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Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight

"Good, my lord, will you stay then about my father's house
And walking to these gardens green in my arms I'll thee embrace
Ten thousand times I'll kiss your mouth, make sport and let's be merry"
"I thank you, lady, for your kindness. Trust me, I may not stay with thee

For I have killed the laird Johnston, I care not for the feud
My loyal heart did still incline, he was my father's death.
By day and night I did pursue and all on him revenged to be
Now I have gotten what I long sought, trust me, I may not stay with thee

Adieu Dumfries, my proper place, adieu, adieu Caerlaverock fair
Adieu my castle of the Threem and all my buildings there
Adieu Lochmaben's gates so fair and the Legumshank where the birch pops bonny
Adieu my lady and my only joy, trust me, I may not stay with thee"

Now he has taken a good gold ring whereat hang signets three
Says "Take you this, my own dear love and ay have mind of me
But if you wed another lord while I am on the sea
His life is but a three day's leave, though I may not stay with thee"

The wind was fair, the ship was clear, the good Lord went away
The most part of his friends were there to give him fair convoy
They ate the meat, they drank the wine, presenting in that good Lord's sight
Now he is over the floods so grey, Lord Maxwell's taken his last goodnight.

As recorded by June Tabor on "Ashes And Diamonds" (1977)

Also this ballad was recorded  by Janet Russell  Fyre & Sworde: Songs of the Border Reivers (Fellside)

Notes and text on Child Ballad #195
from Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border


This beautiful ballad is published from a copy in Glenriddel's MSS.,
with some slight variations from tradition. It alludes to one of the
most remarkable feuds upon the west marches.

A.D. 1585, John, Lord Maxwell, or, as he styled himself, Earl of
Morton, having quarrelled with the Earl of Arran, reigning favourite
of James VI., and fallen, of course, under the displeasure of the
court, was denounced rebel. A commission was also given to the laird
of Johnstone, then warden of the west-marches, to pursue and apprehend
the ancient rival and enemy of his house. Two bands of mercenaries,
commanded by Captains Cranstoun and Lammie, who were sent from
Edinburgh to support Johnstone, were attacked and cut to pieces
at Crawford-muir by Robert Maxwell, natural brother to the
chieftain;[195] who, following up his advantage, burned Johnstone's
castle of Lochwood, observing, with savage glee, that he would
give Lady Johnstone light enough by which to "set her hood." In
a subsequent conflict, Johnstone himself was defeated, and made
prisoner, and is said to have died of grief at the disgrace which
he sustained.--See _Spottiswoode_ and _Johnstone's Histories_, and
_Moyse's Memoirs, ad annum_ 1585.

By one of the revolutions, common in those days, Maxwell was soon
after restored to the king's favour, in his turn, and obtained the
wardenry of the west marches. A bond of alliance was subscribed by
him, and by Sir James Johnstone, and for some time the two clans
lived in harmony. In the year 1593, however, the hereditary feud was
revived, on the following occasion: A band of marauders, of the clan
Johnstone, drove a prey of cattle from the lands belonging to the
lairds of Crichton, Sanquhar, and Drumlanrig; and defeated,
with slaughter, the pursuers, who attempted to rescue their
property.--[_See the following Ballad and Introduction_.] The injured
parties, being apprehensive that Maxwell would not cordially
embrace their cause, on account of his late reconciliation with the
Johnstones, endeavoured to overcome his reluctance, by ottering
to enter into bonds of manrent, and so to become his followers
and liegemen; he, on the other hand, granting to them a bond of
maintenance, or protection, by which he bound himself, in usual form,
to maintain their quarrel against all mortals, saving his loyalty.
Thus, the most powerful and respectable families in Dumfries-shire
became, for a time, the vassals of Lord Maxwell. This secret alliance
was discovered to Sir James Johnstone by the laird of Cummertrees,
one of his own clan, though a retainer to Maxwell. Cummertrees
even contrived to possess himself of the bonds of manrent, which he
delivered to his chief. The petty warfare betwixt the rival barons was
instantly renewed. Buccleuch, a near relation of Johnstone, came to
his assistance with his clan, "the most renowned freebooters (says
a historian), the fiercest and bravest warriors, among the border
tribes"[196] With Buccleuch also came the Elliots, Armstrongs, and
Graemes. Thus reinforced, Johnstone surprised and cut to pieces a
party of the Maxwells, stationed at Lochmaben. On the other hand,
Lord Maxwell, armed with the royal authority, and numbering among his
followers all the barons of Nithesdale, displayed his banner as the
king's lieutenant, and invaded Annandale, at the head of 2000 men. In
those days, however, the royal auspices to have carried as little good
fortune as effective strength with them. A desperate conflict, still
renowned in tradition, took place at the Dryffe sands, not far from
Lockerby, in which Johnstone, although inferior in numbers, partly by
his own conduct, partly by the valour of his allies, gained a decisive
victory. Lord Maxwell, a tall man, and heavily armed, was struck from
his horse in the flight, and cruelly slain, after the hand, which he
stretched out for quarter, had been severed from his body. Many of
his followers were slain in the battle, and many cruelly wounded;
especially by slashes in the face, which wound was thence termed
a "_Lockerby lick_." The barons of Lag, Closeburn, and Drumlanrig,
escaped by the fleetness of their horses; a circumstance alluded to in
the following ballad.

