, fast; part, art, eftirwart, depart; vigillant, skant; immutabill, stabyll, abil, innumerabill;
pool (close rounded back vowel), e.g., respirature, nature, cure, creature; blume, tume, dume, grume; proportioun, doun, broun, fassioun; bowr, lowr, dour, clour; blud, flud, rude; quuke, tuke, luke;
pull (near-close rounded near-back vowel), e.g., fundyr, undyr, thundyr; joyous, tedius, thus; Peneus, Tmolus, Emus, Heliseus;
boat (mid-close rounded back vowel), e.g., stone, fanton, allone, schone; one, alone, mone, apone; Plato, Cicero, go; chariote, velvote, wote, hote, note; ost, bost;
bun (mid-open unrounded back vowel), presumed in unstressed syllables in polysyllabic words: e.g., i in aggreabill, e in battell, y in fowlys, u in monsture or quhilum;
cot (mid-open rounded back vowel), e.g., spokkyn, brokkyn, lokkyn, tokkyn, wrokkyn; nocht, wrocht, mocht, thocht; astond, grond, confond, wond; sok, knok;
court (open rounded back vowel), e.g., report, overwhort, schort, sort, port; accord, discord, record, lord, remord; implore, forlore, more; raw, schaw, saw, knaw, aw; blaucht, kaucht;
purr (mid-close rounded mid-front vowel), e.g., Saturn, turn, sudjourn, murn, spurn;
why, e.g., pryce, ryce; pungitive, vivificative, restorative, hyve; extasy, by, cry, I, espy; quhyt, parfyte, polyte, delyte; fyne, divine, nyne;
out, e.g., routyt, schoutyt, doutyt, sproutyt, moutyt; about, out; brow, sow, fow;

new, e.g., hewyt, renewyt, eschewyt, thewyt, unpersewyt; new, hew, trew, schew, Grew, schrew; slewch, eneuch; persew, drew;
coy, e.g., tranoynt, anoynt, disjoynt, poynt; convoy, joy.


Some variation is to be expected in any text by a late fifteenth-century writer in any variety of English; in one written in Edinburgh that is printed half a century later in London, variant spellings and forms will arise from the interplay of at least two distinct dialects; and the distribution of these spellings and forms may intermittently be influenced by stylistic considerations. Given predictable variation, therefore, it is striking how often L represents an apparent preference for northern spellings over southern ones, a preference that could be due to its exemplar being a text printed in Scotland such as D. It is also striking how rhymes show the choice of a southern English option at key moments to have been authorial, as for instance in the b-rhymes of the seventh stanza, stone, fanton, alone, schone: in each of these instances except the second, a northern speaker could be expected to have opted for a spelling with -a, stane, alane, schane; southern options broaden the stylistic and prosodic palette of PH. In its “extensive admixture” of southern and northern forms, the language of PH has been described as a development from that of The Kingis Quair.98 Remaining alert to spelling variation may thus enable the reader to perceive patterns: thus a varies in some frequent instances with e (war/wer, wes/wa); i, y with e (nyxt/next; more idiosyncratically, vigitant, rillik where one would expect vegetant, relic); more superficially, y varies with i, ie (-is/-ys; -yng/-ing; lyk, py; rays/rais; dais/dayis). Following is a brief, informal selection of recurrent patterns, largely consistent with spelling practices in fifteenth-century Scottish texts, with occasional variations:

a, ai for o: maist, na, behald, laith, blaw, knaw, mare, bald, ane, rais, hald, raid, schaw, baith (consistent with regular practice in northern Middle English texts; but see the intermittent reversals of this trend, toward southern norms: no, bonkis, mony, bore, tone, one, some of which may be authorial, especially in rhyme positions);

-is, -ys for -s, -es, -se: dois, goddis, ellis/else, lois/loss (compare signifyes, line 1762, where -es is a more explicit form of the suffix following y) — and it is worth noting that the vowel in the final -is usually lacks syllabic value;

-it, yt for -ed: ratlit/rattled; deliverit, answerit, walkyt (compare fulfyllet for fulfilled, line 251);

quh for wh, h: quhilk, quhair, quhow (but note the contrasts, such as the unusual word overwhort, line 284; and what, line 941 — the unique appearances of this spelling in L);

i, y following another vowel as an indicator of length: beistis/bestis, thoill/tholyt, luif/luf, fluid/flude; clos/clois, maid/made;

s alternating with sh (sall/shall);

-ny- appearing where -gn- would be expected in modern English (fenyeit for feigned).99

Some spelling variations appear to have little or vestigial phonological significance: w, u, and v are interchangeable, so that w often serves in place of u (owt for out). Sometimes w and v are exchanged (wariance for variance; varyit for waryit, and, as in the title pages to L and E, Gawine for Gavin).

In all these cases, the dominant option in L turns out to be the usual spelling and form in northern and especially Scots usage.

A survey of the forty most frequent words in PH reveals broad similarities in spelling with modern English forms. Amongst these words occur the following: the, and, of, I, in, with, that, a, my, all, to, for, on, be, me, as, his, not, is, saw, this, now, he, so, at, we. This survey also begins to reveal some patterns of difference from modern English: wes in place of was; thair, thare for their but also there (e.g., lines 527, 529, 544, 570, 576; compare lines 248, 368, 542, 562). Some potential traps can be found in the list of common spellings: thus the spelling be sometimes but not consistently represents a preposition equivalent to modern English by (e.g., lines 3, 42, 95, 280 etc.; compare the spelling by in lines 168, 170, 198, 266 etc.); til, till often appears where to would in modern English (e.g., lines 5, 51, 55, 329, 337, 361, 383, 396 etc.), but it is not consistent, so that to is one of the most frequent words in PH (e.g., lines 6, 39, 79, 142, 209, 248, 283, 309; but compare the even greater frequency of to in E).

Among the frequent words, those with the initial quh- spelling give prominence to PH as a Scots text. The most commonly occurring item among these is quhilk, the relative pronoun (for the modern English relative and interrogative pronoun which, but also who; e.g., lines 21, 31, 33, 139, 157, 321, 380), sometimes in the construction the quhilk (e.g., lines 280, 361, 365). This common occurrence is related to the form ilk (compare modern English each, very, same; e.g., lines 215, 221, 296, 1647). The plural form takes the -is suffix (e.g., lines 430, “sternys . . . quhilkis schone”; 436–37, “bellys . . . in sound quhilkis excellis”; 1381, “folk, quhilkis quhyle thay ar here”). Also quite common is quhat (for the modern English relative and interrogative what; e.g., lines 173, 235, 238, 382, 385, 387). The adverbs quhen and quhil (l) are similarly prominent (e.g., lines 1, 14, 28, 110, 116); see also quhare, quhair (where; lines 143, 153, 200, 208) and quhairin (lines 151, 204), as well as quhy (why; e.g., lines 167, 782, 956). Also highly recurrent are the pronouns quho, quha (e.g., line 86, 183–84; see also the possessive form quhois, e.g., lines 24, 70, 106) and the pronoun/adjective quhat (what, e.g., lines 173, 235, 238). In L but not E, this spelling convention is extended to the adverb how (quhow, quhou, e.g., lines 92, 118, 197). The inflected personal pronoun quham, quhom has a rather wider range of uses than the rather more exclusive reference to persons performed by its modern English equivalent whom (e.g., lines 101, 146, 211).

One encounters various ways in which common words apparently familiar from modern English are “false friends” that turn out to have quite distinct meanings and/or functions.100 For instance, be is a recognized form of the preposition by, as mentioned above; gyf can represent the verb give but often appears as a form of if (e.g., lines 471, 529). The spelling not is frequent; occasionally nocht appears in its place (e.g., lines 49, 307, 368, 459; compare E, where nocht is more frequent) — and as generally in Middle English, the spelling not can also be a contracted form of ne wot, “did not know” (e.g., line 60, 118), or “do not know” (e.g., line 382). Used as a preposition (except) or conjunction, but is often spelled bot (e.g., lines 149, 162, 304, 336, 368); spelled as in modern English, the word tends to be used more often as a preposition (without; e.g. “but caus,” line 163; “but dout,” line 241; lines 254, 380, 381, etc.; compare, e.g., lines 387, 738, 1166).

PH also displays variation in the use of compound forms: in til, in to/into; to fore/before; every thing, na thing/nothyng, over fret/Ovyrfret, ilk ane, erd quake, thairfra, thairfore; throw out, Quhare so, quhair of/Quhairof, with all. L also contains some unique, apparently idiosyncratic spellings — eccon, vigitant, rillik, problewm, optene, rowme, feminité — that may nevertheless reflect prior and even authorial choices.


The following points indicate some prominent ways in which the morphology of PH as represented by L differs from that of standard modern English. An account of the historical descent of the forms and structures mentioned has not been attempted here.101

Nouns: The usual plural ending is -s, with variants -is/ys/es; depending on metrical constraints, this suffix may or may not have syllabic value (compare droppis, line 27, with leves, line 20). Other plural forms: zero change (hors, fysche; compare horsys, fyschis), mutation of medial vowel (feit from fut; teith from tuth), and -ir suffix (chyldir); occasionally, the southern plural form -n appears (eyn, line 480). As with the plural, the usual possessive ending is -s, with variants -is/ys/es (e.g., mannys voce, line 441; lustis art, line 532).

Pronouns: The 1st person singular nominative is I, oblique me, possessive my, myn(e); the plural forms are we, us, and our/owr. The 2nd person singular nominative is thou, thow, oblique tha or much more commonly the(e), possessive thy; thine/thyn(e). The plural forms are you/yow; and your, youris. The 3rd person singular masculine nominative is he; oblique form him, hym; possessive his, hys. The 3rd person singular feminine nominative is scho, sche; oblique form her, hir; possessive her, hir; [hers, hirs]. The 3rd person plural nominative is spelled thay, they; oblique form thaim, thaym, them; possessive thair, thayr, thare, their. The demonstratives are this; thair/their/thir (modern English these); that; tha (line 148), thay (modern English those, as in line 2109).

