The Clerk of Tranent

In the times of the Magna Carta & the Crusades, a rich Arthurian tradition sprang up on the pages of the French poets, a great deal of which is contained in what is known as ‘The Vulgate-Cycle,’ a vast collection of tales which abound with stories of Arthur’s knights all aquesting for the Holy Grail. In this text, the mytho-history of one the knights, Gawain, is brought to full fruition.

During my studies into the Vulgate-Cycle, I became convinced that one its creators must have had local knowledge of Endinburgh & its environs. In Scotland he places a certain water-protected fortress on a lofty ‘Saxon Rock,’ which perfectly matches Edinburgh castle, once half-surrounded by the now-drained ‘Nor Loch’ which is stated by Nennius as being given to Henghist & co back in the 5th century. The Vulgate-cycle adds that the Rock lay in the region of ‘Arestel,‘ which given the Anglo-Norman prediliction for changing ls to rs, perfectly connects with Edinburgh’s Lestalrig. Nearby, says the Cycle, lay the ‘Narrows of Godalente,‘ which fits in with Lothian once being the demense of the Brythonic tribe known as the Gododdin, who Ptolemy called the ‘Otalini.


Now then, in the 16th century a Scottish poet called William Dunbar wrote a poem called the ‘Lament for the Makaris, a lovely elegaic piece dedicated to the dead poets of Scotland. One of the stanzas reads;

Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He’s basically saying (in Old Scots) that the Clerk of Tranent wrote about Sir Gawain, whose stories were sometime later finsihed off by Sir Gilbert Hay. The mention of Gawain is significiant, for in it we can see that the Clerk of Tranent connects to the Vulgate-Cycle in two ways – through geography & subject matter. With the Vulgate Cycle being written in the early 13th century, between 1210 & 1230, then our investigation naturally leads to the ruling nobility of Tranent at that time. These were the De Quincys – Robert de Quincy had married Orabilis, a lady of Leuchars in Fife, through which he found himself in charge of lands about the East Lothian town of Tranent. He was from Northamptonshire, & was very much a post-conquest, French-speaking Anglo-Norman, which provides the language of the Vulgate-Cycle. Dying in 1204, he was succeeded by his son, Saer, but his other son, Simon became the CLERK to William I, King of Scots, in the early 13th century. His appearances in recorded history can be found here.



Everything fits together so neatly here, & I believe that the identity of the Clerk of Tranent has now been ascertained. With the De Quincys being the builders of Tranent’s Fa-side Castle, we can now imagine Simon De Quincy composing the Vulgate-Cycle in its towered keep fresh from his wanderings around Edinburgh.

One thought on “The Clerk of Tranent

  1. Very interesting as always Damo. A bit confused whether Hugh or Simon wrote it (or model of Green man) though (i only read through it quick)?

    I wonder if there is a connection with Robin Hood (who is similar to the Green Man). RH/’s son was a ward of another de Vere Earl of Oxford?

    The narrows of Godalente/gododdin/otalini possibly similar to the plains of Othlynn of Brunanburh?

    the Saxon Rock “~ Edinburgh” given to *Hengist* could be my Guinnion (HB)/Dover (ND)/Mt Eidyn (Eidyn 2, PG) though. There is some sort of connection/analogy between our s.e. battle sites and North/Wales/etc sites.

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