[Footnote 195: It is devoutly to be wished, that this Lammie (who was
killed in the skirmish) may have been the same miscreant, who, in the
day of Queen Mary's distress, "hes ensigne being of quhyt taffitae,
had painted one it ye creuell murther of King Henry, and layed down
before her majestie, at quhat time she presented herself as prisoner
to ye lordis."--_Birrel's Diary, June_ 15, 1567. It would be some
satisfaction to know, that the grey hairs of this worthy personage did
not go down to the grave in peace.]

[Footnote 196: _Inter accolas latrociniis famosos Scotos Buccleuchi
clientes--fortissimos tributium et ferocissimos_,--JOHNSTONI
_Historia, ed. Amstael_, p. 182.]

This fatal battle was followed by a long feud, attended with all the
circumstances of horror, proper to a barbarous age. Johnstone, in
his diffuse manner, describes it thus: "_Ab eo die ultro citroque
in Annandia et Nithia magnis utriusque regionis jacturis certatum.
Caedes, incendia, rapinae, et nefanda facinora; liberi in maternis
gremiis trucidati; mariti in conspectu conjugum suarum, incensae
villae lamentabiles ubique querimoniae et horribiles armorum
fremitus_." JOHNSTONI _Historia, Ed. Amstael_. p. 182.

John, Lord Maxwell, with whose _Goodnight_ the reader is here
presented, was son to him who fell at the battle of Dryffe Sands,
and is said to have early vowed the deepest revenge for his father's
death. Such, indeed, was the fiery and untameable spirit of the man,
that neither the threats nor entreaties of the king himself could make
him lay aside his vindictive purpose; although Johnstone, the object
of his resentment, had not only reconciled himself to the court, but
even obtained the wardenry of the middle-marches, in room of Sir John
Carmichael, murdered by the Armstrongs. Lord Maxwell was therefore
prohibited to approach the border counties; and having, in contempt of
that mandate, excited new disturbances, he was confined in the castle
of Edinburgh. From this fortress, however, he contrived to make his
escape; and, having repaired to Dumfries-shire, he sought an amicable
interview with Johnstone, under pretence of a wish to accommodate
their differences. Sir Robert Maxwell, of Orchardstane (mentioned
in the Ballad, verse 1.), who was married to a sister of Sir James
Johnstone, persuaded his brother-in-law to accede to Maxwell's
proposal. The two chieftains met, each with a single attendant, at a
place called Achmanhill, 6th April, 1608. A quarrel arising betwixt
the two gentlemen who attended them (Charles Maxwell, brother to the
laird of Kirkhouse, and Johnstone of Lockerby), and a pistol being
discharged, Sir James turned his horse to separate the combatants; at
which instant Lord Maxwell shot him through the back with a brace of
bullets, of which wound he died on the spot, after having for some
time gallantly defended himself against Maxwell, who endeavoured to
strike him with his sword. "A fact," saith Spottiswoode, "detested by
all honest men, and the gentleman's misfortune severely lamented, for
he was a man full of wisdom and courage."--SPOTTISWOODE, _Edition_
1677, _pages_ 467, 504. JOHNSTONI _Historia, Ed. Amstael_. pp. 254,
283, 449.

