Popular Ballads of the Olden Time

The following is from Popular Ballads of the Olden Time: Third Series - Ballads of Scottish Tradition and Romance Selected and Edited by Frank Sidgwick:

Captain Car

The Text is from a Cottonian MS. of the sixteenth century in the British Museum (Vesp. A. xxv. fol. 178). It is carelessly written, and words are here and there deleted and altered. I have allowed myself the liberty of choosing readings from several alternatives or possibilities.

The Story--There seems to be no doubt that this ballad is founded upon an historical incident of 1571. The Scottish variants are mostly called Edom o' Gordon, i.e. Adam Gordon, who was brother to George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. Adam was a bold soldier; and, his clan being at variance with the Forbeses--on religious grounds,--he encountered them twice in the autumn of 1571, and inflicted severe defeat on them at the battles of Tuiliangus and Crabstane. In November he approached the castle of Towie, a stronghold of the Forbes clan; but the lady occupying it obstinately refused to yield it up, and it was burnt to the ground.

It is not clear whether the responsibility of giving the order to fire the castle attaches to Adam Gordon or to Captain Car or Ker, who was Adam's right-hand man. But when all is said on either side, it is irrational, as Child points out, to apply modern standards of morality or expediency to sixteenth-century warfare. It is curious that this text, almost contemporary with the occurrence which gave rise to the ballad, should be wholly concerned with Captain Car and make no mention of Adam Gordon.

For the burden, see Chappell Popular Music of the Olden Time, i. 226.

It befell at Martynmas,
  When wether waxed colde,
Captaine Care said to his men,
  'We must go take a holde.'

Syck, sicke, and to-towe sike,              ['to-towe' = too-too]
  And sicke and like to die;
The sikest nighte that ever I abode,
  God lord have mercy on me!

'Haille, master, and wether you will,
  And wether ye like it best;'
'To the castle of Crecrynbroghe,
  And there we will take our reste.'

'I knowe wher is a gay castle,
  Is builded of lyme and stone;
Within their is a gay ladie,
  Her lord is riden and gone.'

The ladie she lend on her castle-walle,
  She loked upp and downe;
There was she ware of an host of men,
  Come riding to the towne.

'Se yow, my meri men all,
  And se yow what I see?
Yonder I see an host of men,
  I muse who they bee.'

She thought he had ben her wed lord,
  As he com'd riding home;
Then was it traitur Captaine Care
  The lord of Ester-towne.

They wer no soner at supper sett,
  Then after said the grace,
Or Captaine Care and all his men
  Wer lighte aboute the place.

'Gyve over thi howsse, thou lady gay,
  And I will make the a bande;                       ['bande,' bond, compact]
To-nighte thou shall ly within my armes,
  To-morrowe thou shall ere my lande.'           ['ere,' plough]

Then bespacke the eldest sonne,
  That was both whitt and redde:
'O mother dere, geve over your howsse,
  Or elles we shalbe deade.'

'I will not geve over my hous,' she saithe,
  'Not for feare of my lyffe;
It shalbe talked throughout the land,
  The slaughter of a wyffe.'

'Fetch me my pestilett,                        ['pestilett,' pistolet]
  And charge me my gonne,
That I may shott at yonder bloddy butcher,
  The lord of Easter-towne.'

Styfly upon her wall she stode,
  And lett the pellettes flee;
But then she myst the blody bucher,
  And she slew other three.

['I will] not geve over my hous,' she saithe,
  'Netheir for lord nor lowne;
Nor yet for traitour Captain Care,
  The lord of Easter-towne.

'I desire of Captine Care
  And all his bloddye band,
That he would save my eldest sonne,
  The eare of all my lande.'                  ['eare,' and 18.4 'ayre,' both = heir]

'Lap him in a shete,' he sayth,
  'And let him downe to me,
And I shall take him in my armes,
  His waran shall I be.'

The captayne sayd unto him selfe:
  Wyth sped, before the rest,
He cut his tonge out of his head,
  His hart out of his breast.

He lapt them in a handkerchef,
  And knet it of knotes three,
And cast them over the castell-wall,
  At that gay ladye.

'Fye upon the, Captayne Care,
  And all thy bloddy band!
For thou hast slayne my eldest sonne,
 The ayre of all my land.'

Then bespake the yongest sonne,
  That sat on the nurse's knee,
Sayth, 'Mother gay, geve over your house;
  It smoldereth me.'

'I wold geve my gold,' she saith,
  'And so I wolde my ffee,
For a blaste of the westryn wind,
  To dryve the smoke from thee.

'Fy upon the, John Hamleton,
  That ever I paid the hyre!
For thou hast broken my castle-wall,
  And kyndled in the ffyre.'

The lady gate to her close parler,
  The fire fell aboute her head;
She toke up her children thre,
  Seth, 'Babes, we are all dead.'

Then bespake the hye steward,
  That is of hye degree;
Saith, 'Ladie gay, you are in close,
  Wether ye fighte or flee.'

Lord Hamleton drem'd in his dream,
  In Carvall where he laye,
His halle were all of fyre,
  His ladie slayne or daye.

'Busk and bowne, my mery men all,               ['Busk and bowne,' make ready]
  Even and go ye with me;
For I drem'd that my hall was on fyre,
  My lady slayne or day.'

He buskt him and bown'd hym,
  And like a worthi knighte;
And when he saw his hall burning,
  His harte was no dele lighte. ['no dele,' in no way. Cf. somedele, etc]

He sett a trumpett till his mouth,
  He blew as it ples'd his grace;
Twenty score of Hamlentons
  Was light aboute the place.

'Had I knowne as much yesternighte
  As I do to-daye,
Captaine Care and all his men
  Should not have gone so quite.                     ['quite,' acquitted, unpunished]

'Fye upon the, Captaine Care,
  And all thy blody bande!
Thou haste slayne my lady gay,
  More wurth then all thy lande.

'If thou had ought eny ill will,' he saith,         ['ought,' owed]
  'Thou shoulde have taken my lyffe,
And have saved my children thre,
  All and my lovesome wyffe.'

Sir Patrick Spence

Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2016