One edition of the present ballad is well known; having appeared in
the Reliques of Ancient Poetry, and having been inserted in
almost every subsequent collection of Scottish songs. But it seems
to have occurred to no editor, that a more complete copy of the song
might be procured. That, with which the public is now presented, is
taken from two MS. copies,  collated with several verses recited by
the editor's friend, Robert Hamilton, Esq. advocate, being the 16th,
and the four which follow. But, even with the assistance of the
common copy, the ballad seems still to be a fragment. The cause of
Sir Patrick Spens' voyage is, however, pointed out distinctly; and it
shews, that the song has claim to high antiquity, as referring to a
very remote period in Scottish history.
Alexander III. of Scotland died in 1285; and, for the misfortune
of his country, as well as his own, he had been bereaved of all his
children before his decease. The crown of Scotland descended upon his
grand-daughter, Margaret, termed, by our historians, the Maid of
Norway. She was the only offspring of a marriage betwixt Eric,
king of Norway, and Margaret, daughter of Alexander III. The kingdom
had been secured to her by the parliament of Scotland, held at Scone,
the year preceding her grandfather's death. The regency of Scotland
entered into a congress with the ministers of the king of Norway and
with those of England, for the establishment of good order in
the kingdom of the infant princess. Shortly afterwards, Edward I.
conceived the idea of matching his eldest son, Edward, Prince of
Wales, with the young queen of Scotland. The plan was eagerly embraced
by the Scottish nobles; for, at that time, there was little of the
national animosity, which afterwards blazed betwixt the countries,
and they patriotically looked forward to the important advantage, of
uniting the island of Britain into one kingdom. But Eric of Norway
seems to have been unwilling to deliver up his daughter; and, while
the negociations were thus protracted, the death of the Maid of Norway
effectually crushed a scheme, the consequences of which might have
been, that the distinction betwixt England and Scotland would, in our
day, have been as obscure and uninteresting as that of the realms of
the heptarchy.—Hailes' Annals. Fordun, &c.
The unfortunate voyage of Sir Patrick Spens may really have taken
place, for the purpose of bringing back the Maid of Norway to her own
kingdom; a purpose, which was probably defeated by the jealousy of the
Norwegians, and the reluctance of King Eric. I find no traces of
the disaster in Scottish history; but, when we consider the meagre
materials, whence Scottish history is drawn, this is no conclusive
argument against the truth of the tradition. That a Scottish vessel,
sent upon such an embassy, must, as represented in the ballad, have
been freighted with the noblest youth in the kingdom, is sufficiently
probable; and, having been delayed in Norway, till the tempestuous
season was come on, its fate can be no matter of surprise. The
ambassadors, finally sent by the Scottish nation to receive their
queen, were Sir David Wemyss, of Wemyss, and Sir Michael Scot of
Balwearie; the same, whose knowledge, surpassing that of his age,
procured him the reputation of a wizard. But, perhaps, the expedition
of Sir Patrick Spens was previous to their embassy. The introduction
of the king into the ballad seems a deviation from history; unless
we suppose, that Alexander was, before his death, desirous to see his
grand-child and heir.
The Scottish monarchs were much addicted to "sit in Dumfermline town,"
previous to the accession of the Bruce dynasty. It was a favourite
abode of Alexander himself, who was killed by a fall from his horse,
in the vicinity, and was buried in the abbey of Dumfermline.
There is a beautiful German translation of this ballad, as it appeared
in the Reliques, in the Volk-Lieder of Professor Herder; an
elegant work, in which it is only to be regretted, that the actual
popular songs of the Germans form so trifling a proportion.
The tune of Mr. Hamilton's copy of Sir Patrick Spens is
different from that, to which the words are commonly sung; being less
plaintive, and having a bold nautical turn in the close.
SIR PATRICK SPENS.
The king sits in Dumfermline town,
Drinking the blude-red wine;
"O  whare will I get a skeely skippe ,
"To sail this new ship of mine?"
O up and spake an eldern knight,
Sat at the king's right knee,—
"Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor,
"That ever sail'd the sea."
Our king has written a braid letter.
And seal'd it with his hand,
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
Was walking on the strand.
"To Noroway, to Noroway,
"To Noroway o'er the faem;
"The king's daughter of Noroway,
"'Tis thou maun bring her hame."
The first word that Sir Patrick read,
Sae loud loud laughed he;
The neist word that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his e'e.
"O wha is this has done this deed,
"And tauld the king o' me,
"To send us out, at this time of the year,
"To sail upon the sea?
