[Early English and Scottish Literature - Poetry - Renaissance] [Early Printing in England] [Early English Illustrated Books]

Sir David Lindsay

[The Monarche, and other poetical works] A Dialogue betweene Experience and a Courtier,
of the miserable estate of the worlde, first compiled in the Schottishe tongue
nowe newly corrected, and made perfit Englishe
Hereunto are anexid certaine other pithy posys [sic!] of woorkes

London, Thomas Purfoote [for] William Pickering, 1566.

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Text in English. Illustrated with numerous woodcuts.


EXTREMELY RARE! ESTC locates copies in 10 libraries only (four in US and six in UK).

"[A] very rare edition [with] many neat engravings on wood." (Bibliotheca Anglo-poetica)

Our copy has a particularly rare state of the title page with "pithy posys" instead of "pithy pieces".

A complete, unrestored example of this truly rare illustrated edition of the poetical works of David Lindsay (or Lyndsay) of the Mount (c.1490 - 1555), "THE MOST WIDELY READ OF THE MIDDLE SCOTS POETS from the Reformation down to the eighteenth century" (Enc. of English Renaissance Literature). He was one of the later Scottish Makaris, in the tradition of Robert Henryson, William Dunbar and Gavin Douglas, the courtly poets who wrote in Middle Scots in the period of the Northern Renaissance, and are often referred to by literary critics as Scots Chaucerians. Lindsay's poems "satirized the corruption of the Roman Catholic church and contemporary government. He was one of the company of gifted courtly poets (makaris) who flourished in the golden age of Scottish literature. His didactic writings in colloquial Scots were characterized by a ribald buffoonery and a combination of moralizing and humour." (Enc. Britannica)

This illustrated 1566 London edition (the 1st printed in England, and with anglicized text) has been described by bibliographers and dealers as very rare for at least 200 years; Thomas Dibdin in his Bibliographical Decameron (vol.3, p.405) mentions seeing a copy of this edition in the splendid library of Sir Mark Masterman-Sykes, placed in a special "book-case contain[ing] some of the very rarest old English Poetry."

On verso of the title page of this edition appears the superb near-full-page woodcut device of Thomas Purfoote: Lucretia stabbing herself ("Thomas Purfoot senior and junior traded at the sign of Lucretia throughout the whole of their business careers" - McKerrow, Devices, no.151).

A curious large woodcut (measuring 9.3 x 7.2 cm) on A4 verso, depicting two figures in conversation standing on a black-and-white checkered floor, is a close copy of the block on the title of The Demaundes Ioyous, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1511 (the unique copy of which is in Cambridge University Library).

Further woodcut illustrations in text (about 40, including some repetitions) are "well designed and engraved - forming evidently part of a set of Bible prints, not always peculiarly applicable as illustrations of Lyndsay's Dialog. For instance, a cut of Jonah thrown overboard is introduced to illustrate Noah leaving the Ark. [...] Some of them, indeed, are exactly copied from [Hans Sebald] Beham's beautiful set of woodcuts in his work Biblische Historien Figürlich fürbildet [Frankfurt, Egenolph, 1533]." (David Laing, Appendix to his edition of the Poetical Works of Sir David Lyndsay, Vol. III, p.273).

The first of these woodcuts (on leaf A1r) was also used in the Coverdale Bible of 1535.

Note that Purfoote's two later editions (1575 and 1581) do not contain any illustrations.

David Lindsay (or Lyndsay) was born ca. 1490 into an aristocratic Scottish family. Despite his populist leanings, he remained largely in the favor of the Scottish Court, first under James V and then under the Earl of Arras, regent to the infant Mary I. Although his place of birth and early education are unknown, it is known that he attended the University of St Andrews ca. 1508-1509. He was engaged as a courtier in the Royal Household; first as an equerry, then as an usher (assistant to a head-tutor) to the future King James V of Scotland. In 1522 he married Janet Douglas, a court seamstress. Dismissed from court 12 years later, when his charge, then James V, fell under the control of the Douglas faction, he returned to the king's service in 1528, and in 1529 was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms (the highest heraldic office), and knighted. An influential diplomat, Lyndsay represented the king on important missions to the courts of Henry VIII, Charles V, Francis I (after James's death in 1542), and other European monarchs. By virtue of his heraldic office, he also served as a general master of ceremonies. In 1542 he produced a Scottish roll of arms (known today as the Lindsay of the Mount Roll) containing 400 Scottish coats of arms, some of which were added later in the 16th century, and forming the basis of the official Scots heraldic registry in use today.

