The Queen's Marie by Andrew Lang
Little did my mother think
That day she cradled me
What land I was to travel in,
Or what death I should die.
Writing to Mrs. Dunlop on January 25, 1790, Burns quoted these lines, 'in
an old Scottish ballad, which, notwithstanding its rude simplicity, speaks
feelingly to the heart.' Mr. Carlyle is said, when young, to have written
them on a pane of glass in a window, with a diamond, adding,
characteristically, 'Oh foolish Thee!' In 1802, in the first edition of
'The Border Minstrelsy,' Scott cited only three stanzas from the same
ballad, not including Burns's verse, but giving
Yestreen the Queen had four Maries,
The night she'll hae but three,
There was Marie Seaton, and Marie Beaton,
And Marie Carmichael and me.
In later editions Sir Walter offered a made-up copy of the ballad, most of
it from a version collected by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe.
It now appeared that Mary Hamilton was the heroine, that she was one of
Queen Marie's four Maries, and that she was hanged for murdering a child
whom she bore to Darnley. Thus the character of Mary Hamilton was 'totally
lost,' and Darnley certainly 'had not sufficient for two.' Darnley, to be
sure, told his father that 'I never offended the Queen, my wife, in
meddling with any woman in thought, let be in deed,' and, whether Darnley
spoke truth or not, there was, among the Queen's Maries, no Mary Hamilton
to meddle with, just as there was no Mary Carmichael.
The Maries were attendant on the Queen as children ever since she left
Scotland for France. They were Mary Livingstone (mentioned as 'Lady
Livinston' in one version of the ballad),* who married 'John Sempill,
called the Dancer,' who, says Laing, 'acquired the lands of Beltree, in
*Child, vol. iii. p. 389.
**Laing's Knox, ii. 415, note 3.
When Queen Mary was a captive in England she was at odds with the Sempill
pair about some jewels of hers in their custody. He was not a satisfactory
character, he died before November 1581. Mary Fleming, early in 1587,
married the famous William Maitland of Lethington, 'being no more fit for
her than I to be a page,' says Kirkcaldy of Grange. Her life was wretched
enough, through the stormy career and sad death of her lord. Mary Beaton,
with whom Randolph, the English ambassador, used to flirt, married, in
1566, Ogilvy of Boyne, the first love of Lady Jane Gordon, the bride of
Bothwell. Mary Seaton remained a maiden and busked the Queen's hair during
her English captivity. We last hear of her from James Maitland of
Lethington, in 1613, living at Rheims, very old, 'decrepid,' and poor.
There is no room in the Four for Mary Hamilton, and no mention of her
appears in the records of the Court.
How, then, did Mary Hamilton find her way into the old ballad about
Darnley and the Queen?
To explain this puzzle, some modern writers have denied that the ballad of
'The Queen's Marie' is really old; they attribute it to the eighteenth
century. The antiquary who launched this opinion was Scott's not very
loyal friend, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. According to him, a certain Miss
Hambledon (no Christian name is given), being Maid of Honour to the
Empress Catherine of Russia, had three children by an amour, and murdered
all three. Peter the Great caused her to be, not hanged, but decapitated.
Sharpe took his facts from 'a German almanac,' and says: 'The Russian
tragedy must be the original.' The late Professor Child, from more
authentic documents, dates Miss Hambledon's or Hamilton's execution on
March 14, 1719. At that time, or nearly then, Charles Wogan was in Russia
on a mission from the Chevalier de St. George (James III.), and through
him the news might reach Scotland. Mr. Courthope, in his 'History of
English Poetry,' followed Sharpe and Professor Child, and says: 'It is
very remarkable that one of the very latest of the Scottish popular
ballads should be one of the very best.'
