Sir Patrick Spens

Jock Duncan: On Autumn Harvest ah08: Old Songs & Bothy Ballads: There's Bound to be a Row. Recorded at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2009.

The King of Scotland calls for the greatest sailor in the land to command a ship for a royal errand. The name of Sir Patrick Spens is mentioned by a courtier and the king despatches a letter. Although he is honoured to receive a royal commission, Sir Patrick is dismayed at being put to sea in the dead of winter, clearly realising this voyage could well be his last. Versions differ somewhat at this point. Some indicate that a storm sank the ship in the initial crossing, thus ending the ballad at this point, while others have Sir Patrick safely reaching Norway. In Norway tension arises between the Norwegian lords and the Scots, who are accused of being a financial burden on the king. Sir Patrick, taking offense, leaves the following day. Nearly all versions, whether they have the wreck on the outward voyage or the return, relate the bad omen of seeing "the new moon late yestreen, with the auld moon in her arms", and modern science agrees the tides would be at maximum force at that time. The winter storms defeat Sir Patrick sending him and the Scottish lords to the bottom of the sea.

The ballad (Child 58) has often been printed in one form or another but has not often been collected as a sung ballad. Jock learned his version from Duncan Williamson.

The events of the ballad (Child 58) appear to have muddled together two actual events. The daughter of Scots King Alexander III was married in 1281 to Eric, King of Norway and, in August of that year, was conducted across to her new husband in Norway. On the return journey one of the ships foundered and many Scots knights and nobles were drowned. Eric's Queen Margaret died in 1283 leaving a newly born daughter also Margaret. In 1286 the Scots King Alexander III died in a fall from his horse and the crown fell to the young grandaughter. A match was proposed between this Princess Margaret, the Maid of Norway, and the eldest son of Edward I of England. In 1290 a deputation was sent to Norway to bring home the young Princess but she died on the way before reaching Scotland.

1: The king sits in Dunfermline Toun,
Drinkin his bleed reid wine;
Spierin, "Far will I get a skeely skipper,
That'll sail the saut seas fine?"

2: Up did speak an eldren knight,
An sat at the king's richt knee;
"O Sir Patrick Spens is the finest skipper,
That ever sailed the saut sea."

3: The king then wrote a braid letter,
And sent it wi his richt hand,
And he sent it tae Sir Patrick Spens,
Fen he wis sailin on the strand.

4: O the firstan lines Sir Patrick read,
A licht, licht lauch gar'd he;
But it's when he read it tae the end,
Weel a saut tear blins his ee.

5: "O oor guid ship sails the morn," he cried,
"And likewise say maun ee;
And aa the way wi the king's daughter,
O a chosen queen is she."

6: They hoisted their sails on a Monanday morn,
Wi aa the haste that they could;
When they landed up in Noroway,
Afore the Wedenesday.

7: I hae taen her dowry in the kist,
As I wis socht tae dee;
As weel's a boy a gweed reid wine,
Aa ower the sea wi me.

8: "Noo mak ready, mak ready," Sir Patrick cried,
"O oor gweed ship sails back the morn."
"Hold on, hold on," his captain cried,
"I'm feared o a deidly storm."
9: "For I saw the new meen yesterstreen,
Wi the auld meen in her airm,
And if we gang tae sea the morn,
O I'm feared we'll come tae hairm."

10: We hadna sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three;
When the sky grew mirk and the wind blew strang,
And gurly grew the sea.

11: The anchors brak and the topmast lap,
'Twas sic a deidly storm;
And the waves gaed ower the broken ship,
Till aa her sides were torn.

12: O laith, o laith were oor guid Scots lords,
Tae weet their cork-heeled sheen;
But lang or lang e'er nicht cam doun,
Weel they wat their bonnets abeen.

13: Now half way ower tae Aberdour,
Tis forty fathoms deep;
And there does lie Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi the Scots lords at his feet.

14: O lang, o lang may the maidens greet,
Wi gowd kames in their hair;
A-waitin for their ain true loves,
For them that they'll see nae mair.

15: O lang, o lang will the ladies sit,
Wait with fans in hand;
Lookin for Sir Patrick Spens,
Tae come sailin up the strand.

c p 2010 Autumn Harvest :