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Introduction to the Answer Quhilk Schir David Lindesay Maid to the Kingis Flyting

Introduction to The Answer to the Kingis Flyting: FOOTNOTES

1 See Todd, Culture of Protestantism, pp. 235–49, and Bawcutt, “Art of Flyting,” pp. 6–7. Ewan makes a useful distinction between numbers of men and women actually accused of defamation in pre-Reformation church courts, and the portrayal of flyting in some legislative and literary sources as a primarily female activity. She gives a total from the surviving pre-1560 records of 82 women accused of defamation against 52 men — i.e., a less gendered activity than is sometimes assumed in modern literary scholarship (“‘Many Injurious Words,’” pp. 176–78).

2 Todd, Culture of Protestantism, p. 236n35, citing Aberdeen, St. Nicholas Kirk session minutes, 1562–78, p.7 (NRS CH2/448/1).

3 Hesk, “Homeric Flyting.”

4 Touched on by Gray, “Rough Music,” pp. 22–23. Bawcutt is more skeptical about the relevance of these more distant parallels to Older Scots flytings (see Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Bawcutt, 2:429).

5 McLaughlin, “Dispute between Poggio and Valla.”

6 Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Bawcutt, 2:429.

7 For the text of Stewart’s Flytting, see Bannatyne Manuscript, ed. Ritchie, 3:22–26; for discussion see Fisher, “Contemporary Humour” (see p. 16 for suggested dating in the early 1530s). For Montgomery and Polwart, see Montgomerie, Poems, ed. Parkinson, no. 99 (1:139–75). James VI quotes from this as an example of flyting verse in his 1584 “Ane Schort Treatise Conteining Some Reulis and Cautelis to be Observit and Eschewit in Scottis Poesie” (Mercat Anthology, eds. Jack and Rozendaal, p. 470).

8 Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Bawcutt, 2:428.

9 Bawcutt, “Art of Flyting,” pp. 11–12; Flynn and Mitchell, “‘It may be verifyit.’”

10 “‘Thus euery man said for hym self,’” p. 264. Todd observes: “As in the works of the makars, street flyting abounds with demeaning references to physical appearance and to clan and ancestry, especially charges that one’s forebears or kin were immoral, diseased or criminal” (Culture of Protestantism, pp. 237–38).

11 See Thomas, Princelie Majestie, pp. 41–43, and the telling ODNB entry, “James V, mistresses and children of.”

12 “The Complaynt of Schir David Lindesay” (Selected Poems, ed. Hadley Williams, lines 238–52). She speculates that the “hie boirdall” (great brothel) might be a reference to Edinburgh.

13 Hadley Williams, “Thus euery man said for hym self,” p. 265.

14 Culture of Protestantism, p. 239.

15 Cameron, James V, pp. 131–33.

16 See Stewart, “Final Folios,’” p. 252. The story was later reported by Pitscottie, Historie and Cronicles, 1:358–59.

17 Cameron, James V, p. 133.

18 The Answer has previously been edited by Chalmers, Laing, Hamer, and Hadley Williams (see the list of editions at the end of the present volume’s introductory Biography of Sir David Lyndsay).

19 Hamer, Works, 4:45–46. These are: “The Deploratioun of the Deith of Quene Magdalene,” “The Answer,” “The Complaint and Publict Confessioun of the Kingis auld Hound, callit Bagsche,” “Ane Supplicatioun . . . in Contemptioun of syde Taillis,” “Kitteis Confessioun,” and “The Iusting betuix Iames Watsoun and Ihone Barbour.”

20 STC 2nd ed. 15676–78. See Hamer, Works, 4:38, 52–53, and 57–59.

21 See Swanson, “Scotia extranea” (pp. 139–40). Hamer traces an astonishing twenty surviving copies of this volume (Works, 4:60–62).

22 Hamer, Works, 4:46.

23 Private communication with Richard Foster, Fellows’ Librarian.

24 STC 2nd ed. 15658.5. See Hamer, Works, 4:48–49. Sole extant copy in St. John’s College, Upper Library, shelfmark Aa.2.23, but missing its title-page, thus leading to occasional confusion with the original 1568 edition; see, for example, the ESTC database, which lists this item as one of the extant witnesses the 1568 edition (ESTC citation number S109439) as well as giving it its own entry (ESTC citation number S2191).

25 STC 2nd ed. 15659. The sole extant copy (incomplete) is Oxford, Bodleian Library, Tanner 187. See Hamer, Works, 4:49–51.

