The Bonny Earl of Murray

Original Text: 
Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). 3rd. edn. (London: J. Dodsley, 1775). B-11 6294 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
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.
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,
21Oh! lang will his lady
23Ere she see the earl of Murray


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). Back to Line
9] braw: brave. Back to Line
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). Back to Line
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). Back to Line
24] throw: through. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
(but much earlier)
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.233.