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Earl Brand / The Douglas Tragedy

[ Roud 23 ; Child 7 ; G/D 2:220 ; Ballad Index C007 ; trad.]

Bella Higgins of Blairgowrie, Perthshire, sang The Douglas Tragedy in 1954 to Hamish Henderson. This recording was included in 2005 on the Kyloe anthology Hamish Henderson Collects.

Ewan MacColl sang The Douglas Tragedy in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume III. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl’s Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album’s booklet:

This superb tragic ballad is well known in the Northern European nations, from whose analogues we are able to develop the complete ballad, for certain details are lacking in both the Scottish and English versions of the ballad. Two lovers elope from the castle of the bride’s father, only to be stopped by a relative (friend) of the bride’s family. After some discussion as to whether he should be killed, the lovers decide to bribe him into not telling the bride’s father. No sooner do the lovers depart than the malicious relative rides to the castle and tells the bride’s father. This is the point at which the Scottish and English versions of the ballad begin their story.

A second interesting detail not found in the British variants concerns the fight between the hero and members of the bride’s family. In the Scandinavian versions, the hero warns his bride not to speak his name while he is fighting. That is obviously a remnant of the primitive belief that a man’s name and his soul are one, and that to reveal his name is to weaken his body. As the bride sees her brothers and father being killed, she calls out her lover’s name and at that moment he receives his death wound. From that point on the British and Scandinavian ballads tell almost identical stories.

The ballad appears to have been extinct in England since Child’s time; it has been reported frequently in America and still exists in tradition in Scotland.

MacColl’s version was learned from the singing of his mother.

Henry McGregor of Perth, Scotland, sang The Douglas Tragedy (Earl Brand) in 1955 to Peter Kennedy and Hamish Henderson. This recording was included in 2000 on the Rounder CD Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland Volume 1 which is an extended re-issue of the Caedmon/Topic anthology The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5.

Jim Moray sang Lord Douglas in 2012 on his CD Skulk. This track was also awarded “Best traditional track” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2013.

Jeff Davies sang Earl Brand in 2013 on his and Brian Peters’ CD Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest. Their version was collected by Cecil Sharp on 7 May 1918 from Philander H. Fitzgerald of Nash, Virginia.

Gigspanner Big Band sang Earl Brand in 2020 on their CD Natural Invention. They noted:

Another discovery from Cecil Sharp’s Appalachian collection. A beautiful tune, but a tragic story. However, we take the image of the rose and the briar to symbolise love conquering all in the end.


Ewan MacColl sings The Douglas Tragedy

“Rise up, rise up, Lord Douglas,” she cried,
“And put on your armour bright;
Let it never be said that a dochter o’ yours
Was married to a lord or knight.

“Rise up, rise up, my sieven bonnie sons,
And pit on your armour bright,
And tak’ better care o’ your youngest sister,
For the eldest’s awa’ last night.”

Lord William looked ower his broad shouther,
It made him blink his e’e,
And there he saw her sieven brithers
Riding ower the lea.

“Get doon, get doon, Lady Margaret,” he said,
“And hold my horse in your hand,
For I must fight your seven brithers
And against your faither stand.”

She took his horse in her milk-white hand,
And never a tear did fa’
Until she saw her sieven brothers slain
And her father like tae fa’.

“O, haud your hand, Lord William,” she said,
“For your straikes are wondrous sair.
There’s mony a lad that I can get
But a faither I’ll never get mair.”

“Then choose, then choose, Lady Margaret," he said,
“You maun choose for tae gang or tae bide.”
“I’ll ride wi’ you, Lord William,” she said,
“For you’ve left me no other guide.”

They rode on and further on,
They rode by the licht of the moon,
Until they cam’ to the bonnie burn side,
And there they ha’e lichted doon.

He lichted doon tae tak’ a drink
O’ the water that ran sae clear,
An’ doon the stream ran his hairt’s blood,
And sair she began tae fear.

“Rise up, rise up, Lord William,” she said,
“For I fear ye are slain.”
“’Tis naethin’ but the shadow of my scarlet coat
That shines in the water sae plain.”

They rode on and further on,
They rode by the licht of the moon,
Until they cam’ to his mither’s ha’ door,
And there they ha’e lichted doon.

“Rise up, rise up, lady mither,” he said,
“O, rise and let us in;
Rise up, rise up, lady mither,” he said,
“That the soonder we may sleep.”

Lord William died in the middle o’ the night,
Lady Margaret she died on the morrow;
Lord William died for the sake o’ his bride,
Lady Margaret she died for sorrow.

Lord William was buried in the old Kirk yard,
Lady Margaret in Mary’s quire,
On the one there grew a bonnie myrtle tree,
On the other a bonnie sweet briar.

They grew and they grew and sae high that they grew
Till they could grow not higher,
And they grew taegether in a true-love knot,
For true lovers tae admire.