Bannatyne Manuscript

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A page from The Bannatyne Manuscript. (National Library of Scotland) At the foot of the page is the opening of Henryson's Ane Prayer for the Pest.

The Bannatyne Manuscript is an anthology of literature compiled in Scotland in the sixteenth century. It is an important source for the Scots poetry of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The manuscript contains texts of the poems of the great makars, many anonymous Scots pieces and works by medieval English poets.[1]

It was collected by the Edinburgh merchant George Bannatyne[2] who also included some of his own writing.

According to the text of the manuscript itself, it represents;

Ane most godlie mirrie and lustie rapsodie made be sundrie learned Scots poets and written be George Bannatyne in the tyme of his youth.[3]

History of the Document[edit]

A note in the manuscript records that it was presented by William Foulis of Woodhall, a descendant of Bannatyne,[4] to William Carmichael of Skirling in 1712.

In the early Eighteenth Century, Allan Ramsay reproduced pieces from the manuscript in his compilation The Ever Green between 1724 and 1727.[5]

The manuscript was acquired by the Advocates' Library of Edinburgh in 1772.[6]

Walter Scott took an interest in the document[7] and participated in an eponymous club dedicated to the study and publication of historic Scots literature. The first printed transcript of the manuscript was published by the Bannatyne Club, in three volumes, between 1827 and 1855.[8]

The Hunterian Club published a new transcript in 1896.[6]

The manuscript is now held by The National Library of Scotland with the catalogue number "Adv. MS. 1.1.6".[2]

Contents of the Document[edit]

The Bannatyne Manuscript was divided by its compiler into five principal sections. It also contains a series of unclassified appendices which were partly written by scribes other than Bannatyne himself.

Ballattis Of Theologie[edit]

The first section contains pieces with a religious theme. Many predate the Reformation.[9]

It includes Robert Henryson's "Ane Prayer for the Pest", Alexander Scott's translations of the first and fifty-first psalms, William Dunbar's "The Tabill Of Confessioun", "Rorate Celi Desuper" and "Done Is A Battell On The Dragon Blak" and John Lydgate's "O Creaturis Creat Of Me Your Creator."[9]

Verry Singular Ballatis, full of Wisdome And Moralitie Etc.[edit]

The "Secound Pairt" of the manuscript contains poems with moral or philosophical themes.[10]

Among the pieces in the section are Henrysons's "The Abbay Walk", "The Ressoning Betwix Aige and Yowth", "The Ressoning Betwix Deth and Man" and "The Praise of Age".[10]

Dunbar's work is well-represented by "All Erdly Joy Returnis In Pane", "Of Manis Mortalitie", "Tydings Fra The Sessioun", "A General Satire", "Of Deming", "Of Covetyce", "Rewl Of Anis Self", "None May Assure In This Warld", "Schir Yet Remembir As Of Befoir", and the trilogy consisting of "Of Discretioun In Asking", "Of Discretioun In Geving" and "Of Discretioun in Taking".[10]

The second section also contains the prologue to the ninth book of Gavin Douglas' Eneados and Alexander Scott's "Ane New Yeir Gift to Quene Mary".[10]

Ballettis Mirry, And Uther Solatius Consaittis, Set Furth Be Divers Ancient Poyettis[edit]

The third section of the manuscript is dedicated to comic entertainment with a heavy bias toward satire.[11][12]

It includes a largely-complete text of Sir David Lyndsay's Satyre Of The Thrie Estaitis.[11][12]

Scott's work is represented by "The Slicht Remeid Of Luve", "Ane Ballat Maid To The Derisioun And Scorne Of Wantoun Wemen", "The Justing And Debait Up At The Drum" and "Of May".[11][12]

William Dunbar's poetry dominates the section. Among the works of his to be included are "Best To Be Blyth", The Dregy Of Dunbar, Lament for the Makaris, "The Dance Of The Seven Deadly Sins", "My Panefull Purs So Priclis Me", "The Wowing Of The King Quhen He Was In Dunfermeling", The Fenyeit Freir of Tungland, "The Birth Of Antichrist", The Twa Cummeris, The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie and "The Testament Of Master Andro Kennedy".[11][12]

"The Thrid Pairt" also contains The Wife of Auchtermuchty, "Kynd Kittock", How The First Helandman of God Was Maid, "Christis Kirk On The Green" and Quhy Sowld Nocht Allane Honorit Be.[11][12]

Ballatis Of Luve Devydit in Four Pairtis[edit]

Bannatyne divided this section, on the theme of love, into four subsections:

  • "Songis Of Luve"
  • "Contemptis Of Luve and Evill Wemen"
  • "Contempis Of Evill Fals Vicius Men"
  • "Ballatis Detesting Of Luve And Lichery"[13][14]

Most of the poems in the section are ascribed to no author. Alexander Scott's poetry is predominant among the named poets.[13][14]

The section contains Dunbar's "Gude Counsale", "Bewty And The Presoneir", "Of The Lady Solistaris At Court","In Prais Of Wemen", "Quha Will Behald Of Luve The Chance" and "Inconstancy Of Luve". Henryson is represented by "The Garment of Gud Ladeis" and Douglas by the prologue to the fourth book of The Eneados.[13][14]

One poem entitled "Gif Langour Maks Men Licht" is ascribed to "King Hary Stewart".[13][14]

Contenyng The Fabillis Of Esop, With Diverss Uther Fabillis And Poeticall Works[edit]

The "Fyift Pairt" of the manuscript is given over to fables and other allegories. Ten of Henryson's Morall Fabillis are included alongside the same author's Orpheus and Euridice, "Robene And Makyne" and "The Bludy Serk".[15]

Dunbar is represented by "The Goldyn Targe" and The Thrissil and the Rois.[15]

The fifth section also contains The Howlat, "The Freiris Of Berwick" and "Colkelbie Sow".[15]


The manuscript's appendices, often written by anonymous scribes other than Bannatyne, contain works which are not classified according to the compiler's five-part scheme.[16]

Alexander Montgomerie is represented by several poems including "Lyk as the dum Solsequium". Dunbar's "In vice most vicius he excellis" is also included.[16]

A poem added to the appendices by Allan Ramsay in 1726 pays tribute to the poetry of the Bannatyne Manuscript and records his use of it in compiling the "The Ever Green" of 1724, while borrowed from Carmichael of Skirling. It would be the last addition to the manuscript.[17]

In Seventeen hundred twenty-four,
Did Allan Ramsay keen,
gather from this book that store,
Which fills his Ever Green.
Thrice fifty and sax towmonds neat,
Frae when it was colected,
Let worthy poets hope good fate,
Throw time they'll be respected.
Fashions of words and witt may change,
And rob in part their fame,
And make them to dull fops look strange,
But sense is still the same.
And will bleez bright in that clear mind,
That loves the antient strains,
Like good Carmichael, patron kind,
To whom this book pertains.