The occurrence would not only be remarkable, but, as far as possibility
goes in literature, would be impossible, for several reasons. One is that
neither literary men nor mere garreteers and makers of street ballads
appear, about 1719-1730, to have been capable of recapturing the
simplicity and charm of the old ballad style, at its best, or anything
near its best. There is no mistaking the literary touch in such ballads as
Allan Ramsay handled, or in the imitation named 'Hardyknute' in Allan's
'Tea Table Miscellany,' 1724. 'It was the first poem I ever learned, the
last I shall ever forget,' said Scott, and, misled by boyish affection, he
deemed it 'just old enough,' 'a noble imitation.'* But the imitation can
deceive nobody, and while literary imitators, as far as their efforts have
reached us, were impotent to deceive, the popular Muse, of 1714-1730, was
not attempting deception. Ballads of the eighteenth century were
sarcastic, as in those on Sheriffmuir and in Skirving's amusing ballad on
Preston Pans, or were mere doggerel, or were brief songs to old tunes.
They survive in print, whether in flying broadsides or in books, but,
popular as is 'The Queen's Marie,' in all its many variants (Child gives
no less than eighteen), we do not know a single printed example before
Scott's made-up copy in the 'Border Minstrelsy.' The latest ballad really
in the old popular manner known to me is that of 'Rob Roy,' namely, of
Robin Oig and James More, sons of Rob Roy, and about their abduction of an
heiress in 1752. This is a genuine popular poem, but in style and tone and
versification it is wholly unlike 'The Queen's Marie.' I scarcely hope
that any one can produce, after 1680, a single popular piece which could
be mistaken for a ballad of or near Queen Mary's time.
*Lockhart, i. 114, x. 138.
The known person least unlike Mr. Courthope's late 'maker' was
'Mussel-mou'd Charlie Leslie,' 'an old Aberdeenshire minstrel, the very
last, probably, of the race,' says Scott. Charlie died in 1782. He sang,
and sold PRINTED ballads. 'Why cannot you sing other songs than those
rebellious ones?' asked a Hanoverian Provost of Aberdeen. 'Oh ay, but—THEY
WINNA BUY THEM!' said Charlie. 'Where do you buy them?' 'Why, faur I get
them cheapest.' He carried his ballads in 'a large harden bag, hung over
his shoulder.' Charlie had tholed prison for Prince Charles, and had seen
Provost Morison drink the Prince's health in wine and proclaim him Regent
at the Cross of Aberdeen. If Charlie (who lived to be a hundred and two)
composed the song, 'Mussel-mou'd Charlie' ('this sang Charlie made
hissel'), then this maker could never have produced 'The Queen's Marie,'
nor could any maker like him. His ballads were printed, as any successful
ballad of 1719 would probably have been, in broadsides.* Against Mr. Child
and Mr. Courthope, then, we argue that, after 1600, a marked decadence of
the old ballad style set in—that the old style (as far as is known)
died soon after Bothwell Brig (1679), in the execrable ballads of both
sides, such as 'Philiphaugh,' and that it soon was not only dead as a form
in practical use, but was entirely superseded by new kinds of popular
poetry, of which many examples survive, and are familiar to every student.
How, or why, then, should a poet, aiming at popularity, about 1719-1730,
compose 'The Queen's Marie' in an obsolete manner? The old ballads were
still sung, indeed; but we ask for proof that new ballads were still
composed in the ancient fashion.
*See, for example, Mr. Macquoid's Jacobite Songs and Ballads, pp.
424, 510, with a picture of Charlie.
Secondly, WHY, and how tempted, would a popular poet of 1719 transfer a
modern tragedy of Russia to the year 1563, or thereabouts? His public
would naturally desire a ballad gazette of the mournful new tale,
concerning a lass of Scottish extraction, betrayed, tortured, beheaded, at
the far-off court of a Muscovite tyrant. The facts 'palpitated with
actuality,' and, since Homer's day, 'men desire' (as Homer says) 'the new
songs' on the new events. What was gained by going back to Queen Mary?
