Friday, April 24, 2015

A Wee, Bitty History Lesson


It was, I'll admit, only a matter of time before I composed a poem in Scots - or at least, imitation Scots. I've always rather enjoyed writing in it. There is something very satisfying in the sturdy old words, and the way they change the tempo of the writing. I am surprised I managed to get so far before succumbing to the temptation.

But today's prompt was "history" - which is another one of those prompts that is almost too much prompt. For a while, I considered writing something both comic and heroic about Mad Jack Churchill, because, let's face it, there is great scope for poetry in a man who takes out German sentries with arrows, and used a basket-hilted claymore on D-Day. But it just wasn't clicking for me. So I cast my mind about my mental library of historical trivia (I refuse to refer to it is a mind palace.) and dug up a story from Scottish history - the story of how Lady Maxwell of Nithsdale smuggled her husband out of the Tower of London on the eve of his execution. It is proper ballad material, and I have attempted a Scottish ballad of it. I have also taken the balladeer's prerogative of heightening the drama. I have Lady Maxwell rescuing her husband all on her own, but in reality, she had her faithful lady's maid and two friends to help with the proceedings. However, the bit at the end: King George really did say something quite like that about her - that she had given him more trouble  than any woman in Christendom.


When Jamie's Cause was lost at Preston,
King Geordie's men had put us doon,
They captured gallant Willie Maxwell,
An sent the laird tae London toon.

Nae trail for Laird Willie bold
But condemn├ęd oot o haund
Tae the gallaws an the noose
Far frae his ain dear Scottish laund.

When his Lady heard the news,
Nae tear shed she, but saddled her steed
An straight awa tae London toon
She rade wi muckle haste an speed.

An when she came intae the toon,
She gaed at aince to King Geordie,
An begged that he would gie a pardon
Tae her ain dear laird, Willie.

But mercy he swore he wouldna gie
An the Lady drove awa - 
Willie Maxwell was like tae hang
There seemed tae be nae hope at a.

But Lady Maxwell was brave an canty,
At aince began tae plot an plan
How tae rescue Willie bold
An get him safe oot o' England.

She bribed the guards wi siller bricht
An wine, that she micht Willie see
She told him a her desperate plan,
Tae get him oot and set him free.

The nicht afore he was tae die,
Lady Maxwell gaed tae Willie's room
Wi a great red riding cloak
An ladies' claes, tae put him on.

A muckle mon was Willie Maxwell,
But he wept sae like a maid in wae
An his beard hidden by a claith,
The guards, for pity, let him gae

She got him oot o London Tower,
An got him doon unto the sea
An tae a ship that lay at anchor
An was bound for Italy

When that he had heard the news,
King Geordie, he did rant and rave,
Said the Lady had caused mair trouble
Than a hunner-thoosand aither knaves.

Lady Maxwell's nae at hame,
She has gaed far ower the sea
An she bides in Roma fair,
Will her gallant Laird Willie.

And I shall close with this link to Lady Maxwell's very matter of fact account of the proceedings. It is well worth the read.