The masterpiece of Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, ‘Ane Satyre o’ the Thrie Estaites’ was first performed at Linlithgow Palace on the 6th of January, 1540.
Sir David Lyndsay’s play, ‘Ane Satyre o’ the Thrie Estaites’, otherwise known and referred to as ‘The Three Estaitis’ was first performed at Linlithgow Palace on the 6th of January, 1540 to an audience of royalty and courtiers and since then, it has been performed to all manner of folk, even unto our time. A performance of ‘The Three Estaitis’ has drawn crowds to the Edinburgh Festival and it has been staged all over the world, not just in Lyndsay’s native Scotland. It is a penetrating political satire that calls for reform in both Church and State, and not satisfied with that as provocation, nor was Lyndsay afraid to have a dig at the rule of Kings. It isn’t easy to imagine how Lyndsay enjoyed such unparalleled freedom of speech, but his play chastised all classes, from his Royal Master to the most simple commoner and presents a hilarious masque of corruption and vice in high places.
Lyndsay was probably the best known Scottish poet in the period between his death and the mid-18th Century. Perhaps his was the first literary expression of the Renaissance in Scotland. Undoubtedly, he was certainly a highly influential figure as Nicola Royan explains in the Summer 2000 issue of the ‘ScotLit’ newsletter, “In the late sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a literate household in Scotland was likely to own two books: the Bible and the works of Sir David Lyndsay.” She goes on to suggest that “very little is known about the rest of Lyndsay’s work”, but Sir Walter Scott must’ve found something to like as Lyndsay showed up as a character in ‘Redgauntlet’ and much later, C. S. Lewis wrote of him saying, “what there is of him is good all through”. In addition to being a poet and a harsh satirist, Sir David Lyndsay was also a courtier and diplomat who rose from relative obscurity as the son of a Fife laird to become Lord Lyon King of Arms of Scotland under the patronage of a King, James V. Perhaps the secret of his successful satirical and moralist ‘effrontery’ lay in his early appointment as usher to the infant James, to whom he would’ve been an influential character.
Lyndsay has been widely credited with effecting the reformation of the Scottish Church and given a place second only to that of John Knox in so doing, but that’s without question an exaggeration. Certainly, as a writer, he directed most of his invective against the abuses of the contemporary Roman Catholic Church and his work should be counted amongst the most important and provocative Scottish writing of the Reformation era. However, there is no evidence that he renounced Catholicism and the nature and extent of Lyndsay’s commitment to Protestantism is debatable. He wasn’t a follower of John Knox, that’s for sure. Nevertheless, a leading purpose of Lyndsay’s was to expose the errors and abuses of the Church. There can be no mistaking the vigour of his condemnation of ecclesiastical misconduct, nor thankfully, the dramatic skill with which he brought his arguments to life. He also wrote in the vernacular and in his last work, ‘The Monarchie’, he recommended that the Bible be read, and ordinary prayers be said, in the language of the people, rather than Latin.
The ‘Three Estaitis’ of Lynday’s play are the Clergy, the Nobility and the Burgesses or craftsmen, and their faults are exposed by the character of John of the ‘Common-Weill’. The play was directed against the pride and greed prevalent throughout mid-16th Century Scottish society, and the social ills which hampered the common good of the nation of Scotland. Lindsay’s earliest work on the evils of his time appeared in 1530 as ‘The Testament and Compleynt of Our Soverane Lordis Papyngo’. In that, the Clergy suffer heavily via allegory for their hypocrisy and avarice as the dying Papyngo (a parrot) is abused and ultimately devoured by certain birds of prey. The clergy of the feathered world is represented by a magpie, a raven and a kite, for which read Canon, Benedictine and Friar. As Lord Lyon, Lyndsay had an obvious interest in chivalry and that is evident in his biographical romance, ‘The Historie and Testament of Squyer Meldrum’ and similarly in ‘The Justing betwix James Watsoun and Jhone Barbour’. Lyndsay has been called the ‘Scots Chaucer’ and in his ‘Squyer Meldrum’ you can detect a Scottish ‘Squire’s Tale’.
David Lyndsay was born in Fife circa 1490, some sources suggest as early as 1485. In terms of his education, it is believed that he attended the University of St Andrews, where he met another David, the man who went on to become Cardinal Beaton. There is an entry in the books of St Andrews, which records the attendance of one ‘Da Lindesay’ for the session 1508-1509. Sir David Lindsay of the Mount was closely connected to the Scottish Royal Court for most of his life and he first appears in court records as a participant in a play performed in 1511. He was engaged as an Equerry and then, in 1512, as an Usher to the infant Prince, who became James V at the age of seventeen months in September, 1513 after his father was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field. Between then and 1523, in the sometimes stormy period of James’ minority rule, Lindsay is variously described as ‘Keeper of the King’s Grace’, and ‘Gentleman of the Bedchamber or Household of the King’. Lindsay’s first heraldic appointment was as ‘Snowdon Herald’ and in 1529, after the Queen Mother and Douglas had been sidelined, he was appointed ‘Lord Lyon King of Arms’, whereupon he was knighted. Lyndsay addressed many of his poems to wee Jamesey, played the lute, told him stories and otherwise entertained the bairn as he later reminded his Monarch in a poem.
Lyndsay was also a bit of an ambassador for Scotland and one of his tasks was to arrange the marriage of James V and Marie de Bourbon. However, famously, James instead fell for the beautiful, but tragic, Madeleine of Valois, for whom Lyndsay later wrote an elegy called ‘The Deploratioun of the Deith of Quene Magdalene’. Madeleine died of course and in 1538, James married Mary of Lorraine who was welcomed to Scotland with an elaborate pageant designed in his official capacity by Scotland’s chief heraldic officer, the ‘Lyon King’. When James V pined awa after the debacle of Solway Moss, Lyndsay had to trot round Europe to return the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Order of St. Michael and the Order of the Garter to Charles V, Francis I and Henry VIII respectively. Thereafter, Lyndsay was less closely attached to the Court and spent more time at the Mount near Cupar, but he did attend Parliament in 1544 and 1545 as Commissioner for Cupar. His last official assignment was as a member of a trade mission to Denmark, which secured some privileges for Scottish merchants. The death of Sir David Lyndsay was recorded in the Register of the Privy Seal in April 1555.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.