- Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. I (Lord Maxwell's Goodnight.) by Sir Walter Scott
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Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. I
Lord Maxwell's Goodnight.

by Sir Walter Scott


This beautiful ballad is published from a copy in Glenriddel's MSS., with some slight variations from tradition. It alludes to one of the most remarkable feuds upon the west marches.

A.D. 1585, John, Lord Maxwell, or, as he styled himself, Earl of Morton, having quarrelled with the Earl of Arran, reigning favourite of James VI., and fallen, of course, under the displeasure of the court, was denounced rebel. A commission was also given to the laird of Johnstone, then warden of the west-marches, to pursue and apprehend the ancient rival and enemy of his house. Two bands of mercenaries, commanded by Captains Cranstoun and Lammie, who were sent from Edinburgh to support Johnstone, were attacked and cut to pieces at Crawford-muir by Robert Maxwell, natural brother to the chieftain; [196] who, following up his advantage, burned Johnstone's castle of Lochwood, observing, with savage glee, that he would give Lady Johnstone light enough by which to "set her hood." In a subsequent conflict, Johnstone himself was defeated, and made prisoner, and is said to have died of grief at the disgrace which he sustained.—See Spottiswoode and Johnstone's Histories, and Moyse's Memoirs, ad annum 1585.

By one of the revolutions, common in those days, Maxwell was soon after restored to the king's favour, in his turn, and obtained the wardenry of the west marches. A bond of alliance was subscribed by him, and by Sir James Johnstone, and for some time the two clans lived in harmony. In the year 1593, however, the hereditary feud was revived, on the following occasion: A band of marauders, of the clan Johnstone, drove a prey of cattle from the lands belonging to the lairds of Crichton, Sanquhar, and Drumlanrig; and defeated, with slaughter, the pursuers, who attempted to rescue their property.—[See the following Ballad and Introduction.] The injured parties, being apprehensive that Maxwell would not cordially embrace their cause, on account of his late reconciliation with the Johnstones, endeavoured to overcome his reluctance, by ottering to enter into bonds of manrent, and so to become his followers and liegemen; he, on the other hand, granting to them a bond of maintenance, or protection, by which he bound himself, in usual form, to maintain their quarrel against all mortals, saving his loyalty. Thus, the most powerful and respectable families in Dumfries-shire became, for a time, the vassals of Lord Maxwell. This secret alliance was discovered to Sir James Johnstone by the laird of Cummertrees, one of his own clan, though a retainer to Maxwell. Cummertrees even contrived to possess himself of the bonds of manrent, which he delivered to his chief. The petty warfare betwixt the rival barons was instantly renewed. Buccleuch, a near relation of Johnstone, came to his assistance with his clan, "the most renowned freebooters (says a historian), the fiercest and bravest warriors, among the border tribes" [197] With Buccleuch also came the Elliots, Armstrongs, and Graemes. Thus reinforced, Johnstone surprised and cut to pieces a party of the Maxwells, stationed at Lochmaben. On the other hand, Lord Maxwell, armed with the royal authority, and numbering among his followers all the barons of Nithesdale, displayed his banner as the king's lieutenant, and invaded Annandale, at the head of 2000 men. In those days, however, the royal auspices to have carried as little good fortune as effective strength with them. A desperate conflict, still renowned in tradition, took place at the Dryffe sands, not far from Lockerby, in which Johnstone, although inferior in numbers, partly by his own conduct, partly by the valour of his allies, gained a decisive victory. Lord Maxwell, a tall man, and heavily armed, was struck from his horse in the flight, and cruelly slain, after the hand, which he stretched out for quarter, had been severed from his body. Many of his followers were slain in the battle, and many cruelly wounded; especially by slashes in the face, which wound was thence termed a "Lockerby lick." The barons of Lag, Closeburn, and Drumlanrig, escaped by the fleetness of their horses; a circumstance alluded to in the following ballad.

This fatal battle was followed by a long feud, attended with all the circumstances of horror, proper to a barbarous age. Johnstone, in his diffuse manner, describes it thus: "Ab eo die ultro citroque in Annandia et Nithia magnis utriusque regionis jacturis certatum. Caedes, incendia, rapinae, et nefanda facinora; liberi in maternis gremiis trucidati; mariti in conspectu conjugum suarum, incensae villae lamentabiles ubique querimoniae et horribiles armorum fremitus." JOHNSTONI Historia, Ed. Amstael. p. 182.

