Robert Henryson

Sally Mapstone*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    Robert Henryson lived between c. 1440 and the opening years of the sixteenth century. William Dunbar's poem “I that in heill was,” composed by 1506, states that death “In Dunfermlyne… has done rovne /With maister Robert Henrisoun” (81-82). Dunbar's description of Henryson as “maister” is echoed in designations given to him on the title-pages of sixteenth-century printed editions of his Fables and Testament of Cresseid. Three charters of the late 1470s from Dunfermline Abbey are also witnessed by a “magister” Robert Henryson, and it is likely that they refer to the poet. The title “Maister ” indicates that Henryson was university educated; this may have been at Glasgow, where there is documentary evidence of a Robert Henryson being admitted as a licentiate in arts and a bachelor in decreets (canon law) in 1462. But Henryson may alternatively or additionally have taken a degree on the continent, like so many Scots of his day. The title-pages of the prints also describe Henryson as schoolmaster in Dunfermline. The grammar school in Dunfermline was linked to its Benedictine abbey, and a schoolmaster there would have had considerable social standing. The charters that name Robert Henryson also refer to him as a notary public. Notaries had authority to make legal deeds and instruments. Depending on their authorization, they could act as recorders at civil or ecclesiastical courts, and many notaries were also clerics, though there is no evidence that Henryson took this route. The precision of the legal references in Henryson's poetry speaks to a close acquaintance with the workings of the law. There is some later evidence for individuals combining the role of schoolmaster and notary public in Scotland.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Literature 1100-1500
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)9781139002523
    ISBN (Print)9780521841672
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


    Dive into the research topics of 'Robert Henryson'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this