Lord Maxwell, the murderer, made his escape to France; but, having
ventured to return to Scotland, he was apprehended lurking in the
wilds of Caithness, and brought to trial at Edinburgh. The royal
authority was now much strengthened by the union of the crowns, and
James employed it in staunching the feuds of the nobility, with a
firmness which was no attribute of his general character. But, in the
best actions of that monarch, there seems to have been an unfortunate
tincture of that meanness, so visible on the present occasion.
Lord Maxwell was indicted for the murder of Johnstone; but this was
combined with a charge of _fire-raising_, which, according to the
ancient Scottish law, if perpetrated by a landed man, constituted a
species of treason, and inferred forfeiture. Thus, the noble purpose
of public justice was sullied, by being united with that of enriching
some needy favourite. John, Lord Maxwell, was condemned, and beheaded,
21st May, 1613. Sir Gideon Murray, treasurer-depute, had a great share
of his forfeiture; but the attainder was afterwards reversed, and
the honours and estate were conferred upon the brother of the
deceased.--LAING'S _History of Scotland_, Vol. I. p. 62.--JOHNSTONI
_Historia_, p. 493.

The lady, mentioned in the ballad, was sister to the Marquis of
Hamilton, and, according to Johnstone the historian, had little reason
to regret being separated from her husband, whose harsh treatment
finally occasioned her death. But Johnstone appears not to be
altogether untinctured with the prejudices of his clan, and is
probably, in this instance, guilty of exaggeration; as the active
share, taken by the Marquis of Hamilton in favour of Maxwell, is a
circumstance inconsistent with such a report.

Thus was finally ended, by a salutary example of severity, the "foul
debate" betwixt the Maxwells and Johnstones, in the course of which
each family lost two chieftains; one dying of a broken heart, one in
the field of battle, one by assassination, and one by the sword of the

It seems reasonable to believe, that the following ballad must have
been written before the death of Lord Maxwell, in 1613; otherwise
there would have been some allusion to that event. It must therefore
have been composed betwixt 1608 and that period.


       *       *       *       *       *

  Adieu, madame, my mother dear,
  But and my sisters three!
  Adieu, fair Robert of Orchardstane!
  My heart is wae for thee.
  Adieu, the lily and the rose,
  The primrose fair to see:
  Adieu, my ladie, and only joy!
  For I may not stay with thee.

  "Though I hae slain the Lord Johnstone,
  What care I for their feid?
  My noble mind their wrath disdains:
  He was my father's deid.
  Both night and day I laboured oft
  Of him avenged to be;
  But now I've got what lang I sought,
  And I may not stay with thee.

  "Adieu! Drumlanrig, false wert aye,
  And Closeburn in a Land!
  The laird of Lag, frae my father that fled,
  When the Johnston struck aff his hand.
  They were three brethren in a band--
  Joy may they never see!
  Their treacherous art, and cowardly heart,
  Has twin'd my love and me,

  Adieu! Dumfries, my proper place,
  But and Carlaverock fair!
  Adieu! my castle of the Thrieve,
  Wi' a my buildings there:
  Adieu! Lochmaben's gates sae fair,
  The Langholm-holm where birks there be;
  Adieu! my ladye, and only joy,
  For, trust me, I may not stay wi' thee,

  "Adieu! fair Eskdale up and down,
  Where my puir friends do dwell;
  The bangisters[197] will ding them down,
  And will them sair compell.
  But I'll avenge their feid mysell,
  When I come o'er the sea;
  Adieu! my ladye, and only joy,
  For I may not stay wi' thee."

  "Lord of the land!"--that ladye said,
  "O wad ye go wi' me,
  Unto my brother's stately tower,
  Where safest ye may be!
  There Hamiltons and Douglas baith,
  Shall rise to succour thee."
  "Thanks for thy kindness, fair my dame,
  But I may not stay wi' thee."

  Then he tuik aff a gay gold ring,
  Thereat hang signets three;
  "Hae, take thee that, mine ain dear thing,
  And still hae mind o' me;
  But, if thou take another lord,
  Ere I come ower the sea--
  His life is but a three day's lease,
  Tho' I may not stay wi' thee."

  The wind was fair, the ship was clear,
  That good lord went away;
  And most part of his friends were there,
  To give him a fair convey.
  They drank the wine, they did na spair,
  Even in that gude lord's sight--
  Sae now he's o'er the floods sae gray,
  And Lord Maxwell has ta'en his Goodnight.

