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Biography of Sir David Lyndsay

Biography of Sir David Lyndsay: FOOTNOTES

1 His surname can also be spelled “Lyndesay,” “Lindesay” or “Lindsay.” The spelling adopted here, Lyndsay, is that preferred in recent scholarship. It corresponds to his only known signature and distinguishes him from the modern science fiction writer David Lindsay.

2 Rob Roy, ed. Duncan, p. 252. Elsewhere, Fairservice muses “What wad Sir William Wallace, or auld Davie Lindsay, hae said to the Union, or them that made it?” (p. 313).

3 Kinsley (Squyer Meldrum, p. 2) thus brings to life the dry record of the payment for this outfit and its purpose in TA 4:313, although he mistakenly cites it as TA 4:269 (which is a less glamorous record from the same year of pensions of £40 paid to various men, including a “David Lindesay” who is probably our poet).

4 Hamer, Works, Appendix 1, 4:241–77. There are excellent discussions of Lyndsay’s career and works in Hamer (4:ix–xl); Edington, Court and Culture, pp. 11–66; Hadley Williams, Selected Poems, pp. vii–xiii.

5 In one of his maddeningly casual asides, David Laing writes that he found the charter after being “kindly favoured by Thomas Graham Murray, Esq., with a sight of the MS. Inventories, and also with the use of some of the original deeds specially connected with Garmylton,” and he quotes it only in part: “dilecto nostro consanguineo David Lindesay filio et heredi apparenti David Lindesay de Montht nostri eciam consanguinei . . . quas terras de Garmiltoun cum pertinem. quondam David Lindesay consanguineus noster AVUS DICTI DAVID habuit hereditarie et de nobis tenuit, &c. It is dated 19th October 1507; and the Sasine on the 6th April following.” (Laing, Poetical Works, 1:ix, italics his). The charter has not been traced, although its authenticity has not been seriously questioned; see Edington, Court and Culture, p. 231n8. See also p. 228 for a family tree illustrating the kinship between the Lyndsays of the Mount and the Lords Lindsay of the Byres.

6 Laing, Poetical Works, 1:x–xi. See Anderson, Early Records, pp. 203–04.

7 ER 13:127: “uno vocato Lyndesay in averia quondam domini principis.” The fact that full names are recorded for everyone else in this entry may indicate that the “one called Lyndesay” was new to them.

8 Lyndsay is styled “maister” in a record of parliamentary judicial proceedings from December 1543 (RPS Mary I, 1543/12/10), but Edington notes that “such references are so scarce as to suggest clerical error” (Court and Culture, p. 231n14).

9 See TA 4:441 for the 1512 reference; Hamer collects this and the other citations (Works, 4:247–50).

10 All quotations from Lyndsay’s other works are from Hadley Williams’ Selected Poems.

11 TA 5:196. The latest record Hamer found for her was a charter of 5 May 1542 as witnessed by William Meldrum (see Introduction to the Squyer Meldrum Poems, “Squire of Cleish and Binns,” elsewhere in this volume) which confirmed her and Lyndsay in the lands of Garmilton-Alexander, and he assumed she had died not long after this (Hamer, Works, 4:xiii). In fact, she resurfaces in a letter of reversion to Walter Lundyn (or Lundy) by “Sir David Lyndesay of the Mounth, kt. and Lyon herald, and Jonet Dowglas, his spouse,” dated 28 August 1552 (NRS GD160/281, item 8).

12 ER 15:116.

13 Edington, Court and Culture, p. 26; Hamer, IV:xviii–xix.

14 See, for example, Reg. Sec. Sig. 1:541, no. 3570, a letter of December 1526 granting Janet livery and an annual pension of £10, associated payments in 1526 and 1527 (TA 5:314 and 329), and a payment in April 1527 for “David Lindesayis wife to sew the Kingis sarkis” (TA 5:301). Further discussion in Hamer, Works, 4:xii–xiv.

15 See Emond, “Minority of King James V,” pp. 552–59.

16 Hamer, Works, 4:xiv-xv; Edington, Court and Culture, pp. 24–25.

17 ER 15:395.

18 “David Lyndesaye, Snawdon herald” in LP Henry VIII, 5:116, no. 254.

19 He signs himself “Dauid Lyndsay harauld to our sowerain Lord”: Antwerp, 23 August 1531 (London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula B.1, fol. 313); see Hadley Williams, “‘Of officiaris serving thy senyeorie.’”

20 On the various roles of Scottish officers of arms, see Stevenson, “Jurisdiction, Authority and Professionalisation,” pp. 62–66.

21 Hamer, Works, 4:xxiii-iv. The pageant at St Andrews, and Lyndsay’s participation in it, are described enthusiastically by Pitscottie, Historie and Cronicles 1:379.

22 On his responsibilities in the late 1530s, see Hamer, Works 4:xx–xxi; Edington, Court and Culture, pp. 26–41; and TA 6:423. His formal appointment as Lyon King of Arms is recorded in Reg. Sec. Sig. 2:742, no. 4910. Lyndsay’s Armorial is Edinburgh, NLS MS Advocates 31.4.3. See Fac-Simile of an ancient heraldic manuscript: emblazoned by Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount. Lyon king of armes 1542, ed. Laing.

23 LP Henry VIII, 18.i:342, item 591.

24 Hamer (Works, 4:270–73) lists a series of records including Lyndsay’s witnessing of a proclamation in Cupar in 1543 (now RPS Mary I, 1543/12/10), or payments for letters sent “to the Mont for Lyoun herold” in 1544, 1547, and February 1549–50 (TA 8:275, TA 9:96 and 381). Lyndsay’s attendance at parliament as a burgh commissioner for Cupar in 1544 and 1545 is confirmed in RPS 1544/11/3 (7 November 1544) and 1545/9/28/10 (1 October 1545); see also LP Henry VIII, 19:2, p. 375, no. 626 (Nov. 1544).

25 Edington, Court and Culture, pp. 62–63.

26 The earliest surviving print is by John Day and William Seres in London, probably from 1548 (STC 15683), but Hamer argues for a now-lost print of 1547, probably by John Scot at Dundee or St Andrews (Hamer, Works, 4:19–22). In terms of Lyndsay’s reformist sympathies, Hadley Williams argues that Lyndsay’s original poem manages to remain “astutely moderate,” in contrast to its treatment in the overtly Protestant London print of 1548 (“The Earliest Surviving Text,” p. 30).

27 TA 9:259 (Dec 1548): “to Schir David Lindesay, King of Armes, send with certane writtinges and directiounes to the King of Denmark, to be his expensis , . . . viixx li. [i.e., 120 pounds].” See also TA 9:347 (July 1549).

28 Messenger William Crawar was tried in the chapter of the abbey of Holyroodhouse before “Sir David Lindsay of the Mount knight lyon king of armes” for his “manyfold oppressions, extortions and complaints,” for which Crawar was duly convicted and removed from office. Chalmers quotes this from “a MS. Col. in the Advocates’ library, Ja. V.7.12 ” (Poetical Works, 1:39). The modern shelfmark is Advocates 34.6.24, and the entry for the trial is on pp. 277–78 (fols. 139r–v in pencil numbering), in amongst various copies of documents relating to the Lindsay earls of Crawford. The record was extracted and signed by “Adam Makculloth [sic], bute persevant [i.e., Bute Pursuivant] Clerk of the office of armes with my hand.”

29 Reg.Mag.Sig. 4:225, no. 1006: “quondam Jonete Dowglas sponse quond. Davidis Lindesay de Month.”

30 Edington, Court and Culture, p. 63, quoting from John Knox, Works, 1:186.

31 See for example the 1639 History of the Church of Scotland by John Spottiswoode, 1:144 and 192, quoted in Hamer, Works, 4:267–68.

