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The Bonny Earl of Moray

[ Roud 334 ; Child 181 ; Ballad Index C181 ; trad.]

Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. The Oxford Book of Ballads

Ewan MacColl sang The Bonny Earl of Murray in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV, and in 1961 on his Folkways album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 1—Child Ballads. The latter album's notes commented:

James Stewart, Earl of Murray, was murdered by the Earl of Huntley in 1592, after having been accused of conspiring with Bothwell against the king. The death of this very popular figure provoked a public outcry but Huntley was never punished for his part in the deed.

Child published only 2 texts of the ballad.

Learned by the singer from Private MacDonald, a soldier in the British Army, who learned it at school.

Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor with The Galliards sang The Bonny Earl o' Moray in 1961 on their Decca album Scottish Choice.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Earl of Moray in 1966 on their Transatlantic EP Four Highland Songs. This recording was also included in 2003 on Dave Swarbrick's Free Reed anthology Swarb!. Ian Campbell commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

On 7 February 1592 the Earl of Moray was cruelly killed by the Earl of Huntley at Dunibrissle in Fife to satisfy King James VI's jealousy of Moray, whom the Queen, more rashly than wisely had commended in the Kings hearing with too many epithets of a proper and gallant man (Sir James Balfours History of Scotland).

The Norwegian band Folque sang Jarlen av Murray (Earl of Murray) in 1975 on their album Kjempene på Dovrefjell (The Giants in the Dovre Mountains).

Isla St Clair sang The Bonnie Earl of Moray in 2000 on her CD Royal Lovers & Scandals. She commented in her album notes:

Sung to a very old tune, probably written by Purcell, this ballad is set in 1592 between the feudings Earls of Huntley and Moray. Huntley persuaded King James IV that Moray was in league against the king with the Earl of Bothwell. Huntley was given a royal warrant to arrest Moray but murdered him instead. Moray was very popular with the people and it was generally believed the king was implicated in his death.

Jock Tamson's Bairns sang The Bonnie Earl o' Moray in 2005 on their Greentrax CD Rare.

Old Blind Dogs sang The Bonnie Earl o Moray in their 2007 CD Four on the Flour.

Said the Maiden sang The Bonnie Earl o' Moray on their 2017 CD Here's a Health. They noted:

A Scottish ballad telling the story of the murder of James Stewart, 2nd Earl of Moray, who was accused of plotting against the king. But who is Lady Mondegreen?!


Ewan MacColl sings The Bonnie Earl of Murray

Ye hielan's and ye lawlan's,
O, whaure hae ye been?
They hae ta'en the Earl o' Murray
And laid him on the green.

He was a braw callant
And he played at the ring,
And the bonnie Earl o' Murray
He might hae been a king.

O, lang will his ladie
Look frae the castle doon,
Ere the bonnie Earl o' Murray
Comed soondin' through the toon.

O, wae betide ye Huntley
And whaurfore did ye sae?
I bade ye bring him tae me
And forbade ye him to slay.

He was a braw callant
And he played at the ba',
And the bonnie Earl o' Murray
Was the flooer amang them a'.