The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4640   Message #2930754
Posted By: Reiver 2
18-Jun-10 - 04:59 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Montrose (Steeleye Span)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Montrose (Steeleye Span)
A "few" more words regarding Montrose. Some verses of the song are based on a "love poem" that Montrose, himself, wrote to his wife, Magdalen. Theirs had been a somwhat rocky relationship for some time, as she wanted Montrose to spend more time at home with his family while he could not desist from activities that prevented this. Beginning with the words, "Dear lady and only love," and ending the first stanza, ''I'll never love thee more," he continues, trying to explain why he cannot be the homebody she wants him to be and pleads for her understanding of why he can't: "Like Alexander I will reign, and I will reign alone." After pleading, "If thou wilt prove faithful then, and constant of thy word, I'll make thee glorious by my pen and famous by my sword," he concludes with the lines used in the CHO: stanza of the song, "I'll serve the in such noble ways/ Was never heard before;/ I'll crown and deck thee all with bays/ And love thee more and more." The entire long poem is posted by Jim Dixon in a previous post to this thread.

The stanzas in the song about riding to London to see the King, pleading for "a thousand men" and being made a general but sent back "without a single man," is not exactly right. The King at the time was not in London, but in York campaigning in the English civil war. Montrose had received a promise from Lord Antrim, "the handsome, brainless chief of the Irish MacDonalds" to send him an army of "ten-thousand men." This was no doubt due to the fact that prominent among those opposing Montrose were the Campbells, the old enemies of clan MacDonald. King Charles did appoint Montrose a Major-General but could only spare 100 horsemen to go with him back to Scotland. [Not quite the "not a single man" of the song.] With such an inadequate force, he could not return. Instead, with two companions he slipped back into Scotland and soon after received word that the MacDonald force from Ireland had finally landed in Scotland. It was not the promised 10,000 men, but instead a force of barely over 1,000, under the leadership of Antrim's son Alisdair who, at 7 ft. tall was, indeed, a "giant" of a man.

Two other comments on the song: Montrose was an outstanding archer, or bowman, and as a young man had received two "silver arrow" awards.
He was finally taken prisoner with some involvement of Assynt, "a young chieftain of the MacLeods." Assynt always maintained that he handed Montrose over to the authorities as the act of a man doing his duty as a loyal subject of the government in power. Others, believed the story that was also current at the time that the rather poor young MacLeod and his wife knowing that there was reward money available took Montrose into their home, feigning friendship, only to secretly turn him over to his enemies. Thus the line, "sold James for oats and gold." That claim admittedly makes for the better story. John Prebble, in his fine history of Scotland, "The Lion of the North" [the Lion being in reference to Scotland, not to Montrose] puts the reward at "25 thousand Pounds Scots, part of which was paid in oatmeal." Prebble gives no source for the amount.

There is an excellent, short biography called, simply, "Montrose" by C.V. Wedgwood. My comments on this thread are based largely on Wedgwood and Prebble.

Reiver 2