[Footnote 197: _Bangisters_--The prevailing party.]


       *       *       *       *       *

  _Adieu! Drumlanrig, &c_.--P. 268. v. 1.

The reader will perceive, from the Introduction, what connection the
bond, subscribed by Douglas of Drumlanrig, Kirkpatrick of Closeburn,
and Grierson of Lagg, had with the death of Lord Maxwell's father. For
the satisfaction of those, who may be curious as to the form of
these bonds, I have transcribed a letter of manrent,[198] from a MS.
collection of upwards of twenty deeds of that nature, copied from the
originals by the late John Syme, Esq. writer to the signet; for
the use of which, with many other favours of a similar nature, I am
indebted to Dr. Robert Anderson of Edinburgh. The bond is granted by
Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, to Robert, Lord Maxwell, father of
him who was slain at the battle of the Dryffe Sands.

[Footnote 198: The proper spelling is _manred_. Thus, in the romance
of _Florice and Blancheflour_--

  "He wil falle to thi fot,
  "And bicom thi man gif be mot;
  "His _manred_ thou schalt afonge,
  "and the trewthe of his honde."


"Be it kend till all men be thir present lettres, me Thomas Kirkpatrik
of Closburn, to be bundin and oblist, and be the tenor heirof, bindis
and oblissis me be the faith and treuth of my body, in manrent and
service to ane nobil and mychty lord, Robert Lord Maxwell, induring
all the dayis of my lyfe; and byndis and oblissis me, as said is, to
be leill and trew man and servand to the said Robert Lord Maxwell,
my master, and sall nowthir heir nor se his skaith, but sall lat the
samyn at my uter power, an warn him therof. And I sall conceill it
that the said lord schawis to me, and sall gif him agane the best
leill and trew counsale that I can, quhen he ony askis at me; and that
I sall ryde with my kin, freyndis, servandis, and allies, that wil do
for me, or to gang with the said lord; and do to him aefauld, trew,
and thankful service, and take aefauld playne part with the said lord,
my maister, in all and sindry his actionis, causis, querrellis, leful
and honest, movit, or to be movit be him, or aganis him, baith in
peace and weir, contrair or aganis all thae that leiffes or de may
(my allegeant to owr soveran ladye the quenis grace, her tutor and
governor, allanerly except). And thir my lettres of manrent, for all
the dayis of my life foresaid to indure, all dissimulations, fraud,
or gyle, secludit and away put. In witness, &c." The deed is signed at
Edinburgh, 3d February, 1542.

In the collection, from which this extract is made, there are bonds
of a similar nature granted to Lord Maxwell, by Douglas of Drumlanrig,
ancestor of the Duke of Queensberry; by Crichton Lord Sanquhar,
ancestor of the earls of Dumfries, and many of his kindred; by
Stuart of Castlemilk; by Stuart of Garlies, ancestor of the earls
of Galloway; by Murray of Cockpool, ancestor of the Murrays, lords
Annandale; by Grierson of Lagg, Gordon of Lochmaben, and many other of
the most ancient and respectable barons in the south-west of Scotland,
binding themselves, in the most submissive terms, to become the
liegemen and the vassals of the house of Maxwell; a circumstance which
must highly excite our idea of the power of that family. Nay, even
the rival chieftain, Johnstone of Johnstone, seems at one time to
have come under a similar obligation to Maxwell, by a bond, dated 11th
February 1528, in which reference is made to the counter-obligation of
the patron, in these words: "Forasmeikle as the said lord has oblist
him to supple, maintene, and defend me, in the peciabill brouking and
joysing of all my landis, rentis, &c. and to take my aefald, leill and
trew part, in all my good actionis, causis, and quarles, leiful and
honest, aganes all deedlie, his alledgeance to our soveraigne lord the
king allanerly excepted, as at mair length is contained in his lettres
of maintenance maid to me therupon; therfore, &c." he proceeds to bind
himself as liegeman to the Maxwell.

I cannot dismiss the subject without observing, that, in the dangerous
times of Queen Mary, when most of these bonds are dated, many barons,
for the sake of maintaining unanimity and good order, may have chosen
to enroll themselves among the clients of Lord Maxwell, then warden
of the border, from which, at a less turbulent period, personal
considerations would have deterred them.

_Adieu! my castle of the Thrieve_.--P. 268. v. 2.