The sixteenth-century Scottish poet Sir David Lyndsay1 is relatively little known to modern audiences, overshadowed as he is in histories of Scottish literature by his more famous predecessors and near-contemporaries Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas. But from his own lifetime until the eighteenth century, Lyndsay was the most famous Scottish poet of all, having an iconic status similar to that which Robert Burns would later enjoy, whereas Henryson, Dunbar, and Douglas faded into relative obscurity, their works out of print, until they were rediscovered by antiquarian scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Rob Roy, has his gruffly nationalist character Andrew Fairservice pour scorn on the literary pretensions of the English narrator Frank Osbaldistone with “Gude help him! twa lines o’ Davie Lindsay wad ding a’ he ever clerkit.”2 By 1817, when Scott was writing Rob Roy, Burns had already replaced Lyndsay as the nation’s favorite poet, but Fairservice’s reverence for Lyndsay is part of Scott’s romantic recreation of Jacobite Scotland in 1715. In his 1808 work Marmion, Scott’s similarly nostalgic homage to medieval metrical romance, he paints an affectionate portrait of Lyndsay as Lyon King of Arms and poet, dubbing him “the Herald-bard” (4.14.5):
He was a man of middle age;
In aspect manly, grave, and sage,
As on King’s errand come;
But in the glances of his eye,
A penetrating, keen, and sly
Expression found its home;
. . . .
Still is thy name in high account,
And still thy verse has charms,
Sir David Lindesay of the Mount,
Lord Lion King-at-arms!
(Marmion, ed. Masterman, Canto 4.7.1–6, 28–31)
As for the real David Lyndsay of the Mount, Kinsley quipped memorably that he “steps vividly into history wearing a coat of blue and yellow taffeta for a play at Holyrood in October 1511.”3 This is not strictly true, for Douglas Hamer’s painstakingly assembled catalogue of over 100 historical records relating to Lyndsay includes several important earlier references,4 but it is the first record in which the national figure that he would become — chief herald (Lord Lyon, King of Arms), poet, playwright — is clearly recognizable.

Lyndsay seems likely to have been born in 1486. Hamer points to a charter of 19 October 1507, in which he is confirmed by his distant kinsman, Patrick, Lord Lindsay of the Byres, in the lands of “Garmylton-Alexander” (Garleton, East Lothian) as the eldest son and heir of “David Lindesay de Month,” suggesting (though not absolutely proving) that he had reached 21, the age of majority.5 The title “de Month” is taken from their lands at the Mount, near Cupar in Fife. Lyndsay and his four younger brothers may have grown up in Fife or in East Lothian, although Lyndsay eventually retired to Fife. Nothing is known of his youth. There is a “Da. Lindesay” in a list of students incorporated in St Salvator’s College, University of St Andrews (in Fife) for 1508 or 1509 which was once assumed to refer to our poet,6 but Lyndsays proliferated in Scotland and an inconvenient number of them were named David. Hamer points instead to a record in the Exchequer Rolls, also for 1508, of “one called Lyndesay in the stable of the late prince” (the “prince” was the short-lived first Prince James, 21 February 1507 – 17 February 1508).7 The fact that in later records Lyndsay is not referred to as “maister” argues against identifying him as the St Andrews student,8 whereas his career-long involvement with the pageantry and chivalric display of court — with its inevitable requirement for well-trained horses — suggests he may well have started off managing the prince’s stables.

In 1512 Lyndsay is recorded as an “ischar to the Prince,” this now referring to the second Prince James, born 10 April 1512. Lyndsay continued in this role after his charge was crowned James V following the disastrous battle of Flodden (9 September 1513) at which his father James IV died. Records refer to Lyndsay variously as hostiario domini regis or “the Kingis uschare,” “kepar of the Kingis grace,” hostiarii camere regis (“usher of the king’s chamber”).9 An usher was not a tutor — that role was filled by others — but a companion, and Lyndsay would reminisce about these days in later poems to James, with whom he evidently remained on close terms for the whole of the king’s life:
Quhen thow wes young, I bure the in myne arme                                                                     carried
Full tenderlie, tyll thow begouth to gang                                                                        began to walk
And in thy bed oft happit the full warme,                                                                               wrapped
With lute in hand syne sweitlie to the sang.
Sumtyme in dansing, feiralie I flang,                                                               vigorously; leapt about
And sumtyme playand fairsis on the flure,                                                             short dramas; floor
And sumtyme on myne office takkand cure.                                                                     looking after
[. . . .]
So, sen thy birth, I have continewalye
Bene occupyit, and aye to thy plesoure,
And sumtyme seware, coppare, and carvoure,                            table attendant, cup-bearer; carver

