Barbour, John

Barbour, John
(ca. 1316–1395)
   John Barbour was a 14th-century Scottish poet, known chiefly for his patriotic 13,000-line verse chronicle The BRUCE (1375), an account of the reign and military victories of the Scottish King Robert the Bruce and his disciple James Douglas, and their role in gaining Scottish independence from English domination. For this contribution he has often been called the father of Scottish poetry. Barbour was probably born in Aberdeen, and aside from his university education, lived most of his life in that city.He was made archdeacon of Aberdeen in about 1357, and in 1364, 1365, and again in 1368, he is thought to have studied in Oxford and in Paris, and possibly to have taught there as well. In 1372, King Robert II appointed Barbour auditor of the Exchequer, a position to which he was reappointed in 1382 and again in 1384. The Bruce became an instant popular success and a symbol of Scottish unity and independence, and has remained so over the years. Although it has been suggested that John Ramsay, the scribe who composed both extant manuscripts of The Bruce (from 1487 and 1489), made substantial alterations to the poem, most scholars still consider it to be Barbour’s, and it is the only poem attributed to him with any certainty. Two other works—The Brut (an account of the legendary history of Britain, based ultimately on GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH), and The Stewartis Original (a pedigree of the Stewart family from the time of their founder, Banquo)—are mentioned as Barbour’s in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Cronykil, but neither of these texts has survived. Three other works have at one time or another been attributed to Barbour: The Troy Book (which has been proven on linguistic grounds not to be Barbour’s), The Lives of the Saints (50 legends that are contemporary with Barbour), and The Alexander Buik (a Scottish rendition of the life of Alexander the Great). There is no certainty that any of these are Barbour’s.
   ■ Barrow, G.W. S. The Kingdom of the Scots. London: Edward Arnold, 1973.
   ■ ———. Robert the Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965.
   ■ Boitani, Piero. English Medieval Narrative in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
   ■ Ebin, Lois A. “John Barbour’s Bruce: Poetry, History, and Propaganda,” Studies in Scottish Literature 9 (April 1972): 218–242.
   ■ Kinghorn, Alexander M. “Scottish Historiography in the 14th Century: A New Introduction to Barbour’s Bruce,” Studies in Scottish Literature 6 (January 1969): 131–145.
   ■ Mainster, Phoebe A.“How to Make a Hero: Barbour’s Recipe: Reshaping History as Romance,”Michigan Academician 29 (Spring 1988): 225–238.
   ■ Skeat,W.W., ed. The Bruce. 4 vols. EETS e.s. 11, 21, 29, 55. London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N. Trübner, 1870–89.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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