- Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. II (The Dowie Dens of Yarrow) by Sir Walter Scott
HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Periods Alphabetically Nationality Topics Themes Genres Glossary

Selected Works
According To...
Suggested Reading
Other Resources
Related Materials


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. II
The Dowie Dens of Yarrow

by Sir Walter Scott


This ballad, which is a very great favourite among the inhabitants of Ettrick Forest, is universally believed to be founded in fact. The editor found it easy to collect a variety of copies; but very difficult, indeed, to select from them such a collated edition, as may, in any degree, suit the taste of "these more light and giddy-paced times."

Tradition places the event, recorded in the song, very early; and it is probable that the ballad was composed soon afterwards, although the language has been gradually modernized, in the course of its transmission to us, through the inaccurate channel of oral tradition.—The bard does not relate particulars, but barely the striking outlines of a fact, apparently so well known when he wrote, as to render minute detail as unnecessary, as it is always tedious and unpoetical.

The hero of the ballad was a knight of great bravery, called Scott, who is said to have resided at Kirkhope, or Oakwood castle, and is, in tradition, termed the Baron of Oakwood. The estate of Kirkhope belonged anciently to the Scotts of Harden: Oakwood is still their property, and has been so from time immemorial. The editor was therefore led to suppose, that the hero of the ballad might have been identified with John Scott, sixth son of the laird of Harden, murdered in Ettrick Forest by his kinsmen, the Scotts of Gilmanscleugh (see notes to Jamie Telfer, Vol. I. p. 152). This appeared the more probable, as the common people always affirm, that this young man was treacherously slain, and that, in evidence thereof, his body remained uncorrupted for many years; so that even the roses on his shoes seemed as fresh as when he was first laid in the family vault at Hassendean. But from a passage in Nisbet's Heraldry, he now believes the ballad refers to a duel fought at Deucharswyre, of which Annan's Treat is a part, betwixt John Scott of Tushielaw and his brother-in-law Walter Scott, third son of Robert of Thirlestane, in which the latter was slain.

In ploughing Annan's Treat, a huge monumental stone, with an inscription, was discovered; but being rather scratched than engraved, and the lines being run through each other, it is only possible to read one or two Latin words. It probably records the event of the combat.—The person slain was the male ancestor of the present Lord Napier.

Tradition affirms, that the hero of the song (be he who he may) was murdered by the brother, either of his wife, or betrothed bride. The alleged cause of malice was, the lady's father having proposed to endow her with half of his property, upon her marriage with a warrior of such renown. The name of the murderer is said to have been Annan, and the place of combat is still called Annan's Treat. It is a low muir, on the banks of the Yarrow, lying to the west of Yarrow Kirk. Two tall unhewn masses of stone are erected, about eighty yards distant from each other; and the least child, that can herd a cow, will tell the passenger, that there lie "the two lords, who were slain in single combat."

It will be, with many readers, the greatest recommendation of these verses, that they are supposed to have suggested to Mr Hamilton, of Bangour, the modern ballad, beginning,
"Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny bonny bride."
A fragment, apparently regarding the story of the following ballad, but in a different measure, occurs in Mr Herd's MSS., and runs thus:—
"When I look cast, my heart is sair,
"But when I look west, its mair and mair;
"For then I see the braes o' Yarrow,
"And there, for aye, I lost my marrow."


Late at e'en, drinking the wine,
And ere they paid the lawing,
They set a combat them between,
To fight it in the dawing.

"O stay at hame, my noble lord!
"O stay at hame, my marrow!
"My cruel brother will you betray
"On the dowie houms of Yarrow."

"O fare ye weel, my ladye gaye!
"O fare ye weel, my Sarah!
"For I maun gae, though I ne'er return,
"Frae the dowie banks o' Yarrow.

She kissed his cheek, she kaimed his hair,
As oft she had done before, O;
She belted him with his noble brand,
And he's awa' to Yarrow.

As he gaed up the Tennies bank,
I wot he gaed wi' sorrow,
Till, down in a den, he spied nine arm'd men,
On the dowie houms of Yarrow.

"O come ye here to part your land,
"The bonnie forest thorough?
"Or come ye here to wield your brand,
"On the dowie houms of Yarrow?"

"I come not here to part my land,
"And neither to beg nor borrow;
"I come to wield my noble brand,
"On the bonnie banks of Yarrow.

"If I see all, ye're nine to ane;
"And that's an unequal marrow;
"Yet will I fight, while lasts my brand,
"On the bonnie banks of Yarrow."

Four has he hurt, and five has slain,
On the bloody braes of Yarrow,
Till that stubborn knight came him behind,
And ran his bodie thorough.

"Gae hame, gae hame, good-brother [A] John,
"And tell your sister Sarah,
"To come and lift her leafu' lord;
"He's sleepin sound on Yarrow."——

"Yestreen I dream'd a dolefu' dream;
"I fear there will be sorrow!
"I dream'd, I pu'd the heather green,
"Wi' my true love, on Yarrow.

"O gentle wind, that bloweth south,
"From where my love repaireth,
"Convey a kiss from his dear mouth,
"And tell me how he fareth!

"But in the glen strive armed men;
"They've wrought me dole and sorrow;
"They've slain—the comeliest knight they've slain—
"He bleeding lies on Yarrow."

As she sped down yon high high hill,
She gaed wi' dole and sorrow,
And in the den spyed ten slain men,
On the dowie banks of Yarrow.

She kissed his cheek, she kaim'd his hair,
She search'd his wounds all thorough;
She kiss'd them, till her lips grew red,
On the dowie houms of Yarrow.

"Now, haud your tongue, my daughter dear!
"For a' this breeds but sorrow;
"I'll wed ye to a better lord,
"Than him ye lost on Yarrow."

"O haud your tongue, my father dear!
"Ye mind me but of sorrow;
"A fairer rose did never bloom
"Than now lies cropp'd on Yarrow."
Good-brother—Beau-frere, Brother-in-law.

Terms Defined

Referenced Works