The Complaynt of Scotland
was written around 1550 in Middle Scots - considered by some to be "the
classical language of Scotland" - at around the same time as Sir David
Lindsay wrote his weel-kent: "Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis". Although
authorship of The Complaynt is often given as 'anonymous', it's widely
believed that it was written by Robert Wedderburn, the then Vicar of
Wedderburn was born around
1510, one of three sons of James Wedderburn, a merchant of that city. He
matriculated in the University of St. Andrews in 1526 and studied under
Gavin Logie at the College of St. Leonard's. After graduating, he resigned
the chaplaincy he had taken up in 1528 at St. Katherine's, Dundee.
Although he couldn't
legally marry, he and his 'wife', Isobel Lovell, had two sons, David
(c.1550 - 83/85) and Robert (c.1550 - c.1620), for whom who he received
'precepts of legitimation' in Linlithgow, on Jan.13th, 1552.
It is believed that he also
spent some time in France after graduating. The Complaynt itself is based
on the framework of an earlier book in French by Alain Chartier (Quadrilogue
Invectif.1422), and is, amongst other things, a "defence and illustration
of the (Scots) vernacular', which the author achieves brilliantly,
incorporating classical tales and discourses on subjects as diverse as
astromomy, botany, folklore and music, quoting and referring to the works
of Cicero, Carion, Pliny, et al, all written in Scots (with a wee bit
Latin thrown in).
In it, Dame Scotia (the
personification of Scotland), appears as a 'vision', who powerfully and
eloquently rebukes and reproves her 'thrie sonnis', who are the 'three
Estates' of the pre-1707 Scottish Parliament, giving prophetic warnings
and poignant advice on how catastrophy and 'final extermination' can be
The Complaynt is a reply to
the aggressive ideological war waged against Scotland during the period
euphemistically termed the "Rough Wooing", in which England pursued a
union of crowns through a mixture of threats and bribes. It is a
nationalist document of resistence, exhorting unity against insidious and
divisive propaganda which attempted to pit Scot against Scot in the
futherence of English ambitions to rule over them.
The Complayner frequently
cites examples from history in which individuals and nations faced and
overcame similar threats, and the moral lessons that can be learnt and
applied from them. He urges Scots to reject their fatalistic apathy and a
misguided belief in 'fortune', and, instead, accept their responsibility
and assert their free will.
As might be expected from
such an author, and of the times it was written in, The Complaynt is also,
in part, a 'sermon', elaborated throughout with quotes from Scripture. The
aggression and oppression of the English is seen as a 'scourge' - a divine
'rod of correction'. Only when the lessons of these events are learnt, and
a course of 'right action' taken, will Scots be able to remedy their
At first glance, The
Complaynt mightn't seem easy to read, but any initial difficulties are
mainly due to differences in spelling, and these are fairly regular. For
example, 'z' is used, in this edition, in place of 'yogh'; an archaic
defunct character that looks like a '3' representing the letter 'y'.As
with Latin, 'v' is often used for 'u' (and vice versa); 'u' for 'w', 'i'
for 'j', as well as others archaic element, such as 'quh' for 'wh' (eg. 'quhilk'
= whilk = which).
It will also be noticed
that the Scots clerks and writers or old had different ideas about
punctuation than we do today. I have, however, remained true to the
original, which is easily read and understood. Chapters XII & XVIII are
not designated in the surviving texts but are given by their folio numbers
in the 'tabvla' . The folio numbers appear in the text as <f124r> etc.
In many ways, much of the
Complaynt of Scotland remains relevant today, even in post-devolution
Scotland, where, slowly but surely, the old apathy and fatalism is giving
way to responsibility and the exercise of personal freedom for the 'common
weil'. Old habits (on both sides of the border) die hard though.