Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

The Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee

S IR WALTER SCOTT loved ballads of the dashing, free-riding, hard-fighting cavaliers, and this is one of the finest that he wrote. The "Bonnets" were the caps of the Scotch horsemen, and Dundee was John Graham of Claverhouse, who was made Viscount of Dundee by James II of England in 1688.

Claverhouse was a leader of wonderful dash and courage, but so cruelly did he treat the Scotch Covenanters against whom he fought that the country people nicknamed him "Bloody Claver'se." When James II was driven from his throne, and William of Orange became King of England Claverhouse planned to raise an army in Scotland and, by defeating the English troops, make James king again. He rode into Edinburgh with his troop of horsemen. The Scottish Parliament, or "Lords of Convention" were assembled there, and he called on them to follow his lead. He bade them open the Westport, or western gate of Edinburgh, and ride forth with him.

But the people of Edinburgh sided with King William, and so the bells were rung backward and the drums sounded to give the alarm. The provost, however, bade the crowd let Claverhouse go, knowing the city would be better off with the wild cavalier safely out of it. Dundee rode down the turnings of the West Bow, a street where the Scottish Church had met. Every "carline," or old woman, was scolding and shaking her head, but the young girls, the "plants of grace," looked kindly and slyly at him, wishing luck to the dashing soldier.

In the Grass-Market, a famous square of the city, the Whigs, or followers of King William, had gathered, as if half the west of Scotland had come to a hanging. These people had no liking for Claverhouse, but feared his sword. They had pikes and spears and long-handled knives, but they did not dare to attack, and stood close together, leaving the road open to the flaunting troopers.

On a high rock stood Edinburgh Castle, which was held by the Duke of Gordon for King James. Dundee rode to the castle and bade the Duke fire Mons Meg, the great cannon, and the other guns, or "marrows," on the walls. The Duke asked whither he was riding. Dundee answered that he should go wherever the shade of the great Marquis of Montrose, who had fought and died for King Charles II, should lead him. He would go to the country north of the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth, and find followers among the wild "Duniewassals" or Scottish chieftains who lived in the Highlands. He would rather live as an outlaw than serve the Whigs' King William, who had usurped King James's throne. So he waved his hand to the castle, and led his men out of the city, riding to the north.

The cause of King James was lost a little later, and Claverhouse was killed in the battle of Killiecrankie, in 1689.

Sir Walter Scott always preferred the Jacobites to the Whigs, and such a man as Claverhouse, with his "bonnets of Bonnie Dundee," appealed most strongly to his love of romance. The metre of this ballad has the note of galloping horses, flashing swords, and the reckless gaiety of the Cavaliers.

The Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee

by Sir Walter Scott

To the Lords of Convention 'twas Claverhouse who spoke,

"Ere the king's crown shall fall, there are crowns to be broke;

So let each cavalier who loves honor and me

Come follow the bonnets of bonnie Dundee!"

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can;

Come saddle your horses, and call up your men;

Come open the Westport and let us gang free,

And it's room for the bonnets of bonnie Dundee!

Dundee he is mounted, he rides up the street,

The bells are rung backward, the drums they are beat;

But the provost, douce man, said, "Just deil let him be,

The gude toun is well quit of that deil of Dundee!"

As he rode doun the sanctified bends of the Bow,

Ilk carline was flyting and shaking her pow;

But the young plants of grace they looked cowthie and slee,

Thinking, Luck to thy bonnet, thou bonnie Dundee!

With sour-featured whigs the Grass-Market was thranged,

As if half the west had set tryst to be hanged;

There was spite in each look, there was fear in each ee,

As they watched for the bonnets of bonnie Dundee.

These cowls of Kilmarnock had spits and had spears,

And lang-hafted gullies to kill cavaliers;

But they shrunk to close-heads, and the causeway was free

At the toss of the bonnet of bonnie Dundee.

He spurred to the foot of the proud castle rock,

And with the gay Gordon he gallantly spoke:

"Let Mons Meg and her marrows speak twa words or three,

For the love of the bonnet of bonnie Dundee."

The Gordon demands of him which way he goes.

"Where'er shall direct me the shade of Montrose!

Your grace in short space shall hear tidings of me,

Or that low lies the bonnet of bonnie Dundee.

"There are hills beyond Pentland and lands beyond Forth;

If there's lords in the lowlands, there's chiefs in the north;

There are wild Duniewassals three thousand times three

Will 'cry Hoigh!' for the bonnet of bonnie Dundee.

"There's brass on the target of barkened bull-hide,

There's steel in the scabbard that dangles beside;

The brass shall be burnished, the steel shall flash free,

At a toss of the bonnet of bonnie Dundee.

"Away to the hills, to the caves, to the rocks,

Ere I own an usurper I'll couch with the fox:

And tremble, false whigs, in the midst of your glee,

You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me."

He waved his proud hand, and the trumpets were blown,

The kettle-drums clashed, and the horsemen rode on,

Till on Ravelston's cliffs and on Clermiston's lea

Died away the wild war-notes of bonnie Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,

Come saddle the horses, and call up the men;

Come open your doors and let me gae free,

For it's up with the bonnets of bonnie Dundee.

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