Thy purs maister and secreit thesaurare,                                                                        privy treasurer
Thy ischare, aye sen thy natyvitie,                                                                                      usher; birth
And of thy chalmer cheiffe cubiculare,                                                                       chamber; groom
Quhilk, to this houre, hes keipit my lawtie.                                                                                loyalty
(The Dreme, lines 8–14, 19–25)10
In the Complaynt, he reminds the king
Quhow, as ane chapman beris his pak,                                                                                        pedlar
I bure thy grace upon my bak
And sumtimes strydlingis on my nek,                                                                                        astride
Dansand with mony bend and bek.                                                                               leaps and bows
The first sillabis that thow did mute                                                                             syllables; speak
Was, “Pa, Da Lyn”. . . [perhaps “Play, Da(vid) Lyn(dsay)!”]
(lines 87–92)
The Treasurer’s Accounts are missing from September 1518 to June 1522. When they recommence, they record a “Jenet Dowglas, spous to David Lindsay maister Ischare to the King” who was a seamstress at court.11 But things would soon become awkward at court for Lyndsay. Archibald Douglas, sixth Earl of Angus and estranged husband of the Queen Mother, Margaret Tudor, returned from exile in 1524. By 1525 he had gained control of both government and adolescent king, clearing away Margaret’s supporters and those — presumably like Lyndsay — who might have influenced the young king in ways inconvenient to Angus. Lyndsay was not left entirely out in the cold, however. Although not at court, he still drew a pension: the Exchequer Rolls for 1525 describe him as being quondam hostiario domini regis — “formerly usher to the king” — and award him the forty-pound annuity that he solebat percipere “was accustomed to receive.”12 Hamer speculated that he was working as a pursuivant (a junior herald), but there is no evidence for this.13 His wife, Janet Douglas, continued to work at court throughout this period, possibly thanks to Douglas family connections.14 In 1528, the sixteen-year-old king broke free of Angus’ control and embarked on his personal rule, dismissing many Douglas followers from office and installing his own supporters.15 Hamer had dated Lyndsay’s earliest known poem, The Dreme, to this year since it seems to be a plea for a return to the king’s personal favor, but Carol Edington has since placed it more convincingly c. 1526 on the grounds of references in it to an on-going civil war and the fact that John the Commonweal is waiting until the country should be “gydit / Be wysedome of ane gude auld prudent kyng, ”which he thinks will happen soon (lines 992, 1004–05 and 1002).16 Lyndsay did return to both court and favor (if he had ever really fallen out of the latter): the Exchequer Rolls for 1528 describe him once again as familiari domini regis (i.e., a member of the king’s household, but also perhaps a familiar friend), and they record a payment of eighty pounds to cover the current and previous years’ annuities.17 By 1530, Lyndsay appears in records as “herald,” and by 1531 he is Snowdon Herald:18 his only known holograph signature appears in a diplomatic letter sent from Antwerp in this year.19 Over the next several years Lyndsay would spend a lot of time on the continent on the king’s business: diplomatic missions were an important part of the herald’s job alongside the management of court ceremony, tournaments, and matters of heraldry and arms.20 Lyndsay was a member of embassies to France in 1532, 1534, and 1535–37 to negotiate on James’ behalf for a wife, latterly for the hand of Madeleine, daughter of the French king Francis I; James and Madeleine married in Paris on 1 January 1537. The third Lyndsay poem in the present collection, The Answer to the Kingis Flyting, seems to date from the period of marriage negotiations in 1535–36 (see the Introduction to that poem). They became particularly tricky thanks to the reluctance of Francis I to let the sixteen-year-old Madeleine go out of fear for her frail health, and his fears were well founded: Madeleine would die within two months of her arrival in Scotland (7 July 1537). Lyndsay found himself canceling the festivities planned for her State entry to Edinburgh in order to arrange her funeral instead. The following year, Lyndsay directed the elaborate pageantry welcoming the second royal bride, Mary of Guise, to St Andrews, and probably also her entry to Edinburgh.21

