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Rob Roy

[ Roud 340 ; Child 225 ; Ballad Index C225 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang Rob Roy in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume III.

The ballad of Rob Roy details quite accurately a highly romantic incident of the 18th century. Robert Oig, the fifth and youngest son of Rob Roy (whom Walter Scott immortalises in his novel of that name) decided to marry again after the death of his first wife. The second marriage was to be one intended to better his own fortune and that of his kin. A plan was formulated whereby Rob Oig would abduct and marry Jean Key, a wealthy young widow. On the night of 8 December 1750, Rob Oig and his brothers James and Duncan, and others, entered the house of Jean Key and informed her that the party had come to marry her to the youngest brother. She asked for time to consider the sudden proposal, but was carried out of the house, tied to the back of a horse, and driven to various parts of the Highlands to prevent pursuit by her friends and relations. Some three months later, she and Robert Oig were declared man and wife in a forced marriage ceremony before a priest.

The rest of the story does not enter the ballad tale, but is of interest. The civil and military authorities took the matter in hand and the brothers were forced to release their captive, who died several months later (but not of the violence she had undergone). Rob Oig was apprehended in 1753, tried and condemned to death, and was executed in February 1754.

The ballad appears to have been popular in the 19th century, but has been reported rarely since Child. A fragmentary recited text was collected in Canada in 1927.

The version MacColl sings was learned in fragmentary form from his father and was collated with a text in Child.

Jean Redpath sang Rob Roy on her 1976 Trailer album There Were Minstrels.

Dave Walters sang Rob Roy in 1976 on his Fellside album Comes Sailing By.

Jackie Oates sang Rob Roy on her 2008 CD The Violet Hour. She noted:

A song with historical references, which I found in Stephen Sedley’s The Seeds of Love. Rob Roy was the son of Walter Scott’s hero, Rob Roy MacGregor, and was better known as Robin Oig. The events in the song refer to a time in which, having come back from exile and being widowed, Robin decided to remarry for money. Mrs Jean Keys, a widow of 19 years old and a huge fortune, was henceforth abducted and forced to marry him. After months of forced wandering, Jean was left to die in Edinburgh, and eventually, Robin and his brother were hanged for their crime.


Ewan MacColl sings Rob Roy

Rob Roy frae the Hielands came,
Doon tae the Lowland border,
To steal awa’ a bonnie lass,
To keep his hoose in order.

Chorus (after each verse):
Wi’ a fal dal diddle um a di dumo doo,
Wi’ a fal dal diddle um a did doh

He cam’ doon ower the Loch o’ Lynn,
Twenty men his airms did carry;
And he rode up to Jenny’s hoose,
The lassie for to marry.

“O, will ye come alang wi’ me,
And will ye be my honey?
It’s will ye come along wi’ me,
And will ye leave your minnie?”

“O, I’ll no’ come alang wi’ you
And I’ll no leave my minnie,
I winna come alang wi’ you
For ye loe me for my money.”

He wouldna bide till she was dressed
Nor tarry for the lady;
He’s ta’en her in her linen smock
And rowed her in his plaide.

He’s ta’en her up on his milk-white steed
And he is up behind her,
And they hae rid through Hieland hills,
Where nane would ever find her.

They rode on and further on,
At Ballyshine they tarried;
He’s gi’en to her a braw silk goon,
But she would not be married.

They held her up before the priest
And carried her to bed, O;
But still she grat and turned awa’
When she was by him laid, O.

“My faither he was ca’d Rob Roy,
MacGregor was his name, lass;
There wasna his like in a’ the land,
And I am just the same, lass.”

“So dinna greet there at the wa’
But turn yoursel’ to me, O;
For noo we are a married pair
Until the day we dee, O.”