The first printed version of the poem dates from 1527 according to the Short Title Catalogue (STC 22611) and was printed by John Rastell (Freeman 411). The poem is also found in STC 22608 (Workes, ed. J. Stow, T. Marshe (1568)). The exact date of the composition of this poem is unknown, although the poem was presumably written in the 1490s. Robert Kinsman assigns the poem to the years 1495-1500 and John Scattergood remarks that if the reference in line 19 refers to “Perkin Warbeck and his wife, Lady Catherine Gordon then the poem must have been composed between November 1495, date of marriage, and late September 1497, when Warbeck was captured and imprisoned” (Scattergood 391).
The subject of the poem is ambiguous. The OED gives the following attestation of the word ‘coystroyne’: “† ˈcustron, n. Obs. A scullion, a kitchen-knave; hence a boy or lad of low birth, base-born fellow, ‘cad’, vagabond.” Scattergood states that the ‘coystrowne’ in the title is sometimes thought to be Lambert Simnel, the Yorkist imposter, who after captivity was made a scullion in the royal kitchens; yet, Scattergood favours a different reading as he argues that the reference to Flemish basse dance and cloth making (for which the Flemish were renowned) mark him as a foreigner, perhaps a Flemish foreigner and a musician of some sort (Scattergood 391). However, Scattergood points out that the names that appear in the poem all link the ‘coystrowne’ to Lambert Simnel in the first part of the poem. According to Michael J. Bennett, “Simnel was a pretender claiming to be Edward, earl of Warwick, son and heir of George, duke of Clarence, the last surviving male of the house of York” (Bennett). He was later identified as Lambert Simnel, son of Thomas Simnel, a carpenter of Flemish decent (hence, the reference to Flanders). In line 19, a reference is made to Martin Swart (Swartz) who “formed part of the force sent from the Low Countries by Margaret, dowager duchess of Burgundy (d. 1503), to aid the Yorkist pretender Lambert Simnel in 1487” (Arthurson). If Scattergood rightly identified the Perkin in line 19 to be Perkin Warbeck, then, as Warbeck is also a Yorkist imposter, the identification of Simnel as the ‘coystrowne’ is even more convincing. Warbeck, conveniently, also has a Flemish connection: “In 1484–7 he was in Antwerp, Bergen op Zoom, and Middelburg, completing his education by learning Flemish and working for merchants, probably in the cloth trade” (Gunn). Thus, it is not surprising why readers might think that this poem is about the boy who was spared by Henry Tudor VII and was put to good use in scullery.
However, even though the poem can be linked to Simnel, the fact that protagonist is a musician cannot be denied; especially because the first line of poem “Contra Alium Cantitantem et Organisantem Asinum”, which follows this poem, translates “against another singer and doltish musician”. Additionally, in his dissertation, Ronald Scot Renchler observes that “[t]he title poem is a diatribe against a musician who apparently criticized Skelton in some unspecified manner” (Renchler 143). Skelton attacks the subject of this poem ruthlessly by mocking and ridiculing his opposer’s attempt to play instruments and to sing songs.