The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

Earl Richard.

Never Before Published.

There are two Ballads in Mr HERD’S MSS. upon the following Story, in one of which the unfortunate Knight is termed YOUNG HUNTIN. A Fragment, containing from the sixth to the tenth verse, has been repeatedly published. The best verses are here selected from both copies, and some trivial alterations have been adopted from tradition.

“O lady, rock never your young son young,

“One hour langer for me;

“For I have a sweetheart in Garlioch Wells,

“I love far better than thee.

“The very sole o’ that ladye’s foot

“Than thy face is far mair white.”—

“But, nevertheless, now, Erl Richard,

“Ye will bide in ray bower a’ night?”

She birled326 him with the ale and wine,

As they sat down to sup;

A living man he laid him down,

But I wot he ne’er rose up.

Then up and spak the popinjay,

That flew aboun her head;

“Lady! keep weel your green cleiding

“Frae gude Erl Richard’s bleid.”

“O better I’ll keep my green cleiding

“Frae gude Erl Richard’s bleid,

“Than thou canst keep thy clattering toung,

“That trattles in thy head.”

She has call’d upon her bower maidens,

She has call’d them ane by ane;

“There lies a deid man in my bour:

“I wish that he were gane!”

They hae booted him, and spurred him,

As he was wont to ride —

A hunting-horn tied round his waist,

A sharp sword by his side;

And they hae had him to the wan water,

For a’ men call it Clyde.

Then up and spak the popinjay,

That sat upon the tree —

“What hae ye done wi’ Erl Richard?

“Ye were his gay ladye.”

“Come down, come down, my bonny bird,

“And sit upon my hand;

“And thou sall hae a cage o’ gowd,

“Where thou hast but the wand.”

“Awa! awa! ye ill woman:

“Nae cage o’ gowd for me;

“As ye hae dune to Erl Richard,

“Sae wad ye do to me.”

She hadna cross’d a rigg o’ land,

A rigg, but barely ane;

When she met wi’ his auld father,

Came riding all alane.

“Where hae ye been, now, ladye fair,

“Where hae ye been sae late?”

“We hae been seeking Erl Richard,

“But him we canna get.”

“Erl Richard kens a’ the fords in Clyde,

“He’ll ride them ane by ane,

“And though the night was ne’er sae mirk,

“Erl Richard will he hame.”

O it fell anes, upon a day,

The king was boun’ to ride;

And he has mist him, Erl Richard,

Should hae ridden on his right side.

The ladye turn’d her round about,

Wi’ meikle mournfu’ din —

“It fears me sair o’ Clyde water,

“That he is drown’d therein.”

“Gar douk, gar douk,”327 the king he cried,

“Gar douk for gold and fee;

“O wha will douk for Erl Richard’s sake,

“Or wha will douk for me?”

They douked in at ae weil-head,328

And out ay at the other;

“We can douk nae mair for Erl Richard,

“Although he were our brother.”

It fell that, in that ladye’s castle,

The king was boun’ to bed;

And up and spake the popinjay,

That flew abune his head.

“Leave off your douking on the day,

“And douk upon the night;

“And where that sackless329 knight lies slain,

“The candles will burn bright.”

“O there’s a bird within this bower,

“That sings baith sad and sweet;

“O there’s a bird within your bower,

“Keeps me frae my night’s sleep.”

They left the douking on the day,

And douked upon the night;

And, where that sackless knight lay slain,

The candles burned bright.

The deepest pot in a’ the linn,

They fand Erl Richard in;

A grene turf tyed across his breast,

To keep that gude lord down.

Then up and spake the king himsell,

When he saw the deadly wound —

“O wha has slain my right-hand man,

“That held my hawk and hound?”

Then up and spake the popinjay,

Says —“What needs a’ this din?

“It was his light lemman took his life,

“And hided him in the linn.”

She swore her by the grass, sae grene,

Sae did she by the corn,

She had na’ seen him, Erl Richard,

Since Moninday at morn.

“Put na the wite on me,” she said;

“It was my may Catherine.”

Then they hae cut baith fern and thorn,

To burn that maiden in.

