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Significant Scots
Andrew Wyntoun


WYNTOWN, ANDREW, or Andrew of Wyntown, the venerable rhyming chronicler of Scotland, lived towards the end of the fourteenth century; but the dates of his birth and death are unknown. He was a Canon regular of the priory of St Andrews, the most flourishing and important religious establishment in the kingdom; and in or before the year 1395, he was elected prior of St Serf’s inch, in Lochleven. [St Serf is the name of a small island in that beautiful loch, not far from the island which contains the castle of Lochleven, celebrated as the prison-house of the queen of Scots.] Of this he himself gives an account in his "Cronykil."

Of my defautte it is my name
Be baptisme, Andrew of Wyntowne,
Of Sanct Andrew, a chanoune
Regulare: but, noucht forthi
Of thaim al the lest worthy.
Bot of thair grace and thair favoure
I wes, but meryt, made pricure
Of the ynch within Lochlevyne.

Innes mentions "several authentic acts or public instruments of Wyntown, as prior, from 1395 till 1413, in ‘Extracts from the Register of the Priory of St Andrews,’" which points out part of the period of his priorship; and as the death of Robert, duke of Albany, is noticed in the "Cronykil," Wyntown must have survived till beyond 1420, the year in which the duke died. Supposing, as is probable, that he brought down his narrative of events to the latest period of his life, we may conjecture his death to have occurred not long after the above date.

It was at the request of "Schyr Jhone of the Wemys," ancestor of the earls of Wemyss, [A younger son of this family settled in the Venetian territories, about 1600; and a copy of Wyntown’s work is in the possession of his descendants.] that Wyntown undertook his Chronicle; [Book i. Prologue, i. 54.] which, although the first historical record of Scotland in our own language, was suffered to lie neglected for several centuries. In 1795, Mr David Macphersen laid before the public an admirable edition of that part of it, which more particularly relates to Scotland, accompanied with a series of valuable annotations. Like most other old chroniclers, Wyntown, in his history, goes as far back as the creation, and takes a general view of the world, before entering upon the proper business of his undertaking. He treats of angels, of the generations of Cain and Seth, of the primeval race of giants, of the confusion of tongues, of the situation of India, Egypt, Africa, and Europe, and of other equally recondite subjects, before he adventures upon the history of Scotland; so that five of the nine books into which his Chronicle is divided, are taken up with matter, which, however edifying and instructive at the time, is of no service to the modern historical inquirer. Mr Macpherson, therefore, in his edition, has suppressed all the extraneous and foreign appendages, only preserving the metrical contents of the chapters, by which the reader may know the nature of what is withheld; and taking care that nothing which relates to the British islands, whether true or fabulous, is overlooked. It is not likely that any future editor of Wyntown will adopt a different plan; so that those parts which Mr Macpherson has omitted, may be considered as having commenced the undisturbed sleep of oblivion.

Though Wyntown was contemporary with Fordun, and even survived him, it is certain that he never saw Fordun’s work; so that he has an equal claim with that writer to the title of an original historian of Scotland; and his "Cronykil" has the advantage over Fordun’s history, both in that it is brought down to a later period, and is written in the language of the country--

"Tyl ilke mannys wnderstandyng."

"In Wyntown’s Chronicle," says Mr Macpherson, "the historian may find, what, for want of more ancient records, which have long ago perished, we must now consider as the original accounts of many transactions, and also many events related from his own knowledge or the reports of eye-witnesses. His faithful adherence to his authorities appears from comparing his accounts with unquestionable vouchers, such as the Federa Angliae, and the existing remains of the ‘Register of the Priory of St Andrews,’ that venerable monument of ancient Scottish history and antiquities, generally coeval with the facts recorded in it, whence he has given large extracts almost literally translated." His character as an historian is in a great measure common to the other historical writers of his age, who generally admitted into their works the absurdity of tradition along with authentic narrative, and often without any mark of discrimination, esteeming it a sufficient standard of historic fidelity to narrate nothing but what they found written by others before them. Indeed, it may be considered fortunate that they adopted this method of compilation, for through it we are presented with many genuine transcripts from ancient authorities, of which their extracts are the only existing remains. In Wyntown’s work, for example, we have nearly three hundred lines of Barbour, in a more genuine state than in any manuscript of Barbour’s own work, and we have also preserved a little elegiac song on the death of Alexander III., which must be nearly ninety years older than Barbour’s work. Of Barbour and other writers, Wyntown speaks in a generous and respectful manner, [He even avows his incompetency to write equal to Barbour, as in the following lines:-- The Stewartis originale, The Archdekyne has tretyd hal, In metre fayre mare wertwsly, Than I can thynk be my study, &c. –Cronykil, B. viii. c. 7. v. 143.] and the same liberality of sentiment is displayed by him regarding the enemies of his country, whose gallantry he takes frequent occasion to praise. Considering the paucity of books in Scotland at the time, Wyntown’s learning and resources were by no means contemptible. He quotes, among the ancient authors, Aristotle, Galen, Palaephatus, Josephus, Cicero, Livy, Justin, Solinus, and Valerius Maximus, and also mentions Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Statius, Boethius, Dionysius, Cato, Dares Phrygius, Origen, Augustin, Jerome, &c

Wyntown’s Chronicle being in rhyme, he ranks among the poets of Scotland and he is in point of time the third of the few early ones whose works we possess, Thomas the Rhymer and Barbour being his only extant predecessors. His work is entirely composed of couplets, and these generally of eight syllables, though lines even of ten and others of six syllables frequently occur. "Perhaps," says Mr Ellis, "the noblest modern versifier who should undertake to enumerate in metre the years of our Lord in only one century, would feel some respect for the ingenuity with which Wyntown has contrived to vary his rhymes throughout such a formidable chronological series as he ventured to encounter. His genius is certainly inferior to that of his predecessor Barbour; but at least his versification is easy, his language pure, and his style often animated."

There are various manuscripts of Wyntown’s work, more or less perfect, still extant. The one in the British Museum is the oldest and the best; and after it rank, in antiquity and correctness, the manuscripts belonging to the Cotton Library and to the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh.


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