The Douglas Tragedy There are here put in juxtaposition three versions in ballad-form of the same story, though fragmentary in the two latter cases, not only because each is good, but to show the possibilities of variation in a popular story. There is yet another ballad, Erlinton, printed by Sir Walter Scott in the Minstrelsy, embodying an almost identical tale. Earl Brand preserves most of the features of a very ancient story with more exactitude than any other traditional ballad. But in this case, as in too many others, we must turn to a Scandinavian ballad for the complete form of the story. A Danish ballad, Ribold and Guldborg, gives the fine tale thus:--

Ribold, a king's son, in love with Guldborg, offers to carry her away 'to a land where death and sorrow come not, where all the birds are cuckoos, where all the grass is leeks, where all the streams run with wine.' Guldborg is willing, but doubts whether she can escape the strict watch kept over her by her family and by her betrothed lover. Ribold disguises her in his armour and a cloak, and they ride away. On the moor they meet an earl, who asks, 'Whither away?' Ribold answers that he is taking his youngest sister from a cloister. This does not deceive the earl, nor does a bribe close his mouth; and Guldborg's father, learning that she is away with Ribold, rides with his sons in pursuit. Ribold bids Guldborg hold his horse, and prepares to fight; he tells her that, whatever may chance, she must not call on him by name. Ribold slays her father and some of her kin and six of her brothers; only her youngest brother is left: Guldborg cries, 'Ribold, spare him,' that he may carry tidings to her mother. Immediately Ribold receives a mortal wound. He ceases fighting, sheathes his sword, and says to her, 'Wilt thou go home to thy mother again, or wilt thou follow so sad a swain?' And she says she will follow him. In silence they ride on. 'Why art not thou merry as before?' asks Guldborg. And Ribold answers, 'Thy brother's sword has been in my heart.' They reach his house: he calls for one to take his horse, another to fetch a priest; for his brother shall have Guldborg. But she refuses. That night dies Ribold, and Guldborg slays herself and dies in his arms.

A second and even more dramatic ballad, Hildebrand and Hilde, tells a similar story.

The Douglas Tragedy, a beautiful but fragmentary version, is, says Scott, 'one of the few to which popular tradition has ascribed complete locality.' The ascribed locality, if more complete, is no more probable than any other: to ascribe any definite locality to a ballad is in all cases a waste of time and labour.


(From Scott's Minstrelsy)

'Rise up, rise up now, Lord Douglas,' she says,
'And put on your armour so bright;
Let it never be said that a daughter of thine
Was married to a lord under night.

'Rise up, rise up, my seven bold sons,
And put on your armour so bright;
And take better care of your youngest sister,
For your eldest's awa' the last night!'

He's mounted her on a milk-white steed,
And himself on a dapple grey,
With a bugelet horn hung down by his side,
And lightly they rode away.

Lord William lookit o'er his left shoulder,
To see what he could see,
And there he spy'd her seven brethren bold
Come riding over the lee.

'Light down, light down, Lady Margret,' he said,
'And hold my steed in your hand,
Until that against your seven brethren bold,
And your father, I mak' a stand.'

She held his steed in her milk-white hand,
And never shed one tear,
Until that she saw her seven brethren fa',
And her father hard fighting, who lov'd her so dear.

'O hold your hand, Lord William!' she said,
'For your strokes they are wondrous sair;
True lovers I can get many a ane,
But a father I can never get mair.'

O she's ta'en out her handkerchief,
It was o' the holland sae fine,
And aye she dighted her father's bloody wounds,
That were redder than the wine.

'O chuse, O chuse, Lady Margret,' he said,
'O whether will ye gang or bide?'
'I'll gang, I'll gang, Lord William,' she said,
'For ye have left me no other guide.'

He's lifted her on a milk-white steed,
And himself on a dapple grey,
With a bugelet horn hung down by his side,
And slowly they baith rade away.

O they rade on, and on they rade,
And a' by the light of the moon,
Until they came to yon wan water,
And there they lighted down.

They lighted down to tak' a drink
Of the spring that ran sae clear:
And down the stream ran his gude heart's blood,
And sair she gan to fear.

'Hold up, hold up, Lord William,' she says,
'For I fear that you are slain!'
''Tis naething but the shadow of my scarlet cloak,
That shines in the water sae plain.'

O they rade on, and on they rade,
And a' by the light of the moon,
Until they cam' to his mother's ha' door,
And there they lighted down.

'Get up, get up, lady mother,' he says,
'Get up, and let me in!
Get up, get up, lady mother,' he says,
'For this night my fair ladye I've win.

'O mak' my bed, lady mother,' he says,
'O mak' it braid and deep,
And lay Lady Margret close at my back,
And the sounder I will sleep.'

Lord William was dead lang ere midnight,
Lady Margret lang ere day,
And all true lovers that go thegither,
May they have mair luck than they!

Lord William was buried in St. Mary's kirk,
Lady Margret in Mary's quire;
Out o' the lady's grave grew a bonny red rose,
And out o' the knight's a briar.

And they twa met, and they twa plat,
And fain they wad be near;
And a' the warld might ken right weel,
They were twa lovers dear.

But bye and rade the Black Douglas,
And wow but he was rough!
For he pull'd up the bonny brier,
And flang't in St. Mary's Loch.

The Douglas Tragedy by Frank Sidgwick