26 Hamer, Works, 4:54.

27 Hamer, Works, 4:55, 63.

28 Hamer, Works, 4:64–66.

29 Laing, Scott, and Thomson, eds.,“Wills of Thomas Bassandyne and Other Printers,” 2:225. Charteris’ will was registered 16 September 1606. Margaret Wallace, widow of Henrie’s son, the printer Robert Charteris, also left an impressive 600 “Dauid Lyndesayis buikis” (at the slightly lower price of seven shillings) upon her death on 1 February 1603 (2:236).

30 See Laing, Scott, and Thomson, eds., “Wills of Thomas Bassandyne and Other Printers,” 2:191, 197. Bassandyne’s will was registered on 6 February 1579.

The basic meaning of flyte (v.) as given in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue is “to wrangle violently; to employ abusive language towards others; to scold.” Flyting seems to have been a common phenomenon in early modern Scottish society, indulged in by both men and women: it is the subject of many disciplinary hearings in burgh and church session records, and the details of the insults exchanged appear to have been recorded with relish by the session scribes.1 Margo Todd notes that the Aberdeen session records make a helpful distinction between mere “common skoldis” and “flyttaris”:
In general, flyting was mutual — with epithets exchanged on both sides; it was public, generally conducted in the street; and its language was formulaic and colourful — so much so that, unlike the scolding and defamation cases that dominated English church court agendas in the same period, it had excited the attention and imitation of the Scots makars (poets) from at least the fifteenth century.2
This “imitation” flyting by the Scots makars took the form of scurrilous yet highly formalized exchanges of insults in verse, in which each poet’s aim was to display his (for they are all male) own poetic skill while destroying the reputation and artistic credibility of his opponent. The language of the street, or the gutter, is clearly heard in these poetic flytings, but it is not their sole inspiration. The Older Scots poetic flyting is a distinctive manifestation of a much broader literary tradition of competitive invective, which includes examples as diverse as the invectives traded by the heroes in Homer’s Iliad;3 Celtic and Icelandic satires, lampoons, cursings,4 and learned exchanges such as the famously vicious and personal dispute between the fifteenth-century Italian humanists Poggio Bracciolini and Lorenzo Valla over (among other things) who was the best Latin scholar.5 This was played out in 1452–53, but was still famous enough to be cited by Dunbar’s contemporary Gavin Douglas in his 1501 Palis of Honoure:
And Pogyus stude with mony gyrn and grone                                          Poggio; sneer; groan
On Laurence Valla spyttand and cryand “Fy!”                                             spitting and crying
(ed. Parkinson, lines 1232–33)
The most famous Older Scots flyting is The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy, printed by Chepman and Myllar in 1508 but composed before 1505.6 It established the pattern followed by later literary flytings such as Lyndsay’s Answer, William Stewart’s Flytting betuix þe Sowtar and the Tailȝour (1530s) or the spectacular flyting of c. 1584 between Alexander Montgomery and Patrick Hume of Polwart, poets of King James VI’s literary circle.7 William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy were both well-educated, well-known figures at the court of James IV, and both had established reputations as poets. Their Flyting consists of two short challenges followed by a single long invective from each poet. There has been much speculation as to where and how such flytings circulated; Priscilla Bawcutt notes that The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy’s opening lines “imply the existence of an earlier attack mounted by Kennedy . . . and it is likely that the work originated in a series of separate invectives that first circulated in manuscript.”8 This corresponds to the situation described by Lyndsay, in which he has “red” the king’s “ragment,” been disparaged by his “prunyeand pen” (piercing pen), and had his reputation amongst the ladies ruined by James’ “libellis” (letters; lines 1–8). Bawcutt and others have speculated that Dunbar and Kennedy’s Flyting might also have been performed as a court entertainment, designed to whip up an audience to cheers: such performative aspects are explored further in Caitlin Flynn and Christy Mitchell’s comparison between Older Scots poetic flytings and modern rap battles.9

As befits a poetic contest, Dunbar and Kennedy flyte in complex eight-line rhymed stanzas heavily studded with alliteration, and the diction is a dizzying combination of formality and salty colloquialism. Dunbar in particular works himself up into a frenzy of foul-mouthed alliterating invective for which a modern reader is helplessly reliant on a glossary: “Forflittin, countbittin, beschittin, barkit hyd, / Clym ledder, fyle tedder, foule edder, I defy thee!” (Out-flyted, cunt-bitten [i.e., either “poxed” or impotent], shit-covered, tanned-hide / Ladder-climber, noose-defiler, foul adder, I defy thee!, ed. Conlee, lines 239–40). This puts Lyndsay’s single use of “fukkand . . . fornicatour” (line 49) in The Answer into perspective.

