Robert Henryson c.1440-c.1500

Robert Henryson was a Scottish poet who was active in the second half of the 15th Century. Little is known for certain about his life but tantalising scraps of evidence indicate that he may have been educated at Glasgow University, founded in 1451, or possibly abroad. There is a Robertus Henrisone recorded there in 1462 which almost certainly must be him, but whether he was there as a student or a teacher is unknown. There is further evidence of a university education as William Dunbar in his Lament for the Makars (1506) refers to him as Maister Robert Henrysoun, which indicates that he had a Masters degree. He later had connections with the town of Dunfermline, where he may have been a schoolmaster and notary at a Benedictine Abbey school.

Henryson is justly regarded as one of Scotland’s major medieval poets. His works consisted of three long poems and twelve miscellaneous short poems. His longest poem is Morali Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, based on Aesop’s Fables, which consists of thirteen stories with a moral purpose about animals. He wrote two other long works, The Tale of Orpheus and Euridices his Quene and The Testament of Cresseid. The former develops the Greek myth which appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and in Virgil’s Georgics. The Testament of Cresseid, his best known work, is an extension of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida, describing Cresseid's decline into prostitution, poverty, illness, and blindness at the punitive hands of the gods. It is notable for his non-judgemental view of her fate.

Henryson wrote in the Scots language of the 15th Century. His language is supple, fluent, and concise and is interspersed with irony, sympathy, and humour. Seamus Heaney put The Testament of Cresseid and several of Henryson’s poems into modern verse in 2009.

Works include

Books you might enjoy

Robert Henryson (Scottish Writers Series)
M. McDiarmid

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