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Introduction to the Balletis of the Nine Nobles

Introduction to the Balletis of the Nine Nobles: FOOTNOTES

1 I briefly discussed the Scottish Nine Worthies tradition in my monograph: The Trojan Legend in Medieval Scottish Literature. I am grateful to Boydell & Brewer for allowing me to here reproduce and expound upon a small amount of material from this book.

2 The listing together of some of the Nine Worthies did occur in early texts and they had also long been recognized as fitting subjects for romance, but they first appeared together in Les Voeux. On the tradition and its development, see Höltgen, “Die ‘Nine Worthies’”; Schroeder, Der Topos der Nine Worthies; Schroeder, “The Nine Worthies: A Supplement”; “Texts Illustrative of ‘The Nine Worthies,’” ed. Gollancz; Loomis, “Verses on the Nine Worthies”; Turville- Petre, “The Nine Worthies in the Parliament of the Thre Ages”; Cropp, “Les Vers Sur Les Neuf Preux”; Bellon-Méguelle, Du Temple de Mars à la Chambre de Vénus, pp. 489–96.

3 Buik of Alexander, ed. Ritchie. Ritchie edits the Scots poem in parallel with the French original. All citations from Les Voeux and “The Avowis” will be from this edition, under the collective short title Alexander.

4 For a more extensive analysis of the OA Nine Worthies tradition see Wingfield, Trojan Legend, pp. 65–70.

5 Scottish examples include two catalogues in the Book of the Dean of Lismore (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ MS 72.1.37). See Mackechnie, Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in Selected Libraries, 1:185–86, nos. 171 and 201.

6 A Scottish example is the ceiling of Crathes Castle. See Bath, Renaissance Decorative Painting in Scotland, pp. 185–90; Hargreaves, “The Crathes Ceiling Inscriptions.”

7 Barbour, Barbour’s Bruce, ed. McDiarmid and Stevenson. All subsequent citations are taken from this edition.

8 This phrase proves difficult to translate accurately as denus is not a standard form, but a rough paraphrase would be “Hector . . . [etc.] Robert King of Scots is tenth in the number of our betters [i.e., the tenth worthy].”

9 Higgitt, “Manuscripts and Libraries in the Diocese of Glasgow.”

10 Declaration of Arbroth, ed. Fergusson and trans. Borthwick.

11 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt; Laing, “De Cronicis Scotorum Brevia by John Law.” See also Durkan, “St Andrews in John Law’s Chronicle”; Drexler, “The Extant Abridgements of Walter Bower’s ‘Scotichronicon.’”

12 The poem is metrically irregular. Lines have anywhere between 8 and 11 syllables with no discernable pattern.

13 Examples of such summative material include linked passages between the accounts of the Worthies (e.g., “Of thir thre Iowes we find it writ, / The auld Testament witnesis it, / They did sa mekle that commonly / All men thame lufis generally, / And, as I trow, sall lufe thame ay, / Euermare quhill domisday” (Alexander, 4:404, lines 9941–46)). The Balletis author also omits certain extra information provided about each character, such as the background note that Hector took on the leadership of the Trojan forces “Quhen Menelayus the mychty King / Assegit in Troy the King Priant / For Elene . . .” (Alexander, 4:402, lines 9900–02).

14 Buik of Alexander, ed. Ritchie, 1:cxxxiv–cli, cliv–vi. Ritchie attributed the OA to Barbour, arguing that the former poem’s internal date of 1438 was a scribal error. Common authorship is no longer accepted. The OA and Bruce are in conscious dialogue, but this does not necessitate common authorship. See further Wingfield, “The Manuscript and Print Contexts of Older Scots Romance,” pp. 26–40.

15 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 6:301, lines 30–33.

16 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 6:319, line 32.

17 The genealogy is found in the Liber Extravagens, a supplementary book composed after the main Scotichronicon. The reference to Bruce as eleventh rather than tenth Worthy is simply a scribal error. See “Liber Extravagens,” line 41, in Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:94–95.

18 These images portray the voyage of Scotland’s mythological founding figures, Gaythelos and Scota, and their followers from Egypt (fol. 14r); the meeting of Malcolm and Macduff, thane of Fife (fol. 88r); the inauguration of King Alexander III (fol. 206r); the funeral of Alexander III (fol. 225v); and the Battle of Bannockburn (fol. 265r). See further Higgitt, “Decoration and Illustration.”

