> June Tabor > Songs > The Earl of Aboyne

The Earl of Aboyne

[ Roud 99 ; Child 235 ; G/D 6:1159 ; Ballad Index C235 ; DT EARLABOY ; trad.]

The Earl of Aboyne goes to London, leaving his wife behind. She hears that he has been courting others. When he returns, she makes a fine show but disdains him. He prepares once again to depart, and says she may not go with him. She dies for love. This rather confused story seems to have no historical basis (at least not based on the names in the ballad). [Traditional Ballad Index]

Ewan MacColl sang The Earl of Aboyne in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. 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 notes:

This ballad is not based on an actual occurrence, though the first Earl of Aboyne was married to an Irvine. The vagaries of character names in ballad tradition notwithstanding, history has not recorded such an incident in the Aboyne family.

The ballad appears to have been well known in Scotland in the first half of the 19Th century, Child’s twelve texts dating from that period. Greig collected six versions in Aberdeenshire in this century. The ballad has not been reported from tradition in either England or America.

MacColl’s version was learned from his father.

June Tabor sang The Earl of Aboyne, accompanied by Nic Jones on guitar and Jon Gillaspie on synthesiser, in 1977 on her Topic album Ashes and Diamonds.

Katherine Campbell sang Earl of Aboyne, accompanied by Mairi Campbell on fiddle, in 2004 on her Springthyme CD The Songs of Amelia and Jane Harris. Her album notes commented:

The Earl of Aboyne travels to London leaving behind “his pretty Peggy Ewan”. While in London he becomes betrothed to another. He then returns to Aboyne where he is welcomed home. He admits that “tomorrow suld hae been my bonnie waddin day, if I had staid in London”. On hearing this, Peggy in anger says, “Gin tomorrow suld hae been your bonnie waddin day, gae back to your miss in London.”

The Earl returns to London, Peggy’s heart is broken and she dies. When word of this gets to the Earl he is full of remorse and declares “I’d rather hae lost a’ the lands o Aboyne, than lost my pretty Peggy Ewan”. The ballad remained popular in the northeast well into the 20th century with eight versions in Greig-Duncan.


Ewan MacColl sings The Earl of Aboyne

The Earl o’ Aboyne is tae London gane,
An’ a’ his servants are wi’ him, O,
An’ sair is the hairt that his fair lady got,
Because she couldna’ ride wi’ him, O.

As she was a-walkin’ on the green,
Wi’ a’ her gentle women, O,
The news that she got made the tears doon-fa’,
That her Lord was married in London, O.

She looked frae her window and there she saw,
Twa bonnie boys a runnin’ O,
Whit news hae ye brocht, my bonny lads,
Whit news hae ye brocht frae London, O?”

“Good news, my lady, good news we bring,
The Lord o’ Aboyne he is comin’ O,
And ere he wins tae a mile o’ your bower,
Ye’ll hear his bridles ringin’ O.”

“Ye’ll dress my body in the finest array,
My smock o’ the Holland linen, O,
My kerchie shall be the finest cramasie;
For the Lord o’ Aboyne he is comin’, O.”

And she’s looked oot ower her castle wa’,
To see gin he was comin’, O,
Her goon was o’ the finest silk.
Fastened wi’ the red silk trimmin’s, O.

She’s gane oot tae the close to fetch him from his horse,
“Ye’re welcome, Aboyne, for comin’, O,
Ye’re welcome, my lord, tae your abode.
Ye’re welcome hame frae London, O.”

“If it be true that I’m welcome to you,
Then kiss me for my comin’, O,
For tomorrow should hae been my wedding day.
Gin I’d stayed any longer in London, O.”

She’s turned awa’ and the tears did doon-fa’,
And O, but her hairt it was heavy, O,
“Gin tomorrow should hae been your weddin’ day,
Gae kiss your miss in London, O.”

“Turn ye aroond, my merry men a’,
I’m sorry for my comin’, O,
This nicht we will sleep at the bonnie bog o’ Gight,
And tomorrow we’ll tak’ horses for London, O.”

A year and mair she lived in care,
The doctors could gie her nae healin’, O,
But in a crack her hairt did brak,
And a letter gaed tae London, O.

When first he looked the letter on.
And O but he was a-weepin’, O,
“O, curse on the day I left my bonnie may
When I had her hairt in keepin’, O.”

Fifty o’ his noblemen.
Through London they went ridin’, O,
From hose tae hat they went a’ in black.
To mourn for bonnie Peggy Irvine, O.

The further he went, the sairer he wept,
“If I’d but her hairt a keepin’, O,
For I’d rather hae lost the lands o’ Aboyne,
Than lost my bonnie Peggy Irvine, O.”

June Tabor sings The Earl of Aboyne

Oh the Earl of Aboyne to London has gone and all his nobles with him;
Sad was the heart of his lady fair because she could not go with him.

Oh the Earl of Aboyne to London has gone and all his nobles with him.
Better he had stayed at home or taken his lady with him.

And as she walked out upon the green among the gentlewomen,
Sad was the letter that came to her hand that her lord was wed in London.

And as she looked over the castle wall she saw two boys a-running.
“What news, what news, my bonny little boys, what news have you of London?”

“Oh good news, good news, my lady gay, for the Earl of Aboyne is coming,
And ere he’s within two miles of your walls you hear his bridles ringing.”

“Oh my groom’s all be well in call and happy days they are shining.
Oh gone are days spent on the stays since the lord of Aboyne is coming.

“And my mate’s all be well in call and happier flowers are shining,
And cover the stair with herbs sweet and fair and the floors with the finest linen.

“And deck my body in the finest array and my hood of the brightest linen,
And my apron shall be of the good silk cloth since the lord of Aboyne is coming.”

So stately she stepped down the stair to see if he was coming,
And her gown was of the good green silk trimmed with her red silk trimming.

She’s called to Kate, her waiting maid, and Jean, her gentlewoman,
“Come fetch me a glass of the very best wine to drink his health, he’s coming.”

She’s gone out to the close to greet her lord, says, “Welcome for your coming.”
She’s gone out to the close to greet her lord, says, “Thrice welcome from London.”

“Oh if I be of this welcome as you say then kiss me for my coming.
For tomorrow should have been my wedding day if I’d stayed any longer in London.”

Oh she’s turned then around with a look of distaste, says, “Woe’s me for your coming,
Since tomorrow should have been your wedding day, then go kiss your whore in London.”

“My nobles all come, mount your steed, I’m sorry for my coming.
Tonight we shall lie at the bonny Bogie’s side since tomorrow the course is to London.”

“Oh Tom my man, run after him and beg him to take me with him.”
“Oh I’ve asked him once and I’ve asked him the more and it’s never a mile you’ll ride with him.”

Then a year and a day she lived in woe and the doctors they were dealing
Until at last her heart it broke and letters were sent to London.

When he saw the letters all edged in black oh he’s bound to grievest weeping.
“Oh she is dead that I loved best and I had but a heart in keeping.”

There were fifteen of the noblest lords that London could provide him,
From their hose to their hat they were all dressed in black to mourn for bonny Peggy Irvine.

And the farther he rode the sorer he wept for he had but a heart in keeping,
“Oh sooner I had lost all the lands of Aboyne than my bonnie Peggy Irvine.”