Would a popular 'Musselmou'd Charlie' even know, by 1719, the names of the
Queen's Maries? Mr. Courthope admits that 'he may have been helped by some
ballad,' one of those spoken of, as we shall see, by Knox. If that ballad
told the existing Marian story, what did the 'maker' add? If it did NOT,
what did he borrow? No more than the names could he borrow, and no more
than the name 'Hamilton' from the Russian tragedy could he add. One other
thing he might be said to add, the verses in which Mary asks 'the jolly
sailors' not to
'Let on to my father and mother
But that I'm coming hame.'
This passage, according to Mr. Courthope, 'was suggested partly by the
fact of a Scotswoman being executed in Russia.' C. K. Sharpe also says:
'If Marie Hamilton was executed in Scotland, it is not likely' (why not?)
'that her relations resided beyond seas.' They MAY have been in France,
like many another Hamilton! Mr. Child says: 'The appeal to the sailors
shows that Mary Hamilton dies in a foreign land—not that of her
ancestors.' Yet the ballad makes her die in or near the Canongate!
Moreover, the family of the Mary Hamilton of 1719 had been settled in
Russia for generations, and were reckoned of the Russian noblesse. The
verses, therefore, on either theory, are probably out of place, and are
perhaps an interpolation suggested to some reciter (they only occur in
some of the many versions) by a passage in 'The Twa Brithers.'*
*Child, i. 439.
We now reach the most important argument for the antiquity of 'The Queen's
Marie.' Mr. Courthope has theoretically introduced as existing in, or
after, 1719, 'makers' who could imitate to deception the old ballad style.
Now Maidment remarks that 'this ballad was popular in Galloway,
Selkirkshire, Lanarkshire, and Aberdeen, AND THE VERY STRIKING
DISCREPANCIES GO FAR TO REMOVE EVERY SUSPICION OF FABRICATION.' Chambers
uses (1829) against Sharpe the same argument of 'universal diffusion in
Scotland.' Neither Mr. Child nor Mr. Courthope draws the obvious
inferences from the extraordinary discrepancies in the eighteen variants.
Such essential discrepancies surely speak of a long period of oral
recitation by men or women accustomed to interpolate, alter, and add, in
the true old ballad manner. Did such rhapsodists exist after 1719? Old
Charlie, for one, did not sing or sell the old ballads. Again, if the
ballad (as it probably would be in 1719) was PRINTED, or even if it was
not, could the variations have been evolved between 1719 and 1802?
These variations are numerous, striking, and fundamental. In many variants
even the name of the heroine does not tally with that of the Russian maid
of honour. That most important and telling coincidence wholly disappears.
In a version of Motherwell's, from Dumbartonshire, the heroine is Mary
Myle. In a version known to Scott ('Minstrelsy,' 1810, iii. 89, note), the
name is Mary Miles. Mr. Child also finds Mary Mild, Mary Moil, and Lady
Maisry. This Maisry is daughter of the Duke of York! Now, the Duke of York
whom alone the Scottish people knew was James Stuart, later James II. Once
more the heroine is daughter of the Duke of Argyll, therefore a Campbell.
Or she is without patronymic, and is daughter of a lord or knight of the
North, or South, or East, and one of her sisters is a barber's wife, and
her father lives in England!—(Motherwell.) She, at least, might
invoke 'Ye mariners, mariners, mariners!' (as in Scott's first fragment)
not to carry her story. Now we ask whether, after the ringing tragedy of
Miss Hamilton in Russia, in the year of grace 1719, contemporaries who
heard the woeful tale could, between 1719 and 1820, call the heroine—(1)
Hamilton; (2) Mild, Moil, Myle, Miles; (3) make her a daughter of the Duke
of York, or of the Duke of Argyll, or of lords and of knights from all
quarters of the compass, and sister-in-law to an English barber, also one
of the Queen's 'serving-maids.' We at least cannot accept those numerous
and glittering contradictions as corruptions which could be made soon
after the Russian events, when the true old ballad style was dead.
