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The Baron of Brackley

[ Roud 4017 ; Child 203 ; G/D 2:234 ; Ballad Index C203 ; The Baron o Brackley at A Puckle Mucke Sangs ; DT BRNBRKLY ; Mudcat 791 , 15148 ; trad.]

Robin Hall sang Inverey in 1960 on his Collector album of ballads from the Gavin Greig Collection, Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and in 1962 on his and Jimmie Macgregor’ album Two Heids Are Better Than Yin!.

Jean Redpath sang Inverey in 1962 on her Elektra album Scottish Ballad Book. She noted:

Again my source singer was Hamish Henderson, who field-collected this magnificent melody and fragments of the text. The Baron o’ Brackley, chief of the clan Gordon, is betrayed by his wife, taunted with cowardice by her till he faces impossible odds, and is cut down outside his own gates. A feud between John Gordon of Brackley and John Farquharson over some stolen cattle may be the basis of the ballad, but it needs no substantiation. In the style of the early chronicles, names are purely incidental; the story launches straight into the action, and this is carried through largely by dialogue. As a tale of treachery and courage told with epic simplicity, Inverey is unsurpassed among the classic ballads.

Nigel Denver sang Baron o’ Brackley at a midnight folk concert recorded in London in May 1963, which was published a year later on the Decca album Hootenanny in London, and on the 1965 anthology album of the monthly folk music magazine, Folk Scene.

Owen Hand sang Inveray (The Baron of Brackley) in 1964 on the Decca album Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 2 and in 1966 on his Transatlantic album I Loved a Lass. He noted:

On of the most lovely ballads I know, telling the tragic story of the murder of the Baron of Brackley through the scheming of his unfaithful wife Peggy and her lover Inveray.

Ewan MacColl sang the Scottish ballad The Baron of Brackley unaccompanied in 1964 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Topic album English and Scottish Folk Ballads (reissued on CD in 1996). This track was also included on his 2003 compilation The Definitive Collection. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

The soil of the Scottish mountainsides was thin and stony, denuded by torrents. Until the middle of the eighteenth century there was poverty and savagery in the glens. Men led fierce hard lives, bound together in clans, often far away from effective authority, forming themselves into bands that sometimes grew to the proportions of a private army, raiding and plundering their neighbours with a ferocity far exceeding the worst excesses of the American Wild West. Bravery and cruelty, loyalty and treachery abounded in their extremest degree among such societies, as the ballad shows. The Baron of Brackley presents a pitiless picture of a way of life still persisting in the Scottish north-east (the ballad’s location is near Aberdeen) in the 1660’s, when the Gordons of Brackley were engaged in bitter feuds with the Farquharsons of Inverey raiding each other’s farms, massacring the men and driving off the cattle. Whether the treacherous wife, who exploits her husband’s sense of honour and pride to send him to certain death outside the walls of his beleaguered castle [It is worth noting that as often as not the ‘castle’ of the petty Highland aristocrat was no more than a fortified farmhouse], is based on a real-life character, we do not know. The ballads may accurately reflect the mood of an age and the spirit of society, but they are rarely reliable in historical detail.

The tune is hexatonic minor (with no 6th).

Alex Campbell sang Baron of Brackley in 1965 on his eponymous Transatlantic album Alex Campbell.

Marie Little sang The Baron o’ Brackley in 1971 on her Argo album Factory Girl.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Baron o’ Brackley in 1976 on their Transatlantic album New Impressions.

Swan Arcade sang Baron of Brackley in 1976 on their LP Matchless.

Cilla Fisher sang Baron o’ Brackley in 1976 on her and Artie Trezise’s Autogram album Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise.

Danny Spooner sang The Baron of Brackley on his 1978 album Danny Spooner and Friends. He noted:

This ballad appears in the Child collection as No. 203, and like most other traditional ballads, it has a couple of important characteristics. Firstly the action is all important; there is no preamble to the tale. Secondly it assumes that the hearer knows the background of the story, and therefore needs no descriptive lead-up. It is believed that the incident occurred in September 1666, but what we don’t find out in the ballad is that it is a reprisal raid by John Farquharson of Inverey on John Gordon of Brackley for a cattle raid. The final verse tells us that the feud will be continued by Brackley’s son.

