Paul Anderson Scottish Fiddler

Home » composer » Bonnie Henry Gordon

Bonnie Henry Gordon

Since the release of Land of the Standing Stones on the 18th of October, there have been a number of requests for the lyrics for my ballad “Bonnie Henry Gordon” which was so wonderfully performed by the well known Scottish actor Kevin McKidd. There’s a fairly obvious reason for the requests as the lyrics are written in the broad Scots dialect of the North-East of Scotland, commonly known as “Doric” these days.
The short but savage civil war of 1571 – 1573 acted out in miniature the conflict which was being waged throughout Europe at the time, but the open warfare which raged across the ancient Earldom of Mar between the Protestant Forbes’ and the Catholic Gordon’s was as much driven by inherited blood-hatred and land rivalry. As well as the indiscriminate murder of rival clansmen, frequent skirmishing and the burning of property (such as the burning of Corgarff and Auchindoun castles) there were also two major pitched battles at Tillyangus and Craibstane.
This then forms the bloody backdrop to the tragic events in my ballad “Bonnie Henry Gordon”. Henry Gordon who was the laird of Knock near Ballater on Strathdee did indeed capture rival laird and neighbour Alexander Forbes of Strathgirnoc at the battle of Craibstane and he was later killed in a Forbes and clan Chattan raid. On Henry’s death the land’s of Knock passed to Henry’s brother Alexander and it was Alexander’s third son rather than Henry who actually courted Alex Forbes of Strathgirnoc’s only daughter Annie. Strathgirnoc murdered the young Gordon in a fit of fury when he came to ask for Annie’s hand in marriage. Lament for the Gordon’s of Knock (Pibroch)
The true events commemorated in this pibroch follow on directly from the events in “Bonnie Henry Gordon.” The seven remaining sons of Alexander Gordon of Knock set out one day to cut peat and it’s thought that they accidentally wandered onto neighbouring Strathgirnoc where they were discovered by the ever vengeful Alexander Forbes. Quickly gathering together a war party, Forbes set upon the Gordon’s and after a short battle all seven Gordon brother’s lay dead. Not satisfied with having killed the boys, Forbes had the seven lads decapitated and their heads stuck on to the top of their peat spades as a warning to the Gordon’s. When news of the murders was relayed to Alexander Gordon on the staircase at Knock castle he collapsed from the shock, breaking his neck in the fall and so ending the line of the Gordon’s of Knock. Alexander Forbes of Strathgirnoc was later hung from his own roof beams in a revenge attack by Gordon of Abergeldie. Nothing now remains of Strathgirnoc house; it’s been razed from the landscape.
(Sleeve notes from the album “Land of the Standing Stones”)

Bonnie Henry Gordon
O Gordon’s lands are broad and fair
And the Gordon’s they are mighty o’
In a’ the North the boldest blade
Was bonnie Henry Gordon o’.

At Craibstane fecht by Aiberdeen (Craibstane – an area on the boundary of Aberdeen city, fight, Aberdeen)
Alex Forbes he wis captured o’ (was)
In iron bands tae Knock Castle lands (to)
He wis taen by Henry Gordon o’. (was taken)

Though war wis by and peace proclaimed (was)
Forbes cried for vengeance o’
And he swore “gin the sna melts on Lochnagar” (till, snow, Lochnagar – famous mountain on Deeside)
He’d murder Henry Gordon o’.

Years went by, Knock met a lass (Knock – estate near Ballater. Landowner’s often known by their estate or farm)
Strathgirnoc’s bonnie Annie o’ (Strathgirnoc – estate near Ballater. Farmers in NE Scotland often known by their land)
Wi flame reid hair, beyond compare (with, red)
She taen the hairt o’ Gordon o’. (taken, heart)

Strathgirnoc lo’ed his dother dear (loved, daughter)
But for Gordon’s nought but hatred o’ (nothing)
Though hell froze ower he’d neer consent (over, never)
Tae let her merry Gordon o’. (to, marry)

The pair were wed in a forest glade
On the braes o’ Craigendarroch o’ (Craigendarroch – hill beside Ballater)
And fan Forbes heard the news he cried
“Bring me the heid o’ Gordon o!” (head)

“Ride oot, ride oot my bonnie lads (out)
Knock Castle we maun harry o’ (must)
Wi’ dirks and broadswords in oor haun’s (with, our, hands)
We’ll slaughter Henry Gordon o!”

On the banks o’ Dee by Coilacriech (Coilacriech – an Inn on the North bank of the river Dee)
They came upon their quarry o’
And sword and lance they made tae dance (to)
Doon ower the heid o’ Gordon o’. (down, over, head)
But the men o Mar are roch and bold (Mar – ancient Earldom between rivers Dee and Don)
And they’ll nivver flinch fae fechtin’ o’ (never, from, fighting)
Wi broadsword snell, four Forbes fell (with, sharp and keen)
By the hand o’ Henry Gordon o’.

Strathgirnoc’s hate wis great indeed
His claymore it wis thirsty o’ (claymore – famous double handed sword from the Highlands of Scotland)
Wi a mighty blow he claimed his foe (with)
And murdered Henry Gordon o’.

Fan Annie heard the news she cried (When)
“A curse upon ye faither o’ (you, father)
Ye broke the hairt o’ yer dother dear (You, heart of your daughter)
By killin’ Henry Gordon o’”

Their beens they lie by Glenmuick kirk (bones, kirk – Scots name for the church)
The Laird o’ Knock and Annie o’
Twa lover’s hairt they couldna’ pairt (Two, heart, couldn’t, part)
She sleeps wi her Henry Gordon o’. (with)

Paul Anderson.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *