Gavin Douglas was a Scottish bishop, makar and translator. Although he had an important political career, it is for his poetry that he is now chiefly remembered. His principal pioneering achievement was the Eneados, a full and faithful vernacular translation of the Aeneid of Virgil and the first successful example of its kind in the British Isles. Other extant poetry includes his Palice of Honour and possibly King Hart.
Douglas was educated at St Salvator's College, St Andrews and was a friend and correspondent of many of the internationally renowned men of his age, including Polydore Vergil, John Major, Cardinal Wolsey and Henry, 3rd Lord Sinclair. Because of his powerful family connections and role in high public life, he is the best-documented of the early Scottish makars. Indeed, of poets in the British Isles before him, only the biography of Chaucer is as well documented or understood. All his literary work was composed before his fortieth year while he was provost of St Giles in Edinburgh.
After the Battle of Flodden, Douglas became heavily involved in affairs of state, seeking a dominant role as one of the Lords of Council and bidding to attain one or more of the many sees, including the archbishopric of St Andrews, left vacant in the destructive aftermath of the Scottish defeat. He finally attained to the bishopric of Dunkeld in 1516, although only after a bitter struggle.
In 1517, in his more settled public position, Douglas was one of the leading members of the embassy to Francis I which negotiated the Treaty of Rouen, but his role in the volatile politics of the period, mainly centring around control over the minority of James V, was deeply contentious. By late 1517 he had managed to earn the enduring hostility of the Queen Mother, a former ally, and in subsequent years became manifestly involved in political manoeuvring against the Regent Albany. At the same time he remained ambitious for the St Andrews archbishopric which fell vacant once again in 1521. His career was cut short when he died suddenly during a brief period in exile in London.
Douglas's literary work was composed in a highly polished Middle Scots, often aureate in style. After the Eneados he is not known to have produced any further poetry, despite being at the height of his artistic powers when it was completed in 1513 six weeks before the Battle of Flodden.
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