- Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. II (Lord Randal) by Sir Walter Scott
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Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. II
Lord Randal

by Sir Walter Scott

There is a beautiful air to this old ballad. The hero is more generally termed Lord Ronald; but I willingly follow the authority of an Ettrick Forest copy for calling him Randal; because, though the circumstances are so very different, I think it not impossible, that the ballad may have originally regarded the death of Thomas Randolph, or Randal, earl of Murray, nephew to Robert Bruce, and governor of Scotland. This great warrior died at Musselburgh, 1332, at the moment when his services were most necessary to his country, already threatened by an English army. For this sole reason, perhaps, our historians obstinately impute his death to poison. See The Bruce, book xx. Fordun repeats, and Boece echoes, this story, both of whom charge the murder on Edward III. But it is combated successfully by Lord Hailes, in his Remarks on the History of Scotland.

The substitution of some venomous reptile for food, or putting it into liquor, was anciently supposed to be a common mode of administering poison; as appears from the following curious account of the death of King John, extracted from a MS. Chronicle of England, penes John Clerk, esq. advocate. "And, in the same tyme, the pope sente into Englond a legate, that men cald Swals, and he was prest cardinal of Rome, for to mayntene King Johnes cause agens the barons of Englond; but the barons had so much pte (poustie, i.e. power) through Lewys, the kinges sone of Fraunce, that King Johne wist not wher for to wend ne gone: and so hitt fell, that he wold have gone to Suchold; and as he went thedurward, he come by the abbey of Swinshed, and ther he abode II dayes. And, as he sate at meat, he askyd a monke of the house, how moche a lofe was worth, that was before hym sete at the table? and the monke sayd that loffe was worthe bot ane halfpenny. 'O!' quod the kyng, 'this is a grette cheppe of brede; now,' said the king, 'and yff I may, such a loffe shalle be worth xxd. or half a yer be gone:' and when he said the word, muche he thought, and ofte tymes sighed, and nome and ete of the bred, and said, 'By Gode, the word that I have spokyn shall be sothe.' The monke, that stode befor the kyng, was ful sory in his hert; and thought rather he wold himself suffer peteous deth; and thought yff he myght ordeyn therfore sum remedy. And anon the monke went unto his abbott, and was schryvyd of him, and told the abbott all that the kyng said, and prayed his abbott to assoyl him, for he wold gyffe the kyng such a wassayle, that all Englond shuld be glad and joyful therof. Tho went the monke into a gardene, and fond a tode therin; and toke her upp, and put hyr in a cuppe, and filled it with good ale, and pryked hyr in every place, in the cuppe, till the venome come out in every place; an brought hitt befor the kyng, and knelyd, and said, 'Sir, wassayle; for never in your lyfe drancke ye of such a cuppe,' 'Begyne, monke,' quod the king; and the monke dranke a gret draute, and toke the kyng the cuppe, and the kyng also drank a grett draute, and set downe the cuppe.—The monke anon went to the Farmarye, and ther dyed anon, on whose soule God have mercy, Amen. And v monkes syng for his soule especially, and shall while the abbey stondith. The kyng was anon ful evil at ese, and comaunded to remove the table, and askyd after the monke; and men told him that he was ded, for his wombe was broke in sondur. When the king herd this tidyng, he comaunded for to trusse; but all hit was for nought, for his bely began to swelle for the drink that he dranke, that he dyed within II dayes, the moro aftur Seynt Luke's day."

A different account of the poisoning of King John is given in a MS. Chronicle of England, written in the minority of Edward III., and contained in the Auchinleck MS. of Edinburgh. Though not exactly to our present purpose, the passage is curious, and I shall quote it without apology. The author has mentioned the interdict laid on John's kingdom by the pope, and continues thus:
He was ful wroth and grim,
For no prest wald sing for him
He made tho his parlement,
And swore his croy de verament,
That he shuld make such assaut,
To fede all Inglonde with a spand.
And eke with a white lof,
Therefore I hope [A] he was God-loth.
A monk it herd of Swines-heued,
And of this wordes he was adred,
He went hym to his fere,
And seyd to hem in this manner;
"The king has made a sori oth,
That he schal with a white lof
Fede al Inglonde, and with a spand,
Y wis it were a sori saut;
And better is that we die to,
Than al Inglond be so wo.
Ye schul for me belles ring,
And after wordes rede and sing;
So helpe you God, heven king,
Granteth me alle now mill asking,
And Ichim wil with puseoun slo,
Ne schal he never Inglond do wo."

His brethren him graunt alle his bone.
He let him shrive swithe sone,
To make his soule fair and cleue,
To for our leuedi heven queen,
That sche schuld for him be,
To for her son in trinité.

Dansimond zede and gadred frut,
For sothe were plommes white,
The steles [B] he puld out everichon,
Puisoun he dede therin anon,
And sett the steles al ogen,
That the gile schuld nought be sen.
He dede hem in a coupe of gold,
And went to the kinges bord;
On knes he him sett,
The king full fair he grett;
"Sir," he said, "by Seynt Austin,
This is front of our garden,
And gif that your wil be,
Assayet herof after me."
Dansimoud ete frut, on and on,
And al tho other ete King Jon;
The monke aros, and went his way,
God gif his soule wel gode day;
He gaf King Jon ther his puisoun,
Himself had that ilk doun,
He dede, it is nouther for mirthe ne ond,
Bot for to save al Iuglond.

The King Jon sate at mete,
His wombe to wex grete;
He swore his oth, per la croyde,
His wombe wald brest a thre;
He wald have risen fram the bord,
Ac he spake never more word;
Thus ended his time,
Y wis he had an evel fine.
Hope, for think.


Shakespeare, from such old chronicles, has drawn his authority for the last fine scene in King John. But he probably had it from Caxton, who uses nearly the words of the prose chronicle. Hemingford tells the same tale with the metrical historian. It is certain, that John increased the flux, of which he died, by the intemperate use of peaches and of ale, which may have given rise to the story of the poison.—See MATTHEW PARIS.

To return to the ballad: there is a very similar song, in which, apparently to excite greater interest in the nursery, the handsome young hunter is exchanged for a little child, poisoned by a false step-mother.


"O where hae ye been, Lord Randal, my son?
"O where hae ye been, my handsome young man?"
"I hae been to the wild wood; mother, make my bed soon,
"For I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie down."

"Where gat ye your dinner, Lord Randal, my son?
"Where gat ye your dinner, my handsome young man?"
"I din'd wi' my true-love; mother, make my bed soon,
"For I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie down."

"What gat ye to your dinner, Lord Randal, my son?.
"What gat ye to your dinner, my handsome young man?"
"I gat eels boil'd in broo'; mother, make my bed soon,
"For I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie down."

"What became of your bloodhounds, Lord Randal, my son?
"What became of your bloodhounds, my handsome young man?"
"O they swell'd and they died; mother, make my bed soon,
"For I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie down."

"O I fear ye are poison'd, Lord Randal, my son!
"O I fear ye are poison'd, my handsome young man!"
"O yes! I am poison'd; mother, make my bed soon,
"For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie down."

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