John Barbour (poet)

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John Barbour (c.1320 – 13 March 1395), was a Scottish poet and the first major named literary figure to write in Scots. His principal surviving work is the historical verse romance, The Brus (The Bruce), and his reputation from this poem is such that other long works in Scots which survive from the period are sometimes thought to be by him. He is known to have written a number of other works, but other titles definitely ascribed to his authorship, such as The Stewartis Oryginalle (Genealogy of the Stewarts) and The Brut (Brutus), are now lost.

Barbour was latterly Archdeacon of the Kirk of St Machar in Aberdeen. He also studied in Oxford and Paris. But though he was a man of the church, his surviving writing is strongly secular in both tone and themes. His principal patron was Robert II and evidence of his promotion and movements before Robert Stewart came to power as king tend to suggest that Barbour acted politically on the future king's behalf.[1]

He died in 1395, probably in Aberdeen.



John Barbour may have been born around 1320 if the record of his age in 1375 as sixty is correct. His birthplace is not known, though Aberdeenshire and Galloway have made rival claims.

Barbour's first appearance in the historical record comes in 1356 with promotion to the archdeaconry of Aberdeen from a post he had held for less than a year in Dunkeld Cathedral. It is inferred from this that he was also present in Avignon in 1355.[2] In 1357, when David II returned to Scotland from exile and was restored to active kingship, Barbour received a letter of safe-conduct to travel through England to the University of Oxford. He subsequently appears to have left the country in other years coincidental with periods when David II was active king.

After the death of David II in 1371, Barbour served in the royal court of Robert II in a number of capacities. It was during this time that he composed, The Brus, receiving for this in 1377 the gift of ten pounds Scots, and in 1378 a life-pension of twenty shillings. He held various posts in the king's household. In 1372 he was one of the auditors of exchequer and in 1373 a clerk of audit.

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