> Folk Music > Songs > Flodden Field / The Flowers of the Forest

Flodden Field / The Flowers of the Forest

[ Roud 3812 , V30014 ; Ballad Index BdFlOTF ; Mudcat 154641 ; Jean Elliot]

David Herd: Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. Sir Walter Scott: Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border

Flowers of the Forest is a Scottish tune and work of war poetry commemorating the defeat of the Scottish army of James IV at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. “The Forest” was a district and Royal forest comprising Selkirkshire (alternatively known as Ettrick Forest or the Shire of the Forest), large parts of Peeblesshire and parts of Clydesdale, known for its archers. The archers of Ettrick Forest earned the epithet “Flowers of the Forest” at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, and formed the bodyguard of King James IV at Flodden, where their corpses were found surrounding their dead monarch.

Although the original words are unknown, the melody was recorded c. 1615–1625 in the John Skene of Halyards Manuscript as Flowres of the Forrest; it might have been composed earlier. [Wikipedia]

Several versions of words have been added to the tune, notably Alison Cockburn's lyrics, published in 1765 but said to be written in 1731, and Jean Elliot's lyrics in 1756 or 1758. Flodden-Field in David Herd's 1776 book Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. includes Elliot's lyrics from verse 17 on.

Fairport Convention sang Flowers of the Forest on their 1970 album Full House. A 1976 live recording on STV, Scotland, was included in 2017 on their anthology Come All Ye: The First Ten Years. A Deceber 1977 London live recording was included in 2002 on their Free Reed anthology Fairport unConventioNal. A 1984 Cropredy live performance was included in the following yeat on their cassette The Boot.

Barbara Dickson sang The Flowers o' the Forest in 1979 on her, Archie Fisher's and John MacKinnon's album of songs of the Jacobite Rebellion, The Fate o' Charlie.

Strawhead sang Flooden Field / Flowers of the Forest in 1980 on their Traditional Sound album Songs from the Book of England. Their version comprises 14 of the 26 verses from David Herd's Flodden-Field.

Dick Gaughan sang Floo'ers o the Forest in 1982 on his and Andy Irvine's album Parallel Lines. This track was also included in 2002 on his Greentrax anthology Prentice Piece.

Ray Fisher sang The Floor'ers o' the Forest in 1991 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. She noted:

This much loved and internationally recognised lament was written by Miss Jane Elliot, sister of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Border area, and was published anonymously about 1755. The ‘Forest’ of the song is not the generally accepted term for a large area of trees, but is, in fact, the name given to the region that comprises of Selkirkshire, parts of Peeblesshire and even Clydesdale.

The Cast (Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis) sang Flowers of the Forest in 1993 on their Culburnie CD The Winnowing. They noted:

[Jean Elliot's] lyric grieves for the 12,000 Scots who died in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden, a battle prompted more by obligations to continental alliances than traditional enmity with England. For a small country like Scotland the cultural and economic consequences of such a loss were incalculable. The emotions described in the song are universal, and resonate throughout our own century.

Isla St Clair sang The Flowers of the Forest in 1993 on her CD Inheritance and in 1998 on her CD When the Pipers Play. She noted:

In one of the bloodiest battles ever fought between the two nations, the huge armies of Scotland and England met on the border grasslands of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Led by their chivalrous King, James IV, the Scots suffered dreadfully as a series of tactical errors allowed the English army, led by the wily Earl of Surrey, to outflank and destroy them. In the awful carnage of battle King James himself was slain alongside many noblemen from great Scottish families. Among the dead were twelve Earls, thirteen Lords and almost countless Gentlemen of Birth as scarcely a family of note did not sacrify a member that day. Scottish dead numbered some 10,000 men. The suffering and loss to the country's fabric was inestimable in the bleak aftermath as so many of rank, education and nobility had fallen. The ancient air, The Flowers of the Forest. relates specifically to the decimated male population of Ettrick Forest and the surrounding area, however it is also a beautiful elegy to all Scots who died so bravely on the field of Flodden. The eighteenth century lyrics were composed by Lady Jean Elliot, daughter of the then Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, following an earlier, shorter version by Mrs Patrick Cockburn [Alison Rutherford].

Jane Threlfall and Carl Hogsden sang Flowers of the Forest on their 1996 CD Who?.

Norman Kennedy sang The Flooers o the Forest at a Folk Song Society of Greater Boston concert held at the First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist Church on 23 October 1999. This concert's recording was released in 2004 on his Autumn Harvest CD I Little Thocht My Love Wid Leave Me.

Wendy Stewart played the tune of Flowres of the Forest in 2003 on her Greentrax CD Standing Wave.

Paul Anderson played the tune of The Flooers o' the Forest on his 2013 CD Land of the Standing Stones.

Lori Watson sang Flooers o the Forest on her 29 November 2017 Yarrow Acoustic Session. This was also included in the following year on her same-named CD Yarrow Acoustic Sessions.

See also F.W. Moorman's Yorkshire poem The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest as sung by e.g. Lal and Norma Waterson.