Articles: The definite article is the. The indefinite article is a, ane. Of interest is the recurrent demonstrative form thir (these).

Adjectives: Strong/weak and singular/plural inflection are not evident. The comparative ending is normally -er (lines 523, 676, 958, etc.), but also -ar (line 532). The superlative normally ends -est (e.g., lines 360, 451, 1904, 2017, 2117).

Adverbs: As in standard modern English, the adverbial ending is spelled and rhymed -ly (as in lines 1765, 1772, 1835, 1841), but occasionally -lyk (e.g., tratourlyk, line 284), with the suffix rarely provided as a separate word (for instance, poete lyk, line 820; also line 1571).

Verbs: Rather than attempting a full description of this large category, the following observations focus on points where forms differ significantly from those in standard modern English. The infinitive usually appears without a suffix (as in lines 188, 200); but sometimes with -ing, -yng (lines 666, 729, 1067, 1399, 1814).102 In the present indicative, the 1st person singular commonly lacks a suffix, as does the 1st person plural. The 2nd person singular commonly has -is, -ys (e.g., thow denyis, knawis thou not, quhy standis thou; compare thow hes) but occasionally -yst (thow seyst); cumulative internal rhyme can affect this form (as in line 2139). The 3rd person singular commonly has -is, -s, -ys (for instance, lines 331, 561, 965, 1633, 1973, 1989), with syllabic significance as the metre requires (for instance, lines 31, 33) and sometimes with the southern ending -ith/yth (lines 621, 860, 1030, 1061, 1115, etc.), -oth (doth, line 1265). The 2nd person plural commonly lacks a suffix (as in lines 725, 1389, 1391), but see also -is (line 1388). The 3rd person plural sometimes lacks a suffix (as in lines 264, 632, 1716, 1965), but see also -is, -ys (for instance, lines 1382, 1816), -en (line 1778), and often -yng (as in lines 210, 227, 600, 643, 824, 1076, 1253).

The past indicative calls for particular attention. Strong verbs (where vowel mutation signals the past tense) include, e.g., crap (from creip), fand (from fynd), flaw/flew (“fly”), gat (from get), gaif/gave (from gyf), hard (from here, “hear”), raid (from ryd), ran (from ryn), schane (from schyne), schew (from schaw), schuke (from “shake”), straid (“stride”), sang (from syng), tuke (from tak). Weak verbs (those that in modern English add the ending -ed or -t to signal the past tense) have the endings -it, -t, -yt. If the meter demands, the weak past tense ending can be syllabic (e.g., alychtit, commandit, convoyt, dynnyt, onheldit), or not (playt, passit, knelyt [line 675]; lerit [line 1104], opprest, remanyt); the -ed ending occurs rarely, as in blasphemed (line 670). Some irregular verbs show the past tense by a suffix and a vowel change: for instance, brocht (from bryng), kaucht (“catch”), betaucht (compare teche); comparable formations of the past tense occur in the modal verbs can (culd), may (mocht), sall (suld), and will (wald).

In the present participle, the distinctive ending is -and (for instance, blomand, makand, syngand, confessand, addressand, traistand, fordynnand, etc.); but alongside it the southern -ing form also recurs (e.g., rynnyng, rowmyng, quakyng, quhislyng, approchyng, stampyng, bathyng, corruppyng, etc.): of interest is the combination in line 1709, “With questyng hundis, syrchand to and fra,” where the purely adjectival item preceding the noun takes -yng, in contrast to the -and item following. For the past participle: with alteration of the medial vowel, strong verbs take the ending -in, -en, occasionally also the initial y- (for instance, yschappit, line 41, ydronken, line 357; compare songin, wryttyn, blawin, wordyn, biddin). In weak verbs, the past participle takes the same ending as the past tense, -it, -yt (e.g., devoryt, offeryt, dullit, trappit, festnyt, bylappit, caryit, etc.). Verbal nouns take the -ing ending, which can be followed by a plural suffix (for instance, werking, hering, stychlyng, knawlegyng, harnasyngis, tarying, havinges).

The copular verb to be follows a fairly consistent pattern: present singular am, art, is; plural ar, are (but sometimes bene); past was/wes, war/wer. Some intermittent forms (e.g., bene for the usual plural are, lines 527, 716–26, 1735; once, werren for the plural past tense, line 528) reflect southern English usage. Of interest is the 3rd person singular form beis (lines 708, 2028), which appears to function predictively; in both instances, the form appears with negation, beis no (ch)t.

The special handling of phrases and sentences is core to literary style. Before delving into that large topic as it pertains to PH, some mention should be made of underlying aspects of syntax. The usual order of syntactic elements follows the general pattern in English of Subject–Verb–Object/Complement: “beis wrocht material”; “His luke was grym.” For stylistic variation, a frequent inversion places the Object at the start: “Every invasybill wapyn on him he bare.” In questions, the Verb typically precedes or phrasally envelops the Subject: “hes my self bene gylty?”; “Quhow plesys thee our pastance and effere?” In negation, not/nocht occasionally serves as the sole marker (e.g., “we not presume”; “not tell can I”). As do other aspects of language, these elements suggest both a determination to assert a distinctive identity and an effort to communicate to a wide diversity of readers, in Scotland but also south of the border. The signs of that effort and determination are deeply enough seated in the text to be regarded as authorial.


Douglas evidently took pains to make even the finer details of his poem striking, new, and yet rooted in classical tradition. At this level, newness of language may catch the reader’s attention. A prominent feature of PH, especially in the Prologue, is the inclusion of unusual, rare, or unprecedented words. With reference to the etymological information in the relevant entries in The Dictionary of the Older Scots Tongue (DOST), a few of these apparently new words can be informative:

reparcust (Latin repercuss , past participial form of repercutere)

umbrate (Latin, umbrat , past participial form of umbrare)

vivificative (Old French vivificatif; Latin vivificat , past participial form of vivificare)

respirature (Latin respirat , past participial form of respirare)

assucurit (Latin assecurare)

virgultis (Latin virgulta, plural of virgultum)

effere (noun from Middle English verb aferen)

muskane (uncertain: Gaelic mosgain or Norwegian mausken, Shetland moskin)

bubbys (perhaps imitative)

apyrsmart (Old French aspre + smart)

This sample of words for which PH provides the earliest evidence reveals some of the qualities of the poem: its classicism, but also its recourse to regional vernaculars and vividly imitative formations. Sometimes Douglas extends the meaning of a word already in use in restricted contexts: for example, his description of May as the “maternall moneth” (line 65), his reference to the “brownys” of the olive branches (line 81) or to the branches of the trees in the nightmare, all “moutyt” (moulted) of their leaves (line 152). Occasionally his innovation seems fanciful, as in “sulfuryus” (line 354; almost a portmanteau word in the manner of Lewis Carroll). It begins to appear that this poet has identified such newness as a hallmark of literary excellence.

In PH, Douglas works purposefully with various levels and areas of diction. It is conventional to see fairly straightforward alternation between ugsome (horrifying, loathsome) and amene (agreeable, pleasant) language according to mood and topic: C. S. Lewis wrote influentially about the “weird energy of the description” of the nightmare forest, “rattling with broad Scots words of the boisteous style” in “careful contrast” to the polished terms of the earlier locus amoenus.103 Bawcutt has suggested instead that “familiarity with Latin as a second tongue may have led” Douglas to transfer “learned, polysyllabic words, often of Latin origin” in a thoroughgoing way into his text, “almost unconsciously.”104 It is worth noting that considerations of the especially ornate style of the Prologue have preponderated in discussions of the language of PH. Considering the markers of subordination Douglas employs in the opening stanzas (e.g., Quhen, So, Quhil, Quhilk, Quhois), John Norton-Smith commented acerbically on “lengthening the poetic period to achieve the effect of Latinate continuousness” as having become “almost a vice of style.”105 The demands of fluency and compendiousness can produce a flattening of emphasis, in which topics and terms are presented as if in “a kind of catalogue.”106 R. J. Lyall focused more appreciatively on the fifth stanza of the Prologue (with its a-rhymes on onlappit, happit, wappit, yschappit, and gnappit and its b-rhymes pungitive, vivificative, restorative, and hyve), particularly on the fact that “Douglas here weaves his latinate rhyme-sequence in with one which is unmistakably Scots.”107 The integration of latinate and native elements can be seamless.

Douglas employs the abundant jargon associated with a host of specializations: acoustics, music, clothing and fashion, the law, geography, preaching, gardening, architecture and the decorative arts, jewels, astronomy and cosmology, landscaping. One might add the local display of rhetorical colouris (devices, figures), with which Douglas again produces striking effects of amplitude: repetitio (e.g., lines 128–34, 174–81, 403–10; that figure with “much charm and also impressiveness and vigor,”108 apostrophe (e.g., lines 1282–87, 1288–96, 1588–94), ratiocinatio (e.g., lines 183–90). All these various, richly elaborated passages assert the range and depth of the poet’s specialized knowledge and eloquence, but more importantly, like turns in a maze, they present a series of obstacles and opportunities to the reader, who is thereby challenged to determine a cognitively satisfying line of signification and progression. The risk is that, like the dreamer himself caught gazing at the ornamentation on the threshold to Honour’s palace, the reader may lose momentum and fall prey to “dotyng” (line 1868). As becomes blatantly obvious, for example, in the poet’s characterization of his profuse recounting of musical terms, seeing the signs and knowing the words does not necessarily betoken knowing the art. Here Douglas resituates and sharpens the impression of pedantry that attends the Eagle’s discourses in Chaucer’s House of Fame: he conveys an awareness that prolonged terminological indulgence only deepens the impression of folly.

