Alexander Montgomerie c.1550-1598

Alexander Montgomerie was born in Ayrshire, the son of Laird Hugh Montgomerie of Hessihead, North Ayrshire. His father died when Alexander was a child and he was brought up as a member of the Church of Scotland but after travelling to the continent he converted to Catholicism. He became a member of the court in Edinburgh of King James VI of Scotland in the early 1580’s where he was the principal member of a group of makars (court poets), which included the king himself. He was awarded a pension in 1583.

In 1586 he joined a Scottish contingent in the Netherlands fighting in the war against the Spanish, probably taking part in the Battle of Zutphen in which Sir Philip Sidney lost his life. He remained in the Netherlands until 1588. During his absence he appears to have fallen out of favour, his poet’s pension having been claimed by someone else and in 1593 he lost a long legal battle to have it restored. This battle produced a spate of poetry expressing his disillusionment. In 1597 he was outlawed for his part in a Catholic plot to establish a Spanish garrison in Scotland. He died the following year and only the intercession of the King of Scotland allowed him a Christian burial.

Montgomerie produced a significant number of poems both during his time at court and on the continent. His range was extensive sonnets, lyrics, elegant court songs, many on the subject of love. He enjoyed a high reputation during his lifetime which did not diminish in succeeding centuries, mainly thanks to the poet William Drummond who presented a collection of his poems after his death to the Edinburgh University library. His best known poem is the allegorical poem, The Cherrie and the Slaye (sloe).

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