Ed de Moel

Child Ballads - Narrative

Bonnie House o' Airlie

    1. Sharpe's Ballad Book, p. 59, No 20.
    2. 'The Bonnie House o Airly,' Finlay's Ballads, II, 25.
    3. Skene Manuscript, pp. 28, 54.
    4. 'The Bonny House of Airly,' Campbell Manuscripts, II, 113.
    5. 'The Bonny House of Airly,' an Aberdeen stall-copy, without date.
    6. 'The Bonny House o Airly,' another Aberdeen stall-copy, without date.
    7. Hogg's Jacobite Relics, II, 152.
    8. Kinloch Manuscripts, VI, 5, one stanza.
    Version A
  1. Kinloch Manuscripts, V, 273. Version B
    1. 'The Bonny House of Airley,' Kinloch Manuscripts, V, 205.
    2. 'Young Airly,' Cromek's Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, p. 226.
    3. 'The Bonny House o Airlie,' Smith's Scottish Minstrel, II, 2.
    4. 'The Bonny House o Airlie,' Christie's Traditional Ballad Airs, II, 276, 296.
    Version C
  2. Kinloch Manuscripts, V, 106; Kinloch Manuscripts, VII, 207; Kinloch's Ancient Scottish Ballads, p. 104. Version D

The earliest copy of this ballad hitherto found is a broadside of about 1790 (a hundred and fify years later than the event celebrated), which Finlay combined with two others, derived from recitation, for his edition (A b). C b, c, d, are not purely traditional texts, and A g has borrowed some stanzas from C b. C b is transcribed into the Campbell Manuscripts, I, 184. Aytoun's edition, 1859, II, 270, is compounded from A a, A b, with half a dozen words changed, and it is not quite clear how the editor means to be understood when he says, "the following, I have reason to believe, is the original."

One summer day, Argyle, who has a quarrel with Airlie, sets out to plunder the castle of that name. The lord of the place is at the time with the king. Argyle (something in the style of Captain Car) summons Lady Ogilvie to come down and kiss him; else he will not leave a standing stone in Airlie. This she will not do, for all his threat. Argyle demands of the lady where her dowry is (as if it were tied up in a handkerchief). She gives no precise information: it is east and west, up and down the water-side. Sharp search is made, and the dowry is found in a plum-tree (balm-tree, cherry-tree, palm-tree, A a, b, d, e, g). Argyle lays or leads the lady down somewhere while the plundering goes forward. She tells him that no Campbell durst have taken in hand such a thing if her lord had been at home. She has born seven (ten) sons, and is expecting another; but had she as many more (a hundred more), she would give them all to King Charles.

In A d 7 Lady Ogilvie asks the favor of Argyle that he will take her to a high hill-top that she may not see the burning of Airlie; the passage is of course corrupt. In A g 7 she more sensibly asks that her face may not be turned that way. In C a 5, 6, b 5, 6, the rational request is made that she may be taken to some dark dowey glen[foot-note] to avoid the sight; but Argyle leads her "down to the top of the town," and bids her look at the plundering, a; sets her upon a bonnie knowe-tap, and bids her look at Airlie fa'ing, b. D 7, 8, goes a step further. The lady asks that she may be thrown over the castle-wall rather than see the plundering; Argyle lifts her up 'sae rarely' and throws her over, and she never saw it.

In C a 8 Argyle would have Lord Airlie informed that one kiss from his lady would have saved all the plundering. In D 5 he tells Lady Ogilvie that if she had surrendered on the first demand there would have been no plundering; and this assurance he repeats to 'Captain' Ogilvie, whom he meets on his way home.

A b 2, D 1, 2, represent Argyle to be acting under the orders of Montrose, or in concert with him.

A piece in five or six stanzas which appears, with variations, in Cromek's Remains, p. 195, Hogg's Jacobite Relics, II, 151, Cunningham's Songs of Scotland, III, 218, under the caption of 'Young Airly' (the title of C b also in Cromek), moves forward the burning of Airlie to "the 45;" not very strangely (if there is anything traditional in these verses), when we consider the prominence of the younger Lord Ogilvie and his wife among the supporters of Charles Edward. (The first three of Cromek's stanzas are transcribed into Campbell Manuscripts, I, 187.) No doubt the Charlie and Prince Charlie of some versions of our ballad were understood by the reciters to be the Young Chevalier.

The Committee of Estates, June 12, 1640, gave commission to the Earl of Argyle to rise in arms against certain people, among whom was the Earl of Airlie, as enemies to religion and unnatural to their country, and to pursue them with fire and sword until they should be brought to their duty or else utterly subdued and rooted out. The Earl of Airlie had gone to England, fearing lest he should be pressed to subscribe the Covenant, and had left his house to the keeping of his eldest son, Lord Ogilvie. Montrose, who had signed the commission as one of the Committee, but was not inclined to so strenuous proceedings, invested Airlie, forced a surrender, and put a garrison in the place to hold it for the "public." Argyle did not interpret his commission in this mild way. He took Airlie in hand in the beginning of July, and caused both this house and that of Forthar, belonging to Lord Ogilvie, to be pillaged, burned, and demolished. Thereafter he fell upon the lands both of the proprietor and his tenantry, and carried off or destroyed "their whole goods, gear, corns, cattle, horse, nolt, sheep," and left nothing but bare bounds.

According to one writer, Lady Ogilvie was residing at Forthar, and, being big with child, asked leave of Argyle to stay till she was brought to bed; but this was not allowed, and she was put out, though she knew not whither to go. By another account, Argyle accused Montrose of having suffered the lady to escape.[foot-note]

The ballad puts Lady Airlie in command of the house or castle, but none of the family were there at the time it was sacked. She is called Lady Margaret in A b 4, but her name was Elizabeth. The earl, James, is called the great Sir John in C a 9. A 10 and the like elsewhere are applicable to the younger Lady Ogilvie in respect to the unborn child. Chambers says that Lady Airlie had three children and Lady Ogilvie but one, and "the poet must be wrong." "The poet," besides being inaccurate, does not tell the same story in all the versions, and this inconsistency is again observable in 'Geordie,' A 9, B 18, C 8, etc.

'Gleyd Argyle' is "generally described as of mean stature, with red hair and squinting eyes."[foot-note] His morals appear to some disadvantage again in 'Geordie,' I a 23.

This page most recently updated on 22-Mar-2011, 16:46:41.
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