Douglas turns to a different set of colouris to spur the reader to greater alertness. Not all colouris work expansively: Douglas finely musters effects of forceful brevity, and especially in narration and direct discourse: asyndeton (e.g., lines 944, 1695–99, 1710), sententiae (e.g., lines 272–73, 762, 985–87, 1410, 1879, 1989), the Nymph’s tidy paronomasia: “Thow art prolixt” (line 1462), articulus (e.g., line 1372); and as a recurrent ironic gesture of closure, occultatio (e.g., lines 410, 517–20, 1165, 1408–10, 1427). By such figures as these, just as the Nymph urges the protagonist to recognize and understand what he is experiencing, the poet calls for the reader’s attention and reflection.

John Small wrote influentially that the stylistic faults of PH “are those of superabundance, rather than deficiency.”109 Charles Blyth argued that in PH Douglas resorts to “a rhetorical mode which consists of excessive piling up of descriptive phrases, aureate diction, and ornate imagery”; while noting that this is “only one of the modes of the poem,” he concludes that it provides a stylistic model that is too static for use with extended narrative.110 So prominent are the local displays of specialized terms that, distracted by them, readers may fall into the trap of considering the poem as a loosely coordinated sequence of areas of rich allusion and topical jargon. It would be unfortunate to leave the matter thus, as the poem has more to offer. The usual mode of narration is decisive; an increasingly deft, understated handling of terms reflects the changing balance between emphasis and fluency. To see this technique in operation, it is necessary to proceed beyond the stark contrasts and set-pieces of the First Part and into the more concerted progression of the Second. The plot advances in passages such as these:

All haill my dreid I tho foryet in hy
And all my wo, bot yit I wyst not quhy,
Save that I had sum hope till be relevyt.
I rasyt than my vissage hastely
And with a blenk anone I did espy
A lusty sycht quhilk nocht my hart engrevit.
        (lines 781–86)
wholly; then; at once
I did not know why
did not grieve my heart

In a poem given to powerful, transformative sights and sounds, this foreshadowing is structurally significant, and yet the language employed in this passage is efficient rather than gaudy; the distance between the dreamer’s lack of self-awareness and the poet’s more knowing recollection is given point by the litotes of the last line quoted.111 It can be a surprisingly concise style, with values of directness and fluency akin to those Quintilian found in Sallust and Livy, two writers Douglas evidently admired (see note to line 252).

As if in a Livian vein, Douglas enlivens his narrative with direct discourse. Here his management of tonal effects can be spiritedly evocative:

Styl at the hillys fute we twa abaid,
Than suddandly my keper to me said,
“Ascend, galand!” Tho for fere I quuke.
“Be not effrayit,” scho said. “Be not mismaid,”
And with that word up the strait rod abraid.
I followit fast; scho be the hand me tuke
Yit durst I nevir for dreid behynde me luke.
        (lines 1306–12)
Still; base; two lingered

fine gentleman! Then; fear; trembled
rushed up the narrow path

The abruptly jocular reference to the quailing dreamer as “galand” complicates the tone even as it accelerates the pace (and note the prominence of active verbs in the following lines); the resulting hesitation produces a more solicitous tone, and a repetition of a key term in the poem, “mismaid.”112 Previously, the dreadful court proceedings “mysmaid” the dreamer (line 683); as if in unconscious irony, Calliope asks Venus who had “mismaid” her (line 941). Later, gradually regaining consciousness after having been smitten by a sight of the god Honour, the dreamer is mocked for being “so mysmaid” (line 1938). Through the whole stanza, an unobtrusive but evocative selection of terms contributes to the meaningful counterpoise of movement and hesitation.


The stanzas of PH have attracted some attention, mostly for their presumed Chaucerian antecedents: notably in the complaints proper in Chaucer’s Anelida and Arcite (lines 211–55, 273–316, 333–57) and The Complaint of Mars (lines 155–298). In Scottish verse before PH, the nine-line stanza had appeared in The Quare of Jelusy and The Lufaris Complaynt (included in the Kingis Quair manuscript, Bodleian Arch. Selden. B. 24; Quare, lines 191–316; Complaynt, lines 72–107, 124–77) but also in a lyric complaint in Hary’s Wallace (2:171–332). Gregory Kratzmann has written appreciatively about “the sonorous finality of Douglas’s ingeniously contrived stanzas, with their . . . self-consciously ornate and ‘poleit’ eloquence.”113 Denton Fox described Douglas, drawing upon Chaucer’s fifteenth-century reputation, “as a metrical innovator and as a technical virtuoso.”114 What has been insufficiently noticed is that Douglas puts this stanza to various different uses: rapid narrative, vigorous debate, and vivid, concrete description as well as the rhetorical mode of complaint to which it is largely confined in his predecessors’ work. The flexibility and responsiveness of the nine-line stanza in PH calls for further discussion, especially given the variation of rhyme schemes as the poem progresses. What becomes apparent is that, at least in his pushing increasingly heavy metrical constraints to extremes, Douglas is something of a metrical innovator, seeking to outdo his prosodic models.

This technical variation deserves closer attention in its own right but also for what it may imply about the composition of PH. For the Prologue, First Part, and Second Part of the poem, the dominant form is a stanza of nine pentameter lines with two rhymes (aabaabbab). An inset complaint of three ten line stanzas of three rhymes with a refrain (aabaabbcbC, with the last line as a refrain; lines 163–92) interrupts this pattern. Later, another complaint is interposed, again in three ten-line stanzas, each in two rhymes (aabaabbabb; lines 607–36). Marking an end to this sequence of lyric insets, a third ten line lyric of expiatory praise appears, this one in two rhyme-schemes, its first two stanzas being in two rhymes (aabaabbaba; lines 1015–34), and the last stanza in three rhymes (aabaabbcbC; lines 1035–44). These variant stanzas make sense as markers of special rhetorical functions interrupting the narrative. Other variations are harder to explain. In the description of the Muses is a single stanza in three rhymes (aabaabbcc; lines 862–70); here an attempt is made in E to assert consistency, with the first c rhyme (L’s “and sistir schene”) being converted to the a rhyme (“sister with Croun”). Three other instances of this scheme occur in the Second Part (lines 916–24, 943–51, and 1189–97), in only the second of these instances is an attempt made in E to assert the two rhyme norm, where “velanie” replaces L’s “wallaway” in the eighth line (line 950). A significant change takes place at the start of the Third Part, where the previously intermittent scheme in three rhymes (aabaabbcc) becomes the norm. Finally, closure demands special measures: two stanzas in the two rhyme form serve to conclude the work. The first of these also displays cumulative internal rhyme: two rhyming words per line in the first stanza, three in the second, and — clangorously — four in the third. Given the pains Douglas has taken to establish and maintain highly demanding verse forms, the variations deserve further attention. They may be artifacts of revision, markers of rhetorical emphasis, or simply evidence of the technical leeway the poet has permitted himself.

Turning from the stanza to the decasyllabic line, what is most impressive is the metrical regularity Douglas maintains. He allows a degree of license in his handling of the third and even the fourth feet of the pentameter, where inversion of stress is an infrequent option, as the following examples show:

Amyddys quham, borne in ane goldyn chare (line 211)
Thair saw I, weil in poetry ygroundyt (line 895)
No woman is, rather a serpent fell (line 984)
In ane instant scho and hir court wes hence (line 1052)
Now out of France tursyt in Tuskane (line 1086)
Ovir Carmelus, quhare twa prophetis devyne (line 1105)
Maid sobir noys, the schaw dynnyt agane (line 1151)
My Nymphe in grif schot me in at the yet (line 1865)

Elision of unstressed syllables ending or beginning with a vowel is also optional: “Furth past my Nymphe; I followyt subsequent" (line 1441); “That men in story may se, or cornakyll reid” (line 1694). As well, the final foot sometimes ends with an additional unstressed syllable: “Amyd my brest the joyus heit redoundyt” (line 891). Hyper- and hypometrical lines are rare, and may be due in part to scribal handling of suffixes. For instance, line 25, “Of reparcust ayr the eccon cryis,” appears to contain a maximum of nine syllables; but the problem may have arisen in the transcription of the second word, the suffix of which could be fully articulated as reparcussit. Hypermetrical lines are slightly more common in E than L, for instance, line 1040, “Till Venus, and under hir guerdoun all houris”; for guerdoun, L provides the metrically regular gard. A notable instance in E is the replacement of Quincyus with the correct but metrically excessive name Marcus Curtius (line 1676; see Textual Note to line 1676). While allowing that Douglas does not metrically “break down so often or so badly” as his English contemporary Stephen Hawes, George Saintsbury disliked “the name-catalogues, which [Douglas] rather affects,” and cited the following line as an illustration: “Galien, Averroes, and Plato” (line 258) — and indeed, many lines in the poem display greater or lesser ingenuity in stitching together names.115 More serious, perhaps, is Saintsbury’s disapproval (in the same note) of the following lines: “I understude be signes persavabill / That was Cupyd, the god maist dessavabill” (lines 481–82). The first of these lines can be resolved if one reads the suffix of signis as so reduced that it is not registered as a separate syllable; such reduction is a regular option throughout the poem. The second line is more problematic. The only way to reduce its eleven syllables to metrical regularity is to speculate on the intrusion of maist at some point in the transmission of the text. An even more serious challenge arises shortly after this passage, in the line “Accumpanyit lusty yonkers with all” (line 490); here the second foot manifests an inversion of stress, a rare departure from the metrical norm. Attention to metrical variation evidently increases the scope for textual analysis but, more importantly, it can assist the reader to appreciate the stakes and hazards of Douglas’ poetic practice, and to recognize the extreme measures he is prepared to take to meet the demands of his rhyme scheme.

