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 â 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 Forbesâ and the Catholic Gordonâs 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 âBonnie Henry Gordonâ. 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 Henryâs death the landâs of Knock passed to Henryâs brother Alexander and it was Alexanderâs third son rather than Henry who actually courted Alex Forbes of Strathgirnocâs only daughter Annie. Strathgirnoc murdered the young Gordon in a fit of fury when he came to ask for Annieâs hand in marriage. Lament for the Gordonâs of Knock (Pibroch)
The true events commemorated in this pibroch follow on directly from the events in âBonnie Henry Gordon.â The seven remaining sons of Alexander Gordon of Knock set out one day to cut peat and itâs 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 Gordonâs and after a short battle all seven Gordon brotherâs 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 Gordonâs. 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 Gordonâs 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; itâs been razed from the landscape.
(Sleeve notes from the album “Land of the Standing Stones”)
Bonnie Henry Gordon
O Gordonâs lands are broad and fair
And the Gordonâs they are mighty oâ
In aâ the North the boldest blade
Was bonnie Henry Gordon oâ.
At Craibstane fecht by Aiberdeen (Craibstane – an area on the boundary of Aberdeen city, fight, Aberdeen)
Alex Forbes he wis captured oâ (was)
In iron bands tae Knock Castle lands (to)
He wis taen by Henry Gordon oâ. (was taken)
Though war wis by and peace proclaimed (was)
Forbes cried for vengeance oâ
And he swore âgin the sna melts on Lochnagarâ (till, snow, Lochnagar – famous mountain on Deeside)
Heâd murder Henry Gordon oâ.
Years went by, Knock met a lass (Knock – estate near Ballater. Landowner’s often known by their estate or farm)
Strathgirnocâs bonnie Annie oâ (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 oâ Gordon oâ. (taken, heart)
Strathgirnoc loâed his dother dear (loved, daughter)
But for Gordonâs nought but hatred oâ (nothing)
Though hell froze ower heâd neer consent (over, never)
Tae let her merry Gordon oâ. (to, marry)
The pair were wed in a forest glade
On the braes oâ Craigendarroch oâ (Craigendarroch – hill beside Ballater)
And fan Forbes heard the news he cried
âBring me the heid oâ Gordon o!â (head)
âRide oot, ride oot my bonnie lads (out)
Knock Castle we maun harry oâ (must)
Wiâ dirks and broadswords in oor haunâs (with, our, hands)
Weâll slaughter Henry Gordon o!â
On the banks oâ Dee by Coilacriech (Coilacriech – an Inn on the North bank of the river Dee)
They came upon their quarry oâ
And sword and lance they made tae dance (to)
Doon ower the heid oâ Gordon oâ. (down, over, head)
But the men o Mar are roch and bold (Mar – ancient Earldom between rivers Dee and Don)
And theyâll nivver flinch fae fechtinâ oâ (never, from, fighting)
Wi broadsword snell, four Forbes fell (with, sharp and keen)
By the hand oâ Henry Gordon oâ.
Strathgirnocâs hate wis great indeed
His claymore it wis thirsty oâ (claymore – famous double handed sword from the Highlands of Scotland)
Wi a mighty blow he claimed his foe (with)
And murdered Henry Gordon oâ.
Fan Annie heard the news she cried (When)
âA curse upon ye faither oâ (you, father)
Ye broke the hairt oâ yer dother dear (You, heart of your daughter)
By killinâ Henry Gordon oââ
Their beens they lie by Glenmuick kirk (bones, kirk – Scots name for the church)
The Laird oâ Knock and Annie oâ
Twa loverâs hairt they couldnaâ pairt (Two, heart, couldn’t, part)
She sleeps wi her Henry Gordon oâ. (with)