19 Since this manuscript remains in private hands it is most easily accessed via a microfilm in St Andrews University Library (ms38423/10/3).

20 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:187–88.

21 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:188–89; Lyall, “Books and Book-Owners in Fifteenth-Century Scotland,” pp. 245–46.

22 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:191–92.

23 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:149.

24 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:149.

25 Craigie, ed. “The ‘Ballet of the Nine Nobles’,” pp. 359–65. Matthew P. McDiarmid attributed the Balletis to Hary, author of The Wallace (c. 1476–78) but its date of composition is too early for Hary’s authorship. See Hary’s Wallace, ed. McDiarmid, 1:cix.

26 Bower, Scotichronicon, ed. Watt, 9:245–46.

27 Bouwmeester, “The Nine Worthies in Middle Dutch Miscellanies.”

28 Buik of Alexander, ed. Ritchie, 1:cxxxiv–cli.

The Balletis of the Nine Nobles (NIMEV 1181) is an early to mid-fifteenthcentury Scottish text in the Nine Worthies tradition.1


The Nine Worthies tradition was first formulated in Les Voeux du Paon, an originally independent poem composed c. 1310–12 by Jacques de Longuyon.2 Les Voeux was the most common of the French Alexander poems and survives in over thirty manuscripts, where it is often appended to the Roman d’Alexandre, or interpolated within Branch III of that romance. Together with another French Alexander poem, Le Fuerre de Gadres, Les Voeux was also translated into Scots c. 1438; the two parts of the poem are known as “The Forray of Gaderis” and “Avowis of Alexander,” and the complete c. 14,500-line “buik of the most noble and valiant Conquerour Alexander the grit” (NIMEV 3923) (hereafter Octosyllabic Alexander / OA) survives uniquely in a printed edition of c. 1580 produced by the Edinburgh printer, Alexander Arbuthnet (STC 321.5).3 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century several attempts were made to ascribe the Octosyllabic Alexander to John Barbour, author of The Bruce (c. 1375–76), but this attribution is no longer accepted.

One of most central characters in Les Voeux is Porrus, eldest son of the Indian king, Clarus. During the final Great Battle of Epheson, the narrator focuses on Porrus’ bravery and, to better illustrate this, suspends narrative action and compares Porrus to the Nine Worthies. They comprise three pagans (Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar); three Jews (Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus); and three Christians (King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon).4

The Nine Worthies tradition subsequently became increasingly popular across medieval art, drama, and literature, and was used either to represent a chivalric or monarchical ideal, or alternatively as an exemplum of the vanity of all earthly things. Short verse and prose catalogues of the Worthies were commonly written onto flyleaves and spare spaces in manuscripts,5 whilst tableaux of the heroes formed part of royal entrances and civic pageants as mirrors of prowess and good rule to be emulated by their monarchical audience. The Worthies also formed the subject of tapestries, wall paintings, and woodcuts, where their images were often accompanied by verses in which each hero presented himself in a short first person account.6 A tradition of heraldry associated with each Worthy developed, as did a corresponding set of female Worthies, although the latter never gained as fixed a form as its male counterpart. It also became common to append a tenth Worthy to the traditional nine, most often a notable national hero, and in Scotland that hero was Robert I (1274–1379), otherwise known as Robert the Bruce.

Robert I was first compared to a number of the Nine Worthies in John Barbour’s The Bruce (c. 1375–76). Barbour here uses the Nine Worthies tradition to negotiate the difficulties of Bruce’s murder of his political opponent, John Comyn (d. 1306). In murdering Comyn at the high altar of Greyfriars’ monastery in Dumfries, Bruce committed a heinous crime for which subsequent Brucean ideology had to account. In order to exculpate his hero from this sacrilegious act of homicide, Barbour neutralizes Bruce’s crime by instead emphasizing Comyn’s act of betrayal, and he prefaces the murder scene with a digression on the dangers of treason, “Bot off all thing wa worth tresoun” (1.515–68, quotation on line 515).7 Within this digression, Barbour compares Bruce to Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Arthur, three of the Nine Worthies who also fell victim to treachery. He also opens his account by comparing Comyn’s betrayal of Bruce to the treachery which brought about the downfall of Troy (1.521–28). This comparison implies that Comyn’s treachery of Bruce is to be read as a betrayal of the entire Scottish nation and that Bruce himself is to be aligned with the Trojan king, Priam. Bruce is, however, ultimately shown to be superior to Priam, as well as to Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Arthur, since he avoids their fate: “ik herd neuer in romanys tell / Off man sa hard frayit as wes he / Yat efterwart com to sic bounte” (2.46–48).

