Ballad Analysis · Blog Post · Folk Music

Who was the hero of Glenlogie?

Sketch of Glenbucket (author unknown)

After hearing Alistair Hulett sing Glenlogie as part of a 1984 concert in Sydney, I made a recording myself. The MainlyNorfolk page for the ballad references the collected singing by John Strachan of Fyvie in 1951 as the earliest version from the living tradition. John was recorded by Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson in Aberdeenshire.

Ewan MacColl makes mention that there was a recording as early as 1768. For my recording I used the words from the 1904 English and Scottish popular ballads, derived from Francis Child’s work. I suspect this book is where MacColl got his information as the introduction to the ballad mentions the 1768 version from the Percy papers, but suggests that it has been modified.

I have used the ‘A’ version for my recording, however, Verse 4 is missing the start to each line, so I have taken a few verses from the ‘B’ version to try and make the story coherent.

Is it based on a true story?

What most interests me for the purpose of this blog post is the suggestion that the ballad might be based on a true story. After my recording I did quick search for John Gordons who married a Jane/Jean around the time this ballad was first recorded.

I found that John Gordon (1599-1634), 1st Viscount of Kenmure, married a Jane Campbell around 1626. Unfortunately a birth date for Jane is not given, so it is hard to verify the ’15 years old’ claim in the ballad. In some versions Jean/Jane is a Gordon, but in most she is not.

Stacking up the evidence

Going back to Francis Child, this ballad appears in Volume 4, from 1860. This versions names Glenlogie and Drumlie as the alternate fiancé for Jean. It doesn’t say which hall/town Glenlogie has come to.

In Peter Buchan’s 1828 Ancient Ballads and songs of the North of Scotland the title is given as ‘Jean o’ Bethelnie’s Love for Sir G. Gordon’. In this version Bethelnie is mentioned as the place where Jean lives. Bethelnie is not clearly located on Google maps, but seems to be near Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire. The group of men rides through Banchory fair (also in Aberdeenshire). In this version Glenlogie is a Gordon named Sir George. The alternate spouse is Dumfedline. There is a verse in this version which strongly reminds me of Child #239 (Lord Saltoun and Auchanachie), which is also about a Jeannie.

Ye’ll show me the chamber. Where Jeannie does lay.

In fact, there are so many similarities in the version that I recorded (e.g. mother and father calling Jeannie a whore), that I suspect maybe a singer (or broadside hack) has mashed these two ballads together at some point.

Buchan gives notes on the Sir George Gordon ballad, saying that the story relates to 1562 when Queen Mary spent time in the North of Scotland with her entourage, which was when Jean (daughter of Baron Meldrum) saw George. The notes also put Jean’s age at the time of marriage as 15. Unfortunately none of the Earl of Huntly Gordons seem to have married a Jean/Jane within the relevant time period for this Queen Mary story to be corroborated. A review of several recent and contemporary biographies of Mary Queen of Scots turned up no references to Meldrum or a Jane Meldrum (or Melville).

Across the variants that Child includes, sometimes Jeanie is ‘Jean Melville, 16 or 17’, sometimes Glenlogie is ‘Earl Ogie’ .

The goings on of the peerage of Scotland are very well documented, as shown in John Spalding’s 1792 volume covering 1624 until 1645. Down to each daughter married and the dowry (toucher) paid; for example:

Upon Wednesday the 28th of November (1632) in the afternoon, the lord of Strathbrane, otherwise called the master of Abercorn, was married with lady Jean Gordon, the marquis’ youngest daughter, within the kirk of Belly, by an Irish minister brought with him of purpose ; they were honourably entertained within the Bog, and within few days departed home. (John Spalding, 1792)

If there was a real ‘Jean’ who married a George/John Gordon, then there would likely be  a record, along with the story if the circumstances were scandalous.

Robert Chambers’ 1829, The Scottish Ballads includes Glenlogie, but while it has much to say about other ballads with an historical connection, it is completely silent on this one. Alexander Whitelaw, in 1875, includes two distinct variants in The Book of Scottish Ballads, dated 1824.

In the more recently published The Glenbuchat Ballads by David Buchan and James Moreira in 2007, it is stated that Alexander Keith links the hero of Glenlogie to a Glenbuchat Gordon.

John Gordon of Glenbucket (1673-1750) is candidate for the ballad, having married a Jean and being famous enough in the Jacobite wars to warrant having a ballad written about him. Being from Aberdeenshire puts him closer to Bethelnie than the Kenmure Gordons.

In another blow to any hopes of confirming an historical basis for this ballad, Rev. John Grant Mitchie gives a comprehensive history of Logie-Coldstone in 1896. There are several John and George Gordon’s and many songs and ballads referenced, but no sign of a Jean or Glenlogie.


The sad conclusion here, pending any further sources, is that this ballad probably does not relate to real events, but does use places and names that would be familiar to the intended audience.

This begs the question, what was the ballad written for and by who? This is not answerable on the evidence that we have, but the ballad is possibly from two times of upheaval in the United Kingdom, the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1567, and the Jacobite (followers of James II of England and VII of Scotland) uprising in 1689.

Could it have been English propaganda after the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie to reclaim the Scottish throne with his flight to France in 1746? Attacks on the Scottish approach to marriage were a part of the material used in England to discredit them (and drum up support for campaigns against them).