"Lyndsay was a satirist, powerful in invective, fluent in style, and abounding in proverbial philosophy. But his poems were of local, and to a large extent of temporary interest. Yet these very limitations gave them an immediate fame and more extensive currency than the works of any other early Scottish poet, and render them invaluable to students of the time of James V. It passed into a proverb for what was not worth knowing, 'You will not find that in David Lyndsay,' and his writings were at one time in the library of every castle and the shelves of many cottages of Scotland." (DNB, XXXIII, p.294)

Lindsay is one of the sixteen Scottish writers and poets on the lower section of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh.

Walter Scott's well-known lines about Lindsay from his Marmion (1808) are a testament of Lindsay's enduring popularity:

Still is thy name in high account,
And still thy verse has charms,
Sir David Lindesay of the Mount,
Lord Lion King-at-arms!

"Lindsay's religious views, although never unequivocally Lutheran, were nonetheless sufficiently reformist and anticlerical to commend him to subsequent generations of Scottish Protestants, ensuring his status as THE MOST POPULAR AND WIDELY READ SCOTTISH RENAISSANCE POET into the modern era. He stood alongside the "Scottish Chaucerians," Dunbar, Douglas, and Hennryson, as the central figures in the efflorescence of Scottish verse in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. But in the later twentieth century it was his political radicalism, and especially his championing of the oppressed poor [...] that guaranteed him appreciative audiences in Scotland and beyond." (David S. Kastan (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Vol. I, p.295)

Lindsay's longest work, the epic poem "A Dialogue betweene Experience and a Courtier" (sometimes called "The Monarche" or "The Monarchie"), was first printed in 1554 in Middle Scots under the title "Ane dialog betwixt Experience and ane courteour" at St. Andrews in Scotland by John Skot (or Scot) [with a factitious Copenhagen imprint], and reprinted at the same press in 1559; another edition (of which two issues exist: in 4to and in 8vo) was printed in 1558 in France, in Rouen (but with 'Paris' imprint).

This didactic poem played an important role in the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. Lindsay here criticizes various doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church, including the concept of purgatory, the popular custom of pilgrimages to venerate saints, and even the papacy itself. The poem "exhibits here and there throughout its texture some poetical spangles of rare lustre. It is a dialogue between Experience, represented under the character of a venerable old man, and a Courtier, who after much converse with men and their affairs, could perceive, amidst all the bustle and splendour of these, nothing fitted to give genuine happiness, nothing indeed but misery in disguise. In the progress of this poetical compend of general history [...] many digressions to contemporary circumstances are interwoven: and many artful and vigorous attacks upon the Romish superstitions. Sometimes we are presented with paintings from external nature, of exquisite delicacy; sometimes sentiment and passion are with great felicity expressed; and not seldom the poet breaks out into strains of wit, humour and keen invective, which have not often been excelled. In not a few instances, he displays a sublimity of conception, which it is probable that even Milton disdained not to imitate. THIS POEM PROBABLY CONTRIBUTED IN AN EMINENT MANNER TO INFLAME THAT SPIRIT OF RELIGIOUS REFORMATION, BY WHICH THE PAPAL ESTABLISHMENT WAS WITHIN NO LONG TIME AFTER OVERTHROWN." (Bibliotheca Anglo-poetica, p.191, quoting Robert Heron's A New General History of Scotland, Vol.V, Part 1)

Indeed, in the years and centuries following its author's death, this particular work became the subject of increasing interest and popularity as the reform movement in Scotland picked up serious momentum and created real change, with reforms adopted by Parliament as early as 1560.

