Mark Alexander Boyd

A Mad Desire


Mark Alexander Boyd was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, on 13 January 1563. He belonged to a formerly arisocratic family that could still boast some illustrious members, his great-grandfather having been Chamberlain of Scotland and his uncle, who was responsible for Boyd after his father's death, being the Archbishop of Glasgow. Boyd's own career path suffered some false starts. He apparently left university without taking a degree, and an ambition to serve at the royal court failed to bear fruit. While still a young man, he left Scotland to start a new life in his country's traditional ally, France.

In France, Boyd studied law at the university of Orleans and afterwards at Bourges. At Bourges, Boyd began the literary work for which he was known in his lifetime: imitations of ancient Latin poetry, through which he participated in a scholarly fashion and in the wider European culture of the period.

Meanwhile, a new and violent phase in the French Wars of Religion had broken out, after the death of King Henri III's brother in 1584 had left the Protestant Henri of Navarre as the heir to the throne. Boyd took up his sword to become a soldier of fortune, fighting on the royal (Catholic) side.

In 1588, Boyd attempted to retire from the war and take up the study of law again, but the unrest in the country soon curtailed this. He remained in France until at least 1595, fighting (always for the Catholic party) while conducting his studies in between the campaigns and writing more Latin poems. A collection of his Latin verse, Epistolae Heroides et Hymni, was published in Antwerp in 1592.

Boyd's last years were divided between affairs in France and in his native Scotland. He died in 1601, aged approximately thirty-eight. The only poems that seem to have been disseminated in his lifetime were the Latin imitations, some of which were subsequently reprinted in a 1637 anthology, the Deliciae Poetarum Scotorum. Readers would not know that he had also written poetry in Scots – the basis of his reputation today – until the sole surviving copy of his sole surviving sonnet was rediscovered and published in 1900.

In 1787, Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, published a Sketch of the Life of Mark Alexander Boyd.