Ed de Moel

Child Ballads - Narrative

The Broom of Cowdenknows

  1. 'The Laird of Knotington,' Percy papers, 1768. Version A
  2. 'Bonny May.'
    1. Herd's Ancient and Modern Scots Songs, 1769, p. 308; 1776, 1, 98.
    2. Johnson's Museum, No 110, p. 113.
    Version B
  3. 'Laird o Ochiltree,' Kinloch Manuscripts, VII, 143; Kinloch's Ancient Scottish Ballads, p. 160. Version C
  4. 'The Laird o Ochiltree Wa's,' Motherwell's Manuscript, p. 517. Version D
  5. Motherwell's Manuscript, p. 175. Version E
  6. 'Bonny May,' Gibb Manuscript, p. 9. Version F
  7. 'The Broom of Cowdenknows,' Scott's Minstrelsy, III, 280, 1803; III, 37, 1833. Version G
  8. 'The Maid o the Cowdenknows,' Kinloch Manuscripts, I, 137. Version H
  9. 'Laird o Lochnie,' Kinloch Manuscripts, VII, 153; Kinloch's Ancient Scottish Ballads, p. 167. Version I
  10. Kinloch Manuscripts, VI, 11. Version J
  11. 'Maiden o the Cowdenknowes,' Dr. Joseph Robertson's Journal of Excursions, No 6. Version K
  12. 'The Broom of the Cowden Knowes,' Buchan's Manuscripts, II, 178. Version L
  13. 'Broom o the Cowdenknowes,' Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland, I, 172. Version M
  14. 'The Laird of Lochinvar,' Kinloch Manuscripts, I, 145. Version N

This ballad was widely diffused in Scotland. "It would be useless," says Motherwell, "to enumerate the titles of the different versions which are common among reciters." "Each district has its own version," says Kinloch. So it must have done no little mischief in its day. The earliest known copies, A, B, are of the second half of the last century.

There is an English "ditty" (not a traditional ballad) of a northern lass who got harm while milking her father's ewes, which was printed in the first half of the seventeenth century. It is here given in an appendix. This ditty is "to a pleasant Scotch tune called The broom of Cowden Knowes," and the burden is:

    With, O the broome, the bonny broome,
      The broome of Cowden Knowes!
Fain would I be in the North Countrey,
      To milk my dadyes ewes.

The tune was remarkably popular, and the burden is found, variously modified, in connection with several songs: see Chappell's Popular Music, pp. 458-461, 613, 783. 'The Broom of Cowdenknows,' a "new" song, in the Tea-Table Miscellany, p. 22, Dublin, 1729, has the burden not greatly changed; also G, L, M, of this ballad.

There is very little story to the English ditty. A maid is beguiled by a shepherd-boy while milking her father's ewes; the consequences are what might be expected; her mother puts her out of doors, and she ranges the world; a young man who hears her complaint offers to marry her, and go to the North Country with her to milk her father's ewes. The Scottish ballad could not have been developed from a story of this description. On the other hand, it is scarcely to be believed that the author of the English ditty, if he had known the Scottish ballad, would have dropped all the interesting particulars. It is possible that he may have just heard about it, but much more likely that he knew only the burden and built his very slight tale on that. It may be observed that his maid, though she haunts Liddesdale, and should have belonged to Cowdenknowes, was born in Danby Forest, Yorkshire.

Two passages which do not occur in A may have been later additions: D 9, 10, F 5, 6, G 13, 14, M 19, 20, in which the laird, returning to his men, is told that he has tarried long, and answers that, east or west, he has never seen so bonny a lass as was in the ewe-buchts; and H 12-15, J 2-5, L 5-8, where the laird tries to pass himself off for one of his men, and the maid for one of her mother's servants (found in part, also, in G 9, 10, I 5, M 12-14). "The maid of a place, such as the maid of the Cowdenknows," as Dr. Joseph Robertson remarks, "means the eldest daughter of the tenant or proprietor, who is generally called by the name of his farm."[foot-note]

It is obvious that the maid would keep her counsel when she came back to her father. She puts him off with a riddle, C 9, D 13, E 11, F 9, G 18, H 20, J 6, L 14, M 23, N 7, which it is the height of absurdity to make her explain, as is done in A 11, B 4, C 10, D 14, E 12; and so of the exclamation against the shepherd if uttered in the father's presence, as in F 8, H 19, I 11, L 13, N 8.

H 10, 11 (cf. D 6), where the maid asks the man's name, is a familiar commonplace: see No 39, I, 340 a; No 50, I, 444, 446; No 110, II, 458 ff. (especially p. 473, H 3, 4); No 111, II, 478 f.

M has many spurious stanzas of its own; as 3-5, 25, 30-32, 85. N is quite perverted from 9 to 28. It is impossible that 9-14 should follow upon 8, and stanzas 15-27 have not a genuine word in them.

Cunningham has rewritten the ballad, Songs of Scotland, II, 113. He says that through Dumfriesshire and Galloway the hero is always Lord Lochinvar, and cites this stanza, which he had heard sung:

    For I do guess, by your golden-rimmed hat,
      And by the silken string,
That ye are the lord of the Lochinvar,
      Who beguiles all our young women.

'Malfred og Sadelmand,' Kristensen, I, 258, No 99, is an independent ballad, but has some of the traits of this: the maid, who is treated with great violence, asks the knight's name, as in H, D; he comes back to marry her, after she has borne twins.

Cowdenknowes is on the east bank of Leader, near Earlston, and some four or five miles from Melrose. Auchentrone, in B b 11, Stenhouse conjectures to be a corruption of Auchentroich, an estate in the county of Stirling, and Oakland Hills, in G, to be Ochil Hills, in the same county: Musical Museum, IV, 112.

B is translated by Knortz, Schottische Balladen, p. 92, No 29.

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