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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature

§ 15. Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronykil

Andrew of Wyntoun, who wrote his chronicle in Barbour’s couplet and in the Scottish tongue, was an oldercontemporary of Walter Bower. He died an old man soon after 1420. Of him, as of the other contemporary chroniclers, we know little except that he was head of St. Serf’s priory in Lochleven, and a canon regular of St. Andrews, which, in 1413, became the site of the first university founded in Scotland. The name of his work, The Orygynale Cronykil, only means that he went back to the beginning of things, as do the others. Wyntoun surpasses them only in beginning with a book on the history of angels. Naturally, the early part is derived mostly from the Bible, and The Cronykil has no historical value except for Scotland, and for Scotland only from Malcolm Canmore onwards, its value increasing as the author approaches his own time. For Robert the Bruce, he not only refers to Barbour but quotes nearly three hundred lines of The Bruce verbatim—thus being the earliest, and a very valuable, authority for Barbour’s text. in the last two books, he also incorporates a long chronicle, the author of which he says he did not know. From the historical point of view, these chroniclers altogether perverted the early chronology of Scottish affairs. The iron of Edward I had sunk deep into the Scottish soul, and it was necessary, at all costs, to show that Scotland had a list of kings extending backwards far beyond anything that England could boast. This it was easy to achieve by making the Scottish and Pictish dynasties successive instead of contemporary, and patching awkward flaws by creating a few more kings when necessary. That the Scots might not be charged with being usurpers, it was necessary to allege that they were in Scotland before the Picts. History was thus turned upside down. Apart from the national interests which were involved, the controversy was exactly like that which raged between Oxford and Cambridge in the sixteenth century as to the date of their foundations, and it led to the same tampering with evidence. Wyntoun has no claims to the name of poet. He is a chronicler, and would himself have been surprised to be found in the company of the “makaris.”

It was at the instance of “Schir Iohne of Wemys” that he compiled his chronicle. The original scheme was for seven books, but the work was, later, extended to nine.

Wyntoun would not have been the child of his age and training did not the early part of his history contain many marvels. We hear how Gedell-Glaiss, the son of Sir Newill, came out of Scythia and married Scota, Pharaoh’s daughter. Being, naturally, unpopular with the Egyptian nobility, he then emigrated to Spain and founded the race which, in later days, appeared in Ireland and Scotland. It is interesting to learn that Wyntoun identified Gaelic and Basque, part of the Scottish stock remaining behind in Spain,

  • And Scottis thai spek hallely,
  • And ar callyt Nawarry.II, 853 f.
  • And Simon Brek it was that first brought the Coronation Stone from Spain to Ireland. The exact date before the Christian era is given for all these important events.

    When Wyntoun arrives at the Christian dispensation and the era of the saints, it is only natural that he should dwell with satisfaction on the achievements of St. Serf, to whom his own priory was dedicated. St. Serf was the “kyngis sone off Kanaan,” who, leaving the kingdom to his younger brother, passed through Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. Hence, after he had been seven years pope, his guiding angel conducted him through France. He then took ship, arrived in the Firth of Forth and was advised by St. Adamnan to pass into Fife. Ultimately, after difficulties with the Pictish king, he founded a church at Culross, and then passed to the “Inche of Lowchlewyn.” That he should raise the dead and cast out devils was to be expected. A thief stole his pet lamb and ate it. Taxed with the crime by the saint he denied it, but was speedily convicted, for “the schype thar bletyt in hys wayme.” Wyntoun tells, not without sympathy, the story of that “Duk of Frissis,” who, with one foot already in the baptismal font, halted to enquire whether more of his kindred were in hell or heaven. The bishop of those days could have but one answer, whereupon the duke said

  • Withe thai he cheyssit hym to duel,
  • And said he dowtyt for to be
  • Reprewit wnkynde gif that he
  • Sulde withedraw hym in to deide
  • Fra his kyn til ane wncouthe leide,
  • Qwhar he was nwrist and bred wp withe,
  • Qwhar neuir nane was of his kyn,
  • Aulde na [char]onge, mare na myn,
  • That neuir was blenkyt withe that blayme.
  • “[Abrenuncio] for thi that schayme,”
  • He said, and of the fant he tuk
  • His fute, and hail he thar forsuyk
  • Cristyndome euir for to ta,
  • For til his freyndis he walde ga
  • Withe thaim stedfastly to duell
  • Euirmare in the pyne of hel.
  • Good churchman as Wyntoun is, he is not slow to tell of wickedness in high places and duly relates the story of pope Joan, with the curious addition
  • Scho was Inglis of nacion
  • Richt willy of condicion
  • A burges douchtyr and his ayre
  • Prewe, pleyssande and richt fayr;
  • Thai callit hir fadyr Hob of Lyne.
  • In this book (chap. 18) he also tells the most famous of all his stories—Macbeth and the weird sisters, and the interview between Malcolm and Macduff. But Wyntoun renders Macbeth more justice than other writers,
  • [char]it in his tyme thar wes plente
  • Off gold and siluer, catall and fee.
  • He wes in iustice rycht lauchfull,
  • And till his liegis rycht awfull.
  • Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane, and Macbeth, fleeing across the Mounth, is slain “in to the wod of Lumfanane.”

    With all his credulity, Wyntoun, in the later part of his chronicle, is a most valuable source for the history of his country. To him and to Fordun we are indebted for most of our knowledge of early Scotland, since little documentary evidence of that period survived the wreck that was wrought by Edward I.