1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Thomas of Erceldoune

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THOMAS OF ERCELDOUNE, called also The Rhymer, and sometimes given the surname of Learmont (fl.? 1220–? 1297), poet and prophet in the legendary literature of Scotland. The historical person of that name figures in two charters of the 13th century, and from these it appears that he owned lands in Erceldoune (now Earlstoun), in Berwickshire, which were made over by his son and heir on the 2nd of November 1294 to the foundation of the Holy Trinity at Soltra (or Soutra) on the borders of the same county. This would seem to imply that Thomas the Rhymer was already dead, but J. A. H. Murray, who edited The Romance and Prophecies (E.E.T.S., 1875), thinks that he was living three years later in a Cluniac priory in Ayrshire. He figures in the works of Barbour and Harry the Minstrel as the sympathizing contemporary of their heroes, and Walter Bower, who continued the Scotichronicon of Fordun, tells how he prophesied the death of Alexander III. in 1285. Barbour makes the bishop of St Andrews in 1306 express a hope that a prophecy of Thomas referring to Bruce will come true; and Wyntoun says that he foretold the battle of Kilblane. In the folk-lore of Scotland his name is associated with numerous fragments of verse of a gnomic and prophetic character. The romance of Thomas and the elf-queen was attributed to Erceldoune by Robert Mannyng de Brunne, but the earliest text, in the Auchinleck MS. in the Advocates’ library, Edinburgh, is in a dialect showing southern forms, and dates from the beginning of the 14th century. It may be based on a genuine work of Thomas, a version by him of the widely diffused Tristan Saga. This text was published in 1804 by Sir Walter Scott, and was by him assigned to the Rhymer. The most widely accepted opinion is that it is a translation of a French original. The Rhymer’s lands at Earlstoun are still identified. In 1840 died the last of a family named Learmont, which claimed descent from the poet. It may be noted that the Russian poet Michael Lermontov claimed Thomas of Erceldoune as his ancestor.

See J. A. H. Murray’s edition of The Romance and Prophecies (E.E.T.S., 1875); Brandl’s Thomas of Erceldoune (Berlin, 1880), and Kölbing’s Die nordische und die englische Version der Tristransage (Heilbronn, 1882); also McNeill’s Sir Tristrem (S.T.S., 1886); Lumby’s Early Scottish Prophecies (E.E.T.S., 1870), and the reprint of the Whole Prophesie of Scotland (1603) by the Bannatyne Club (1833).