Some of Dunbar and Kennedy’s favored categories of insult are off-limits for Lyndsay. The earlier poets make much of each other’s hideous appearance, something that may not have gone down well with the young bachelor king no matter how jokingly presented. Shameful lineage is another major theme for the earlier poets, but as Janet Hadley Williams observes, “a Dunbarian attack on the king’s ancestry . . . could amount to treason.”10 Even the element of poetic competition is a potentially dangerous one for Lyndsay to introduce: he acknowledges the trope by offering praise (rather than criticism) of James’ verse while writing in beautifully measured rhyme royal stanzas himself. Such inversion of the tropes established by Dunbar and Kennedy’s Flyting is in fact one of Lyndsay’s key techniques in The Answer. He wishes that “sum tygerris toung wer to me lent” (line 4) rather than demonstrating possession of one himself (though other satirical works show that he can exercise a “tygerris toung” perfectly well when he wants to). Where Kennedy promises that Dunbar will be made to beg for mercy and cry “cor mundum” (line 20) on his knees, Lyndsay claims that he will be reduced to this himself by James’ invective.

It seems at first as if another major category of insult — accusations of sexual impotence — will likewise be handled by simple inversion: Lyndsay complains that James’ insults have made him a laughing-stock amongst women and had him metaphorically “dejectit” from Venus’ court (lines 7–13), and he notes in contrast how James is “in till Venus werkis maist vailyeand” (line 26). But this praise is the very thing that Lyndsay allows to sour over the next few stanzas. First he offers himself as an example of one who has grown wiser with age and now regrets that he ever pursued women for sex (lines 31–33); then he outlines the dire physical consequences of too much sex, hastening death by expending one’s life-force too wastefully (see note to lines 40–42 for the contemporary medical beliefs underlying these claims). Not only does this neatly turn Lyndsay’s supposed lack of sexual activity from a failing into a virtue, but it also turns James’ promiscuity from a matter of pride to one of national concern. At this point Lyndsay, ever the diplomat, softens the blow by inverting another flyting trope: instead of cursing James, he curses the king’s advisers — “I give your counsale to the feynd of hell” — for not providing him with an appropriate bride (see note to lines 43–44).

Continuing the theme of the king’s sexual incontinence, Lyndsay turns to another flyting trope. This is the dramatized scene in which the opponent is comically humiliated. The most memorable example from Dunbar and Kennedy’s Flyting is Kennedy’s vivid account of Dunbar’s alleged voyage on the Katryne (Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Bawcutt, lines 449–72), where his sea-sickness resulted in such spectacular bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that he “beschate the stere [helm], the compas and the glas [hourglass]” and “spewit and kest out mony a lathly lomp / Fastar than all the marynaris coud pomp” (vomited and threw up many a disgusting chunk / faster than all the sailors could pump; lines 460 and 462–63) so that the captain had to order Dunbar off at the Bass Rock, and the ship’s ropes were still encrusted with excrement twenty years later. In The Answer, Lyndsay describes a scene in which James pounces on an eager “quene” (wench, but with an undoubted pun on the royal title) in the brew-house, throwing her across a “stinking” trough (line 53) and copulating so energetically that they knock over a mashing-vat and empty its contents all over themselves, leaving them “swetterand lyke twa swyne” (wallowing like two pigs; line 58). This bit of slapstick may be less spectacular than Kennedy’s tale of the beshitten ship, but it fulfills its purpose of appearing to laugh with James about his sexual adventures, while delicately suggesting that, if he is not more careful, some may start to laugh at him.