"Be it wind, be it weet, be it hail, be it sleet,
"Our ship must sail the faem;
"The king's daughter of Noroway,
"'Tis we must fetch her hame,"
They hoysed their sails on Monenday morn,
Wi' a' the speed they may;
They hae landed in Noroway,
Upon a Wodensday.
They hadna been a week, a week,
In Noroway, but twae,
When that the lords o' Noroway
Began aloud to say,—
"Ye Scottishmen spend a' our king's goud,
"And a' our queenis fee."
"Ye lie, ye lie, ye liars loud!
"Fu' loud I hear ye lie."
"For I brought as much white monie,
"As gane  my men and me,
"And I brought a half-fou  o' gude red goud,
"Out o'er the sea wi' me."
"Make ready, make ready, my merrymen a'!
"Our gude ship sails the morn."
"Now, ever alake, my master dear,
"I fear a deadly storm!
"I saw the new moon, late yestreen,
"Wi' the auld moon in her arm;
"And if we gang to sea, master,
"I fear we'll come to harm."
They hadna sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,
And gurly grew the sea.
The ankers brak, and the topmasts lap, 
It was sik a deadly storm;
And the waves came o'er the broken ship,
Till a' her sides were torn.
"O where will I get a gude sailor,
"To take my helm in hand,
"Till I get up to the tall top-mast,
"To see if I can spy land?"
"O here am I, a sailor gude,
"To take the helm in hand,
"Till you go up to the tall top-mast;
"But I fear you'll ne'er spy land."
He hadna' gane a step, a step,
A step, but barely ane,
When a bout flew out of our goodly ship,
And the salt sea it came in.
"Gae, fetch a web o' the silken claith,
"Another o' the twine,
"And wap them into our ship's side,
"And let na the sea come in."
They fetched a web o' the silken claith,
Another of the twine,
And they wapped them round that gude ship's side,
But still the sea came in.
O laith, laith, were our gude Scots lords
To weet their cork-heel'd shoon!
But lang or a' the play was play'd,
They wat their hats aboon.
And mony was the feather-bed,
That flattered  on the faem;
And mony was the gude lord's son,
That never mair cam hame.
The ladyes wrang their fingers white,
The maidens tore their hair,
A' for the sake of their true loves;
For them they'll see na mair.
O lang, lang, may the ladyes sit,
Wi' their fans into their hand,
Before they see Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing to the strand!
And lang, lang, may the maidens sit,
Wi' their goud kaims in their hair,
A' waiting for their ain dear loves!
For them they'll see na mair.
O forty miles off Aberdeen,
'Tis fifty fathom deep,
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi' the Scots lords at his feet.
SIR PATRICK SPENS.
To send us out at this time of the year,
To sail upon the sea?—P. 8, v. 3.
By a Scottish act of parliament, it was enacted, that no ship should
be fraughted out of the kingdom, with any staple goods, betwixt
the feast of St. Simon's day and Jude and Candelmas.—James III.
Parliament 2d, chap. 15. Such was the terror entertained for
navigating the north seas in winter.
When a bout flew out of our goodly ship.—P. 10. v. 5.
I believe a modern seaman would say, a plank had started, which must
have been a frequent incident during the infancy of ship-building. The
remedy applied seems to be that mentioned in Cook's Voyages,
when, upon some occasion, to stop a leak, which could not be got at in
the inside, a quilted sail was brought under the vessel, which, being
drawn into the leak by the suction, prevented the entry of more water.
"There n'is no new guise that it na'as old."
O forty miles off Aberdeen,—P. 11. v. 3.
This concluding verse differs in the three copies of the ballad, which
I have collated. The printed edition bears,
"Have owre, have owre to Aberdour;"
And one of the MSS. reads,
"At the back of auld St. Johnstowne Dykes."
But, in a voyage from Norway, a shipwreck on the north coast seems
as probable as either in the Firth of Forth, or Tay; and the ballad
states the disaster to have taken place out of sight of land.
 That the public might possess this carious fragment as
entire as possible, the editor gave one of these copies, which seems
the most perfect, to Mr. Robert Jamieson, to be inserted in his
 In singing, the interjection, O, is added to the second
and fourth lines.
 Skeely skipper—Skilful mariner.
 Half-fou—the eighth part of a peck.
 Flattered—Fluttered, or rather floated, on the
 This old woman is still alive, and at present resides at
Craig of Douglas, in Selkirkshire.