Overall, PH is an extraordinary achievement: an extended, rhetorically variegated narrative poem in an ornate, demanding stanza. As such it is a very Scottish poem, one that repays comparison with the earlier compositions in the alliterative thirteen-line stanza such as The Knightly Tale of Golagros and Gawane and Richard Holland’s The Buke of the Howlat, as well as Alexander Montgomerie’s later dream-vision in fourteen-line stanzas, The Cherrie and the Slae. Like those other assertions of cultural distinctiveness, PH deserves recognition as a place in which the whole resources and potential of language and verse are expanded in Scottish literature. What L reveals is how these achievements might have continued to be appreciated and learned from within and beyond Scotland’s borders, through the sixteenth century.



Turning from the text and language of PH to a more sustained consideration of its literary qualities with their affiliations and reception, one may be impressed afresh by the scope and coherence of the poem as it stands. It is a dream vision, a form coming to Scotland apparently quite late, in the fifteenth century, but remaining current and vital up to the seventeenth. The earliest examples of the genre that are associated with Scotland are The Kingis Quair of James I (c.1424) and Richard Holland’s The Buke of the Howlat (c.1450); among its later Scottish instances are Ane Schersing of Trew Felicitie by John Stewart of Baldynneis (completed in the 1580s or possibly a little earlier) and Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame (printed 1603). For Douglas as for James I decades earlier, Chaucer provided an enabling precedent, not least in making the dream vision the frame for vivid representation of a personal identity. The trick was to be more than merely Chaucerian in writing one’s dream. While the plot and episodes of PH owe much to The House of Fame, the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, and The Knight’s Tale, Douglas is purposefully reshaping these elements. For instance, as discussed above, he employs for sustained narrative a stanza previously associated with set-pieces of complaint. Like Chaucer in drawing on Ovid and Virgil, Douglas nevertheless bestows a more heroic character than does his English predecessor to the material he draws from these and other classical sources. Of special prominence in the making of PH are its recurrent catalogues: diverse personages in cavalcades (in their interactions recalling perhaps the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales); performers at a banquet and the stories they recite or perform (like the entertainers in The House of Fame); events from literature, history, and pastime as witnessed in a marvelous mirror; finally, the briefly glimpsed residents in the hall of Honour. In the closing moments of the poem, the relation of dreaming to waking is quite decisively made problematic; as recurrently in the vision just experienced, ascent and descent are only too easily mistaken for each other; and recurrently, troubling, threatening figures are included in the zones of celebration and reward.

Before proceeding to further discussion of the literary qualities of the poem, a synopsis of its action may be helpful. The Prologue places the poem in the usual context of late-medieval dream-poems. Before dawn one May morning, the narrator recalls, he visited a beautiful garden to pick flowers and sing, as one customarily does in the springtime. The sun rises, and the visitor hears a disembodied, anonymous voice singing praises to May. The excellent performance discourages him so that he laments his unworthiness to praise Nature, May, and Venus. Preparing to return home, he is overcome by a glare of light in the atmosphere and loses consciousness. He seems to awaken, but it is into a dream.

The First Part begins with the dreamer finding himself crawling in a filthy, noisy, dying landscape. He gives vent to a song against Fortune. A fine cavalcade approaches, attending a queen in a chariot. Two stragglers identify themselves as Ahithophel and Sinon, hopeless hangers-on to Minerva’s court — whose followers they name — en route to the faraway palace of the god Honour. The unworthy pair tell the dreamer that two more deities are approaching, Diana and Venus. Expectant, the dreamer sees Actaeon, a hart chased by his hounds. With her small entourage, Diana arrives, mounted on a chaste elephant.116 Their passing by leaves the dreamer miserable. A glow and a high-pitched sound catch his attention — and the poet digresses into the topic of acoustics. The joyful onset depresses him for the moment, but he remembers it with delight. The arrival of Venus and her entourage of lovers and musicians inspires him retrospectively to appreciative description. In the moment, however, he responds by singing a complaint in which he curses Cupid and Venus. His performance does not go over well. The more impish courtiers beat and bedaub him. A trial for blasphemy and treason commences. Venus rebukes the dreamer, who fearfully anticipates being metamorphosed.

The Second Part gradually releases the tension just created. The dreamer’s upswing of unreasoning hope presages the arrival of the Muses and their songful followers. The Muse Calliope urges Venus to relent. At Calliope’s command the dreamer writes a poem, which Venus accepts before departing. Calliope orders the dreamer to accompany her entourage, in the care of a Nymph. Mounted, they embark on a fantastic journey, arriving at the Hippocrene spring where everyone crowds for a drink so that the dreamer gets none. Accompanied with pastimes, a feast takes place. The cavalcade re-embarks and approaches their mountain destination.

The Third Part begins with the dreamer lingering at the bottom of the steep slope. The Nymph leads him up until he encounters a fiery chasm in which lie those who aspired to honor but gave way to pleasure. She lifts him by the hair and carries him to the summit. Instructed to look down, he sees the world below as a stormy sea in which a sailing vessel runs aground, its occupants drowning or struggling to the foot of the mountain. Those who drown are unfaithful, the Nymph declares; and the ship is Grace acquired through baptism; sin brings shipwreck, and then only Christ’s help in performing good deeds can avail. Invited to look the other way, the dreamer sees an edenic garden, a richly ornamented palace in its midst. The Nymph guides him through the outer gate, and he sees tournaments. Vexed by his protracted staring, the Nymph urges him into a garden where Venus is enthroned. A mirror on a tripod sits before her, with the power to heal those hurt in the tournaments, and in which the dreamer sees all the deeds and fates of earthly history, along with various amusements. Venus notices the dreamer and hands him a book, commanding him to put its long-neglected contents into rhyme. As the dreamer departs, the Nymph remarks that the mirror shows lovers the beauty of the women they love.

Conveyed to the main citadel, the dreamer sees crowds of the unworthy seeking access by any means, shoved or falling away while a guard denounces falsehood, envy, and greed. The Nymph identifies the officers of this court as virtues. The pair of visitors approach the door of the palace proper, its frame ornamented with a cosmography of images. The Nymph urges him forward and warns him against becoming dazed by what he sees. Through a peephole the dreamer glimpses the bejeweled place, its heroic denizens, and the mighty god, whose face is so bright it knocks the dreamer unconscious. Reviving him, the Nymph mocks his weakness. She dismisses his vexation but recognizes his limitations and offers to show him the Muses’ garden. On the way there, she provides the information to which the dream appears to have been tending: the heroes in the hall, whom she lists, have attained true honor. If he had been endowed with enough fortitude, he would have seen that god execute justice on evil pretenders to honor. Instead, he can visit a garden where Muses are gathering the colors of rhetoric. The Nymph speeds over the separating moat across a log bridge, but the dreamer falls, and awakens. The garden where he first fell unconscious now seems hellish by comparison with his visions. He writes two lyrics, one in praise of Honour, and another humbly dedicating his poem to King James IV.


As is evident from this summary, PH is so eventful and decorated that one’s attention may not gravitate towards elements and indications of larger design or purpose. Accusing its poet of a tendency to indulge stylistic excess, C. S. Lewis tartly observes that the poet himself has become “happily overwhelmed” by his poem’s ornamental outerwork.117 Even as his dreamer is rebuked for lingering over details, Douglas tempts the reader into such self-indulgence. That self-indulgence may be as inevitable as it is for the all-too-human dreamer to fall out of the vision and into frustrated wakefulness.

Engagement with the overall design of PH has rarely been attempted but was the aim of a 1978 essay by Alice Miskimin. She approached the poem numerologically; one need not be convinced by every element of the analysis for her approach to yield insights. Among the recurrent praise of craft and artistry in the poem are some leading indications that these values can be applied to the poem itself. In his stanza on musical proportion, Douglas provides a technical, densely terminological way to perceive a comparable proportion in his poem. With stanzas as the significant measure, one way of considering the three-part structure is as symmetrical constructions around three focal centerpoints. Thus each part “is centered on a crucial recognition at the mid-point, at each of the dreamer’s three confrontations with Venus in his dream.” Venus first appears at stanza 36 in the 71 stanzas of the First Part. In the 56 stanzas of the Second Part, the dreamer sings gratefully to Venus in the three stanzas beginning at number 28. The longest of the three parts is the Third, 99 stanzas including the two final lyrics; at stanza 50, “Venus turns her face at last in recognition.” Thus focused, the poem enthrones Venus and gives priority to the resolution of the dreamer’s problematic attitude to her.118

A less formal interchange operates through PH, with the impulse or ambition to rise, to learn, and to praise repeatedly met by a counter-impulse of failing and falling. In the Prologue, the protagonist rises to praise the month of May; proving unable to do so, he is smitten by a blaze of light and “[a]s femynine so feblyt fell I doun” (line 108). In the nightmare of the First Part, he has three opportunities to declare his allegiance to a ruling deity; instead, he denounces Venus and is dragged before her for trial and punishment.119 The Second Part proceeds more buoyantly, with the dreamer on the Muses’ grand ride, first to Helicon and then to the foot of Honour’s mountain. As Louise Aranye Fradenburg asserts, “In the ‘Court Rethoricall’ of Douglas’s Muses is, then, to be found, not the shifting and uncertain ground of The House of Fame, but the ‘constant ground of famous storeis sweit’, ‘the facound well Celestiall’, ‘the Fontane and Originall / Quhairfra the well of Helicon dois fleit’ (ll. 835ff.).”120 Indications of countering downward motion are implicit: the Muses’ route retraces the places scorched in Phaethon’s disastrous career in the chariot of the Sun.