John, Lord Maxwell, with whose Goodnight the reader is here presented, was son to him who fell at the battle of Dryffe Sands, and is said to have early vowed the deepest revenge for his father's death. Such, indeed, was the fiery and untameable spirit of the man, that neither the threats nor entreaties of the king himself could make him lay aside his vindictive purpose; although Johnstone, the object of his resentment, had not only reconciled himself to the court, but even obtained the wardenry of the middle-marches, in room of Sir John Carmichael, murdered by the Armstrongs. Lord Maxwell was therefore prohibited to approach the border counties; and having, in contempt of that mandate, excited new disturbances, he was confined in the castle of Edinburgh. From this fortress, however, he contrived to make his escape; and, having repaired to Dumfries-shire, he sought an amicable interview with Johnstone, under pretence of a wish to accommodate their differences. Sir Robert Maxwell, of Orchardstane (mentioned in the Ballad, verse 1.), who was married to a sister of Sir James Johnstone, persuaded his brother-in-law to accede to Maxwell's proposal. The two chieftains met, each with a single attendant, at a place called Achmanhill, 6th April, 1608. A quarrel arising betwixt the two gentlemen who attended them (Charles Maxwell, brother to the laird of Kirkhouse, and Johnstone of Lockerby), and a pistol being discharged, Sir James turned his horse to separate the combatants; at which instant Lord Maxwell shot him through the back with a brace of bullets, of which wound he died on the spot, after having for some time gallantly defended himself against Maxwell, who endeavoured to strike him with his sword. "A fact," saith Spottiswoode, "detested by all honest men, and the gentleman's misfortune severely lamented, for he was a man full of wisdom and courage."—SPOTTISWOODE, Edition 1677, pages 467, 504. JOHNSTONI Historia, Ed. Amstael. pp. 254, 283, 449.

Lord Maxwell, the murderer, made his escape to France; but, having ventured to return to Scotland, he was apprehended lurking in the wilds of Caithness, and brought to trial at Edinburgh. The royal authority was now much strengthened by the union of the crowns, and James employed it in staunching the feuds of the nobility, with a firmness which was no attribute of his general character. But, in the best actions of that monarch, there seems to have been an unfortunate tincture of that meanness, so visible on the present occasion. Lord Maxwell was indicted for the murder of Johnstone; but this was combined with a charge of fire-raising, which, according to the ancient Scottish law, if perpetrated by a landed man, constituted a species of treason, and inferred forfeiture. Thus, the noble purpose of public justice was sullied, by being united with that of enriching some needy favourite. John, Lord Maxwell, was condemned, and beheaded, 21st May, 1613. Sir Gideon Murray, treasurer-depute, had a great share of his forfeiture; but the attainder was afterwards reversed, and the honours and estate were conferred upon the brother of the deceased.—LAING'S History of Scotland, Vol. I. p. 62.—JOHNSTONI Historia, p. 493.

The lady, mentioned in the ballad, was sister to the Marquis of Hamilton, and, according to Johnstone the historian, had little reason to regret being separated from her husband, whose harsh treatment finally occasioned her death. But Johnstone appears not to be altogether untinctured with the prejudices of his clan, and is probably, in this instance, guilty of exaggeration; as the active share, taken by the Marquis of Hamilton in favour of Maxwell, is a circumstance inconsistent with such a report.

Thus was finally ended, by a salutary example of severity, the "foul debate" betwixt the Maxwells and Johnstones, in the course of which each family lost two chieftains; one dying of a broken heart, one in the field of battle, one by assassination, and one by the sword of the executioner.

It seems reasonable to believe, that the following ballad must have been written before the death of Lord Maxwell, in 1613; otherwise there would have been some allusion to that event. It must therefore have been composed betwixt 1608 and that period.


Adieu, madame, my mother dear,
But and my sisters three!
Adieu, fair Robert of Orchardstane!
My heart is wae for thee.
Adieu, the lily and the rose,
The primrose fair to see:
Adieu, my ladie, and only joy!
For I may not stay with thee.

"Though I hae slain the Lord Johnstone,
What care I for their feid?
My noble mind their wrath disdains:
He was my father's deid.
Both night and day I laboured oft
Of him avenged to be;
But now I've got what lang I sought,
And I may not stay with thee.

"Adieu! Drumlanrig, false wert aye,
And Closeburn in a Land!
The laird of Lag, frae my father that fled,
When the Johnston struck aff his hand.
They were three brethren in a band—
Joy may they never see!
Their treacherous art, and cowardly heart,
Has twin'd my love and me,

Adieu! Dumfries, my proper place,
But and Carlaverock fair!
Adieu! my castle of the Thrieve,
Wi' a my buildings there:
Adieu! Lochmaben's gates sae fair,
The Langholm-holm where birks there be;
Adieu! my ladye, and only joy,
For, trust me, I may not stay wi' thee,

"Adieu! fair Eskdale up and down,
Where my puir friends do dwell;
The bangisters [198] will ding them down,
And will them sair compell.
But I'll avenge their feid mysell,
When I come o'er the sea;
Adieu! my ladye, and only joy,
For I may not stay wi' thee."