We now produce more startling variations. The lover is not only 'the
King,' 'the Prince,' Darnley, 'the highest Stuart o' a',' but he is also
that old offender, 'Sweet Willie,' or he is Warrenston (Warriston?). Mary
is certainly not hanged (the Russian woman was beheaded) away from her
home; she dies in Edinburgh, near the Tolbooth, the Netherbow, the
O what will my three brothers say
When they COME HAME frae sea,
When they see three locks o' my yellow hair
Hinging under a gallows tree?
It is impossible here to give all the variations. Mary pulls, or does not
pull, or her lover pulls, the leaf of the Abbey, or 'savin,' or other
tree; the Queen is 'auld,' or not 'auld;' she kicks in Mary's door and
bursts the bolts, or does nothing so athletic and inconsistent with her
advanced age. The heroine does, or does not, appeal vainly to her father.
Her dress is of all varieties. She does, or does not, go to the Tolbooth
and other places. She is, or is not, allured to Edinburgh, 'a wedding for
to see.' Her infanticide is variously described, or its details are
omitted, and the dead body of the child is found in various places, or not
found at all. Though drowned in the sea, it is between the bolster and the
wall, or under the blankets! She expects, or does not expect, to be
avenged by her kin. The king is now angry, now clement—inviting Mary
to dinner! Mary is hanged, or (Buchan's MS.) is not hanged, but is
ransomed by Warrenston, probably Johnston of Warriston! These are a few
specimens of variations in point of fact: in language the variations are
practically countless. How could they arise, if the ballad is later than
We now condescend to appeal to statistics. We have examined the number of
variants published by Mr. Child in his first six volumes, on ballads which
have, or may have, an historical basis. Of course, the older and more
popular the ballads, the more variants do we expect to discover—time
and taste producing frequent changes. Well, of 'Otterburn' Mr. Child has
five versions; of the 'Hunting of the Cheviot' he has two, with minor
modifications indicated by letters from the 'lower case.' Of 'Gude
Wallace' he has eight. Of 'Johnnie Armstrong' he has three. Of 'Kinmont
Willie' he has one. Of 'The Bonnie Earl o' Moray' he has two. Of 'Johnnie
Cock' he has thirteen. Of 'Sir Patrick Spens' he has eighteen. And of 'The
Queen's Marie' (counting Burns's solitary verse and other brief fragments)
Mr. Child has eighteen versions or variants
Thus a ballad made, ex hypothesi Sharpiana, in or after 1719, has been as
much altered in oral tradition as the most popular and perhaps the oldest
historical ballad of all, 'Sir Patrick Spens,' and much more than any
other of the confessedly ancient semi-historical popular poems. The
historical event which may have suggested 'Sir Patrick Spens' is
'plausibly,' says Mr. Child, fixed in 1281: it is the marriage of Margaret
of Scotland to Eric, King of Norway. Others suggest so late a date as the
wooing of Anne of Denmark by James VI. Nothing is known. No wonder, then,
that in time an orally preserved ballad grows rich in variants. But that a
ballad of 1719 should, in eighty modern non-balladising years, become as
rich in extant variants, and far more discrepant in their details, as 'Sir
Patrick Spens' is a circumstance for which we invite explanation.
Will men say, 'The later the ballad, the more it is altered in oral
tradition'? If so, let them, by all means, produce examples! We should, on
this theory, have about a dozen 'Battles of Philiphaugh,' and at least
fifteen 'Bothwell Brigs,' a poem, by the way, much in the old manner,
prosaically applied, and so recent that, in art at least, it was produced
after the death of the Duke of Monmouth, slain, it avers, by the
machinations of Claverhouse! Of course we are not asking for exact
proportions, since many variants of ballads may be lost, but merely for
proof that, the later a ballad is, the more variants of it occur. But this
contention is probably impossible, and the numerous variations in 'The
Queen's Marie' are really a proof of long existence in oral tradition, and
contradict the theory espoused by Mr. Child, who later saw the difficulty
involved in his hypothesis.
