According to Emily Lyle in her 'Scottish Ballads' (1994), the ballad was first published by the well known Glasgow printers Robert and Andrew Foulis in 1755. They said 'never before printed'. The Foulis version is much closer to Quiller-Couch. McColl's version is probably a later variant. The Scots group Malinky sing a version very close to McColl's, (the lead singer Fiona Hunter, successor to Karine Polwart, sounds like a young, modern, Scottish, Sandy Denny).
The events took place at Towie Castle in Aberdeenshire in November 1571.Sir Adam (Edom) Gordon of Auchindoun, Mary Queen of Scots' lieutenant deputy in the north, sent a group of soldiers under a Captain Kerr ['Car' in Child 178] to attack Towie, home of Alexander Forbes and his wife Margaret Campbell. A shot was fired at Kerr and he immediately had the Castle burned down. Margaret Campbell and her family and domestics, 27 people, died in the flames.