Bruce is aligned for the second time with the Nine Worthies in a twelfth-century illuminated copy of the Vulgate Bible from north-east France, once belonging to Sweetheart Abbey, Kirkudbright (now Princeton University Library, Garrett MS 27). On an otherwise blank folio (fol. 365v) we find written in a hand of c. 1380 the following Latin lines: Ector, Alexander, Julius, Josue, David, Machabeus, / Arthurus, Carulus, et postremus Godofrydus — / Robertus rex Scotorum denus est in numero meliorum.8 This instance of the Nine Worthies tradition appears to position King Robert I authoritatively as a Tenth Worthy. Directly opposite the blank folio on which these lines are written, however, is the Prologue to the Book of Joshua. The Prologue begins with an historiated initial depicting a shield held in the mouth of a monster, designed to illustrate the arms of the Balliol family. The juxtaposition of Latin text proposing Bruce as a Tenth Worthy alongside an image that aligns the Balliol family with Joshua and the Israelites recalls the rival claims for the Scottish crown of Robert I’s grandfather and John Balliol during the Great Cause and subsequent Wars of Independence.9 It also recalls the famous 1320 letter of Scottish barons to Pope John XXII, known as the Declaration of Arbroath. This document was written to counter the increasing hostility of the papacy against the Scottish king, Robert I, and has been interpreted both as an essentially diplomatic document and as a political manifesto asserting Scottish independence and sovereignty. In it, the early Scots are paralleled with the Israelites and their leaders with Moses, Joshua, and Judas Maccabeus: Scottish ancestors are said to have journeyed from Egypt “twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea” and Robert Bruce is “like another Maccabeus or Joshua.”10

Bruce appears as a Tenth Worthy for the third time in the anonymous Balletis of the Nine Nobles (edited here), which survives amongst a collection of extraneous material in four manuscripts of Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (c. 1441–47) — a history of the Scottish people from their mythological origins to the murder of James I of Scotland in 1437 and minority of his son, James II — and also in an abbreviation of that chronicle begun in 1521 by a canon of St Andrews, John Law.11 These five manuscript witnesses are discussed in further detail below.


The Balletis offers an abbreviated version of the Nine Worthies passage in the French Les Voeux and Scots “Avowis.” It omits all of the summative material which concludes and prefaces each group of three Worthies in these latter texts and consists of 62 lines, or rather ten stanzas of six lines (rhyming aabbcc)12 — one being devoted to each of the Nine Worthies and Robert Bruce — plus a final couplet addressing the audience: “Yhe gude men at thir balletis redis, / Demis ye quha dochtiast was in dedis” (lines 61–62).13

Detailed comparison of the Balletis with “The Avowis” and Les Voeux, documented in the explanatory notes, demonstrates that the Balletis’ author knew both the Scots translation and the French original and drew on each text for his or her own composition. Particular echoes or influence of “The Avowis” on the Balletis are apparent at lines 2, 5, 11, 12, 16, 22, 28, 36, 43, and 45–46; these echoes either have no counterpart in, or do not correspond as closely to, the original Nine Worthies passage in Les Voeux. In reporting the details of Hector’s conquests, however, the Balletis author reports that Hector slew “ammirallis a hunder and mare” (line 3). This detail is not in “The Avowis” but it is present in the original French where Hector [o]cist . . . / . . . amiraus et contes, ce croi je, plus de .C. (Alexander, 4:403, lines 7492–93). Similarly, instead of killing “mony ane fell pagan,” as in “The Avowis” (Alexander, 4:404, line 9961), in the Balletis David kills “Filestens at felon was” (line 26). The adjective felon occurs only in the French (Et maint felon payen fist venir a noiant, Alexander, 4:404, line 7532). Furthermore, only in “The Avowis” is Godfrey of Bouillon king of Jerusalem for “ane ȝeir and mare” (Alexander, 4:406, line 10009); in the Balletis (line 54) and Les Voeux (Alexander, 4:406, line 7572) he reigns for just one year. Such details therefore indicate that the Balletis author worked from and had access to the original French Les Voeux as well as the Scots translation.

