Dunbar and the Courtmen: Poetry as a Source for the Court of James IV

William Hepburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The poems of William Dunbar, it is argued here, are an indispensable source for the court of James IV. Dunbar's ‘Schir, ye haue mony seruitouris’ illustrates this point. The poem, with its long and varied list of craftsmen and other servants of James IV, has been taken for a shorthand description of the vibrant Renaissance court James is believed to have presided over. Rather than simply reflecting a Renaissance court it focuses on royal servants, including Dunbar, who were more peripheral to the court than formal members of the royal household who served the king daily. Through this poem, however, Dunbar sought to sow the idea that the court should be full of specialist servants like him, a view that modern readers have often accepted uncritically. This poem demonstrates that a more nuanced view of the court can be gained by using both archival and literary sources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-112
Number of pages17
JournalInnes Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Scottish History
  • Royal Court
  • Poetry


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