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Alexander Barclay

Alexander Barclay
Born c. 1476
Died 10 June 1552 (aged c. 75)
Croydon, Surrey
Occupation poet
Notable work The Ship of Fools (1509)

Dr Alexander Barclay (c. 1476 – 10 June 1552) was an English/Scottish poet.

Barclay was born in about 1476. His place of birth is matter of dispute, but William Bulleyn, who was a native of Ely, and probably knew him when he was in the monastery there, asserts that he was born "beyonde the cold river of Twede" (River Tweed, i.e. in Scotland). His early life was spent at Croydon, but it is not certain whether he was educated at Oxford or Cambridge. It may be presumed that he took his degree, as he uses the title of "Syr" in his translation of Sallust's Bellum Jugurthinum, and in his will he is called Doctor of Divinity.

From the numerous incidental references in his works, and from his knowledge of European literature, it may be inferred that he spent some time abroad. Thomas Cornish, suffragan bishop in the diocese of Bath and Wells, and provost of Oriel College, Oxford, from 1493 to 1507, appointed him chaplain of the college of Ottery St Mary, Devon. Here he wrote his satirical poem, The Ship of Fools, partly a translation from Sebastian Brant.

The death of his patron in 1513 apparently put an end to his connection with the west, and he became a monk in the Benedictine monastery of Ely. In this retreat he probably wrote his eclogues, but in 1520 "Maistre Barkleye, the Blacke Monke and Poete" was desired to devise "histoires and convenient raisons to florisshe the buildings and banquet house withal" at the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He at length became a Franciscan monk of Canterbury.


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