The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

J. HADLEY WILLIAMS


30. Lyndsay and Europe: Politics, Patronage,
Printing

Through the eyes of an early sixteenth-century Scot, what was Europe? This is the place to begin, for David Lyndsay’s particular interaction with that Europe, the concern of this paper, is an integral part of the larger question.

Lyndsay himself gives the standard answer, when in The Dreme he sets out for James V some of the information he will need as sovereign.1 Europe, he says, is one of the three major divisions of the Earth. It is found in the Occident, with Africa; both being more than balanced by Asia, in the Orient (666–8). The surviving, imperfect, texts of The Dreme go on to list only the first three of the four principal regions of Europe (Spain, France, Italy and Germany), but as far as can be discovered, Lyndsay is following the view of the classical sources, such as the two he mentions by name, Pliny and Ptolemy.2 Lyndsay certainly appears to see Scotland as part of Europe, though in this section as it stands it can only be one of the unnamed ‘Yles’. He separates these from the ‘ferme land’ that is continental Europe. Later, he returns to the ‘braid Yle of Bertane’ (791), mentioning also England and Ireland, but only as a means of giving a closer setting to Scotland, for it is that country alone that he is concerned to show the king from various geographical and moral viewpoints.

Another far more challenging and politically aware answer to the question may be found in the scheme of the heraldic ceiling of St Machar’s Cathedral, Old Aberdeen. This was completed 1520–1, near the beginning of James V’s reign. In layout from east to west, the ceiling consists of three rows of fortyeight carved and painted shields, which represent the secular and spiritual leaders of contemporary European nations. The scheme takes serious account of political and religious precedence and, in the process, of how each European nation is associated with Scotland, and with each other, and especially, of how these Christian nations are related to the Holy Roman Emperor and to the Pope; yet, too, how all these leaders stand before God at the high altar.

1 The Works of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, ed. D. Hamer, 4 vols, STS (Edinburgh and London, 1931–6), I, 3–38. (All quotations are from this edition).

2 Ptolemy named the island of Albion as the first of his four regions of Europe; Pliny (Books 11 – IV of the Historia Naturalis) begins with Baetica, North-east Spain and Italy, includes Germany and also ninety-six North Sea islands, Britain among them. Bower, citing Isidore, Vincent of Beauvais and Lucan, also describes a similar set of regions: Scotichronicon, Vol. I, ed. J. and W. MacQueen, Books 3–6. For further discussion see The Works, ed. Hamer, III, 33–9, and S. Cairns, ‘Sir David Lindsay’s Dreme: poetry, propaganda and encomium’, The Spirit of the Court, ed. G.S. Burgess and R.A. Taylor (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 110–19 (112).

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