Robert Henryson

Robert Henryson (c. 1425 − c. 1500), kent as Robert Henderson, Robert Henrysoun an aw, wis a Scots makar, jaloused tae hae been a member o the Clan Henderson o Fordell, tho thare isna ony clear evidents that this is the case.

Robert Henryson
Personal details
Birth1425 (Gregorian)
Died1506 (Gregorian)
EddicationVarsity o Saunt Aundraes
Leids spokenScots
Thriftpoetan screiver
Place o wirkScotland

Gey little is kent anent his life, as wi maist o the lave o fowk frae that time. Thare isna ony record o him haein studied at the Varsity o Saunt Andras (that wis the ae Scots varsity at the time), but in 1462 a "Maister Robert Henryson" is named amang thaim taen intil the newly stairtit Varsity o Glesgae. It is likely that his first learnins wis feenished at a varsity in some ither kintra, sic as the Varsity o Pairis or the Varsity o Leuven. It is written on the teetle-page o the 1570 edeetion o his Fables that he wis "scholemaister of Dunfermling", likely o the grammar-schuil o the Benedictine Dunfaurlin Aibey.

Syne William Dunbar writes o him as deid in his Lament for the Makaris, his daith micht be pitten aboot 1500.



M.M. Gray haes this tae say o Henryson's wark:

"Robert Henryson...haes mair o the element o greatness in his themes an treatment nor the ithers [i.e the lave o the makars]. Henryson alane, in poetry ither nor leeric, comes tae his subjects an chairacter in the hie sairiousness o great poetry."

Hugh MacDiarmid is amang mony that see Henryson as mair better nor Dunbar as a poet. Dunbar is aftentimes hauden tae be mair guid at the techniques, but Henryson's wark is mair aften hauden tae be mair universal nor Dunbar's.

Morall Fabillis of Esope


Henryson's langest an in mony weys his maist oreeginal wark is his Morall Fabillis of Esope - a gaitherin o thirteen fables, pitten ower intae Scots, wi mair nor a wee bit o rewirkin bi Henryson. Thir includes Toun Mous and Uplandis Mouse, The Fox, the Wolf and the Cadger an ithers. Tho the fables comes frae lang syne an pre-dates Christianity, Henryson's retellin shaws a wheen Biblical influence, for example he maks a wouf an a laum hae a debate anent inheritin punishment for sin wi reference tae the Buik o Ezekiel. In anithir ane, he maks a link atween his fable o a cock that ignores a precious stane in his midden in favour o fuid an Christ's sayin anent castin pearls tae swine (Matt. 7:6). Whiles the fables can be interpretit on several levels - for ordinar leeteral an allegorical.

The auldest texts is the Chartens Text, prentit bi Lekpreuik in Embra in 1570 an the Harleian MS. No. 3865 in the Breetish Museum.

The Testament of Cresseid


In The Testament of Cresseid, Henryson eiks tae Chaucer's tale o Troilus wi the story o the traigic daith o Cresseid frae lepracy. Hielichts o the poem is the innin an its descreeption o winter an auld age; the tellin o Cresseid's lepracy an in the end her daith. Efter the Morall Fabillis of Esope, this is his maist kent wark.

The follaein is frae the innin tae the poem:

Throughout the glass her beamis brast sa fair
That I micht see on every side me by.
The northin wind had purifyit the air,
And shed the misty cloudis fra the sky;
The frost freezit, the blastis bitterly
Fra Pole Atric come whistling loud schill
And causit me remove aganis my will.

Orpheus and Eurydice


The poem kent as Orpheus and Eurydice, that's taen frae Boethius, hae some guid pairts, sic as the leerical lament o Orpheus, wi the refrains "Quhar art thow gane, my luf Erudices?" an "My lady quene and luf, Erüdices." It is follaed bi a lang moralatis as in the Fables.

Ither warks


Some thirteen shorter poems haes been ascribed tae Henryson an aw. O thir the pastoral ane Robyne and Makyne is the maist weel kent, follaed bi The Thrie Deid Pollis. Unlik maist o the minor poems, thir dinna lippen on Chaucerian tradeetion. The ither pieces is anent normal 15t Century topics sic as Eild, Daith, Morality, etc.

The MS soorces for the text is the Asloan, Bannatyne, Maitland Folio, Makculloch, Gray and Riddell. Chepman and Myllar's Prints (1508) haes preserred twa o the minor poems an a fragment o Orpheus and Eurydice. The first hale edeetion wis redd bi David Laing (1 vol., Edinburgh, 1865).



Robert Henryson is commemoratit in Makars' Coort, outbye The Writers' Museum in Lady Stairs Close, Edinburgh, wi a quote frae Toun Mouse and Uplanis Mouse frae the Fables:

"Blissit be sempyl life withouten dreid"


  • M.M. Gray - Scottish Poetry from Barbour to James VI
  • Sarah M. Carpenter - "The Bible in Mediaeval Verse and Drama" (chapter frae The Bible in Scottish Life and Literature, ed. David F. Wright)