Further details demonstrate that the author also worked from other vernacular sources. The Balletis stanza on Arthur is, for instance, notably different from that in Les Voeux and “The Avowis,” with the exception of the detail that Arthur killed more than one giant (compare “Avowis,” Alexander, 4:405, line 9991 and Les Voeux, Alexander, 4:405, line 7556). Other details of this stanza appear to stem either directly or indirectly from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of Arthur’s enemy, Lucius, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). Geoffrey and the Balletis author both describe Lucius as a “procuratour,” whereas he appears elsewhere, for instance in the Alliterative Morte Arthure (ed. Benson, lines 554, 1293) or Barbour’s Bruce (1.555), as an “emperour.”

The Balletis’ description of Arthur may furthermore owe something to Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Chronicle (c. 1408–24), book 5, chapter 13 (ed. Amours). In a well known passage where Wyntoun discusses the enigmatic poet “Huchon of þe Aule Reale” (MS Cotton, 4:21–27, lines 4279–360, quotation from line 4279), he spends some time discussing whether Lucius should be called “emperoure.” He clarifies that Huchon in fact states that “Lucyus Hyberyus in his dayis / Was of þe hee state procuratoure” (4:23, lines 4302–03).

The Balletis was, finally, also influenced by Barbour’s Bruce. A number of parallels between the two poems were listed by the Octosyllabic Alexander’s editor, R. L. Graeme Ritchie, in a bid to prove common authorship.14 They include stock phrases such as “throu hard feichtingis,” “at was ferli,” “discumfit,” “stalwart stour,” “hard batel,” and “Throu Goddis grace.” Such phrases were very much the stock-in-trade of late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Scottish verse; better correspondences between the two poems are instead those episodes in The Bruce where Barbour himself engages with the Nine Worthies and aligns his heroes with them, such as the treason digression prefacing Bruce’s murder of Comyn (discussed above), or the comparison of the poem’s second hero, James Douglas, to Hector of Troy (1.395–96).

The stanza on Julius Caesar in the Balletis is particularly close to the lines on him in the treason digression in The Bruce. In the Balletis, “Julius Cesar wan halili / The ilis of Grece and al Surry; / Arrike, arab, Bretan wan he, / [ . . . . ] / He was the first was emperor” (lines 13–18). In The Bruce, “Iulius Cesar als, yat wan / Bretane and Fraunce as dowchty man, / Affryk Arrabe Egipt Surry / And all Evrope halyly, / [ . . . ] / Off Rome wes fryst maid emperour” (1.537–42). The same verb, “wan,” is used in both texts, as well as the qualifying adverb “halili.” The list of places conquered is also strikingly similar, as well as the comment that Caesar was the first emperor.

Finally, the closing demande in the Balletis has a parallel in The Bruce. After Bruce has single-handedly fought against a large number of men of Galloway, the narrator compares his prowess to that of Tydeus who single-handedly killed fifty men (6.181–286). He asks firstly, “ȝe yat yis redys, cheys yhe / Quheyer yat mar suld prysit be / Ye king [ . . . ] / Or Thedeus,” and secondly, “Now demys quheyer mar lowing / Suld Thedeus haiff or ye king” (6.271–77, 285–86).