This argument, though statistical, is, we think, conclusive, and the other
considerations which we have produced in favour of the antiquity of 'The
Queen's Marie' add their cumulative weight.
We have been, in brief, invited to suppose that, about 1719, a Scot wrote
a ballad on an event in contemporary Russian Court life; that (contrary to
use and wont) he threw the story back a century and a half; that he was a
master of an old style, in the practice of his age utterly obsolete and
not successfully imitated; that his poem became universally popular, and
underwent, in eighty years, even more vicissitudes than most other ballads
encounter in three or five centuries. Meanwhile it is certain that there
had been real ancient ballads, contemporary with the Marian events—ballads
on the very Maries two or three of whom appear in the so-called poem of
1719; while exactly the same sort of scandal as the ballad records had
actually occurred at Queen Mary's Court in a lower social rank. The theory
of Mr. Child is opposed to our whole knowledge of ballad literature, of
its age, decadence (about 1620-1700), and decease (in the old kind) as a
To agree with Mr. Child, we must not only accept one great ballad-poet,
born at least fifty years too late; we must not only admit that such a
poet would throw back his facts for a century and a half; but we must also
conceive that the balladising humour, with its ancient methods, was even
more vivacious in Scotland for many years after 1719 than, as far as we
know, it had ever been before. Yet there is no other trace known to us of
the existence of the old balladising humour and of the old art in all that
period. We have no such ballad about the English captain shot by the
writer's pretty wife, none about the bewitched son of Lord Torphichen,
none about the Old Chevalier, or Lochiel, or Prince Charlie: we have
merely Shenstone's 'Jemmy Dawson' and the Glasgow bellman's rhymed history
of Prince Charles. In fact, 'Jemmy Dawson' is a fair instantia
contradictoria as far as a ballad by a man of letters is to the point.
Such a ballad that age could indeed produce: it is not very like 'The
Queen's Marie'! No, we cannot take refuge in 'Townley's Ghost' and his
address to the Butcher Cumberland:—
Imbrued in bliss, imbathed in case,
Though now thou seem'st to lie,
My injured form shall gall thy peace,
And make thee wish to die!
THAT is a ballad of the eighteenth century, and it is not in the manner of
'The Queen's Marie.'
These considerations, now so obvious to a student of the art of old
popular poetry, if he thinks of the matter, could not occur to Charles
Kirkpatrick Sharpe. He was a great collector of ballads, but not versed
in, or interested in, their 'aesthetic'—in the history and evolution
of ballad-making. Mr. Child, on the other hand, was the Grimm or Kohler of
popular English and Scottish poetry. Our objections to his theory could
scarcely have been collected in such numbers, without the aid of his own
assortment of eighteen versions or fragments, with more lectiones variae.
But he has not allowed for the possible, the constantly occurring, chance
of coincidence between fancy and fact; nor, perhaps, has he reflected on
the changed condition of ballad poetry in the eighteenth century, on the
popular love of a new song about a new event, and on the entire lack of
evidence (as far as I am aware) for the existence of ballad-poets in the
old manner during the reign of George I. The ballad-reading public of 1719
would have revelled in a fresh ballad of a Scottish lass, recently
betrayed, tortured, and slain far away by a Russian tyrant. A fresh ballad
on Queen Mary's Court, done in the early obsolete manner, would, on the
other hand, have had comparatively little charm for the ballad-buying
lieges in 1719. The ballad-poet had thus in 1719 no temptation to be
'archaistic,' like Mr. Rossetti, and to sing of old times. He had, on the
contrary, every inducement to indite a 'rare new ballad' on the last
tragic scandal, with its poignant details, as of Peter kissing the dead
The hypothesis of Mr. Child could only be DEMONSTRATED incorrect by
proving that there was no Russian scandal at all, or by producing a
printed or manuscript copy of 'The Queen's Marie' older than 1719. We can
do neither of these things; we can only give the reader his choice of two
improbabilities—(a) that an historical event, in 1718-19, chanced to
coincide with the topic of an old ballad; (b) that, contrary to all we
know of the evolution of ballads and the state of taste, a new popular
poem on a fresh theme was composed in a style long disused,* was offered
most successfully to the public of 1719, and in not much more than half a
century was more subjected to alterations and interpolations than ballads
which for two or three hundred years had run the gauntlet of oral
*A learned Scots antiquary writes to me: 'The real ballad manner
hardly came down to 1600. It was killed by the Francis Roos version
of the Psalms, after which the Scottish folk of the Lowlands cast
everything into that mould.' I think, however, that 'Bothwell Brig' is a
true survival of the ancient style, and there are other examples, as in
the case of the ballad on Lady Warriston's husband murder.