It wadna take upon her cheik,

Nor yet upon her chin;

Nor yet upon her yellow hair,

To cleanse the deadly sin.

The maiden touched the clay-cauld corpse,

A drap it never bled;

The ladye laid her hand on him,

And soon the ‘ground was red.

Out they hae ta’en her, may Catherine,

And put her mistress in:

The flame tuik fast upon her cheik,

Tuik fast upon her chin,

Tuik fast upon her faire bodye —

She burn’d like hollins green.330

326 Birled— Plied.]

327 Douk— Dive.]

328 Weil-heid— Eddy.]

329 Sackless— Guiltless.]

330 Hollins green— Green holly.]

Notes on Earl Richard.

The candles burned bright.— P. 403. v. 4.

These are unquestionably the corpse lights, called in Wales Canhwyllan Cyrph, which are sometimes seen to illuminate the spot where a dead body is concealed. The editor is informed, that, some years ago, the corpse of a man, drowned in the Ettrick, below Selkirk, was discovered by means of these candles. Such lights are common in church-yards, and are probably of a phosphoric nature. But rustic superstition derives them from supernatural agency, and supposes, that, as soon as life has departed, a pale flame appears at the window of the house, in which the person had died, and glides towards the church-yard, tracing through every winding the route of the future funeral, and pausing where the bier is to rest. This and other opinions, relating to the “tomb-fires’ livid gleam,” seem to be of Runic extraction.

The deepest pot in a’ the linn.— P. 403. v. 5.

The deep holes, scooped in the rock by the eddies of a river, are called pots; the motion of the water having there some resemblance to a boiling cauldron.

Linn, means the pool beneath a cataract.

The maiden touched the clay-cauld corpse,

A drop it never bled.— P. 405. v. I.

This verse, which is restored from tradition, refers to a superstition formerly received in most parts of Europe, and even resorted to, by judicial authority, for the discovery of murder. In Germany, this experiment was called bahr-recht, or the law of the bier; because, the murdered body being stretched upon a bier, the suspected person was obliged to put one hand upon the wound, and the other upon the mouth of the deceased, and, in that posture, call upon heaven to attest his innocence. If, during this ceremony, the blood gushed from the mouth, nose, or wound, a circumstance not unlikely to happen in the course of shifting or stirring the body, it was held sufficient evidence of the guilt of the party.

The same singular kind of evidence, although reprobated by Mathaeus and Carpzovius, was admitted in the Scottish criminal courts, at the short distance of one century. My readers may be amused by the following instances:

“The laird of Auchindrane (Muir of Auchindrane, in Ayrshire) was accused of a horrid and private murder, where there were no witnesses, and which the Lord had witnessed from heaven, singularly by his own hand, and proved the deed against him. The corpse of the man being buried in Girvan church-yard, as a man cast away at sea, and cast out there, the laird of Colzean, whose servant he had been, dreaming of him in his sleep, and that he had a particular mark upon his body, came and took up the body, and found it to be the same person; and caused all that lived near by come and touch the corpse, as is usual in such cases. All round the place came but Auchindrane and his son, whom nobody suspected, till a young child of his, Mary Muir, seeing the people examined, came in among them; and, when she came near the dead body, it sprang out in bleeding; upon which they were apprehended, and put to the torture.”— WODROW’S History, Vol. I. p. 513. The trial of Auchindrane happened in 1611. He was convicted and executed. — HUME’S Criminal Law, Vol. I. p. 428.