Many of the accusations hurled in Dunbar and Kennedy’s Flyting are deliberate fantasy, but Lyndsay’s accusations of sexual promiscuity would seem to have been not far from the truth. James is known to have fathered at least eight illegitimate children on various high-born mistresses (see note to line 57), and the eldest of these was born when James was just seventeen. One may surmise from this that there were more whose humbler circumstances kept them out of the historical record.11 It was clearly a genuine worry for Lyndsay. In his Complaynt, when he writes of the period of the earl of Angus’ ascendency during which he was unable to keep such a close watch over James, he imagines a series of sycophantic courtiers tempting the teenaged king with a girl at every royal palace: “ane maid in Fyfe, / Ane of the lusteast wantoun lassis” (presumably at Falkland Palace); another “lusty las” in Linlithgow; a “dayis derlyng” in Stirling, and finally an offer to visit the “hie boirdall” (i.e., “great brothel”).12 It is notable how careful Lyndsay is to lay the blame for James’ promiscuity elsewhere, as he does at lines 43–44 of The Answer. Hadley Williams notes that The Answer’s deft portrait of James’ lack of self-control may suggest a “momentary parallel” (albeit in a different sphere of action) to his father James IV, who died leading a rash charge at the battle of Flodden in 1513, “Distroyit . . . / Nocht be the vertew of Inglis ordinance, / Bot be his awin wylfull mysgovernance” (Testament of the Papyngo, ed. Hadley Williams, lines 512–13).13 Lyndsay may also have been genuinely concerned for the king’s health: the “grandgore” (line 63) that James has so far escaped only by the grace of God is syphilis, a serious sexually-transmitted disease (certainly in the days before antibiotics) which was only recorded in Scotland from the 1490s onwards (see note to line 63). On the other hand, he may introduce it here (in characteristically indirect form) because it is appropriate for a flyting: Dunbar calls Kennedy “countbittin” in line 239 (which may imply venereal disease), and Todd notes that to call someone “gangorie” or accuse them of having “the gangore” was a common insult recorded in the sixteenth-century church session accounts of flytings and slander.14

In sum, The Answer to the Kingis Flyting may retain enough genuine “flyting” features to justify its title, but Lyndsay has effectively commandeered the form in order to offer veiled advice to his wayward king.


The Answer was clearly written before James V married, but Lyndsay’s final coy reference to “ane bukler” [a shield] who will come forth, “sum sayis,” from France to endure James’ strokes (lines 68–69) suggests that negotiations for a French bride were reasonably well advanced. This would seem to date the poem to 1535–36. Although the Franco-Scottish Treaty of Rouen of 1517 had included a promise to provide a French royal bride for the Scottish king, succeeding years had seen the consideration of candidates from Portugal, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Lorraine, and Italy, as well as several from France itself. It was not until 6 March 1536 that a marriage contract was finally drawn up between James and Marie de Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Vêndome.15 The contemporary chronicler Adam Abell reports that James was rumored to have visited the court of the Duke of Vêndome in disguise in September 1536 to make a secret assessment of Marie, the apparent result of which was his determination to win the teenaged Madeleine de Valois, daughter of Francis I, instead.16 Although the French king was reluctant to let Madeleine go, James was successful in his suit and they were married at Nôtre Dame on 1 January 1537. Alas, Francis’ fears about Madeleine’s fragile health were justified: Madeleine fell ill in March and died at Holyrood Palace on 7 July 1537.17


The present text was edited from the earliest extant witness, the 1568 Warkis of Lyndsay published by Henrie Charteris.18 This is the earliest surviving edition to contain what Hamer labels the second series of minor poems.19 In the Table of Contents, The Answer is excitingly labeled “neuer befoir Imprentit,” and Charteris would not drop this advertising tag until his 1592 edition. The poem occupies only three of the 1568 edition’s 392 pages, and the text does not alter across the several editions Charteris brought out in the later sixteenth century; it thus does not seem necessary to offer detailed descriptions of all of these early prints of the Warkis here. The copy of The Answer in Bassandyne’s 1574 Warkis (see below) was consulted but not collated, since textual differences are entirely trivial, consisting of spelling variants (e.g., line 1 “haif” for Charteris’ “have,” or line 54 “feind” for Charteris’ “feynd”) or differing practice with abbreviations, which Bassandyne tends to use more heavily — particularly the suspension for missing n/m. Otherwise, Bassandyne’s text follows that of Charteris right down to the punctuation.

Lyndsay’s works were also printed outside Scotland in the sixteenth century, but neither the anglicized London editions of Lyndsay’s poems published by Thomas Purfoote (A Dialogue betweene Experience and a Courtier and Other Poems, 1566, 1575, and 1581)20 nor the selection of Lyndsay’s poems translated into Danish by Jacob Mattssøn and published by Hans Stockelmann the Younger (Copenhagen, 1591) include The Answer.21
• Edinburgh: Johne Scot for Henrie Charteris, 1568 (STC 2nd ed. 15658)
The warkis of the famous and vorthie Knicht Schir Dauid Lyndesay of the Mont, Alias, Lyoun King of Armes. Newly correctit, and vindicate from the former errouris quhairwith thay war befoir corruptit: and augmentit with sindrie warkis quhilk was not befoir imprentit. The contentis of the buke, and quhat warkis ar augmentit, the nixt syde sall schaw.
Viuet etiam post funera virtus. IOB. VII.
Militia est vita hominis super terram.

