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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

VII. Reformation and Renascence in Scotland

§ 13. The Complaynt of Scotland

One of the most notable specimens of the vernacular prose of the period is the singular production entitled The Complaynt of Scotland, the anonymous author of which was an adherent of the ancient church, and an ardent opponent of the English alliance. Primarily a political pamphlet, it was prompted by the miseries of the country that followed the defeat of the Scots at Pinkie by the duke of Somerset in 1547; and the object of its author is to point out to his countrymen the various evils to which their misfortunes were due. Till within recent years, the Complaynt was regarded as an original work, but it is now known to be, in great part, an adaptation of Le Quadrilogue Invectif of Alain Chartier (1422). The object of Chartier’s work was to encourage his countrymen in their effort to expel the English, and, as the same situation now existed in Scotland, the author of the Complaynt found material in Chartier ready to his hand. After an introduction, consisting of an epistle to queen Mary and an epistle to the reader, the book opens with a succession of chapters (the first mainly a translation of Chartier), in which the author discourses on such themes as the “mutations of monarches,” the wrath of God against wicked peoples, and the approaching end of the world—all with more or less direct bearing on the miseries of Scotland. In chapter VI, we have what the author calls “ane monologue recreative,” in which, with curious irrelevancy, a shepherd is made to expound the Ptolemaic system. Then follows what is to be considered the main portion of the book—the vision of Dame Scotia and her indictment of the iniquities of nobles, clergy and commons, which have produced the existing miseries of their country. Here, again, the author is indebted to Chartier, from whom he has appropriated the conception of the vision, besides certain portions of his text. Such is the general plan of this fantastic production, which may have been drawn from other sources not yet discovered. Regarded merely as a specimen of early Scottish prose, however, the book has an interest of its own. The author himself assures us that he uses the “domestic scottis language”—a statement which he modifies by the further remark that he found it necessary “til myxt oure langage vitht part of termis dreuyn [derived] fra Lateen.” Another source of interest in the book is the multitude of curious details regarding the life of the time which are not to be found elsewhere. Of its author nothing is known, though he has been variously identified with Sir James Inglis, abbot of Cambuskenneth, Sir James Inglis, abbot of Culross, Sir David Lyndsay and one of the three Wedderburns. From the book itself, we gather that he was a Catholic and an enemy of England; and the recent discovery that he had read a manuscript of Octavien St. Gelais, bishop of Angoulême, suggests that he may have been in the suite of queen Mary in France, and strengthens the conjecture that the work was printed in Paris in 1548 or 1549.

A notable volume was archbishop Hamilton’s Catechism (1552), so called because it was issued by his authority after receiving the sanction of a provincial council. Written in the purest Scots of the time, the Catechism presents the fundamental Catholic doctrines in the simplest and most attractive form, though in the tumultuous period that followed its publication it had little influence in furthering the cause of its promoters. The most eminent defender of the old church was Quintin Kennedy, a son of the second earl of Cassillis, who, in 1558, published The Compendius Tractive, which stated the case against protestantism with such persuasiveness and ability that, by the admission of an opponent, it perceptibly affected the progress of the new opinions. Better known than his Tractive, however, is the Ressoning between him and Knox: the record of an oral controversy that took place at Maybole in 1562, and lasted for three days.