Border ballads

The Anglo-Scottish border has a long tradition of balladry, such that a whole group of songs exists that are often called "border ballads", because they were collected in that region.[1] [2]

Border ballads, like all traditional ballads, were traditionally sung unaccompanied. There may be a repeating motif, but there is no "chorus" as in most popular songs. The supernatural is a common theme in Border ballads, as are recountings of raids and battles.

Ballad types

The ballads belong to various groups of subjects - such as riding ballads like Kinmont Willie, historical ballads like Sir Patrick Spens, and comic ballads like Get Up and Bar the Door [3]


Representative samples include "Thomas the Rhymer" (aka "True Thomas", Thomas of Erceldoune"), which opens in the Scottish town of Erceldoune ( modern Earlston, Berwickshire); and the very famous "Tam Lin".

Writings about

Sir Walter Scott wrote about border ballads in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border - which was first published in 1802-3.

A.L. Lloyd said of the ballads:

"The bare rolling stretch of country from the North Tyne and Cheviots to the Scottish southern uplands was for a long time the territory of men who spoke English but had the outlook of Afghan tribesmen; they prized a poem almost as much as plunder, and produced such an impressive assembly of local narrative songs that some people used to label all our greater folk poems as 'Border ballads'."[4]

See also


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