This fortress is situated in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, upon an
island about two acres in extent, formed by the river Dee. The walls
are very thick and strong, and bear the marks of great antiquity. It
was a royal castle; but the keeping of it, agreeable to the feudal
practice, was granted by charter, or sometimes by a more temporary and
precarious right, to different powerful families, together with lands
for their good service in maintaining and defending the place. This
office of heritable keeper remained with the Nithesdale family (chief
of the Maxwells) till their forfeiture, 1715. The garrison seems to
have been victualled upon feudal principles; for each parish in the
stewartry was burdened with the yearly payment of a _lardner mart
cow_, i.e. a cow fit for being killed and salted at Martinmas, for
winter provisions. The right of levying these cattle was retained by
the Nithesdale family, when they sold the castle and estate, in
1704, and they did not cease to exercise it till their
attainder.--_Fountainhall's Decisions_, Vol. I. p. 688.

This same castle of the Thrieve was, A.D. 1451-2, the scene of an
outrageous and cruel insult upon the royal authority. The fortress was
then held by William VIII. Earl of Douglas, who, in fact, possessed a
more unlimited authority over the southern districts of Scotland,
than the reigning monarch. The earl had, on some pretence, seized
and imprisoned a baron, called Maclellan, tutor of Bombie, whom he
threatened to bring to trial, by his power of hereditary jurisdiction.
The uncle of this gentleman, Sir Patrick Gray of Foulis, who commanded
the body-guard of James II., obtained from that prince a warrant,
requiring from Earl Douglas the body of the prisoner. When Gray
appeared, the earl instantly suspected his errand. "You have not
dined," said he, without suffering him to open his commission: "it is
ill talking between a full man and a fasting." While Gray was at meat,
the unfortunate prisoner was, by Douglas's command, led forth to the
court-yard and beheaded. When the repast was finished, the king's
letter was presented and opened. "Sir Patrick," says Douglas, leading
Gray to the court, "right glad had I been to honour the king's
messenger; but you have come too late. Yonder lies your sister's son,
without the head: you are welcome to his dead body." Gray, having
mounted his horse, turned to the earl, and expressed his wrath in a
deadly oath, that he would requite the injury with Douglas's heart's
blood.--"To horse!" cried the haughty baron, and the messenger of
his prince was pursued till within a few miles of Edinburgh. Gray,
however, had an opportunity of keeping his vow; for, being upon guard
in the king's anti-chamber at Stirling, when James, incensed at the
insolence of the earl, struck him with his dagger, Sir Patrick rushed
in, and dispatched him with a pole-axe. The castle of Thrieve was the
last of the fortresses which held out for the house of Douglas, after
their grand rebellion in 1553. James II. writes an account of the
exile of this potent family, to Charles VII. of France, 8th July,
1555; and adds, that all their castles had been yielded to him,
_Excepto duntaxat castro de Trefe, per nostres fideles
impraesentiarum obsesso; quod domino concedente in brevi obtinere
speramus.--Pinkerton's History, Appendix_, Vol. I. p. 486.--See
_Pitscottie's History, Godscroft, &c._

_And most part of his friends were, there_,--P. 269. v. 3. The
ancestor of the present Mr. Maxwell of Broomholm is particularly
mentioned in Glenriddell's MS. as having attended his chieftain in his
distress, and as having received a grant of lands, in reward of this
manifestation of attachment.

_Sae now he's o'er the floods sae gray_.--P. 269. v. 3.

This seems to have been a favourite epithet in old romances, Thus in
_Hornchilde_, and _Maiden Rimuild_,

  Thai sayled ower the _flode so gray_,
  In Inglond arrived were thay,
  Ther him levest ware.

Resources and References

June Tabor sings Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight

Recorded Sources of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads

Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight     Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight     Ballad Book : Leach (collection of RF)    
Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight     English & Scottish Popular Ballads V : Child     
Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight     Oxford Book of Ballads : Quiller-Couch (collection of RF)     
Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight (195)     English & Scottish Popular Ballads IV : Child

Scotster. Where Scotland meets.

Copyright 2007 , Beth Boyle, All Rights Reserved
No part of this website may be used for any purpose ( including using images )
without written consent from The Rams Horn

Copyright 2007 , Beth Boyle, All Rights ReservedNo part of this website may be used for any purpose ( including using images ) without written consent from The Rams Horn..........................................................