"Lord of the land!"—that ladye said,
"O wad ye go wi' me,
Unto my brother's stately tower,
Where safest ye may be!
There Hamiltons and Douglas baith,
Shall rise to succour thee."
"Thanks for thy kindness, fair my dame,
But I may not stay wi' thee."

Then he tuik aff a gay gold ring,
Thereat hang signets three;
"Hae, take thee that, mine ain dear thing,
And still hae mind o' me;
But, if thou take another lord,
Ere I come ower the sea—
His life is but a three day's lease,
Tho' I may not stay wi' thee."

The wind was fair, the ship was clear,
That good lord went away;
And most part of his friends were there,
To give him a fair convey.
They drank the wine, they did na spair,
Even in that gude lord's sight—
Sae now he's o'er the floods sae gray,
And Lord Maxwell has ta'en his Goodnight.


Adieu! Drumlanrig, &c..—P. 268. v. 1.
The reader will perceive, from the Introduction, what connection the bond, subscribed by Douglas of Drumlanrig, Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, and Grierson of Lagg, had with the death of Lord Maxwell's father. For the satisfaction of those, who may be curious as to the form of these bonds, I have transcribed a letter of manrent, [199] from a MS. collection of upwards of twenty deeds of that nature, copied from the originals by the late John Syme, Esq. writer to the signet; for the use of which, with many other favours of a similar nature, I am indebted to Dr. Robert Anderson of Edinburgh. The bond is granted by Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, to Robert, Lord Maxwell, father of him who was slain at the battle of the Dryffe Sands.

"Be it kend till all men be thir present lettres, me Thomas Kirkpatrik of Closburn, to be bundin and oblist, and be the tenor heirof, bindis and oblissis me be the faith and treuth of my body, in manrent and service to ane nobil and mychty lord, Robert Lord Maxwell, induring all the dayis of my lyfe; and byndis and oblissis me, as said is, to be leill and trew man and servand to the said Robert Lord Maxwell, my master, and sall nowthir heir nor se his skaith, but sall lat the samyn at my uter power, an warn him therof. And I sall conceill it that the said lord schawis to me, and sall gif him agane the best leill and trew counsale that I can, quhen he ony askis at me; and that I sall ryde with my kin, freyndis, servandis, and allies, that wil do for me, or to gang with the said lord; and do to him aefauld, trew, and thankful service, and take aefauld playne part with the said lord, my maister, in all and sindry his actionis, causis, querrellis, leful and honest, movit, or to be movit be him, or aganis him, baith in peace and weir, contrair or aganis all thae that leiffes or de may (my allegeant to owr soveran ladye the quenis grace, her tutor and governor, allanerly except). And thir my lettres of manrent, for all the dayis of my life foresaid to indure, all dissimulations, fraud, or gyle, secludit and away put. In witness, &c." The deed is signed at Edinburgh, 3d February, 1542.
In the collection, from which this extract is made, there are bonds of a similar nature granted to Lord Maxwell, by Douglas of Drumlanrig, ancestor of the Duke of Queensberry; by Crichton Lord Sanquhar, ancestor of the earls of Dumfries, and many of his kindred; by Stuart of Castlemilk; by Stuart of Garlies, ancestor of the earls of Galloway; by Murray of Cockpool, ancestor of the Murrays, lords Annandale; by Grierson of Lagg, Gordon of Lochmaben, and many other of the most ancient and respectable barons in the south-west of Scotland, binding themselves, in the most submissive terms, to become the liegemen and the vassals of the house of Maxwell; a circumstance which must highly excite our idea of the power of that family. Nay, even the rival chieftain, Johnstone of Johnstone, seems at one time to have come under a similar obligation to Maxwell, by a bond, dated 11th February 1528, in which reference is made to the counter-obligation of the patron, in these words: "Forasmeikle as the said lord has oblist him to supple, maintene, and defend me, in the peciabill brouking and joysing of all my landis, rentis, &c. and to take my aefald, leill and trew part, in all my good actionis, causis, and quarles, leiful and honest, aganes all deedlie, his alledgeance to our soveraigne lord the king allanerly excepted, as at mair length is contained in his lettres of maintenance maid to me therupon; therfore, &c." he proceeds to bind himself as liegeman to the Maxwell.

