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Short poem

Thomas Percy (1729-1811)

The Bonny Earl of Murray

              1Ye highlands, and ye lawlands,
              2Oh! whair hae ye been?
              3They hae slaine the earl of Murray,
              4And hae layd him on the green.

              5Now wae be to thee, Huntley!
              6And whairfore did you sae!
              7I bade you bring him wi' you,
              8But forbade you him to slay.

              9He was a braw gallant,
            10And he rid at the ring;
            11And the bonny earl of Murray,
            12Oh! he might hae been a king.

            13He was a braw gallant,
            14And he playd at the ba';
            15And the bonny earl of Murray
            16Was the flower among them a'.

            17He was a braw gallant,
            18And he playd at the gluve;
            19And the bonny earl of Murray,
            20Oh! he was the queenes luve.

            21Oh! lang will his lady
            22Luke owre the castle downe,
            23Ere she see the earl of Murray
            24Cum sounding throw the towne.


1] In 1765, Thomas Percy, later Bishop of Dromore, published in three volumes his collection of "old heroic ballads, songs and other pieces of our earlier poets together with some few of later date," under the title Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, The edition contained, in addition to a dedication to the Countess of Northumberland and a preface, an "Essay on the Ancient English Minstrels" which was, in part, responsible for the increasing interest in the ballad and minstrel literature of the past. It encouraged one poet at least, James Beattie (1735-1803), to write one of the century's best poems in the Spenserian stanza, The Minstrel (1771-74). Percy collected his materials from old manuscripts, from English and Scottish correspondents, from earlier printings of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ballads, from the archives of various antiquarian societies, and from earlier collections of ballads, especially the Pepys collection, "near 2000 in number, which he has left pasted in five volumes in folio," in the Library of Magdalen College, Cambridge. This poem is sub-titled "A Scottish Song." "In December, 1591, Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, had made an attempt to seize on the person of his sovereign James VI., but being disappointed, had retired towards the north. The king unadvisedly gave a commission to George Gordon, Earl of Huntley, to pursue Bothwell and his followers with fire and sword. Huntley, under cover of executing that commission, took occasion to revenge a private quarrel he had against James Stewart, Earl of Murray, a relation of Bothwell's. In the night of Feb. 7, 1592, he beset Murray's house, burnt it to the ground, and slew Murray himself; a young nobleman of the most promising virtues, and the very darling of the people. See Robertson's Hist." (Percy's note).

9] braw: brave.

20] "King James, who took no care to punish the murderers, is said by some to have privately countenanced and abetted them, being stimulated by jealousy for some indiscreet praises which his Queen had too lavishly bestowed on this unfortunate youth" (Percy's note).

22] luke owre: look o'er.
castle downe. "Castle downe here has been thought to mean the Castle of Downe, a seat belonging to the family of Murray" (Percy's note).

24] throw: through.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). 3rd. edn. (London: J. Dodsley, 1775). B-11 6294 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1765
Publication date note: (but much earlier)
RPO poem editor: G. G. Falle
RP edition: 3RP 2.233.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: abcb

Other poems by Thomas Percy