Hamer argues that Lyndsay had been acting as the chief herald of the realm, Lyon King of Arms since about 1535 — certainly he is cited as “David Lindesay, Lyoun herald” in the Treasury Accounts for 1538 — but he would not be formally invested in the role until 1542, the same year he completed a still-authoritative Armorial Roll (an illustrated collection of recognized coats of arms).22 This was the year in which James V himself died of illness at Falkland Palace in Fife, on 14 December, aged just 30. As Lyon King of Arms, Lyndsay had to organize James’s state funeral. He continued to serve as Lyon King of Arms under the second duke of Arran, acting Regent for the infant Queen Mary, and he evidently impressed the English court in 1543 on his visit there to return James’ Order of the Garter. Henry VIII wrote to Arran to say that the Lord Lyon had fulfilled himself “right discreetly.”23

The Arran administration proved a fickle master, however. Regular pension payments to Lyndsay stop in 1543. He attended parliaments in Edinburgh in 1544 and Linlithgow in 1545 as a burgh commissioner for Cupar, but he appears to have spent the majority of his time in Fife.24 He seems likely to have socialized with his distant cousin John, Lord Lindsay of the Byres, whose family seat, the Struthers, was within five miles of Lyndsay’s own estates and who had in his employ the William Meldrum who is the subject of the Historie and Testament edited here. But Lyndsay cannot really be said to have retired: when a group of Fife lairds with strong Protestant sympathies broke into St Andrews castle on 29 May 1546 to assassinate Cardinal David Beaton, holding the castle thereafter with Arran’s own son as hostage, it was Lyndsay who was sent to negotiate with them — a shrewd move given that Lyndsay would have known them personally and was likely to have commanded their respect.25 His bitterly satirical Tragedie of the Cardinall (a dramatic monologue by the murdered Beaton) was published swiftly after this experience, and it demonstrates how much sympathy he had with the rebels’ hatred of Beaton, whatever he may have thought of their actions.26 After a last diplomatic mission to Denmark in 1548–49,27 Lyndsay returned to Fife and turned his attention more fully to writing. The vast play for which he is now most famous — Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis — was first performed in Cupar in June 1552. Evidently successful, it would be performed again in Edinburgh in August 1555 before the regent Mary of Guise. The year 1554, meanwhile, saw the first printing of his long contemplative work Ane Dialogue betuix Experience and Ane Courteour (or The Monarche). Lyndsay seems to have retained the title of Lyon King of Arms until his death, even if younger heralds were by then performing most of the associated duties. He is recorded as presiding over a trial on 16 January 1555 as Lyon King,28 but the next record to name Lyndsay is a charter of 13 March 1555 in which both he and his wife are listed as deceased.29

Despite Lyndsay’s distinctly secular career, his soaring popularity as a poet after Scotland’s Protestant Reformation of 1560 rested partly on his reputation as an apparent champion of the Protestant cause. John Knox noted approvingly that the rebels at St Andrews castle in 1546 invited him, Knox, to preach to them “having with thame in counsall Schir David Lyndesay of the Mont,”30 and seventeenth-century historians of the Reformed Scottish Kirk praised Lyndsay alongside avowed Reformers as if he were one of their number.31 This probably did much to keep his reputation buoyant while those of his fellow-poets Henryson, Dunbar, and Douglas languished in the seventeenth century. In fact, Lyndsay is not known to have converted to Protestantism, but he was certainly a sharp critic of Church corruption in poems such as the Tragedie of the Cardinall or Ane Dialog betwix Experience and ane Courteour, and he was explicit in his support of specific individual Protestant goals such as making the Bible available in the vernacular. Speaking of those who have “no Leid except thare toung maternall” (no language except their mother tongue), he protests: “Quhy suld of god the maruellous heuinly werk / Be hid frome thame? I thynk it not fraternall” (Ane Dialog, lines 554–55).

Go To Introduction to The Answer Quhilk Schir David Lindesay Maid to the Kingis Flyting