Through the ascent and entry of the Third Part, overthrows and collapses emerge as dominant motifs. Sustained by the Nymph, the dreamer approaches the summit only to recoil in fear, first at the obstacle of the burning chasm of the indolent, and then, far below, at the inevitable shipwreck of earthly hopes. Entering the outer precincts of Honour, the dreamer proceeds to the “garth” of Venus (line 1466) rather than going directly to see the presiding god himself; and in the mirror of Venus, he sees at least as many defeats, rebellions, and acts of treason as he does triumphant deeds of honor: the fall of the angels, the Flood, the confusion at Babel, Sodom’s destruction, Pharaoh drowning in the Red Sea, Gideon succeeded by the homicidal Abimelech, Rehoboam’s misrule and the division of the kingdom, the destruction at Thebes, the first and second falls of Troy. Later history includes emphasis on episodes of portentous downfall: “every famus douchty deid” (line 1693) brings its gloomy consequence:

The miserie, the crewelté, the dreid,
Pane, sorow, wo, baith wretchitnes and neid,
The gret envy, covatus, dowbilnes
Twychand warldly onfaithful brukkylnes.
        (lines 1696–99)

both misery and indigence
covetousness, treachery
Concerning worldly false instability

For much of the episode of Venus’ mirror, the sequence of allusions to the falls of princes can seem like an accelerated, expanded version of Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale. At the end of this sequence, the goddess herself gives the dreamer-poet a book and commissions him to work on it. It is a moment of exaltation and new purpose; but a certain uneasiness prevails. The failure of the unworthy to enter Honour’s palace may only prefigure the dreamer’s own much humbler failures, recent and yet to come. Viewing the poem as a succession of falls suggests a trend countervailing the vaunting display and the intent assemblage of an intricate, harmonious structure that are also very much part of the poem Douglas has made. Enthralled by the scenes he sees in Venus’ mirror, the poet imbibes the inevitability of failure.


Even in synopsis it becomes apparent that PH offers a series of possible routes and apparent destinations. The traveler’s capacities and limitations, but also his patrons and guides, determine his course and destination.121 A visitor, a dreamer, a cleric, a traveler, a courtier, as well as a poet, the narrator experiences the anxieties of choice. In the process his poem gives readers the opportunity to choose their own course vicariously. Such choices are visceral: the dreamer’s attempts at affiliation cannot but be insufficient, and his dismay is genuine in recoiling from the articulate manifestations of the sought-after ideal.122 Thus he reacts with self-regarding discouragement to the competent performance of praise by the clear voice in the garden where the poem takes its beginning; it is as if the myth of Narcissus and Echo has been reversed, with the male role now one of incomplete, frustrated imitation. Later, though it may have something to do with being left behind in the horrible forest, he feels similar dismay once the potentially vengeful Diana has departed. Most blatantly, he cannot resist being “deeply engaged but strongly ambivalent” toward Venus, even though in both the dream and his evocation of it in his poem he experiences delight at her arrival.123 Finally, he cannot endure the gaze of the mighty god Honour.

Implicitly, PH is built on the supposition that its ideal reader’s inclinations and purposes are inaccessibly exalted. At least from the perspective of the concluding lyric, that reader is James IV. While the whole construction can be seen as a compliment or spur to that reader’s royalty, at the same time its protagonist is a self who adores such beings from a distance, but quails — or is rebuffed — from too close association with them. Though the poet will end his poem meekly craving reward, in a lyric addressed to James IV, neither there nor in the vision itself does he envision kingliness as absolutely protective or benevolent.124 What he can do is praise such lofty beings for being endowed with the full scope and determination to identify, pursue, and punish intruders, meting out retribution upon worse offenders than he, and displaying their victims’ torments for the satisfaction and admonition of their loyal subjects. In this regard, and especially in his final paroxysms of humility, Douglas may well be articulating the consequences of his poetic labor to view and address the prince. In such expressions of inferiority Robert Meyer Lee diagnoses “a nervous tic” by which means the poet “relieves the pressure created by basic tensions” between his “intent to speak the truth,” and his “economic and political dependence.”125

The resulting adoration/repulsion is especially intense when the sovereign figure viewed and addressed is female. Fradenburg has described this threat as stemming from the dreamer’s “unrationalized ambivalence” at the “sight of the erotic woman.”126 Some readers have been disquieted, others intrigued, by the inclusion of such women (Zenobia, Semiramis, even Medusa) among the inner circle of Honour.127 Andrew Johnston and Margitta Rouse have gone so far as to posit that the defining myth of at least the Third Part of PH is that of Perseus and Medusa. They quote W. J. T. Mitchell’s observation that “Medusa is the image that turns the tables on the spectator and turns the spectator into an image: she must be seen through the mediation of mirrors.”128 Seen along with the god Honour who detects the dreamer peeping through the keyhole and with a searching gaze shuts down his access and awareness, the dominant female figures of PH have a retaliative quality. After all, he may have been led through a visionary labyrinth by a knowledgeable female guide, but he is surely no Theseus.

There is in fact something labyrinthine about the progression of episodes in this poem. In the preamble, the visitor enters the garden in the approved way, to sing a song and gather flowers. The language of pleasure and delight becomes rather claustrophobic in its self-reflexive repetitiousness. For the time being, the garden of the preamble has been purged of the malign influences of Eolus, Saturn, and Neptune. The visitor hears a song discouraging in its excellence and in turn can express only inadequacy and frustration. There seems nowhere else to go but home, before the “impressioun” of light (line 105) sends him into a trance. The dreamscape in which he now finds himself appears to be the direct and emphatic opposite of the pleasant place; and yet both have something of a cul-de-sac about them. As well, both have elements of potentially or actually violent opposition or retaliation. Two clever malefactors skulk after Minerva. Diana’s wrath is immediately apparent in the apparition of Actaeon metamorphosed. Not all who accompany Venus are happy; and when the dreamer utters his complaint, violence erupts and is channeled into a legal process. Even knowledge can entrap, if the digressions on acoustics or musical theory and performance are any indication. What had appeared in prospect a promise of fulfilment becomes self-consuming in experience.

With the coming of the Muses, the recurrent sense of entrapment gives way to rapid, free movement toward ideal but inaccessible destinations; the Hippocrene spring and then the mountain-top palace of Honour. Reaching for fulfilment involves besetting frustrations. At the Muses’ fountain, the dreamer is crowded out; at the palace, he falters and fails. However, the persistent undertone of dissatisfaction evident in the First Part of the poem has been replaced by a more purposively exploratory mode. The dreamer has a Nymph to guide him. She has an angelic energy and decisiveness, not least when she lifts the dreamer over a hellish chasm, “As Abacuk wes brocht in Babilone” (line 1341); but if she is an angel, then the dreamer must be at least a little like a prophet, if a minor one. Her guidance of the dreamer through infernal difficulties may evoke memories of the Sibyl guiding Aeneas through Hades, in Aeneid VI. There is also something of a marketplace manner to the Nymph. Once at the palace, she can be relentless in her determination to keep the dreamer moving through a sequence of engrossing places, and her rebukes at his hesitations have an increasingly earthy swing to them. When the Nymph races across the moat, the lagging dreamer immediately loses stability and falls awake. For the reader, it may be the stiffest rebuff of the poem that waking existence at its most pleasant now seems joyless. Rather than containing the dream, earthly reality has been revealed to be circumscribed and contingent.

The Palyce of Honour is so thoroughly designed that small recurrences can assume significance. Patterns large and small are enlaced throughout the structure: for example, the May garden, the hellish wasteland, the environs of the Hippocrene; at Honour’s palace, the “garth” of Venus (line 1466), the garden of the colors of rhetoric, and the now-threadbare return to the May garden “maist lyk to hel” (line 2094). Within that sequence, meaningful smaller motifs become apparent; for instance, the bees at work gathering sustenance from the flowers (line 45) are heard afresh at the Muses’ spring (line 1152), where their activity leads as if logically to the rapturous dispersal of the women “playand, syngand, dansand ovir the bentis” (line 1154); and in the final moments of the dream, the Nymph directs attention to the Muses and their women again, “bissy as the beis,” gathering the colors of rhetoric from their moated garden — “our gardyng, lo” (lines 2065, 2063). The poem ends where it began, in “russet weid” (lines 2162, 2). With such attention to detail, PH is evidently a work that repays attentive reading and especially alertness to recurrent parallels and reversals.

Gavin Douglas relies on literary allusion concisely to stir awareness of such alternating, contrastive patterns. Myths function especially evocatively thus. In the May garden, it is as if Echo precedes Narcissus when the disembodied voice sings the perfect praises of the season; followed by the self-concerned outpourings of the visitor. It is a self-regard that has profuse consequences when, late in the dream, the dreamer looks in Venus’ mirror: “What he ‘behalds,’ however,” Antony Hasler observes, “is a compilation that catches up an entire medieval library within the loose and permeable bounds of universal history, and which is then named, retroactively, as the face of the beloved.”129 The sunrise at the poem’s outset awakens associations of the chariot of Phoebus and its well-managed horses — and much later, the well-managed horses of the Muses’ cavalcade travel in an itinerary that retraces Phaethon’s disastrous course in that same chariot. Sandra Cairns has noted how in the ride of the Muses, upward to Helicon and then toward the mountain of Honour, Douglas creates a counterpoint to Ovid’s depiction of Phaethon’s downward career in the chariot of the sun.130 Douglas is not alone in drawing attention to this tale. In The Meroure of Wysdome, James III’s confessor John Ireland summarized it thus:

[O]uid þe poet sais in secundo methamorposeos that quhen the sone left his counsal and grauntit his sone phiton to reule his char a day for faut of knawlage his sone couth nocht gowerne þe hors na þe char and þan þe hors drew þe chayr out of þe rycht gait and brint a part of hevin . . . and eftir þe cart of fyr come sa neir þe Erd þat it consumyt þe humedite of þame of ethiop Ind et de gente maurorum and has maid þame all blak.131

In each of these cases, delighted purposefulness cannot fail to summon recollections and maybe predictions of the disastrous consequences of over-reaching. Or to see this the other way around, myths of failure and transgression — Narcissus, Phaethon, Actaeon — reverse into vision, progress, and creation.