As already noted, the Balletis consists of thirty couplets plus a coda of two lines. Six lines (three couplets) are allotted to each of the Nine Worthies and a further six are given to Robert Bruce. The poem presents the career of each Worthy — describing them variously as “nobil,” “geantill,” and “michti” — and it focuses on their martial victories and prowess, in particular on the number of people and places that they kill or conquer. Verbs and phrases such as “throu hard feichtingis,” “slew,” “wan,” “stalwart stour,” and “conquirit” are, furthermore, repeated throughout the poem to emphasize the similarities of each Worthy. The opening stanza thus describes how:
Hector of Troy throu hard feichtingis
In half thrid yeris slew xix kingis,
And ammirallis a hunder and mare,
With smal folk at unrekkynnit war;
He slew so fele at was ferli,
Quham Achiles slew tresnabili.
(lines 1–6)
The final stanza on Robert Bruce, which echoes and distills the previous verses, reads:
Robert the Brois throu hard feichting
With few vencust the michti Kyng
Of Ingland, Edward, twyse in ficht,
At occupide his realme but richt;
At sumtyme was set so hard
At had nocht sex til him toward.
(lines 55–60)
The nomenclature “Robert the Brois” (line 55) echoes “Hector of Troy” (line 1) and “Charles of France” (line 43) but replaces a national name with a family name and thus ensures that Bruce, like Hector and Charlemagne, is associated with the dynasty to which he belonged and for which he fought, and also that his family name becomes inextricably linked with the nation, Scotland. Bruce’s achievement of victory “throu hard feichting” (line 55) moreover recalls the similar victories “throu hard feichtingis” of Hector (line 1), Alexander (line 8), and Godfrey (line 53), whilst his triumph “With few” men (line 56) recalls Hector’s victory “With smal folk” (line 4) and Judas Maccabeus’ fighting “ane egaynis ten” (line 36). Such verbal parallels ensure that Bruce is on a par with the heroes of classical, biblical, and Christian past.

The close juxtaposition of the stanza on Bruce with the closing demande (quoted above) might, furthermore, imply that it is Bruce who is to be chosen as “dochtiast . . . in dedis” (line 62). The Balletis arguably presents the Scottish king as the culmination of the previous nine heroes — his role in history appears predetermined, his dynasty is legitimized, and he is presented as part of a line of succession that has its origins in Troy — and therefore makes in succinct form the point made more diffusely and implicitly in Barbour’s Bruce, namely that Robert I stands amongst the Nine Worthies and may even be superior to them.

His superiority is further stressed by one interesting difference between Bruce and the majority of the Worthies. Many of the other heroes are depicted as conquerors or colonizers: Alexander wins “al landis under the firmament” (line 9) but still desires more land; Julius Caesar triumphs in Greece, Syria, Africa, Arabia, and Britain; Joshua conquers the lands of the 31 kings he defeats; and Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey continue this trend, conquering much of Europe and engaging in holy war. (Indeed, such is the repeated emphasis on this aspect of each hero’s career that approaching the poem from a postcolonial lens would be an interesting future line of enquiry.) By contrast, Bruce successfully defends his realm from the unjust onslaughts of a would-be colonizer; Scotland’s worthy is signally in no danger of here being associated with the morally questionable acquisition of other lands (whereas in book 14 of The Bruce he is uncomfortably associated with his brother, Edward’s, Irish Campaign).

The Balletis’ companion text, Bower’s Scotichronicon, appears to support a reading of Bruce as the superior Worthy. The chronicle thus deals at some length with the reign of Robert Bruce, and Bower emphasizes his role as savior and champion of the Scottish nation. Seeing the suffering of his people, Bruce was “moved inwardly with heartfelt sorrow, and like a second Maccabeus (tamquam alter Machabeus)”; he endured “unbearable burdens” in order to “free his fellow country-men.”15 Bower also repeatedly suggests that no one can comprehend the sufferings which Bruce endured on behalf of his people, and proposes that there will be found “none in the regions of the world to be his equals.”16 In addition, he draws upon the Nine Worthies tradition itself when proposing in a supplementary genealogy that Robert I “was proclaimed as eleventh [Worthy] after Godfrey of Boulogne.”17

There are, furthermore, five illustrations in the principal witness of the Scotichronicon (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 171) that support the Balletis’ positioning of Robert I.18 In the fifth and final image (fol. 265r), which depicts the Battle of Bannockburn, we see Bruce, as we do in the Balletis, in the midst of “hard feichting” (line 55), vanquishing “the michti Kyng / Of Ingland, Edward” (lines 56–57) and his army. This image of Bruce also concludes the manuscript’s succession of images, just as the stanza on Bruce comes at the end of the Balletis. In the latter poem, Bruce is to be read as the most recent in a line of descent stretching back to Hector; in the Scotichronicon illustrations he is similarly traced back through the Scottish kings Alexander III and Malcolm Canmore to the founders of the Scottish race, Gaythelos and Scota. In vernacular verse and visual image Bruce is therefore presented as the natural, legitimate successor to Scotland’s original founding fathers.