Ballad Analysis · Blog Post

Ossian’s Cave Mystery

Anne Murray Keith

This month I have been digging through the Bodleian Library archive of Broadside ballads. While looking for songs with a Halloween theme, I found this one called Oscar’s Ghost.

This ballad only appears once in the archive, on a sheet of several Scottish songs. The lyrics that appear on the sheet are:


OSCAR'S GHOST A favourite Scottish song.

O see that form that faintly gleams!
Tis  Oscar come to cheer my dreams;
On wings of wind he flies away,
O stay my lovely Oscar, stay!

Wake Ossian, last of Fingal’s line,
And mix thy sighs and tears with mine. 
Awake the Harp to doleful lays, 
And soothe my soul with Oscar's praise.

The Shell is ceas'd in Oscar's hall.
Since gloomy Cairbar wrought thy fall:
The roe on Morven lightly bounds,
Nor hears the cry of Oscar's hounds.

The broadsheet gives no author or context to the song.

A google search for parts of the lyrics led to the 1843, slightly pretentiously titled, book, ‘The Book of Scottish Song’ by Alexander Whitelaw. In this book the song is attributed to Anne Murray Keith. And the lyrics are given as:


O, SEE that form that faintly gleams! 
'Tis Oscar come to cheer my dreams! 
On wings of wind he files away;
O stay, my lovely Oscar, stay !

Wake, Ossian, last of Fingal's line. 
And mix thy tears and sighs with mine;
Awake the harp to doleful lays.
And soothe my soul with Oscar's praise.

The shell is ceased in Oscar's hall. 
Since gloomy Kerbar wrought his fall; 
The roe on Morven lightly bounds, 
Nor hears the cry of Oscar's hounds.


The only difference from the broadside is the spelling of ‘Kerbar’ and some minor grammatical changes. The description of the song links Anne Keith to Sir Walter Scott and says that she lived from 1736 until 1818.

William Gilpin, a priest, published a tourist guide which included a visit to Dunkeld in Scotland that took place in 1776 (published in 1789). Gilpin describes a visit to Ossian’s cave (which he calls a Hermitage), where he found the following inscription:


Oh! see the form, which faintly gleams:
Tis Oscar, come to cheer my dreams, 
On wreaths of mist it glides away:
Oh! Stay, my lovely Oscar, stay.

Awake the harp to doleful lays,
And soothe my soul with Oscar's praise. 
Wake, Oscian, last of Fingal's line;
And mix thy sighs, and tears with mine.

The shell is ceased in Oscar's hall,
Since gloomy Cairbar saw thee fall.
The roe o'er Morven playful bounds,
Nor fears the cry of Oscar's hounds.

Thy four grey stones the hunter spies, 
Peace to the hero's ghost he cries.


These are the lyrics I used for my recording.

Modern tourist guides to Ossians Cave indicate that the existence of the inscription is known, but that it is no longer there. The addition of a final half-stanza and (to my mind) more poetic language in the inscription may suggest that the version in the 1843 was an attempt to recall something heard or read before and the inscription is the original.

The song is undoubtedly about the Poems of Ossian, by James Macpherson. With the characters of Oscar, Ossian and Fingal all parts of what is now mostly accepted as a work of re-imagined Celtic mythology. The entry at the top of this page clearly inspires the final half-stanza about grey stones and hunters:

If fall I must in the field, raise high my grave, Vinvela. Grey stones, and heaped-up earth,
shall mark me to future times. When the hunter shall sit by the mound, and produce his food at noon,
“Some warrior rests here,” he will say ; and my fame shall live in his praise. Remember me, Vinvela, when low on earth I lie.

– (Fingal, James Macpherson, 1762)

The controversy around Fingal and James Macpherson is a whole different subject, but it appears that he presented the 1762 publication as a work of scholarly translation from Gaelic, rather than a work of pure invention.

There is a tantalizing inference here (no longer online, but cached by Google) in a summary of the Keith ancestry, that Anne had converted much more of Ossian into verse.

Sir Walter Scott told me that Miss Anne Keith amused herself in the latter years of her life by translating Macpherson’s "Ossian" into verse.’ 
She was the authoress also of a song entitled ‘Oscar’s Ghost,’ inserted in Johnson’s ‘Scots’ Musical Museum.’

Anne would have been 40 by 1776 and would have been able to read Fingal when she was 26. Had she began composing poems inspired by Ossian and at some point and graffitied one of them during a pilgrimage to Ossian’s Cave?

The Keith family record also suggests that Walter Scott based his story ‘The Highland Window’ on stories he had been told by Anne and that she was the model for Bethune Baliol.

One of the interesting aspects of these multiple versions is that the spellings of Cairbrie are so different.  Macpherson was clearly using known Gaelic historical/mythical figures, but ‘Kerbar’ suggests an attempt to write an unfamiliar word phonetically and ‘Cairbar’ suggests someone who has read Cairbre in Fingal, but forgotten how to spell it.

Here is a portrait of Anne, etched by Samuel Freeman based on a miniature by Anne Mee.

There is a good chance that other poems and songs by Anne, based on Ossian exist somewhere.