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William Dunbar

Scottish poet, born c. 1460; died c. 1520(?)

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Dunbar, WILLIAM, Scottish poet, sometimes styled the “Chaucer of Scotland“, born c. 1460; died c. 1520(?). He graduated B. A. at St. Andrews University in 1479. Educated for the Church, according to his own statement he became a Franciscan novice, and as such traversed the whole of England, preached in various towns, and crossed over for a time to Picardy in France. About 1490 he returned to Scotland and entered the service of James IV, who employed him on various embassies to Paris and elsewhere, and settled a small pension on him. He celebrated James’s marriage to Margaret of England by his well-known poem “The Thrissil and the Rois” (The Thistle and the Rose, 1503), symbolizing the amity between the two kingdoms. The poet received gifts in money from the king on this and on other occasions, such as the celebration of his first Mass in 1504, but though he often petitioned both the king and queen for a benefice (limiting his wishes, as he said, to a small country kirk covered with heather) he never obtained one, and seems always to have lived in poverty. The best known of his other poems were the “Goldyn Targe”, an allegory illustrating the victory of love over reason; a “Dance” (of the seven deadly sins), a work of much gloomy power; and many other pieces, some humorous and disfigured by the coarseness of the time, others of a religious and ascetic type. A few were printed during his lifetime; and in 1834 an admirable edition of his complete works was published, edited by Dr. David Laing. In 1511 Dunbar is mentioned among Queen Margaret’s train on one of her journeys; but nothing is heard of him after 1513, the year of the battle of the Flodden. Laing conjectures that he may have fallen at that fight, but other writers suppose him to have survived until about 1520.


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