Percy's Reliques - Sir Patrick Spence.

Sir Patrick Spence.


            This piece is given from two manuscript copies transmitted from Scotland. In what age the hero of this ballad lived, or when this fatal expedition happened that proved so destructive to the Scots nobles, I have not been able to discover; yet am of opinion, that their catastrophe is not altogether without foundation in history, though it has escaped my own researches. In the infancy of navigation, such as used the northern seas were liable to shipwreck in the wintry months: hence a law was enacted in the reign of James the Third (a law which was frequently repeated afterwards) "That there be na schip frauched out of the realm with any staple gudes, fra the feast of Simons day and Jude, unto the feast of the purification of our Lady called Candlemess."-- Jam. III. Part. 2. ch. 15.

            In some modern copies, instead of Patrick Spence hath been substituted the name of Sir Andrew Wood, a famous Scottish admiral who flourished in the time of our Edward IV., but whose story hath nothing in common with this of the ballad. As Wood was the most noted warrior of Scotland, it is probable that, like the Theban Hercules, he hath engrossed the renown of other heroes.

THE king sits in Dumferling toune,
Drinking the blude-reid wine:
"O quhar will I get guid sailor,
To sail this schip of mine?"

Up and spak an eldern knicht,
Sat at the kings richt kne:
"Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailòr,
That sails upon the se."

The king has written a braid letter,[ 1]
And signd it wi' his hand
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,
Was walking on the sand.

The first line that Sir Patrick red,
A loud lauch lauched he:
The next line that Sir Patrick red,
The teir blinded his ee.

"O quha is this has don this deid,
This ill deid don to me;
To send me out this time o' the
To sail upon the se?

"Mak haste, mak haste, my mirry men all,
Our guid schip sails the morne."
"O say na sae, my master deir,
For I feir a deadlie storme.

"Late late yestreen I saw the new moone
Wi' the auld moone in hir arme;
And I feir, I feir, my deir mastèr,
That we will com to harme."

O our Scots nobles wer richt laith
To weet their cork-heild schoone
Bot lang owre a' the play wer playd,
Thair hats they swam aboone.

O lang, lang, may thair ladies sit
Wi' thair fans into their hand,
Or eir they se Sir Patrick Spence
Cum sailing to the land.

O lang, lang, may the ladies stand
Wi' thair gold kems in their hair,
Waiting for thair ain deir lords,
For they'll se thame na mair.

Have owre, have owre to Aberdour,[ 2]
It's fiftie fadom deip:
And thair lies guid Sir Patrick Spence,
Wi' the Scots lords at his feit.[ 3]


1. "A braid letter," i.e. open, or patent; in opposition to close rolls.

2. A village lying upon the river Forth, the entrance to which is sometimes denominated De mortuo mari.

3. An ingenious friend thinks the author of Hardyknute has borrowed several expressions and sentiments from the foregoing, and other old Scottish songs in this collection.


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