As for our own explanation of the resemblance between the affair of Miss
Hamilton, in 1719, and the ballad story of Mary Hamilton (alias Mild,
Myle, Moil, Campbell, Miles, or Stuart, or anonymous, or Lady Maisry), we
simply, with Scott, regard it as 'a very curious coincidence.' On the
other theory, on Mr. Child's, it is also a curious coincidence that a
waiting-woman of Mary Stuart WAS hanged (not beheaded) for child-murder,
and that there WERE written, simultaneously, ballads on the Queen's
Maries. Much odder coincidences than either have often, and indisputably,
occurred, and it is not for want of instances, but for lack of space, that
we do not give examples.
Turning, now, to a genuine historic scandal of Queen Mary's reign, we find
that it might have given rise to the many varying forms of the ballad of
'The Queen's Marie.' There is, practically, no such ballad; that is, among
the many variants, we cannot say which comes nearest to the 'original' lay
of the frail maid and her doom. All the variants are full of historical
impossibilities, due to the lapses of memory and the wandering fancy of
reciters, altering and interpolating, through more than two centuries, an
original of which nothing can now be known. The fancy, if not of the first
ballad poet who dealt with a real tragic event, at least of his successors
in many corners of Scotland, raised the actors and sufferers in a sad
story, elevating a French waiting-maid to the rank of a Queen's Marie, and
her lover, a French apothecary, to the place of a queen's consort, or, at
lowest, of a Scottish laird.
At the time of the General Assembly which met on Christmas Day 1563, a
French waiting-maid of Mary Stuart, 'ane Frenche woman that servit in the
Queenis chalmer,' fell into sin 'with the Queenis awin hipoticary.' The
father and mother slew the child, and were 'dampned to be hangit upoun the
publict streit of Edinburgh.' No official report exists: 'the records of
the Court of Justiciary at this time are defective,' says Maidment, and he
conjectures that the accused may have been hanged without trial,
'redhand.' Now the Queen's apothecary must have left traces in the royal
account-books. No writer on the subject has mentioned them. I myself have
had the Records of Privy Council and the MS. Treasurer's Accounts
examined, with their statement of the expenses of the royal household. The
Rev. John Anderson was kind enough to undertake this task, though with
less leisure than he could have desired. There is, unluckily, a gap of
some months in 1563. In June 1560, Mr. Anderson finds mention of a
'medicinar,' 'apoticarre,' 'apotigar,' but no name is given, and the Queen
was then in France. One Nicholas Wardlaw of the royal household was
engaged, in 1562, to a Miss Seton of Parbroath, but it needed a special
royal messenger to bring the swain to the altar. 'Ane appotigar' of 1562
is mentioned, but not named, and we hear of Robert Henderson, chirurgeon,
who supplied powders and odours to embalm Huntley. There is no trace of
the hanging of any 'appotigar,' or of any one of the Queen's women, 'the
maidans,' spoken of collectively. So far, the search for the apothecary
has been a failure. More can be learned from Randolph's letter to Cecil
(December 31, 1563), here copied from the MS. in the Public Record Office.