One might regard Calliope’s assumption of responsibility for the dreamer as an indication of his attaining a means of access to power that suits his talents and limitations. It is striking how often in her retinue and under the tutelage and guidance of the Nymph she assigns to his care he falls just short of attainment. He is crowded away from tasting the well of inspiration at Helicon; he cannot ascend Honour’s peak without being hauled up, at one point by his hair; at the gate of the palace itself, his attention is diverted by the imagery and he loses momentum; he collapses at a glimpse of the hall of Honour and its denizens; he cannot even cross the rough bridge into the garden of the Muses. His sense of what the courtiers of Venus describe as Calliope’s “kyngly stile . . . [c]lepyt in Latyne heroicus” (lines 877–78) is not articulated in Latin but in the vernacular: within the Scottish scene he is implicitly no Archibald Whitelaw or Walter Ogilvie, both of whom addressed English kings in Latin orations.132 Instead, his concept of literary discourse is more allusive and shifting, with pastime but also moral admonition and apocalyptic vision frequently at hand.

Douglas extends this principle of variegation most economically in his lists: the courtiers of Minerva, Diana, and Venus; the Muses and their poets; the repertoire of entertainments at the Muses’ banquet, from Ovid’s heroic tales to Poggio spitting and growling at Lorenzo Valla; the conspectus of history and pastime in the mirror of Venus; the officers of Honour’s household; the natural, astronomical and mythological images on the doorway of the palace; the great ones in Honour’s presence chamber. These catalogues — and especially the extended mirror-of-Venus sequence — have attracted adverse criticism for their accumulation of detail and thus their impeding of narrative;133 in them has been detected “a cultural memory that embodies authority” but also its Derridean nemesis, “an ‘anarchivic’ death drive that annihilates the archive even as it seeks to construct it.”134 Seen thus, Douglas is undoing the ostensible meaning and purpose of the dream, to celebrate virtuous honor, the chivalric summum bonum tinged with humanist values, as Douglas Gray has noted, of “nobility of soul.”135

The catalogues in PH evidently merit attention. The potential for conflicting significations is already apparent in the sequence of female names at the head of Minerva’s procession: twelve Sibyls (when the dreamer first sees them, he thinks they are Minerva’s privy council; line 222), as well as (or possibly including) Cassandra, Deborah, Circe, Judith, and Jael (lines 243–46).136 As they have come by the late fifteenth century to be understood, the Sibyls epitomize the interplay of pagan and Christian prophecy;137 and the rest of the list shows a readiness to conflate the two worlds of signification. It is a well-established practice; Ernst Robert Curtius commented on the medieval “theory of the parallelism of exemplary figures” by which “Antique and Christian exempla are systematically co-ordinated.”138 It may not be too far-fetched to think about syncretic combinations imparting cohesion and even purpose — one might say, a grammar — to the sometimes long lists of names in PH. They display learning, or at least the ambition to reach further into literature, history, and philosophy; they may also challenge the reader to seek subordination, contrast, and parallel in what often appears to be straightforward coordination. Recurrent motifs provide signposts for that quest.

Combining the pagan with the scriptural was very much to the fore of discourse in late fifteenth-century Scotland, as John Ireland shows. In the Meroure of Wysdome, he provides a list of rulers fallen into lustful intemperance through incautious hearing and sight: Ahab, Nabugodonsar, Holofernes, Herod, and so on into pagan record,

for we knaw be noble storeis þat sic blind and daft luf that paris and elena had to giddir distroyit þe noble tovne of troye it expellit tarqwyn and all his blud riall out of rome for þe inordinat luf of his sone anens the noble lady lucres be it dalida causit þe distruccioun of sampsone þe luf of bersabe causit þe gret syn of dauid þe prophet; it causit þe fallin of wys salamon it causit þe flud of noye the distruccioun of þe [five] noble citeis and land þat was pentopolis & altera paradisus terrestris of þe quhilk was sodome and gomor and for þe oppressioun of a lady as sais þe scriptur it causit þe slauchtir of [60] thousand men it was þe caus of þe distruccioun of anthonius and cleopatra139

It is not the mixture of sources that is most challenging about the lists Douglas presents, however, but their tendency, noted above, to include without comment extremely problematic figures. One such is Circe, a seer with transformative powers over the natural world and a revealer of men’s inner natures, but also a vengeful, duplicitous sorceress.140 Such fearsome pre-eminence recurs in later lists: among those walking up and down before Honour is Medusa (see note to line 2025). Given the way inconsistency acts throughout the poem as a stimulus to the reader to seek additional levels of signification, such moments of dissonance seem entirely fitting.

These intermittently disturbing presences relate to the misgivings about female power that the dreamer expresses in one way in his complaint against Venus and, in another, in his retorts to the masterful Nymph.141 The making of the poem has been described as the victory of “overflowing” eloquence over “(feminine) caprice.”142 That caprice may be too deeply dyed into the texture to be dissolved thus. As the Nymph reminds the dreamer, “kyrkmen wer ay jentill to ther wyvys” (line 1944). Similarly, the appearance of troubling figures amongst those awarded with the highest accolades suggests a counteractive unease in the workings of Honour as conceived in this vision. PH derives much of its continuing energy and appeal from the complex interactions of these disparate areas of meaning, that in combination resist simple categorization.143 Each of the main character-sets in the poem is finally inscrutable: the god-king as bestower and tormentor; the beneficent, enlightening, rebuking, retaliative queen; the poet who serves and betrays Venus, who “has a superior and wider-reaching power of observation” and “sees the whole range of human experience preserved by written authority”144 but who can also act like a blithering idiot.

Writing his Dreme a quarter-century or so after the completion of PH (c.1526), Sir David Lyndsay recalled the sorts of stories he told the young James V; progressing from the “marciall” to the “amiabyll” to the “plesand,”145 he was following the sequence of narrative types in Venus’ mirror. In the mirror episode, but also throughout PH, Douglas provides an influentially variegated sequence of incidents, many of which reveal themselves as surprising, disparate variations on motifs: the sudden apprehension of more or less articulate sound (the echo in the garden; the yelling fish; the onset of music; the “garatour”’s warning cry, line 1779); marvelous flights and ascents (the Muses’ ride; the miraculous ascent of Honour’s mountain, but also Hay of Naughton’s as-yet obscure flight to “madin” land [line 1719], or even the wren’s no less mysterious foray from Ailsa Craig); plunges, sometimes wilful, sometimes inadvertent, into fearsome unknowability and imminent death (Empedocles, the fiery “sewch” [line 1316], the doomed carvel, Curtius, the terrified waterfowl, the ditch into which the dreamer falls). About unexpected voices, perceptive comment is not far to seek: on the echo, Hasler has written, “The voice intrudes from without as alien object; the dreamer errs . . . and is suddenly engulfed in a strange corporeal delirium.”146 Further connections would be valuable to make between that voice and other aural phenomena in the poem. As well, critical attention has been lavished upon the more obvious instances of ascent and enlightenment.147 Calling for similar attention is the comparatively neglected counter-motif of plunging, falling, tumbling, and failure to recognize or understand. Indeed, the imminence of downfall may be part of the import of the poem for its sovereign reader, James IV. Johnston and Rouse comment that in the poet’s evocations of “the grace and elegance of the courtly world,” may be sensed that world’s “darker side of ambition and power-struggles and the steep hierarchies that govern it.”148 The king who as a youth took part in rebellion against his father and who was present at the battle at (or after) which James III died may well have regarded the reiterative allusions to usurpation and rebellion as occasions for penitential reflection. That James IV was inclined to engage in such reflection as salutary for his spiritual health is apparent from Don Pedro de Ayala’s depiction of him in the late 1490s but also from his continued support for the rigorous Observant order.149


The whole arc of PH arises from a coherent group of literary sources: primarily the Bible (especially Genesis, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and Daniel with its apocryphal chapters), Ovid (mostly Metamorphoses, but more locally Heroides and the Art of Love), Chaucer (House of Fame [HF], but again more locally the Knight’s Tale, Troilus and Criseyde, Legend of Good Women, and Parliament of Fowls; and the likely sources of the stanza forms, Anelida and Arcite and The Complaint of Mars), and, hardly less important, Gower (Confessio Amantis).150 For specific passages and topics, Douglas also draws upon a secondary array of more diverse materials: for instance, Aristotle, Quintilian, humanist discourse, The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie, probably The Kingis Quair,151 Holland’s Buke of the Howlat, Livy, Virgil.152 Some of these elements appear locally in the poem; others re-emerge repeatedly; a few impart shape and purpose to the narrative. Whether apparent in a few lines or recurrently, such elements are often even more important in combination than they are individually. Indeed the combination turns out to convey important things about the function and import of this powerfully syncretic poem. Some surprising omissions ought to be noted: little or no evidence exists that Douglas had read Henryson, beyond the possibility he had already seen Orpheus and Eurydice, and his reading of Lydgate may not have extended far beyond The Siege of Thebes and The Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe (which he would have known as The Maying and Disport of Chaucer).153 The array has tended to be studied piecemeal, so that specialist readers — usually literary scholars with particular interest in Chaucer — have tended to concentrate their attention in that direction. Further study reveals a more diverse and thriving complex of influences. Consequently Chaucer’s House of Fame appears less pervasively influential than has been thought. To assert control over this influence, Douglas dis- and re-assembles his source materials. Douglas is seeking a way around and beyond a narrow Chaucerianism; he is drawing more widely on literary options than has generally been recognized, hence perhaps his extreme stylistic and linguistic range.