Ray Fisher sang Baron o’ Brackley in 1991 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. She noted:

This popular ballad has all the necessary ingredients for a gripping story line. Two feuding neighbours, the Baron o’ Brackley and ‘false Inverey’ have a confrontation. Inverey’s men greatly outnumber those of Brackley, a member of the Gordon clan who is killed in mid-ballad. The story does not end there but goes on to reveal vile intrigue and vengeance.

Isla St Clair sang The Baron of Brackley in 2000 on her CD Murder & Mayhem.

Sylvia McGowan sang Baron o’ Brackley in 2002 on Stairheid Gossip’s Greentrax album Stirrin’ It Up. They noted:

This ballad is most likely based on several events which took place in Aberdeenshire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Jim Reid sang Baron o Brackley in 2005 on his Greentrax album Yont the Tay. He noted:

Brackley’s son (all of about age two—“on the nurse’s knee”) must have been a pretty prodigious bairn to defend Brackley’s honour at the end of the ballad.

Jim Malcolm sang The Baron o Brackley on his 2013 album Still. He noted:

This is an old North East ballad based on the bloody feud between the Gordons of Brackley and the Farquharsons of Inverey in the 1660s. The song is, however, only one side of the story…

Cameron Nixon of Peterculter, Aberdeenshire, sang The Baron o Brackley in 2019 on Malinky’s 20th anniversary album Handsel. They noted:

This ballad, rich in local placenames from the North-East, recounts a dispute between the Gordons of Brackley and the Farquharsons of Inverey. Inverey marches his men to Brackley’s castle and challenges him. The Baron declines the offer but his wife goads him into battle with his enemies. Outnumbered, the Baron is overpowered and killed in the ensuing battle. In the aftermath, Lady Brackley is seen fraternising with her husband’s killer. It is thought that the ballad combines two real historical events from 1592 and 1666. Brackley is near Ballater and Inverey near Braemar; the modern Brackley Castle is built on a medieval site once known as the House of Glenmuick.

Steve [Byrne] compiled a text from a various sources, the majority being from Anna Gordon (Mrs Brown of Falkland, 1747-1810) as published in Jamieson’s Popular Ballads, Scott’s Minstrelsy, and manuscript D in Dr Sigrid Rieuwerts’ 2011 book on Mrs Brown. Elements are also drawn from George Eyre-Todd’s Scottish Ballad Poetry, Greig-Duncan, and the Glenbuchat MS.

Alasdair Roberts sang The Baron o’ Brackley on his 2023 album Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in the Hall. He noted:

My version of this ballad was learnt from the late Anne Neilson of Rutherglen, Glasgow, whom I was fortunate to get to know when we were fellow members of the Glasgow Ballad Workshop.


Ewan MacColl sings The Baron of Brackley

Doon Deeside came Inverey, whistlin’and playin’,
He’s lichted at Brackley’s yett at the day daw’in’;
Says: “Baron o’ Brackley, it’s are ye within?
There’s sharp swords at your yett will gar your blood spin.”

Up spake the brave baron o’er the castle wa,
“Are ye come to spoil or plunder my ha?
Or gin ye be a gentleman, licht and come in;
Gin ye drink o’ my wine ye’ll no’ gar my blood spin.”

His lady rose up, to the window she went,
She heard her kye lowin’ o’er hill and o’er fen;
“O rise up, bold Brackley, and turn back your kye,
The lads o’ Drumwharron are drivin’ them by!”

“How can I rise, lady, and turn them again?
For where I hae ae man I’d lief to hae ten.”
She called on her Marys to come to her hand,
Says: “Bring your rocks, lasses, we will them command.

“Gin I had a husband as I wot I hae nane,
He’d no’ lie in his bed and see his kye ta’en”.
“Now haud your tongue, Peggy, and gie me my gun,
Ye’ll see me gang oot, but I’ll never come in.

“Arise, Betsy Gordon, and gie me my gun,
I will gang oot though I never come in.
Then kiss me, my Peggy, I’ll nae langer stay,
For I will gang oot and I’ll meet Inverey.”

When Brackley was ready and stood in the close,
A bonnier callant ne’er mounted a horse.
“What’ll come o’ your lady and bonny young son?
O what’ll come o’ them when Brackley is gone.”

“Strike, dogs!” cries Inverey, “fecht till you’re slain,
For we are four hundred and ye are four men!
Strike, strike, you proud boaster, your honour is gone,
Your lands we will plunder, your castle we’ll burn!”