A Dialogue was "for Lindsay's audience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries [...] his most important work [...]. This is Lindsay's longest poem, an eschatological history of the world that discusses religious affairs from a reforming perspective. The influence of Ane Dialog contributed to Lindsay's popular status in Scotland as an authority whose works were once 'esteemed little less necessary in every family, than the Bible' (Heron 1793). Lindsay's poetry was also printed in England: The complaynte and testament of a popinjay was printed in London in 1538, The tragical death of David Beaton shortly after its composition, around 1548. The enduring popularity of Ane Dialog is witnessed by its publication at Rouen and London during the sixteenth century. Despite Lindsay's sense that his vernacular was an inheritance from the Ricardian poets, however, a 1566 edition of Ane Dialog reflects shifting conceptions of linguistic identity, describing the book as 'first compiled in the Schottishe tongue [...] now newly corrected, and made permit Englishe'." (E. Elliott, in The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, I, p.603-4)

"The Monarch purports to be a survey of the four 'monarchies' of the ancient world: the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. His treatment is eschatological, showing how mankind has degenerated since Adam through the monarchies and into the mock monarchy of the papacy towards a now imminent Judgment. The work is essentially controversial in attacking contemporary abuses of secular power by church and court. From the hindsight of the 1560s, THE MONARCH ESTABLISHED ITS AUTHOR AS A FORERUNNER OF THE SCOTTISH REFORMATION.

While Scottish and English readers valued what the Edinburgh printer Charteris called Lindsay's 'hailsum and notabill counsellis and admonitionis to Princis, to Prelates, and to all estatis', they must also have relished his vigorous prosody and diction. Lindsay looks to the previous generation of Scottish poets for his stylistic models. [...] With his rhythmic energy, ingenuity of rhyme, and persistent alliteration, LINDSAY REPRESENTS THE MATURITY OF THE SCOTTISH POETIC TRADITION; he need no longer make the gesture of looking south for his models of eloquence. In fact, his characteristic expression of moral earnestness in self-consciously, artfully rustic style may in turn have provided a model for southern poets in the 1570s, not least the author of The Shepheardes Calender [i.e. Edmund Spenser]." (D. Parkinson, in The Spenser Encyclopedia, ed. by A.C. Hamilton).

Added to the Dialogue in this edition are the following poetical works by Lindsay:

"James V's parrot or 'papingo' of which Lindsay was the keeper, fell one day from a tree and was mortally wounded. After upbraiding the inconstancy of fortune, she sends a message to the young King, bidding him remember that a ruler, being himself the servant of God, should follow justice and seek good reputation; and another message to the courtiers, and another message to the courtiers, bidding them profit by the tragic lessons of Scottish, as well as French and English history. The last section of the poem is a grim satire on the falsity of churchmen. About the dying parrot three birds of prey assemble: the magpie, the raven, and the kite, representing themselves as a canon regular, a black monk, apd a friar respectively. When they challenge her to justify the distrust in which she holds them, the parrot has occasion to discuss at length the Donation of Constantine, whereby the Church has grown rich and sensual, the universal banishment of chastity [and other] clerical faults. [...] At the end of a thousand lines the parrot makes her will, dies, and is at once devoured by her false confessors. The introduction of this poem, differentiated from the rest (which is in rime royal) by the use of a nine-line stanza, contains a notable beadroll of poets, beginning as usual with "Chaucer, Gower, and Lidgat laureate," and paying special honor to Gavin Douglas." (A.C. Baugh, A Literary History of England, Vol. 2, p.322)

"His earliest surviving poem, The Dreme (1528, possibly revised from 1526), is an allegorical vision in the advice-to-princes mode, addressed to James V at the beginning of his rule. It combines traditional moral advice with social commentary on the state of Scotland, and a fierce anticlericalism that anticipates Lindsay's later works; it opens with fond memories of the poet's role in tending to the young king in his unofficial capacity as musician, dancer and storyteller. [...] Later works bear witness to Lindsay's versatility [...] In The tragedie of the cardinall [David Beton] (1547), Lindsay ventriloquizes the ghost of the murdered cardinal David Beaton, as an example of ecclesiastical corruption endorsing the agenda of religious reform." (E. Elliott, op. cit., I, p.604)

A firm believer in the power of the vernacular, Lindsay originally composed this work in the "Scottish tung," praising the language's "utility in making important matters accessible to the populace as a whole and not just a narrow educated élite." (DNB)