Since the connection between HF and PH has long been insisted upon, its grounding deserves to be considered. John Small’s comments on this topic might be recalled:

It may . . . be surmised, that Douglas had before him Chaucer’s “Temple of Fame,” when he drew the outline of his Palace of Honour. Chaucer’s allegory takes the form of a dream, in which the poet finds himself in the Temple of Venus, whence he is carried, not by a nymph, but by an eagle, to a magnificent palace built upon a mountain of ice, and supported by rows of pillars, on which are inscribed the names of the most illustrious poets. Many of the names given by Chaucer are to be found in Douglas; yet, on the whole, the arrangement and versification of the two poems are so unlike, that to Douglas must be accorded the praise of having conceived and successfully completed an original design.154

After one has progressed from a surveying perspective to more detailed scrutiny, the differences between the two poems become more striking than the similarities. In HF, the dream begins instantly “Withyn a temple ymad of glas” (line 120), the temple of Venus; in PH, the dreamer will not reach any building until after 1,400 lines have passed, and indeed, the inner sanctum seems always inaccessible. In Chaucer's temple of Venus, the reigning poet is Virgil, a version of whose tale of Troy and Aeneas is engraved “on a table of bras” (line 142). Douglas pays heed to Chaucer’s interposed list of faithless and unfortunate lovers: Demophon and Phyllis, Achilles and Breseyda, Paris and Oenone, Jason and Isiphile, Jason again and Medea, Hercules abandoning Deianeira for Iole, Theseus and Ariadne, leading back to Aeneas and Dido (lines 388–432). Only after studying the brazen tablets does Chaucer’s dreamer go outside; and, as Conor Leahy has noted, the desert that greets him is a place of negation, “Withouten toun, or hous, or tree, / Or bush, or grass, or eryd lond” (lines 484–85).155 In place of the alarmingly active scenes with which PH proper commences, full of cavalcades, self-exculpatory explanations, apparently spontaneous denunciations, all leading to a mobbing and a trial, Chaucer provides a bewildered pause and a rescue by Eagle.

Similarly, the long explanation and instruction the inimitable Eagle then imparts has no counterpart in PH, where Calliope and her Nymph instruct and inform the dreamer comparatively tersely. Douglas comes closest to Chaucer’s example in a digression on acoustics; but in place of the Eagle’s lecture, it is the poet himself who in retrospect attempts to explain the phenomenon of sound traveling over water (PH, lines 364–81). Arriving at the House of Fame, Chaucer’s dreamer studies the rock on which it stands; and what appears hard and durable turns out to be a “roche of yse, and not of stel” (HF, line 1130). Here, at a point of close resemblance, Douglas stresses that his “roch” consists “of slyde, hard merbyll stone” (PH, line 1300), and thus distinguishes his chiseled poem from Chaucer’s melting surfaces. In place of the crowds of arbitrary Fame’s entertainers, memorialists, and disparate suitors, Honour’s household is well-regulated, with the unworthy thrust away. Instead of a House of Rumor, Douglas provides a vision of just rule and abundant eloquence, neither of which his dreamer is worthy enough to attain.

Given these significant differences between HF and PH, it may be valuable to review at least a representative sample of the points at which Douglas appears to draw closest to Chaucer: the retelling of antique story (with Ovid as the epic master in place of Virgil; but compare the summary of the Aeneid, lines 1630–56, with HF, lines 143–396); the list of faithless and unfortunate lovers (HF, lines 397–404); the guide’s rebuke (HF, lines 556–57; PH, lines 1460–62, 1936–44); the list of those carried into the heavens (HF, lines 588–92); the disquisition on sound; the sky-high glimpse of the earth far below (HF, lines 896–903); the description of the mountain atop which the destination place stands; ornamental features of palatial architecture (HF, lines 1184–94); musicians, magicians, and poets (HF, lines 1197–1281; 1456–1512). None of this is slavish copying. It is as if Douglas purposively takes apart Chaucer’s motifs and reassembles them in a very different sequence and with strikingly different context, emphasis, tone, and import. What is experienced directly in HF is often alluded to comparatively in PH.

Parallel with these developments in vernacular literary style, the prevailing syncretism of fifteenth-century humanism provides another encouragement to seek and develop analogies within the whole body of ancient literature and scripture. It may be worthwhile to distinguish Douglas’ handling of this array of materials in relation to the fifteenth-century practices of vernacular humanism, which Andrew Galloway, citing Warren Boutcher, has described “as an idiom forged by a deep involvement with ancient sources and their style and outlook but merged with contemporary vernacular traditions and speaking more directly to secular power.”156 Douglas can reveal more interest in striking combinations than extended investigation. As one example out of many, Byblis and Absalom appear in a single line (582). Such analogical thinking achieves highly compressed form when the dreamer recalls “quhow in a stone / The wyfe of Loth ichangit sore did wepe” (lines 752–53); in their mirrored fates, Niobe and Lot’s wife are fused in the memory. In this regard, it may be valuable to consider the places in the Bible to which Douglas turns in his catalogues and allusions. Some of these correspond with the repertoire of the cycle plays: the fall of the angels, the creation of Adam and his expulsion with Eve from Eden, Noah’s flood, the rise and fall of Babel, the destruction of Sodom, the patriarchs, Pharaoh’s destruction in the Red Sea, and the wandering in the desert (lines 1499–1510). Douglas also alludes to righteous, heroic, and suffering women: Deborah, Judith, Jael, Jephthah’s daughter, Esther, Susanna (lines 244, 246, 338, 579, 1563–64). Of particular interest are the allusions to rulers, successors, and champions: righteous Gideon (lines 1514–15); Samson victorious and deceived by Delilah (lines 580, 1516–20); Saul, whose evil spirit was allayed awhile by David’s music (lines 509–10); and David the young hero and old king, his beloved Bathsheba and his rebellious son Absalom (lines 276–81, 570, 1525–32); the indomitable Maccabees (lines 1570–76). Some at least of these figures offer exaggerated reflections of the ideal function of poetry: Samson the upholder and destroyer of noble edifices, himself subject to female sovereignty; David the driver-out of evil spirits at court. Political considerations came to the fore, when shameful successors receive special attention: with Absalom, the murderous Abimelech (line 1515), haughty Rehoboam (lines 1542–43), and usurping Tryphon (lines 1775–76). Alongside their often unworthy, even rebellious sons and heirs, Old Testament judges and kings provide inspiring and warning examples for James IV; they may even be timely subjects for his penitential contemplation. With the downfalls of deceitful protectors and advisors (Achitefell, Tryphon; lines 271–81, 1768–69, 1775–76) and the denunciation of ambitious intruders (lines 2033–52), a Douglas poet is also taking the opportunity to glance at Douglas rivals (notably the hostile Hepburns) at the Scottish court. Much that has been described as proto-Reformationist about Sir David Lyndsay’s interweaving of Scripture and world history into contemporary political controversy is present already in PH and its handling of kingship and prophecy — and not least, its depictions of heroic women traduced, retaliating, and triumphant. Douglas seems drawn to the topic of female illustriousness but sometimes infuses it with irony (e.g., lines 332–36, 1588–93). Douglas’ turn to the critical humanism epitomized for him by the writings of Lorenzo Valla may have enabled him to view the Bible alongside the classics, in an apparently direct, independent-minded way, unshackled from scholastic commentary, and readily aimed at targets near to home.

The ease of transition between classical and scriptural is not the only coalescence of note in PH. Native and continental literary practices also intersect. In each, invective is a prime means of literary representation; by demolishing the character of one’s opponent, one articulates one’s own values and virtues. Paul Kristeller observed the close connection in fifteenth-century humanist treatises between “concern for style and elegance” and excoriating invective; he notes how such invective “enabled the authors to give a more personal tone to their discourse and to exaggerate their points beyond the limits of plausibility, something they evidently enjoyed”; similarly, the “dialogue also gave a personal and almost dramatic vivacity to the problems discussed.”157 Both, Kristeller observes, “provided a literary excuse for avoiding the tight argument and precise terminology that had characterised the philosophical literature of the ancient Greeks and of the medieval scholastics.”158 Recreation, sportive elaboration, even grotesquery seem curiously linked to self-assertion in this observation, in ways that seem relevant to the characterization of authorship in PH. Thus Poggio and Valla are locked in scabrous dispute during the course of the Muses’ entertainments, with Poggio memorably “spyttand and cryand fy” (line 1233). Included in the cavalcade of the Muses is a trio of Scottish poets, Dunbar, Kennedie, and Quintin; as Bawcutt has noted, the combination strongly evokes the way these three are brought together in The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie. It is tempting to see that most uncourtly of courtly entertainments as very much to the fore of recent memory at the time Douglas was making PH; and it has been argued that, at least at an early stage of its development The Flyting was a creation of the 1490s.159 Through such evocations of invective, Douglas places his compatriots alongside some luminaries of Italian humanism, and implicitly asserts his own right of access to the great topics of the age.

