The Kingis Quair: A King’s Tale

Due to the misfortunes of the 14th century, the people hadn’t thought much about art and poetry in Scotland. It is surmised their literary Golden Age began in the 15th century with ‘The Kingis Quair’. It is a 379 line poem that is an autobiography of James I. He wrote about his time as prisoner, his love for Joan and their eventual marriage through allegory. The story is of pain and suffering, until the goddesses Venus, Minerva, and Fortune taught him patience, faithfulness, and that love is salvation. During his time as a hostage in England, the King tutored him. This led to influences including Boethuis and Geoffrey Chaucer, which were not widely known in Scotland, and James’ return brought these ideas to the country. This mixed with strong trade markets in Flanders and France is part of what brought the Renaissance to Scotland. Writing would be a theme among Scottish monarchs, most notably Mary, Queen of Scots’ poetry.

Depiction of James I and Joan Beaufort

The poem itself is a highlight of many styles and themes, which in some ways were James’ flaunting his writing capabilities. He stuck strictly to the rhyming stanza ababbcc, which is a direct influence from Chaucer, and it was given the nickname ‘the royal rhyme’ for his use. There are various translations you can purchase, but the University of Rochester was kind enough to publish one with a translation for individual use. It can be found here: https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/mooney-and-arn-kingis-quair-and-other-prison-poems-james-i-scotland-kingis-quair