Biography of Robert Henryson
Robert Henryson (1435-1505) was one of the greatest medieval poets. His name appears in Latin on the University of Glasgow’s roll on 10 September 1462. His masterpiece is the retelling of the story of Troilus and Cressida.
Henryson is first incorporated into the University records on 10 September 1462. Incorporation usually meant matriculation as a student; Henryson, however, is described as vir venerabilis (‘venerable man’), as magister (master, of arts, that is to say), and as ‘licentiate in arts and bachelor of decrees’. This implies that he was already of some standing and that he had studied at another university. At Glasgow it is possible that he was incorporated as legens (‘reader’), lecturing in canon law. Almost certainly he was also a priest. Henryson may have been the first incumbent although he may have been a law student. Henryson is most often remembered as a schoolmaster in Dunfermline and he was certainly resident there during the 1470s and probably the 1480s.
The earliest text of any of Henryson's poems appears in additions made to the Makculloch manuscript (Edinburgh University Library, MS La.III.149), additions probably made c.1500, a terminus ad quem for the composition of the two poems included, namely, the ‘Prolog’ and its sequel, ‘The Cock and the Jasp’.
The earliest of Henryson's poems to be issued in printed form were ‘The Praise of Age’, Orpheus, and ‘The Want of Wise Men’, which appeared in tracts printed by Chepman and Myllar in or about 1508. Henryson's death in Dunfermline is mentioned by William Dunbar in his poem ‘Timor mortis conturbat me’, a printed text of which appears in a black-letter tract of undetermined provenance and date, but approximately contemporary with the Chepman and Myllar prints. His poetry contains no obvious reference to events in the reign of James IV, who succeeded in 1488; Henryson may therefore have died between 1484 and 1488 or very shortly thereafter.