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Rogues in a Nation

[ Roud 5516 ; trad., from Hogg's Jacobite Relics of Scotland]

Ewan MacColl sang Such a Parcel o' Rogues in a Nation in 1968 on his Topic album The Jacobite Rebellions. This track was also included in 1993 on his anthology The Real MacColl.

Gordon McIntyre sang Such a Parcel o' Rogues in a Nation on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). He noted:

The Union of 1707, bitterly opposed by many Scots, inspired much political balladry. This song, written by [Robert] Burns, and published in Volume IV of Scots Musical Museum, accuses the pro-Union faction in the Scottish Parliament of literally being “bought and sold for English gold”. A pro-Union Whig song of 1707, which also uses the phrase “parcel of rogues” was probably written in reply to the Jacobite song.

Rogues in a Nation is the title track of Steeleye Span's 1973 album Parcel of Rogues; see also Cam Ye O'er Frae France. The record's sleeve notes commented (with some corrections by Bernard Leak):

The Stuart dynasty acceded to the English throne in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, but their rule ended in 1714 after James II was forced to flee to France in 1688 and was succeeded by his daughters Mary II 1688-94 (she reigned jointly with her husband William, the Stadtholder of Holland, who reigned solo after her death until 1702) and Anne 1702-14.

Three attempts were made by the Jacobites to reinstate the “Kings across the Water” to their former glory. The first two, in 1690 and in 1715, were never really a serious threat to George I, a German prince of Stuart descent from the House of Hanover, then occupying the English throne. The third, led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie; see also the song Prince Charlie Stuart on Steeleye Span's album Please to See the King), had some initial success but finally ended in the calamitous defeat on Culloden Moor in 1746.

The rebel clans always believed themselves to have been betrayed, both in parliament and on the battlefield, by their fellow countrymen.

Dick Gaughan sang Such a Parcel o' Rogues in a Nation in 1978 on his eponymous Topic album Gaughan.

Old Blind Dogs sang Parcel of Rogues on their 1997 album Five.

Sound Tradition sang Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation in 2017 on their CD Well Met, My Friend. They noted:

The lyrics of this song are taken from a poem by Robert Burns written in 1791 in which he attacks Scottish Parliamentary members who signed the Act of Union with England in 1707; bribery and treachery abound. Burns' career as an excise officer meant that he never acknowledged authorship of this in his lifetime.

We have base our arrangement on the superb rendering by Steeleye Span.

Band of Burns sang Parcel o' Rogues in January 2017 at Union Chapel in London. A concert recording was released in the following year on their CD Live at the Union Chapel.


Steeleye Span sing Rogues in a Nation

Farewell to all our Scottish fame
Farewell our ancient glory
Farewell even to our Scottish name
Sae fam'd in martial story
Now Sark runs over the Solway sands
And Tweed runs to the ocean
To mark where England's province stands:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue
Through many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages
The English steel we could disdain
Secure in valour's station
But English gold has been our bane:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

I would, or I had seen the day
That treason thus could sell us
My auld grey head had lain in clay
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour
I'll make this declaration
We were bought and sold for English gold:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!


Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the lyrics.