One especially pressing question for a poet at the end of the fifteenth century had to do with the study of the classics and the identification of Latin writers most deserving of study and emulation. Douglas contributes decisively to this topic by bringing several of the ancients into his poem, along with their books and characters. For instance, Ovid figures in PH, and so do various characters from his books; in a sense, he and the other authors over whom he effectively presides “embody their works.”160 Given the prominence he enjoys at various points, Ovid is effectively the major literary presence in PH, and even more so is Metamorphoses its major source. His are the authoritative versions of the myths that underpin the import of the poem. Indeed, the epic dimension of PH is primarily Ovidian: Douglas turns to Metamorphoses for the Argonauts, for the siege and fall of Troy; only belatedly and locally does Virgil’s Aeneid take primary attention instead (lines 1630–56). Douglas follows contemporary trends in commentary on Metamorphoses in drawing upon that book as “a dictionary of correct Latin usage, a repertory of examples of figurative diction, and a veritable encyclopedia of information on geography, astrology, music, physical science, and moral and natural philosophy.”161 Riding with the Muses, Nymph and dreamer traverse a largely Ovidian world, and Douglas draws especially upon “the prototypical humanist” Raffaelle Regio’s oft-reprinted, much-read commentary on Metamorphoses to identify many of its mountains and rivers.162 Ovid’s dominance in PH comes with consequences for the way readers perceive the Scottish poem itself. Discussions of PH tend to divide on whether it is thematically coherent and structurally cohesive, and in this, the alignment with Ovid is significant. When Douglas was writing his dream vision, the debate was already long-established about the Roman poet’s “unrestrained wit (ingenium), friskiness (lasciuia), and license (licentia),” not to mention the “rhetorical, erotic, and social freedoms Ovid conferred upon his Muse.”163 Ovid’s characteristic latitude gives Douglas an enabling if risky precedent for the extraordinary variegation of his own work.


Later Scottish writers responded to PH as a durable model for eloquent allegory. They were also interested in its language and versification. If Rod Lyall is correct, then the very earliest instance may be William Dunbar’s The Goldyn Targe (printed 1508), which he argues is a “refinement and concentration” of the profuseness and ornament of PH.164 A more straightforward case of indebtedness can be found in the opening stanzas of The Testament of the Papyngo (1530), in which Sir David Lyndsay employs the nine-line stanza in three rhymes that Douglas had used in the Third Part; Lyndsay appears to follow Douglas (and Dunbar) in praising the English poetic triumvirate “Chawceir, Goweir, and Lidgate laureate” whose verses “throuch Albione bene soung” (ed. Hadley Williams, lines 12, 14). It may be relevant that Lyndsay ends this stanza praising Kennedie and Dunbar (the latter with reference to The Goldyn Targe). The “notis musycall,” “balmy droppis,” and “tender twystis” that are clustered in one stanza of The Papyngo (lines 136–40) recall the “notis,” “balmy dewe,” “silver droppis,” and “twistis” in the Prologue to PH (lines 24, 13, 16 and 27, 22).165 An even more ambitious engagement with PH can be found in the poems of John Bellenden, notably the Proheme to the Cosmographe at the outset of his translation of Hector Boece’s Chronicles of Scotland (c.1531). Bellenden used the nine-line stanza in two rhymes of the first two Parts of PH for his Proheme, at the start of which he also drew especially heavily on the diction of PH.166 Thomas Rutledge summarizes the verbal echoes of PH in the Proheme (“balmy dew,” “heit maist restorative,” “diffundant grace,” pp. vii, viii) but further he emphasizes that Bellenden’s poem is pervasively indebted to the prologue to PH; in this way, he argues, Bellenden provides “a programmatic articulation of literary and political affiliation” and “signals his indebtedness to Douglas expressly to situate himself as Douglas’s literary successor.”167

In The Court of Venus (1560; printed by John Ross in 1575), John Rolland also draws heavily on PH.168 With various inset passages in other stanza forms, the poem proper is largely cast in the nine-line stanza in two rhymes used by Douglas. Rolland bases the design of his plot in some part on PH: a character, Desperance, denounces love and is summoned to answer charges of treason against Venus. Desperance seeks an advocate far and wide; finally Vesta agrees to defend him. He is found guilty, but, relenting at last, Venus grants him clemency and makes him her liege. Rolland praises Douglas as the author of PH (Court of Venus 3:109–17). In his more satirical treatment of court life and manners, not to mention his interest in the benefits and fallacies of hope, Rolland seems closer in spirit to Octovien de Saint-Gelais’ Séjour d’Honneur than to PH, however.169 Even more fanciful in its remaking of PH is John Burel’s Passage of the Pilgremer (1595/96), which commences with a lengthy conspectus of the kingdom of the animals and birds wracked by a storm, while the weak ones are preyed upon by the predators. The second part takes a different tack, with a survey of a mythological landscape that focuses on mountains, such as Mount Erix, on which stands the temple dedicated by the Trojans to Venus, and Haemus, “[q]uhair Orpheus leird his harmonie” (2.33; compare PH, lines 1102–04). The rocks “repercust and rang” with music (2.43). The dreamer turns to a royal-seeming woman standing nearby, who offers to escort him to Venus. Seeming to vanish, she suddenly reappears in monstrous form. These later sixteenth-century Scottish dream-visions reject PH's balance of chivalry and morality, and emphasize its theme of retaliative femininity.

A more carefully considered development of interest in the allegorical potential of PH can be traced in the Latin humanist dialogue De tranquillitate animi by Florence Wilson (1543).170 Here a visionary garden leads a dreamer to a house of tranquility complete with allegorical columns, and finally to a culminating vision of Christ.171 This more insistently spiritualized treatment of what might be called the PH tradition undergoes further development during the Reformation in Scotland. In the late 1570s or early 1580s, John Stewart of Baldynneis composed An Schersing of Trew Felicitie,172 in which the dream-journey to a celestial vision (in the nine-line stanza with three rhymes) commences with the narrator setting out at dawn to seek felicity in a pleasant springtime setting (“The Mateir,” stanzas 3–4). He comes to an encircling transparent wall of “christaline preclair” (stanza 5, line 1), the gate to which is kept by “the chast virgin Charitie” (6.7), who shows him two paths, one “dour and rycht difficill” that leads to failure for most who attempt it, so that they are “outthrust / from plesand plaice of perfyt repois” (19.1, 20.7–8). The other “plesand passage plaine” (64.3) leads through delights to damnation. More insistently than Rolland, Stewart is bestowing attention on the ways in which the appearance of worthiness tends more often than not to disgrace and perdition; like Rolland, though, he is intensifying the anti-courtly satire that is more intermittent in PH. Stewart comes closest to Douglas in his scriptural summary, as in the detail that “Duck Sangor” (Shamgar) “Sex hundreth slew with ane pleuch sok in teine” (179.1–2; compare PH, lines 1520–21: “I saw duke Sangor there with many a knok / Sax hundreth men slew with a plewchis sok”). Approaching the “plesand palice,” the protagonist is advised by “Esperance, my ladie fair and frie” to enter a “glorious garding . . . / The[e] to refresche” (212.4, 214.1, 8–9). Reminiscences of Douglas abound: the comparison of “seimlie ceder” to “widdrit rammall,” the call of the “garitour” (here, “Grace”), and the throng of singers and musicians accompanying “fair felicitie most brycht,” too bright to be seen (217.5–6, 221.8, 235.2, 7). Yet another female guide leads the protagonist into the palace toward the throne “Quharon ane God omnipotent devyne / Was hichlie set” (256.1–2). In the closing stanzas, the narrator glimpses the name of James VI inscribed in the book of life, “Contining all Gods chosin childreine fair” (261.9, 260.7). Stewart has read PH thoroughly in order to produce a Calvinist allegory that he concludes with a royal compliment.

Stewart of Baldynneis is not the last to draw upon PH. Printed in Edinburgh by Robert Charteris in 1603, Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame shows the persistence of allegorical dream visions, and the influence of PH, to the end of the sixteenth century in Scotland.173 Grieved by the prevalence of evil in this world, Melville’s narrator falls asleep and in her dream appears an “Angell bricht with visage schyning cleir” that offers to guide her toward her “heauie hearts desyre” (lines 92, 118). She asks him his name, and he replies, “I am thy God for quhom thou sicht sa sair” (line 127). He warns her that the journey they will take will bring them “[t]hrow greit deserts, throw water and throw fyre” (line 150). So they proceed: “[t]hrow mos and myres, throw ditches deip wee past, / Throw pricking thornes, throw water and throw fyre” (lines 165–66). They traverse mountains, braes, deserts, and waters. The dreamer trembles on the brink of a pit in which the damned are tormented, and has to be lifted over by her guide. At last he shows her that “pleasant place, quhilk semit to be at hand”; she sees a “Castell fair, / Glistring lyke gold, and schyning siluer bricht,” the towers of which “blindit mee, they cuist sa greit ane licht” (lines 207, 209–10, 212). Encouraged at last by her progress, the dreamer rushes ahead of her guide, and is pulled back from mounting the stairs on her own. She is warned, “[i]t is to hie thou cannot clim so stay” (line 254). Instead she is directed to look downwards into a black pit, which she is told is Hell, her next destination. Assured by Jesus that “thou art past the paine,” she awakens in the realization that “To seik the Lord, we mon be purgde and fynde” (lines 320, 333).

Just over a century later, that intensity of response and recreation had cooled into scholarly explication and literary appreciation. Perhaps understandably, given his embattled and even fugitive career as a nonjuring Episcopalian bishop, John Sage wrote an appreciative life of Douglas for Thomas Ruddiman’s 1710 publication of Eneados. For Sage, PH offers a premonition of the travails Douglas would later experience as Bishop of Dunkeld: “The Author’s excellent design is, under the similitude of a Vision, to represent the Vanity and Inconstancy of all worldly Pomp and Glory; and to shew that a constant and inflexible Course of Vertue and Goodness, is the only way to true Honour and Felicity, which he allegorically describes as a magnificent Palace, situate on a very high Mountain, of a most difficult Access.”174 Sage supposed that Douglas had based his idea on a Hellenistic dialogue, the Tablet ascribed to Cebes, in which the narrator describes an enigmatic painting that is explained by an old man as a depiction of life and its choices; in his History of English Poetry, Thomas Warton echoed this supposition.175 Despite all such searching after antecedents, what may impress the reader of PH instead is its originality of conception and boldness of execution. These are not the least of the qualities that this strikingly influential work imparted to Scottish literary tradition, and it is for these qualities that it continues to attract attention.

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