There are, however, other passages in the Scotichronicon which complicate this interpretation, in particular the chapters on Bruce’s death and burial (book 13, chapters 13 and 14). The latter contains a long anonymous Latin poem in which Robert I is compared to a whole host of heroes, including six of the Nine Worthies, and several other main figures from the Trojan war: Priam, Achilles, Ajax, Ulysses, and Aeneas. Bruce is described as a “radiant light” (line 69), a “mirror” (line 71), and “rule for conduct” (lines 71–72) and an analogy is also drawn between the king and certain items of jewelry — he has a “bracelet for the arms” (line 74) and “an ear-ring in the ear of the upright” (line 75), for instance. The poem then ends with an ubi sunt passage that reflects on the transience of earthly life and concludes with the sobering statement: “exalted office means nothing at the end of one’s days” (line 83). The passing of Bruce is thus presented here as a supreme example of the mortality and transience of all earthly beings and their power, and such thematic emphasis alerts us to what remains unspoken in the Balletis. There, the wheel of fortune is entirely absent. The Balletis never once mentions the death of any of its heroes, and whilst its sequence of Worthies sweeps across a large chronological period, the poem seemingly neutralizes any sense of temporal change and earthly transience. It neutralizes, also, the history of Scotland after Bruce’s death. That period, which saw another Bruce-Balliol conflict for the Scottish throne and further Anglo-Scots hostility, is recounted elsewhere in Bower’s Scotichronicon, but it is not mentioned at all in the Balletis.

And yet, one might argue that poem’s closing demande is itself designed in part to alert us to such absences. It is easy to miss the fact that this final riddle is addressed to “gude men” in the plural (line 61), but once this point is noted, we could suggest that, far from unequivocally positioning Bruce as the Tenth Worthy, the poem in fact invites and remains open to a variety of answers. The plurality of its intended audience reminds us, moreover, that judgment of human worth is subjective to each individual, place and time, and accordingly that the appendage of Robert Bruce as the Tenth Worthy is subjective both to Scotland’s own unique history and to one interpretation of that history. In short, we might read the closing riddle of the Balletis not just as a further championing of Brucean ideology but also in part as a warning of the hermeneutical risks involved in attempting to position a national figure, in particular a monarch, as the Tenth Worthy.


Having discussed the poem’s sources and themes, it remains to consider its date, authorship, and material contexts in further detail. As briefly noted above, the poem survives amongst a collection of extraneous material in four manuscripts of the Scotichronicon by Walter Bower, and also in John Law’s abbreviation of that chronicle, begun in 1521:
• Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 171, fol. 371r (MS C)
• Darnaway Castle, Forres, Donibristle MS, fol. 433v (MS D)19
• Edinburgh, National Records of Scotland, MS GD 45/26/48, fol. 420v (MS B)
• Edinburgh, University Library, MS 186, fol. 434r (MS E)
• Edinburgh, University Library, MS Dc.7.63., fols. 155v–56r (John Law’s abbreviation of Bower’s Scotichronicon)
MS D, dated 1471–72, was copied from MS C for Simon Finlay, chaplain of the altar of St. Michael in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh.20 MS B, dated 1481, was copied from MS D by the professional scribe, Magnus Makculloch, and rubricated by James Gray.21 The copyist of MS E, dated 1510, had access to MS C, but mainly copied from MS D.22 The transmission of the Balletis to MSS D, B, and E thus stemmed directly from MS C, or indirectly from MS C through MS D. For that reason, MS C is chosen as the copytext for this edition.