A yet more dreadful case was that of Philip Standfield, tried upon the 30th November, 1687, for cursing his father (which, by the Scottish law, is a capital crime, Act 1661, Chap. 20), and for being accessory to his murder. Sir James Standfield, the deceased, was a person of melancholy temperament; so that, when his body was found in a pond near his own house of Newmilns, he was at first generally supposed to have drowned himself. But, the body having been hastily buried, a report arose that he had been strangled by ruffians, instigated by his son Philip, a profligate youth, whom be had disinherited on account of his gross debauchery. Upon this rumour, the Privy Council granted warrant to two surgeons of character, named Crawford and Muirhead, to dig up the body, and to report the state in which they should find it. Philip was present on this occasion, and the evidence of both surgeons bears distinctly, that he stood for some time at a distance from the body of his parent; but, being called upon to assist in stretching out the corpse, he put his hand to the head, when the mouth and nostrils instantly gushed with blood. This circumstance, with the evident symptoms of terror and remorse, exhibited by young Standfield, seem to have had considerable weight with the jury, and are thus stated in the indictment: “That his (the deceased’s) nearest relations being required to lift the corpse into the coffin, after it had been inspected, upon the said Philip Standfield touching of it (according to God’s usual mode of discovering murder), it bled afresh upon the said Philip; and that thereupon he let the body fall, and fled from it in the greatest consternation, crying, Lord have mercy upon me!” The prisoner was found guilty of being accessory to the murder of his father, although there was little more than strong presumptions against him. It is true, he was at the same time separately convicted of the distinct crimes of having cursed his father, and drank damnation to the monarchy and hierarchy. His sentence, which was to have his tongue cut out, and hand struck off, previous to his being hanged, was executed with the utmost rigour. He denied the murder with his last breath. “It is,” says a contemporary judge, “a dark case of divination, to be remitted to the great day, whether he was guilty or innocent. Only it is certain he was a bad youth, and may serve as a beacon to all profligate persons.”— FOUNTAINHALL’S Decisions, Vol. I. p. 483.

While all ranks believed alike the existence of these prodigies, the vulgar were contented to refer them to the immediate interference of the Deity, or, as they termed it, God’s revenge against murder. But those, who, while they had overleaped the bounds of superstition, were still entangled in the mazes of mystic philosophy, amongst whom we must reckon many of the medical practitioners, endeavoured to explain the phenomenon, by referring to the secret power of sympathy, which even Bacon did not venture to dispute. To this occult agency was imputed the cure of wounds, effected by applying salves and powders, not to the wound itself, but to the sword or dagger, by which it had been inflicted; a course of treatment, which, wonderful as it may at first seem, was certainly frequently attended with signal success.331 This, however, was attributed to magic, and those, who submitted to such a mode of cure, were refused spiritual assistance.

331 The first part of the process was to wash the wound clean, and bind it up so as to promote adhesion, and exclude the air. Now, though the remedies, afterwards applied to the sword, could hardly promote so desirable an issue, yet it is evident the wound stood a good chance of healing by the operation of nature, which, I believe, medical gentlemen call a cure by the first intention.]

The vulgar continue to believe firmly in the phenomenon of the murdered corpse bleeding at the approach of the murderer. “Many (I adopt the words of an ingenious correspondent) are the proofs advanced in confirmation of the opinion, against those who are so hardy as to doubt it; but one, in particular, as it is said to have happened in this place, I cannot help repeating.

“Two young men, going a fishing in the river Yarrow, fell out; and so high ran the quarrel, that the one, in a passion, stabbed the other to the heart with a fish spear. Astonished “at the rash act, he hesitated whether to fly, give himself up to justice, or conceal the crime; and, in the end, fixed on the latter expedient, burying the body of his friend very deep in the sands. As the meeting had been accidental, he was never from gaiety to a settled melancholy. Time passed on for the space of fifty years, when a smith, fishing near the same place, discovered an uncommon and curious bone, which he put in his pocket, and afterwards showed to some people in his smithy. The murderer being present, now an old white-headed man, leaning on his staff, desired a sight of the little bone; but how horrible was the issue! no sooner had he touched it, than it streamed with purple blood. Being told where it was found, he confessed the crime, was condemned, but was prevented, by death, from suffering the punishment due to his crime.

“Such opinions, though reason forbids us to believe them, a few moments reflection on the cause of their origin will teach us to revere. Under the feudal system which prevailed, the rights of humanity were too often violated, and redress very hard to be procured; thus an awful deference to one of the leading attributes of Omnipotence begat on the mind, untutored by philosophy, the first germ of these supernatural effects; which was, by superstitious zeal, assisted, perhaps, by a few instances of sudden remorse, magnified into evidence of indisputable guilt.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29