Douglas, Gavin or Gawin

Douglas, Gavin or Gawin
(ca. 1475–1522)
   Gavin Douglas was a late medieval Scottish poet. Douglas, Robert HENRYSON and William DUNBAR have often been referred to as the “Scottish Chaucerians” because they evince the profound influence of Geoffrey CHAUCER. Douglas is primarily remembered for his translation of the Aeneid and for three allegorical poems: The Palice of Honour, King Hart, and Conscience, all of which were written between 1501 and 1513.
   Douglas was born into a noble family. He was the third son of Archibald Douglas, the fifth earl of Angus, known as “Bell-the-Cat.” Douglas was educated in St. Andrew’s and earned his master of arts in 1494. It is probable he also studied in Paris. He held various ecclesiastical offices including a benefice in East Lothian, the deanery of Dunkeld, and the position of abbot of Arbroath. In 1501, he was appointed provost of the St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. His final position as bishop of Dunkeld was awarded in 1515.
   War and politics changed the focus of Douglas’s life. In 1513, the Battle of Flodden resulted in the devastating defeat of the Scots and the death of James IV. Douglas’s two brothers were also killed in the battle. Queen Margaret Tudor (widow of James IV and sister of Henry VIII) married Douglas’s nephew, the sixth earl of Angus. Thereafter,Douglas was enmeshed in their political agendas and was unable to concentrate on his religious writings.
   Numerous events tarnished Douglas’s career. In 1515,with the queen’s intervention, he was granted the bishopric of Dunkeld. There was strong political opposition and Douglas was accused of irregularities in obtaining benefices. He was imprisoned for nearly a year and only released after intercession by the pope. Douglas subsequently became further entrenched in the politics of his brother and sisterin-law, and thus a part of what was known as the “English party” in Scotland. In 1521, he requested aid from Henry VIII. The next year, the Scottish Lords of Council accused Douglas of high treason and he permanently lost his position as bishop of Dunkeld.He was sentenced to exile and died of the plague in England in September 1522.
   Douglas’s Palice of Honour was an allegorical piece modeled on Chaucer’s HOUSE OF FAME. Although it was probably finished in 1501, it was not printed until ca. 1553 in London; another printing took place in Edinburgh in 1579. The piece is dedicated to James IV and was designed for a courtly audience. This DREAM VISION depicts the narrator entering on a pilgrimage to the “Palice of Honour.”On the way he learns about moral governance.He is also given a book to translate from the goddess Venus. Douglas’s other two major poems are less significant and there is some question as to whether Douglas authored them. King Hart was first printed in 1786 and is similar to the allegory EVERYMAN. King Hart surrounds himself with his five servitors (the senses) as well as Queen Plesaunce and Foresight.After being taken hostage by Queen Plesaunce, he is forced to recognize his own humanity. The other poem attributed to Douglas, called Conscience, is a four-stanza conceit about the avarice of churchmen.
   Douglas’s most important work was his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Douglas was the first to translate classical poetry into the English vernacular. Additionally, he used colloquial Scottish phrases along with the poetic language. The translation itself is in heroic couplets and each book is prefaced by an original prologue complete with discussions of Virgil’s poetry and style. In three of the books, he also provides passages of seasons and landscape descriptions.
   Gavin Douglas’s three allegorical poems along with his brilliant translation of the Aeneid make him a significant figure in medieval literature.
   Bibliography
   ■ Douglas, Gavin. Selections from Gavin Douglas. With an introduction, notes, and glossary by David F. C. Coldwell. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.
   ■ Bawcutt, Priscilla J., ed. The Shorter Poems of Gavin Douglas. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 2003.
   ■ Gray, Douglas. “Gavin Douglas and ‘The Gret Prynce Eneas,’ ” Essays in Criticism 51 (2001): 18–35.
   ■ Parkinson, David. “The Farce of Modesty in Gavin Douglas’s ‘The Palis of Honoure,’ ” Philological Quarterly 70 (1991): 13–26.
   ■ Scheps, Walter, and Looney, J Anna. Middle Scots Poets: A Reference Guide to James I of Scotland, Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.
   Malene A. Little

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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