Lyrics

The Flowers of the Forest by Jean Eliot

I’ve heard them lilting at our ewe-milking,
Lasses a-lilting before the dawn of day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning–
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At bughts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning,
The lasses are lonely, and dowie, and wae;
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighing and sabbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin and hies her away.

In har’st, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
Bandsters are lyart, and runkled, and gray;
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing nae fleeching–
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae younkers are roaming
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play;
But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie–
The Flowers of the Forest are weded away.

Dool and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day;
The Flowers of the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land, are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hear nae mair lilting at our ewe-milking;
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning on ilka green loaning–
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

Strawhead sing Flodden Field / Flowers of the Forest

From Spey to the border, was peace and good order,
The sway of our monarch was mild as the may,
Peace he adored, which the English abhorred,
Our marches they plunder, our wardens they slay.

‘Gainst Louis our ally their Henry did sally
Though James but in vain did his herald advance
Renouncing alliance and announcing defiance
To Soudrons if longer abiding in France.

England's invasion it was our persuasion
To make restitution for their cruelty
But O fatal Flodden there came a woe down
And our royal nation was brought to decay.

The flowers of the nation were called to their station,
With valiant inclination their banner to display
To Burrow-Muir resorting, their right for supporting,
And there rendezvousing, encamped did lay.

The English advanced to where they were stanced;
Half-intrenched by nature the field it so lay;
To fight the English fearing, and shamed their retiring:
But alas! unperceived was their subtlety.

Our highland battalion, so forward and valiant.
They brokefrom their ranks, and they rushed on to slay:
With hacking and slashing, and broadswords a-dashing,
Through the front of the English they cut a full sway.

But alas to their ruin, an ambush pursuing,
And they were surrounded with numbers too high:
The Merse men and Forest, they suffered the sorest
Upon the left wing were enclosed the same way.

Our men into parties, the battle into quarters,
Upon our main body their marksmen did play:
The spearmen were surrounded, and all was confounded;
The fatal devastation ofthat woeful day.

Our nobles all ensnared, our king he was not spared;
For of that fate he shared, and would not run away:
The whole were intercepted that very few escaped
The fatal conflagration of that woeful day.

I’ve heard them lilting at our ewe milking
Lassies a-lilting before break of day
But now there’s a moaning on ilka green looming
Since our braw foresters are all we'd away.

At buchts in the morning nae blithe lads are scorning
The lassies are lonely and dowie and wae
Nae laughin nae gabbin but sighin and sobbin
Each one lifts her leglen and hies her away.

A dool for the order sent our lads tae the border
The English for once by guile won the day
The flowers of the forest that aye shone the foremost
The pride of our land lies as cold as the clay.

I've seen the morning with gold the hills adorning
And proud tempests storming before the midday
I have seen Tweed's silver streams shining in the sunny beams
Grow drumly and dark as itflows on its way.

I've heard them lilting at our ewe milking
Lassies a-lilting before break of day
But now there's a moaning on ilka green loaming
The flowers of the Forest are all wed away.

Dick Gaughan sings The Floo'ers o' the Forest

I’ve heard them liltin at our yow-milkin,
Lassies at the liltin before the dawn o' day.
Noo there’s a moanin on ilka green loanin,
The floo’ers o’ the forest are a' wede away.

At e'en in the gloamin nae swank lads are roamin,
Lassies are lanely and dowe and wey.
Ilk ane gangs dreary lamentin her dearie
Ilk ane lifts her leglins an hi’s her away.

Dule an wae for the order brought oor lads tae the border,
The English for ance hae by guile wan the day.
The floo'ers o' the forest that fought aye the foremost,
The pride o' oor land noo lie caved in the clay.

We'll hear nae mair liltin at oor yow-milkin,
Women an bairnies are dowie an way.
Sighin an moanin on ilka green loanin,
The floo'ers o'the forest are a' wede away.

Ray Fisher sings The Floo'ers o' the Forest

I've heard the liltin' at the yowe milkin',
The assies a' liltin' at dawnin' o' day.
But now they are moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

At buchts in the mornin', nae blithe lads are scornin',
Lassies are lanely, an dowie, an wae.
Nae daffin, nae gabbin', but sighin' an' sobbin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

Oh cursed be the order sent our lads to the Border,
The English, for aince, twas by guile, won the day.
The floo'ers o' the forest, that focht aye theforemost,
The prime o' oor land noo lie cold in the clay.

The Cast sing Flowers o' the Forest

I've heard the liltin' at the ewe milkin'
And I've heard them liltin' afore break o' day
Now there's a moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.

At buchts in the mornin', nae blithe lads are scornin',
Lassies are lanely, an dowie, an wae.
Nae daffin, nae gabbin', but sighin' an' sabbin',
Ilk, ane lifts her laglin, an hies her awa'.

We'll hae nae mair liltin' at the ewe milkin',
Women and bairns are heartless and wae.
Sighin' and moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The floo'ers o' the forest are a' wi'ed awa'.