I cannot dismiss the subject without observing, that, in the dangerous times of Queen Mary, when most of these bonds are dated, many barons, for the sake of maintaining unanimity and good order, may have chosen to enroll themselves among the clients of Lord Maxwell, then warden of the border, from which, at a less turbulent period, personal considerations would have deterred them.
Adieu! my castle of the Thrieve.—P. 268. v. 2.
This fortress is situated in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, upon an island about two acres in extent, formed by the river Dee. The walls are very thick and strong, and bear the marks of great antiquity. It was a royal castle; but the keeping of it, agreeable to the feudal practice, was granted by charter, or sometimes by a more temporary and precarious right, to different powerful families, together with lands for their good service in maintaining and defending the place. This office of heritable keeper remained with the Nithesdale family (chief of the Maxwells) till their forfeiture, 1715. The garrison seems to have been victualled upon feudal principles; for each parish in the stewartry was burdened with the yearly payment of a lardner mart cow, i.e. a cow fit for being killed and salted at Martinmas, for winter provisions. The right of levying these cattle was retained by the Nithesdale family, when they sold the castle and estate, in 1704, and they did not cease to exercise it till their attainder.—Fountainhall's Decisions, Vol. I. p. 688.

This same castle of the Thrieve was, A.D. 1451-2, the scene of an outrageous and cruel insult upon the royal authority. The fortress was then held by William VIII. Earl of Douglas, who, in fact, possessed a more unlimited authority over the southern districts of Scotland, than the reigning monarch. The earl had, on some pretence, seized and imprisoned a baron, called Maclellan, tutor of Bombie, whom he threatened to bring to trial, by his power of hereditary jurisdiction. The uncle of this gentleman, Sir Patrick Gray of Foulis, who commanded the body-guard of James II., obtained from that prince a warrant, requiring from Earl Douglas the body of the prisoner. When Gray appeared, the earl instantly suspected his errand. "You have not dined," said he, without suffering him to open his commission: "it is ill talking between a full man and a fasting." While Gray was at meat, the unfortunate prisoner was, by Douglas's command, led forth to the court-yard and beheaded. When the repast was finished, the king's letter was presented and opened. "Sir Patrick," says Douglas, leading Gray to the court, "right glad had I been to honour the king's messenger; but you have come too late. Yonder lies your sister's son, without the head: you are welcome to his dead body." Gray, having mounted his horse, turned to the earl, and expressed his wrath in a deadly oath, that he would requite the injury with Douglas's heart's blood.—"To horse!" cried the haughty baron, and the messenger of his prince was pursued till within a few miles of Edinburgh. Gray, however, had an opportunity of keeping his vow; for, being upon guard in the king's anti-chamber at Stirling, when James, incensed at the insolence of the earl, struck him with his dagger, Sir Patrick rushed in, and dispatched him with a pole-axe. The castle of Thrieve was the last of the fortresses which held out for the house of Douglas, after their grand rebellion in 1553. James II. writes an account of the exile of this potent family, to Charles VII. of France, 8th July, 1555; and adds, that all their castles had been yielded to him, Excepto duntaxat castro de Trefe, per nostres fideles impraesentiarum obsesso; quod domino concedente in brevi obtinere speramus.—Pinkerton's History, Appendix, Vol. I. p. 486.—See Pitscottie's History, Godscroft, &c.

And most part of his friends were, there,—P. 269. v. 3. The ancestor of the present Mr. Maxwell of Broomholm is particularly mentioned in Glenriddell's MS. as having attended his chieftain in his distress, and as having received a grant of lands, in reward of this manifestation of attachment. Sae now he's o'er the floods sae gray.—P. 269. v. 3. This seems to have been a favourite epithet in old romances, Thus in Hornchilde, and Maiden Rimuild,
Thai sayled ower the flode so gray,
In Inglond arrived were thay,
Ther him levest ware.


[196] It is devoutly to be wished, that this Lammie (who was killed in the skirmish) may have been the same miscreant, who, in the day of Queen Mary's distress, "hes ensigne being of quhyt taffitae, had painted one it ye creuell murther of King Henry, and layed down before her majestie, at quhat time she presented herself as prisoner to ye lordis."—Birrel's Diary, June 15, 1567. It would be some satisfaction to know, that the grey hairs of this worthy personage did not go down to the grave in peace.

[197] Inter accolas latrociniis famosos Scotos Buccleuchi clientes—fortissimos tributium et ferocissimos,—JOHNSTONI Historia, ed. Amstael, p. 182.

[198] Bangisters—The prevailing party.

[199] The proper spelling is manred. Thus, in the romance of Florice and Blancheflour
"He wil falle to thi fot,
"And bicom thi man gif be mot;
"His manred thou schalt afonge,
"and the trewthe of his honde." 
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