> Lal & Norma Waterson > Songs > The Flowers of the Forest

The Flowers of the Forest

[ Roud 3812 ; Ballad Index BdFlOTF ; Mudcat 60582 , 154641 ; Jane Elliot, F.W. Moorman]

Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Songs of the Ridings

The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest was published by Frederic William Moorman in 1918 in his book Songs of the Ridings.

Fairport Convention sang Flowers of the Forest on their 1970 album Full House. A 1976 live recording on STV, Scotland, was included in 2017 on their anthology Come All Ye: The First Ten Years. A Deceber 1977 London live recording was included in 2002 on their Free Reed anthology Fairport unConventioNal. A 1984 Cropredy live performance was included in the following yeat on their cassette The Boot.

Barbara Dickson sang The Flowers o' the Forest in 1979 on her, Archie Fisher's and John MacKinnon's album of songs of the Jacobite Rebellion, The Fate o' Charlie.

Dick Gaughan sang Flouers o the Forest in 1982 on his and Andy Irvine's album Parallel Lines.

Strawhead sang Flowers of the Forest in 1980 on their Traditional Sound album Songs from the Book of England.

Ray Fisher sang The Floor'ers o' the Forest in 1991 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. She noted:

This much loved and internationally recognised lament was written by Miss Jane Elliot, sister of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Border area, and was published anonymously about 1755. The ‘Forest’ of the song is not the generally accepted term for a large area of trees, but is, in fact, the name given to the region that comprises of Selkirkshire, parts of Peeblesshire and even Clydesdale.

The Cast (Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis) sang Flowers of the Forest in 1993 on their Culburnie CD The Winnowing. They noted:

[Jane Elliot's] lyric grieves for the 12,000 Scots who died in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden, a battle prompted more by obligations to continental alliances that traditional enmity with England. For a small country like Scotland the cultural and economic consequences of such a loss were incalculable. The emotions described in the song are universal, and resonate throughout our own century.

Isla St Clair sang The Flowers of the Forest in 1993 on her CD Inheritance and in 1998 on her CD When the Pipers Play. She noted:

In one of the bloodiest battles ever fought between the two nations, the huge armies of Scotland and England met on the border grasslands of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Led by their chivalrous King, James IV, the Scots suffered dreadfully as a series of tactical errors allowed the English army, led by the wily Earl of Surrey, to outflank and destroy them. In the awful carnage of battle King James himself was slain alongside many noblemen from great Scottish families. Among the dead were twelve Earls, thirteen Lords and almost countless Gentlemen of Birth as scarcely a family of note did not sacrify a member that day. Scottish dead numbered some 10,000 men. The suffering and loss to the country's fabric was inestimable in the bleak aftermath as so many of rank, education and nobility had fallen. The ancient air, The Flowers of the Forest. relates specifically to the decimated male population of Ettrick Forest and the surrounding area, however it is also a beautiful elegy to all Scots who died so bravely on the field of Flodden. The eighteenth century lyrics were composed by Lady Jean Elliot, daughter of the then Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, following an earlier, shorter version by Mrs Patrick Cockburn [Alison Rutherford].

Lal and Norma Waterson sang The Flowers of the Forest in 1977 on their album A True Hearted Girl. A live recording by Waterson:Carthy at The Boatrace, Cambridge in 1977 was published as The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. Another live recording by Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy from the Fiddlers, Bristol, is on the charity compilation Huntingdon Folk 3.

Norma Waterson introduced this song at a gig in Bristol on 13 May 1998:

We were brought up by my gran when me mam and dad died. She brought up—as well as bringing three of us up—she'd also brought up six kids of her own when my grandfather died, when he was thirty-two. He enlisted in the First World War, on the first day, went right through the trenches, went right through the fighting and everything, came out in 1918, and died about three weeks later of the Spanish Flu that absolutely swept the world, killed millions and millions of people, much more than had died in the First World War. And this is a song from about that time. It appeared in the Yorkshire dialect little booklets that they used to put out. And the song's called The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest. Me and my sister used to sing it together and recorded it many years ago. The names of the places in the song are villages round Knaresborough, where the song, where the originator of the song obviously came from. But the basis of the song itself is a much older song, it's a song from the Battle of Flodden.

