Tag Archives: Scots Musical Museum

Flodden Field

That referendum I mentioned last time has been promised for 2014. In the autumn, and not June (the anniversary of the famous victory), which may surprise people who thought a vote on the actual day of the resounding defeat of the Auld Enemy would be very appropriate for dealing another smack in the goolies. It might be thought however that the great anniversary could overshadow the political decision in an unexpected way; besides, oh horrors if the vote were no, such a defeat for national aspirations would do something to taint the blessed day.
Bannockburn Day is celebrated with some pomp and circumstance, skirling and speeching, as may be expected. Some think there’s a bit too much of that. Take a look, though, at the preserved site of that other battle in 1513. There’s a simple monument erected in 1910 inscribed with words I find quite moving: TO THE DEAD OF BOTH NATIONS.
The rights and wrongs of the event can be argued over – was James a warmongering tool of the French? Was perfidious Albion just defending its home? And what about Henry, eh? Well, no one can deny that the battle, the last great mediaeval battle maybe (the Scots used the old style, the wily English the new), changed history and had a dreadful effect upon Scotland. Look up the list of the fallen – great names and small, lords and lairds and knights and gentlemen from all over the kingdom, not to mention the poor bloody infantry and all who are not named in the history books. The loss in sheer manpower to the country was immense, and the king himself slain. It was in remembrance of the disaster that Jean Elliot of Minto wrote “The Flowers of the Forest” lamenting the sudden decimation of the manhood of Scotland:

The Flowers of the Forest

I’ve heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lasses a-lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
“The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away”.

At buchts in the morning nae blythe lads are scorning;
The lasses are lonely and dowie and wae;
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighing and sabbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin, and hies her away.

In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
The bandsters are lyart, and runkled or gray;
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae swankies are roaming
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

Dule and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day:
The Flowers of the Forest, that focht aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hear nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

I put up the words, even though they’re very available in umpteen books, and the Net of course. The above set is mostly as the song is given in the Stenhouse notes to The Scots Musical Museum. The tune is given in volume one, no. 63, to “Adieu ye streams that smoothly glide”, verses by Anne Home (Mrs John Hunter), whose main claim to remembrance is penning the words to “My mother bids me bind my hair”, a favourite canzonet by Haydn.


Henry VIII’s poet laureate John Skelton wrote a triumphant sneering sort of poem about the event, “A ballade of the scottysshe kynge”, which doesn’t say much except pour scorn on James (whose death was still in doubt) and his presumption. It was published in black letter that year, just after the battle, and ends

God saue kynge Henry and his lordes all
And sende the frensshe kynge suche an other fall,

Amen, for saynt charytë
And god saue noble.
Kynge Henry
The viij.

This is nicely reproduced with lots of background by John Ashton, 1882.
There is another “Ballad of Flodden Field”, composed much later, which is quite long and detailed, ending with the lines

                               Thus have you heard of Flodden fight.
                               Worthy of each to be commended :
                               Because that then Old England’s right
                               Was bravely by her sons defended.

In the great collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads of Francis James Child, “Flodden Field” is no. 168, from a 17th-century copy of a 16th-century ballad: “in disgrace of the Scots, and in remembrance of the famous atchieved historie, the commons of England made this song, which to this day is not forgotten of many.”
I wonder what ceremonies are planned for the quincentenary next year? The Selkirk Common Riding will remember it of course. Tradition says that after the battle a lone man, the Town Clerk, came to town with a captured flag, let it be known that all but he had been killed, and promptly died.
2013 marks 60 years since the coronation of Elizabeth Queen of Scots. This year marks the 60th since good king George died. Poor man, he didn’t live to see all the shenanigans of after time, which is maybe just as well. What would he make of his grandchildren? But that’s another blog…


1 Comment

Filed under Folksongs, Music, Politics, Texts


If any out there are wondering what the picture at the top of these screeds represents, it’s an old engraving from The Pictorial History of Scotland, from The Roman Invasion to the Close of the Jacobite Rebellion. A.D. 70—1746, by James Taylor, D.D. Published in London by Virtue, no date. Though it will be about 1860 maybe. The engraved title page bears a picture of “Calgacus Addressing his Army”, totally imaginary of course, but it’s a predictable subject, seeing that the Caledonian chief made a rousing speech to his followers, as we’re told by the Roman historian Tacitus. It’s a great piece of oratory, totally imaginary of course! Yet it contains that wonderful stigmatisation of the Roman imperial fist, Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – “They make a desert and they call it peace.” And this is told us by Agricola’s son-in-law!

Anyhow, halfway through the first volume is the picture reproduced above, “Linlithgow Palace”, in West Lothian some miles west of Edinburgh, noteworthy for being the birthplace of James V and his daughter Mary Queen of Scots. The name is Brythonic in origin, evidently meaning “Lake by the wet hollow”, though the Gaelic name on the local signage and in Dwelly’s great Gaelic Dictionary is Gleann Iucha, which is obscure in meaning. Still, it crops up in a number of Gaelic expressions, such as tobraichean Ghlinn Iucha, “the wells of Linlithgow”, one of the marvels of Scotland, going by an old rhyme:

Glasgow for bells,
Lithgow for wells.

And there’s tomhas Ghlinn Iucha, “a Linlithgow measure”, one of the old weights and measures for dry goods (peas, grain, salt and so forth) established in 1617 which fell into disuse and were officially abolished in 1824.

The town has its own “Riding of the Marches” ceremony every June, and it’s then that the band plays the traditional tune they call The Roke. This sounds quite mysterious, but it’s really only the Scots way of saying “Rock” – the tune is called The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow, after words written to it, but it originally appeared as A Scotish March in John Playford’s Musick’s Hand-Maid in 1663. It also appears as Montrose’s March, and its later title by 1731 – the original words are said to be somewhat coarse, and are unfortunately lost (which can be said, I should add, about quite a lot of old Scottish songs). However Alexander Ross wrote new words in the 1760s. Look it up on the internet: http://www.awest.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/roke.html. There’s also some videos on YouTube. Here’s the song as it appears in The Scots Musical Museum, volume V (1796).


1 Comment

Filed under Music