At the head o’ the Etnach the battle began,
At little Auchoilzie they killed the first man.
First they killed ae man and syne they killed twa,
And they killed gallant ’Brackley, the flooer o’ them a’.

“Cam’ ye by Brackley’s yetts, cam’ ye by there?
And saw ye his Peggy a-tearin’ her hair?“
“Oh, it’s I came by Brackley’s yetts, I cam’ by there
And I saw Peggy Gordon a-braidin’ her hair.

“She was rantin’ and dancing and singin’ for joy,
She swore that ere nicht she would feast Inverey;
She ate wi’ him, drank wi’ him, welcomed him in,
Was kind to the man that had slain her baron.

“Oh, fie on ye, lady, why did ye dae sae?
Ye opened the yetts tae the fause Inverey.
There’s dule in the kitchen, there’s mirth in the ha
For the Baron o’ Brackley is deid and awa.”

Ray Fisher sings The Baron of Brackley

Doon Deeside came Inverey, whistlin’and playin’,
And he was at Brackley’s yetts ere the day was daw’in’;
“O are ye there, Brackley, and are ye within?
For oor sherp swords are at yer yetts, we maun gar yer blood spin.”

“O rise up, my baron, and turn back yer kye,
For the lads frae Drumwharron they are drivin’ them by!”
“Oh, how can I rise up and turn them again?
For whaur I hae ae man, I am sure they have ten.”

“O rise up, Betsy Gordon, and gie me my gun,
And tho’ I gang oot, love, sure I’ll never win hame.
O kiss me, my Betsy, don’t think I’m tae blame,
For aginst three and thirty, wha’s me, what is ane?”

Wi’ their dirks and their braidswords they did him surroond,
And they’ve slain bonnie Brackley wi’ monie’s the wound.
Frae the heid o’ the Dee tae the banks o’ the Spey
The Gordons shall mourn him and will ban Inverey.

Cam ye by Brackley’s yetts or cam ye by here?
And saw ye his lady a-rivin’ her hair?“
“O I cam by Brackley’s yetts and I cam by there
And I saw his guid lady, she was makin’ guid cheer.

“She was rantin’ and dancin’, aye singin’ for joy,
And vowin’ that very nicht she wad feast Inverey;
O she lauch’d wi’ him, danced wi’ him, welcomed him ben,
Aye, she kept him till mornin’, wha had slain her good man.”

Now there’s grief in the kitchen, but there’s mirth in the ha’,
For the bonniest Gordon wha’s deid and awa’.
Then up and spak the bairn on the nourice’s knee,
“It’s afore I’m a man, avenged I’ll be!”

Jim Malcolm sings The Baron o Brackley

Down Deeside came Inverey, whistlin and flyin
And he was at Brackley’s yetts ere the day was dawnin
Crying, “Baron o Brackley and all ye within
There are sharp swords at your gates, wid gar your bluid spin.”

“Oh rise up, my Baron, and turn back your kye,
For the lads frae Dunmurray are driving them by.”
“Oh how can I rise up and turn them again,
For where I have one man I’m sure has has ten.”

“If I had a husband, the like I hae nane,
He’d no lie in his bed and watch his kye taen.”
Then up spake the baron, said: “Gie me my gun
I will make an outlaw but I’ll never win home.”

There were with bold Inverey full thirty and three
There was nane wi Brackley, just his brother and he
Twa gallanter Gordons did ne’er the sword draw
But against thee and thirty, wae’s me, what is twa?

Wi swords and wi pistols they did him surround
And they pierced bonny Brackley wi monys a wound
Tae the heid o the Dee, tae the banks of the Spey
Oh the Gordons will mourn him and will ban Inverey.

“Oh cam ye from Brackley’s yetts, and were you by there?
And saw ye his Peggy, a-rivin her hair?”
“Aye I cam by Brackley’s yetts, I was in there,
And I saw his Peggy, she was makin good cheer.”

“She was rantin and dancin, she was singin wi joy,
And swears this same nicht she will feast Inverey,
She laughed wi him, danced wi him, welcomed him in
And kept him till mornin, he who slew her good man.”

There’s grief in the kitchen, there’s mirth in the hall
For the Baron o Brackley lies died and awa.
Then up spake his son, on his own nurse’s knee:
“If I live tae be a man, it’s avenged I’ll be.”