This video is from the 2009 Open University course “Norma Waterson: English Folk Singing”. It is available for free from iTunes:

Norman Kennedy sang The Flooers o the Forest at a Folk Song Society of Greater Boston concert held at the First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist Church on 23 October 1999. This concert's recording was released in 2004 on his Autumn Harvest CD I Little Thocht My Love Wid Leave Me.

Wendy Stewart played the tune of Flowres of the Forest in 2003 on her Greentrax CD Standing Wave.

Paul Anderson played the tune of The Flooers o' the Forest on his 2013 CD Land of the Standing Stones.

Lori Watson sang Flooers o the Forest on her 29 November 2017 Yarrow Acoustic Session. This was also included in the following year on her same-named CD Yarrow Acoustic Sessions.


Ray Fisher sings The Floo'ers o' the Forest The Cast sing Flowers o' the Forest

I've heard the liltin' at the yowe milkin',
The assies a' liltin' at dawnin' o' day.
But now they are moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

I've heard the liltin' at the ewe milkin'
And I've heard them liltin' afore break o' day
Now there's a moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

At buchts in the mornin', nae blithe lads are scornin',
Lassies are lanely, an dowie, an wae.
Nae daffin, nae gabbin', but sighin' an' sobbin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

At buchts in the mornin', nae blithe lads are scornin',
Lassies are lanely, an dowie, an wae.
Nae daffin, nae gabbin', but sighin' an' sabbin',
Ilk, ane lifts her laglin, an hies her awa'.

Oh cursed be the order sent our lads to the Border,
The English, for aince, twas by guile, won the day.
The floo'ers o' the forest, that focht aye theforemost,
The prime o' oor land noo lie cold in the clay.

We'll hae nae mair liltin' at the ewe milkin',
Women and bairns are heartless and wae.
Sighin' and moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

Lal & Norma Waterson sing The Flowers of the Forest

Day time is weary, and I caw' dusk dreary,
For lasses in missels are rakin' the hay.
When kye come for strippin' and ewes come for clippin',
We think on our soldiers now gone right away.

The courtin gate's idle, no lad flings his bridle
Over the yoke stoup and comes seekin' may.
Wae's heart, but we misses our lads' softest kisses:
The flowers o' the forest have gone right away.

At Martinmas hirin' no ribbon, no tirin',
Where God's pennys earned, and the time's come for play.
No cheapjacks, no prancin', wi' teamster clogs dancin':
The flowers o' the forest have gone right away.

Plough lads from Pannal have crossed o'er the Channel;
Shepherds from Fewston have taken King's pay;
Thackrays from Dacre have sold every acre;
You'll no' find a delver from Haverah to Bray.

Many a lass now is weepin for her man that lies sleepin,
No wrap for his corpse but the cold Flanders clay.
He'll ne'er lift his limmers, he'll ne'er wean his gimmers:
The flowers o' the forest have gone right away.

Martinmas: Traditionally, the hiring fairs for farmhands and servants were held at Martinmas, in mid-November. In Yorkshire, they were called the “stattis,” or statutes, after the labour-laws framed in the reign of Edward III. Lads and lasses seeking work would stand in the market place, wearing tokens (the ribbons and tirings of the song) in their hats or buttonholes; farmers and their wives would walk up and down and choose among them. On coming to terms for the year's wages, they would seal the bargain with a fastening penny, which, by the time of the song, was half-a-crown. Then to the pleasures of the fair!

From early in the Middle Ages, Martinmas was a time of feasting and of slaughter, when all the beasts that could not be overwintered on their scant hay were slain and salted or eaten up. The feast of St. Martin, 11 November took on a new and poignant meaning after 1918.


Many thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription of Lal and Norma Waterson's singing and notes.