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The Testament of Cresseid - Image courtesy of Abbot House
Section 1 :: Stanzas 01 - 10
Section 2 :: Stanzas 11 - 20
Section 3 :: Stanzas 21 - 38
Section 4 :: Stanzas 39 - 49
Section 5 :: Stanzas 50 - 58
Section 6 :: Stanzas 59 - 66
Section 7 :: Stanzas 66 - 76
Section 8 :: Stanzas 77 - 86
Home The Testament of Cresseid Questions Study Tools Summary Notes on Poem ToC AV Teaching Notes
Study Tools > Biographical Details
by Lesley Porter

'In Dumfermelyne {Death} hes done roune
With Maister Robert Henrysoun '
William Dunbar, 1505

We can infer from *Dunbar's lines that Henryson died in or shortly before 1505; that he was associated with the town of Dunfermline and that he was probably a university graduate holding the degree of Master, probably of Arts. Apart from his poetry, the knowledge we have of Robert Henryson derives from a few references, some facts and some reasonable guesses. What we can do is to try and 'piece together' all the information we have of the poet.

Writing mainly in the reign of James III, Henryson was not a 'court poet', unlike his younger contemporary William Dunbar. There is a sixteenth century tradition that he was a schoolmaster of Dunfermline, which is likely to be true. The abbot of Dunfermline sometime around 1468 petitioned for a house to accommodate his schoolmaster, around the same time that Henryson left Glasgow. Certainly, Dunfermline was a prestigious burgh in that it was at the centre of Scottish events, political and cultural. There is evidence, from three legal documents, all dating from 1478, which were witnessed by 'Master Robert Henryson notary public'.

Notaries public were medieval Scottish solicitors, and were very likely to have legal training, both in canon (the laws of the Church) and civil laws and have a degree in the Arts. There is evidence in Henryson's poetry that he was aware of legal procedures and the law, some thing to bear in mind as you read 'The Testament…'.

There is no evidence, however, of Henryson attending university to obtain his Degree, but there are records that 'the honorable Mr Robert Henryson, Master of Arts and Bachelor of Canon Law' was incorporated into the University of Glasgow on 10th September 1462. If this is the same Henryson, then where did he obtain his original degrees? At the time, Scottish students were likely to attend European universities, most likely in Paris, Cologne or Louvain, but Henryson's name nowhere appears.

So, what can we say about Henryson? In a broad outline, we can say that he must have been born around 1425, studied Arts and Canon Law before teaching briefly at Glasgow in 162-63 and possibly later. He then settled in Dunfermline, where he was certainly active by 1478 and perhaps remained there until his death in c.1505.

  Lesley Porter's notes supplied by permission of Fife Council.

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