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Lindsay, Sir David of the Mount (1490–1555) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

scottish court lindsay’s usher

Sir David Lindsay of the Mount was closely connected to the Scottish royal court for most of his life. Evidence suggests that he may have been employed there as early as 1508, but his intimacy with the royal family was established by 1512, when he was made usher to the prince. At fifteen months, in September 1513, James V acceded to the throne, and Lindsay later addressed many of his poems to this monarch. Between 1512 and 1523, in the sometimes stormy period of James’ minority rule, Lindsay is described as “Keeper of the King’s Grace, Usher, Master Usher, and Gentleman of the Bedchamber or Household of the king” (Edington, 17). As a member of the court, Lindsay was close to the center of power, which was at this time precarious. A notable instance of this was his sudden dismissal from court in 1524, when Margaret Tudor, in an attempt to isolate her son from his former companions, gave the position of master usher to Andrew, Lord Avondale, later to become her brother-in-law. The record of Lindsay’s activity in the next few years is slight. He is twice referred to as the previous usher, and in 1526 he received a gown and velvet for a doublet (Edington, 22). In The Complaint (1530), Lindsay refers to himself in this period as being trampled down into the dust and not daring to be seen in open court (256, 289–90).

When James’ personal rule began in 1529, Lindsay was back in favor, employed first as a herald, then, sometime in the 1530s, knighted and made Lyon king of arms. The Lyon king, Scotland’s chief heraldic officer, governed the royal officers of arms and was responsible for the court’s heraldry, as well as its entertainment and spectacle, its tournaments, marriages, plays, and pageants. Lindsay also performed diplomatic functions for James, at various times traveling to Flanders, France, England, Denmark, and perhaps Italy. For two decades, armed with considerable power and responsibility, Lindsay was in the midst of the practical workings of kingship and chivalry, in a notable position to assess their strengths and failings. The poetry and the drama that he produced so prolifically from 1528 onward suggest that he observed carefully and that he both enriched and was enriched by the Scottish court’s humanist milieu in the early sixteenth century.

Though Lindsay was less closely attached to the court after James’ death in 1542 and spent more time at the Mount near Cupar, he was more than once called upon for special missions and for his council. He attended Parliament in 1544 and 1545. In 1548, while on a mission in Denmark, he was detained by weather for at least a month. It is possible that as a vocal critic of the Scottish church, he would have met exiled religious dissidents, including John MacAlpine and John Gau, and experienced firsthand Denmark’s Lutheranism (Edington, 64). On 7 June 1552, The Cupar Banns announced a performance of Lindsay’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estatis . His death was recorded in the Register of the Privy Seal in April 1555.


David Lindsay could not have anticipated what a household word his name would become. After the Scottish Reformation of 1560, he was more read than any other poet of his period, his works in the library of cottage and castle. Indeed, what was not worth knowing was dismissed with the proverbial, “Ye’ll nae find that in Davie Lyndsay.” “Out o’Davie Lyndsay into Wallace ,” came to describe a student’s promotion, and as late as 1792, Robert Herson remembers Lindsay being “esteemed little less necessary in every family than the Bible” and writes that it was “common to have, by memory, great part of his poetry.” Lindsay’s popularity shows up in Walter Scott’s novels as well (Murison, ix–x). In Redgauntlet , for example,

… the carles sat ower a stoup of brandy, and Hutcheon, who was something of a clerk, would have read a chapter of the Bible; but Dougal wad hear naething but a blaud of Davie Lindsay, whilk was the waur preparation.

As late as 1800, printed editions of Lindsay’s work were far more numerous than those of Henryson and Dunbar. Indeed, so pervasive was Lindsay’s influence on Scottish language and culture that we might abandon the term “Scottish Chaucerian” and call him instead the Scot’s Chaucer.

In the nineteenth century both the Early English Text Society and the Scottish Text Society brought out Lindsay’s complete works, but he is less admired than in his own age. In the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis found Lindsay lacking “the originality of Henryson and the brilliance of Dunbar and Douglas” but added, that “what there is of him is good all through” ( English Literature in the Sixteenth Century , 100). Since then, when not neglected, Lindsay has often been faulted for precisely that historical presence and popular appeal that make him so fascinating.

The recent publication of Carol Edington’s excellent and wide-ranging Court and Culture in Renaissance Scotland: Sir David Lindsay of the Mount sets Lindsay scholarship on a new footing. This book is sure to encourage further study of Lindsay. It is not insignificant that the expression “Scottish Chaucer-ian” simply does not occur in Edington’s study, which focuses on the courtier and poet, Sir David Lindsay, in the intellectually rich milieu of sixteenth-century Scotland.

Linklater, Richard - Writer and director, Career, Sidelights [next] [back] Lindo, Delroy (1952–)

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