The austerity of Mary's Court, under Mr. Knox, is amusingly revealed:—'For
newes yt maye please your honour to knowe that the Lord Treasurer of
Scotlande for gettinge of a woman with chylde muste vpon Sondaye nexte do
open penance before the whole congregation and mr knox mayke the sermonde.
Thys my Lord of murraye wylled me to wryte vnto you for a note of our
greate severitie in punyshynge of offenders. THE FRENCHE POTTICARIE AND
THE WOMAN HE GOTTE WITH CHYLDE WERE BOTHE HANGED THYS PRESENT FRIDAYE.
Thys hathe made myche sorrowe in our Courte. Maynie evle fortunes we have
had by our Frenche fowlkes, and yet I feare we love them over well.'
After recording the condemnation of the waiting-woman and her lover, Knox
tells a false story about 'shame hastening the marriage' of Mary
Livingstone. Dr. Robertson, in his 'Inventories of Queen Mary,' refutes
this slander, which he deems as baseless as the fables against Knox's own
continence. Knox adds: 'What bruit the Maries and the rest of the danseris
of the Courte had, the ballads of that age did witness, quhilk we for
modesteis sake omit.' Unlucky omission, unfortunate 'modestei'! From
Randolph's Letters it is known that Knox, at this date, was thundering
against 'danseris.' Here, then, is a tale of the Queen's French
waiting-woman hanged for murder, and here is proof that there actually
were ballads about the Queen's Maries. These ladies, as we know from
Keith, were, from the first, in the Queen's childhood, Mary Livingstone,
Mary Seatoun, Mary Beatoun, and Mary Fleming.
We have, then, a child-murder, by a woman of the Queen, we have ballads
about her Maries, and, as Scott says, 'the tale has suffered great
alterations, as handed down by tradition, the French waiting-woman being
changed into Mary Hamilton, and the Queen's apothecary into Henry
Darnley,' who, as Mr. Child shows, was not even in Scotland in 1563. But
gross perversion of contemporary facts does not prove a ballad to be late
or apocryphal. Mr. Child even says that accuracy in a ballad would be very
'suspicious.' Thus, for example, we know, from contemporary evidence, that
the murder of the Bonny Earl Murray, in 1592, by Huntley, was at once made
the topic of ballads. Of these, Aytoun and Mr. Child print two widely
different in details: in the first, Huntley has married Murray's sister;
in the second, Murray is the lover of the Queen of James VI. Both
statements are picturesque; but the former is certainly, and the latter is
probably, untrue. Again, 'King James and Brown,' in the Percy MS., is
accepted as a genuine contemporary ballad of the youth of gentle King
Jamie. James is herein made to say to his nobles,—
'My grandfather you have slaine,
And my own mother you hanged on a tree.'
Even if we read 'father' (against the manuscript) this is absurd. James V.
was not 'slaine,' neither Darnley nor Mary was 'hanged on a tree.' Ballads
are always inaccurate; they do not report events, so much as throw into
verse the popular impression of events, the magnified, distorted, dramatic
rumours. That a ballad-writer should promote a Queen's tirewoman into a
Queen's Marie, and substitute Darnley (where HE is the lover, which is not
always) for the Queen's apothecary, is a license quite in keeping with
precedent. Mr. Child, obviously, would admit this. In producing a Marie
who never existed, the 'maker' shows the same delicacy as Voltaire, when
he brings into 'Candide' a Pope who never was born.
Finally, a fragment of a variant of the ballad among the Abbotsford MSS.*
does mention an apothecary as the lover of the heroine, and, so far, is
true to historical fact, whether the author was well informed, or merely,
in the multitude of variations, deviated by chance into truth.
There can, on the whole, be no reasonable doubt that the ballad is on an
event in Scotland of 1563, not of 1719, in Russia, and Mr. Child came to
hold that this opinion was, at least, the more probable.**
*Child, vol. iv. p. 509.
**Ibid., vol. v. pp. 298, 299.