Newlie Imprentit be IOHNE SCOT, at the expensis of Henrie Charteris: and ar to be sauld in his Buith, on the north syde of the gait, abone the Throne. CUM PRIUILEGIO REGALI, ANNO. DO. M.D.LXVIII.

Quarto volume; 392 pages (no page numbering); 28–29 lines per page. Printed in blackletter, but with Roman typeface for running headers (in this case “THE FLYTING”) and italics for Latin phrases (e.g., “Cor mundum crea in me,” line 20).
The Answer . . . to the Kingis Flyting occupies 2K4b–2K5b.

Extant Copies

1. San Marino, CA, Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. Shelfmark 17425. This copy was filmed for EEBO.

2. Washington, DC, Folger Shakespeare Library. Shelfmark STC 15658. Formerly in the library of Sir Leicester Harmsworth. Hamer measured this copy as 173 x 120mm.22

3. Winchester, England, Fellows’ Library, Winchester College. Shelfmark Bk6065. Bound together with Robert Charteris’ print of Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits (Edinburgh, 1602; STC 2nd ed. 15681.5). The binding is late seventeenth-century, and the volume was gifted to the library by Alexander Thistlethwayte in 1767. Pages measure 170 x 124mm.23

Charteris reissued the 1568 Warkis twice with new preliminaries, first in 156924 and then in 1571.25 He then seems to have had a new edition printed in 1580 by John Ross (both extant copies are damaged and missing their date).26 He reissued this himself with new preliminaries in 1582 and 1592,27 then brought out two further editions in 1597 alone.28 At the time of his death on 29 August 1599, Charteris apparently had 788 “Dauid Lyndesayis” in stock, valued at eight shillings each.29 His fellow printer Thomas Bassandyne, responsible for the edition of the Warkis described below, left 505 unbound “Lyndesayis” as well as five bound copies (at three and eight shillings each respectively) amidst the famously vast inventory recorded at his death on 18 October 1577.30 Lyndsay seems to have been extremely good business for printers at the end of the sixteenth century.
• Edinburgh: Thomas Bassandyne, 1574 (STC 2nd ed. 15660)
The warkis of the famous and worthie Knicht Schir Dauid Lyndesay of the Mont Alias, Lyoun King of Armes. Newly correctit, and vindicate from the former Errouris quhairwith thay war befoir corruptit: And augmentit with sindry warkis quhilk was not befoir imprentit. The Contenttis of the Buik, and quhat warkis ar augmentit the nixt syde sall schaw.
Viuet etiam post funera virtus. IOB VII.
Militia est vita hominis super terram.

Imprentit at Edinburgh be Thomas Bassandyne, dwelland at the nether Bow. M.D.LXXIIII.
Cum Priuilegio Regis.

Quarto volume, 12+362 numbered pages; 30–32 lines per page. Blackletter, but with the printer’s “Adhortation of all Estatis” and Lyndsay’s “Epistil Nvncupatorie” in Roman typeface, as well as the running headers (in this case “The Answer / to the Kingis flyting”) and Latin quotations such as “Cor mundum crea in me” at line 20. Thinner paper than used by the Charteris editions, with much show-through.
The Answer appears on pp. 338–40.

Extant copy: Edinburgh, NLS. Shelfmark F.5.b.40. Measures 176 x 120mm. Stamped “Lauriston Castle Library,” and a pencil note reads “Bought Quaritch 26.11.30.” Bound in red leather; spine stamped in gold with “The warkis of Lindesay. 1574.”

In accordance with METS editorial policy, the letters þ (thorn, letter-form identical with printed y) and the rarer ȝ (yogh) have been transcribed with their modern equivalents th and y respectively (the latter is always the value intended in these texts for yogh). The distribution of i/j and u/v/w has been normalized according to modern spelling practice — e.g., “Venus” and “dejectit” for original “Uenus” and “deiectit,” (both line 7) and “vennemous” for original “wennemous” (line 16). Abbreviations have been silently expanded. Punctuation, capitalization, and word division have also been modernized.

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