Robert Henryson Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Very little is known about Robert Henryson’s life. Dunbar, listing dead poets in “Lament for the Makaris” (c. 1508), indicates that Henryson predeceased Stobo, who died in 1505. The other scant biographical evidence suggests that Henryson came from the area of Dunfermline (notable for its Benedictine abbey and site of one of the king’s favorite homes); that he was admitted as a licentiate at the University of Glasgow in 1462; and that he served as a notary public and possibly as a schoolmaster. So little is certain about Henryson’s life that scholars do not agree on the probable chronology of his works or even on the dates when he was most active as a poet. Nothing at all is known about Henryson’s family life.

The range of knowledge displayed in the poems confirms that Henryson knew, at the least, a little about many subjects—law, medicine, astronomy, myth, and music—and at least a few books very well. His Fables adapt Aesop, whom Henryson read in Latin; his Tale of Orpheus is based on a passage from Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae (523; The Consolation of Philosophy, late ninth century); he refers often to the Bible and frequently alludes to Chaucer.