It is worth noting that that this 1st English edition had apparently been intended by Pickering to contain both Scottish and English versions, but this plan was for some reason abandoned, resulting in the edition containing the English version only. An entry in the Registers of the Stationers' Company was received between 22 July 1565 - 22 July 1566 "of Wylliam Pekeryng, for his lycense for prynting of boke intituled dyaloge betwene experyence and a Courtiour, compyled by mr Davy lynsaye, bothe in englessh and skottesh." (J. Payne Collier, Extracts from the Registers of the Stationers' Company, Vol. I, p.131). Collier notes that had this original plan been implemented, "it would have afforded a curious comparison between the dialects of the two countries."

Physical description:

Quarto, leaves measure 178 mm x 127 mm. Bound in early 17th-century limp vellum (with remnants of original ties); endpapers made of printed sheets from Charles I’s Statutes (ca. 1625).

Foliation: [4], 154 leaves (forming 316 pages).
Collation: ✠4 A-T8 U2.
Collated and COMPLETE.

Title (✠1r) printed within triple-ruled border; with a fine large (near full-page) device of Thomas Purfoote on verso (depicting Lucretia stabbing herself). A near half-page woodcut (measuring 93 mm x 72 mm) on A4v depicting two figures on a checkered floor (a closely based copy of the block used in 1511 by Wynkyn de Worde on title of The Demaundes Ioyous); a vertical (6 cm x 7½ cm) woodcut of the Annunciation scene (with Gabriel standing over the kneeling Mary) on leaf A7r; further illustrated with around 40 woodcuts (measuring circa 7 x 5 cm) in text.

Text printed in single column, chiefly in large English gothic type (black letter); first line of chapter headings and running heads in roman letter. Running heads read: “The first (-fourth) | boke of the Monarche”, with the header “The fourth boke of the Monarche” continuing (erroneously) beyond “The Monarche” to the end of the volume (including pages which contain text of other poems). Numerous woodcut decorative initials.

Preliminaries include a Preface ('An Epistle to the Reader,' which, according to Bibliotheca Anglo-Poetica "is not in some of the more modern editions") on ✠2r,v; followed by sixteen lines of verse ("Reade and regarde, then gratifull gaine thou shalt receiue hereby...") on ✠3r, and a table of contents ("The Table to this present Booke") on ✠3v-4r (verso of ✠4 blank).

Colophon on U2r (U2v blank).


Several 17th-century signatures of William Rainsford, who served under Cromwell in Ireland, and was rewarded handsomely for his loyalty to Cromwell who granted him considerable estates. William’s son Mark Rainsford was High Sheriff of Dublin in 1690-1 and Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1700-01, most noted as the original founder of the Guinness Brewery.


Good antiquarian condition. Complete. Vellum binding rubbed, wrinkled and darkened, with minor wear to corners and most of the original ties perished (though one present almost in its entirety); rear endpapers detached but present; still binding solid and tight; hinges intact. The first two leaves (title and preface) slightly defective with top portions torn off, causing loss of a few words of the title and in the preface 'An Epistle to the Reader’ (the full-page woodcut Lucretia device on verso of title essentially unaffected). A small piece torn off at bottom inner corner of leaf M4 causing loss of one word ('Above') only; several other leaves with minor marginal tears (without loss). Margins trimmed somewhat closely, occasionally touching the running heads and with occasional minor loss to marginal notes. Occasional early marginal manuscript notes, signatures and pen-trials. Some moderate soiling throughout (mainly marginal), a few minor ink-smudges. A few leaves with outer corners of slightly creased and/or a bit frayed (text not affected). In all, a generally clean and solid, unrestored example of tone of the rarest editions of 16th-century English literature, preserved in a fragile near-contemporary limp-vellum binding.

Bibliographic references:

STC 15676; Luborsky & Ingram, English illustrated Books, 15676; Bibliotheca Anglo-Poetica 418; Hazlitt, Hand-book to the Popular, Poetical, and Dramatic Literature of Graat Britain, p.363: 5(a); G.J. Gray, "William Pickering, the Earliest Bookseller on London Bridge, 1556–1571", Trans. of Bibl. Soc. IV,1898, p.79: no. 8.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.