The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue has dated the Balletis to c. 1440 based upon its first surviving appearance in MS C. This manuscript of the Scotichronicon has been described as a “fair copy developing into a working copy intended for the library of Inchcolm Abbey” where Bower was abbot.23 Watt further suggests that “the main text was probably written by a scribe under Bower’s direction at Inchcolm in the mid-1440s before marginal additions [including the Balletis] were being made by 1447 at [the] latest.”24 The Balletisterminus ad quem is therefore most likely to be 1447. Its terminus a quo must be 1438, the date of the Scottish translation of Les Voeux from which the poem so clearly derives. The Balletis cannot, therefore, have been composed by John Barbour, author of The Bruce, as Ritchie suggested, since Barbour is thought to have died in or around 1395. It might, however, have been composed by the OA author, as proposed by Craigie.25 This unknown author definitely knew and had access to Les Voeux, his or her own “Avowis,” and Barbour’s Bruce; parallels between The Bruce and OA which were once seen as so extensive as to warrant numerous explanations for shared authorship are now refuted. He or she may indeed even have recognized the potential of the Nine Worthies passage in “The Avowis” for independent circulation and accordingly excerpted and adapted it for this purpose. I therefore follow Craigie in proposing that the OA’s author be considered the most likely author of the Balletis.

Taken as a whole, the Balletis has an intriguing textual history. This independent poem derives jointly from a passage within the French Les Voeux and Scots “Avowis,” and was also influenced by Barbour’s Bruce and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. It first excerpts and abridges material from a much larger romance, and then comes to gloss another large text, this time Bower’s Scotichronicon. This relationship of the Balletis is comparable to the inclusion of the mid-fifteenth-century De Regimine Principum and Complaint for the Death of Margaret, Princess of Scotland (the latter edited elsewhere in this volume) within two manuscripts of another fifteenth-century Scottish chronicle (the Liber Pluscardensis), and to the preservation of verse within the Scotichronicon itself.26 The relationship also rather interestingly parallels the manuscript context of short verse narratives on the Nine Worthies in Middle Dutch miscellanies. There, such verses are frequently found in manuscripts made in an urban context and alongside chronicles and, as Gerard Bouwmeester has noted, this juxtaposition produces an intriguing “two-way effect” since a “Nine Worthies text is a moralized synopsis in narrative form of the history described in the chronicles, summarized around nine heroes, and [ . . . ] the chronicles are factual, wider histories, (usually implicitly) putting the achievements of the Nine Worthies in a broad historical context.”27 As far as the Balletis is concerned, the histories of the Nine Worthies are placed quite deliberately within a specifically Scottish political context: one that endeavors to promote the reputation of Robert I and extol the continued independence of his realm.


The Balletis has been partially edited on several previous occasions. In 1895, David Laing included a copy of the poem (from MS E) in volume 1 of his Early Popular Poetry of Scotland and the Northern Border, and W. A. Craigie then produced an edition of the poem in the 1899 edition of the journal Anglia (also using MS E, but listing variants from John Law’s text). A text derived jointly from Laing and Craigie’s edition was subsequently printed in the appendix to volume 1 of Gollancz’s Select Early English Poems (1913–33). R. L. Graeme Ritchie also printed an eclectic text in volume 1 of his Buik of Alexander.28

This edition is the first modern critical edition of the poem, complete with full textual and explanatory notes. As observed above, the copytext is MS C since all other manuscript witnesses are derived either directly or indirectly from this. Emendations are, however, on occasion made by selecting readings from other manuscripts, either where MS C is defective, or to restore sense at moments of apparent scribal error.

In MS C, every two lines of the Balletis are copied as one, but here the lineation of all other manuscripts is followed, such that each stanza comprises six lines. Stanzas in MS C are signaled through the use of paraphs and the first letter of each stanza is also copied as an enlarged majuscule in bold black ink; stanzas are here distinguished from one another by a double space.

Laing, Craigie, and Ritchie entitled the poem Ane/The Ballet of the Nine Nobles. The poem is un-titled in all manuscript witnesses, with the exception of MS E where the poem is prefaced by a Latin title, De nouem nobilibus. I here follow the poem’s closing demande in entitling the poem the Balletis of the Nine Nobles.

Punctuation in MS C is limited to odd virgules at the end of certain lines (see textual note to line 5). Modern punctuation, capitalization, and word-division are introduced in this edition. Thorn and yogh are represented by their modern equivalents (th and y/z) (or as s where the yogh appears at the end of a word, e.g., “Achilles,” line 5; “Charles,” line 43), as are i/j and u/v/w spellings. Contractions and marks of abbreviation have been silently expanded.

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