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Rogues in a Nation

[ Roud 5516 ; trad., from Hogg’s Jacobite Relics of Scotland]

Ewan MacColl sang Such a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation in 1968 on his Topic album The Jacobite Rebellions. This track was also included in 1993 on his anthology The Real MacColl.

Gordon McIntyre sang Such a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). He noted:

The Union of 1707, bitterly opposed by many Scots, inspired much political balladry. This song, written by [Robert] Burns, and published in Volume IV of Scots Musical Museum, accuses the pro-Union faction in the Scottish Parliament of literally being “bought and sold for English gold”. A pro-Union Whig song of 1707, which also uses the phrase “parcel of rogues” was probably written in reply to the Jacobite song.

Rogues in a Nation is the title track of Steeleye Span’s 1973 album Parcel of Rogues; see also Cam Ye O’er Frae France. The record’s sleeve notes commented (with some corrections by Bernard Leak):

The Stuart dynasty acceded to the English throne in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, but their rule ended in 1714 after James II was forced to flee to France in 1688 and was succeeded by his daughters Mary II 1688-94 (she reigned jointly with her husband William, the Stadtholder of Holland, who reigned solo after her death until 1702) and Anne 1702-14.

Three attempts were made by the Jacobites to reinstate the “Kings across the Water” to their former glory. The first two, in 1690 and in 1715, were never really a serious threat to George I, a German prince of Stuart descent from the House of Hanover, then occupying the English throne. The third, led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie; see also the song Prince Charlie Stuart on Steeleye Span’s album Please to See the King), had some initial success but finally ended in the calamitous defeat on Culloden Moor in 1746.

The rebel clans always believed themselves to have been betrayed, both in parliament and on the battlefield, by their fellow countrymen.

Dick Gaughan sang Such a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation in 1978 on his eponymous Topic album Gaughan. He noted on his album:

Written about the Treaty of Union of 1707 which, in theory, abolished the independent Parliaments of Scotland and England and created the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In practice, it merely ended the autonomy of the Scots and reduced us to the status of a province of England.

The “parcel of rogues” refered to were the bourgeousie of the Scots Parliament who were, quite literally, bribed into voting for the Treaty, completely abandoning all the principles of the Declaration of Arbroath.

and on his now defunct website:

Written by Robert Burns as a reflection on the signing of the Treaty of Union (1707) which theoretically dissolved the parliaments of Scotland and England/Wales, replacing them with the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Scottish Parliamentarians who signed the Treaty were literally bribed to sign it, with only a handful of them having the backbone to dissent, notably Fletcher of Saltoun. The principle of the Sovereignty of the people over government enshrined in the Declaration of Arbroath was completely set aside in favour of personal advancement. The Treaty was, in truth, illegal as those parliamentarians signed away a right which was not theirs to give and the entire Union of Great Britain rests squarely upon a fraud against the Scottish people.

It is interesting that the Declaration of Arbroath, written in 1320, refers explicitly to the elected nature of the Scottish monarch and to the principle of Sovereignty resting absolutely with the people—this principle was eventually incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. The debt which those documents owe to the Declaration of Arbroath is one which is still not as widely recognised as it should be (the ‘he’ refered to is Robert Bruce, King of Scots):

Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Jean Redpath sang A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation in 1980 on her anthology The Songs of Robert Burns Volumes 2. Serge and Esther Hovey noted:

According to James C. Dick (1903), “The model of Burns’s verse has been lost… A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation is in Oswald’s Companion, 1752, and in McGibbon’s Scots Tunes, 1755.” On the Scots Musical Museum manuscript of the song, Burns wrote: “I inclose what I think the best set of the tune.”

A “parcel of rogues” refers to the thirty-one Scottish Commissioners who carried through the Act of Union in 1707.

George Drennan sang Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation in 1996 on Ron Shaw’s album of songs of Robert Burns, Pride and Passion.

Old Blind Dogs sang Parcel of Rogues on their 1997 album Five.

Jim Malcolm sang Parcel o Rogues on his 2007 album of songs of Robert Burns, Acquaintance. He noted:

My feelings of grievance towards the English nation have virtually vanished since the fall of Tyrannosaurus Thatcher and the reintroduction of a Scottish parliament. I even find myself supporting the English cricket team these days. That didn’t happen in the dark eighties when I would idle away my ‘resting’ summer days gleefully watching them get walloped by the West Indies. So this song is in here mostly for the melody, which is one of my favourites. The parcel o rogues in the song are the members of the Scottish aristocracy who signed the Act of Union in 1707, 300 years ago. And it did start raining at the end of the track. I’m not trying to make a point, honest.

Sound Tradition sang Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation in 2017 on their CD Well Met, My Friend. They noted:

The lyrics of this song are taken from a poem by Robert Burns written in 1791 in which he attacks Scottish Parliamentary members who signed the Act of Union with England in 1707; bribery and treachery abound. Burns’ career as an excise officer meant that he never acknowledged authorship of this in his lifetime.

We have base our arrangement on the superb rendering by Steeleye Span.

Band of Burns sang Parcel o’ Rogues in January 2017 at Union Chapel in London. A concert recording was released in the following year on their CD Live at the Union Chapel.

Robyn Stapleton sang Parcel o’ Rogues on her 2017 CD Songs of Robert Burns. She noted:

‘Parcel o’ Rogues’ refers to the Scottish comissioners who were rewarded with land and money when they voted for the Treaty of Union, between Scotland and England, in 1707.


Steeleye Span sing Rogues in a Nation

Farewell to all our Scottish fame
Farewell our ancient glory
Farewell even to our Scottish name
Sae fam’d in martial story
Now Sark runs over the Solway sands
And Tweed runs to the ocean
To mark where England’s province stands:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue
Through many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor’s wages
The English steel we could disdain
Secure in valour’s station
But English gold has been our bane:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

I would, or I had seen the day
That treason thus could sell us
My auld grey head had lain in clay
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour
I’ll make this declaration
We were bought and sold for English gold:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Dick Gaughan sings Such a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation

Fareweil tae aa our Scottish fame
Fareweil our ancient glory
Fareweil e’en tae our Scottish name
Sae famed in martial story
Nou Sark rins ower the Solway sands
An Tweed rins tae the ocean
Tae mark whaur England’s province stauns
Sic a parcel o rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue
Thro many warlike ages
Is wrocht nou by a coward few
For hireling traitor’s wages
The English steel we could disdain
Secure in valour’s station
But English gold has been our bane
Sic a parcel o rogues in a nation!

O wad, ere I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us
My auld gray heid had lain in clay
Wi Bruce an loyal Wallace
But pith an pouer, till my last hour
I’ll mak this declaration –
We’re bocht an sold for English gold
Sic a parcel o rogues in a nation!


Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the lyrics.