Home »




Text Too Small?



The definitive resource is obviously The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, first published in 1802.
Scott provided extensive notes and references to the ballads he included. There are editorial changes throughout the editions we have examined in the Scott Minstrelsy project: while  some of them reflect changes in editorial practice, others show that Scott felt that it was important to revise the notes when relevant, such as with the death of an individual, or when an original note could be expanded, or when earlier notes could be better included in the introduction to one of the ballads whcih were integrated in the later editions.  Scott is careful in his notation, but there is also the sense, here and there, of an archly raised brow, or his tongue slightly in his cheek.

Scott used earlier publications to source some of the Minstrelsy ballad versions. Books such as

  • Allan Ramsay’s The Ever Green (1724)
  • David Herd’s  Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1769)
  • and George Caw’s Poetical Museum (1784) 

were used and acknowledged as sources. The presentation of the ballad texts in these books varies and it may be useful to use them as evidence in terms of  how traditional ballads and songs were presented to the reading public.

One of the definitive ballad collections – which includes many of the Minstrelsy ballads – is The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited by Francis James Child.

These texts may be available on archive.org, if a suitable library  is not available.


In terms of the Reiver and Covenanter ballads, many of them have historic parallels, and as such, the historic events have often been recorded in various publications. The following may prove useful, especially when considering various reports of the same event.

  • Spottiswoode, John, Archbishop of St Andrews. The History of the Church of Scotland, beginning the Year of Our Lord 203 and continued to the end of the reign of King James VI. 3 vols. Edinburgh, 1847
  • Leslie, John, Bishop of Ross. The Historie of Scotland.  2 vols. Edinburgh, 1898-1899.
  • Pitcairn, Robert. Criminal Trials in Scotland, from  A.D. M.CCCC.LXXXVIII to A.D. M.DC XXIV.  3 vols. Edinburgh, 1833.
  • Calderwood, David. The History of the Kirk of Scotland. 7 vols. Edinburgh, 1844- 1845.
  • Lindsay of Pitscottie. The Historie and Chronicles of Scotland, 1436– 1565. Edinburgh, 1898-1911.

Many of these texts are available on archive.org, if a suitable library  is not available.


Scott included several ballads which had been long in print in broadsheet versions. These were meant to be ephemeral – they were cheaply printed and relatively cheap to buy. Where available, we have provided links to online resources. One of the most useful is the University of California’s online English Broadside Ballad Archive.


One of the essential aspects of ballad study  is the fact that they are not merely texts – they are not poems to be read on a page, but are meant to be sung. To that end, Tobar an Dualchais (the Kist of Riches) – is an essential resource.

To explain a little more about this, here is a quote from the Tobar an Dualchais website:

Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches is a collaborative project which has been set up to preserve, digitise, catalogue and make available online several thousand hours of Gaelic and Scots recordings. This website contains a wealth of material such as folklore, songs, music, history, poetry, traditions, stories and other information. The material has been collected from all over Scotland and beyond from the 1930s onwards. The recordings come from the School of Scottish Studies (University of Edinburgh)BBC Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland's Canna Collection. Please note that not all material from the School of Scottish Studies Archives is available on the website.

The archive recordings are very interesting, but it may be that they are not the ideal introduction to the ballad tradition. To that end, we are creating Spotify playlist of commercial recordings of Minstrelsy ballads. This is intended to give an indication of how the ballads can be sung – and are still being sung –  not only as part of a ‘closed’ archive.

The singers on the Spotify playlist may not sing the Minstrelsy version of the ballad, but we have included the versions to provide more accessible examples to those, especially younger people, who have not previously encountered traditional music and song.

Human and Natural Geography

There is an unassailable link between the land and many ballads. Inclusion of  the landscape often becomes a shorthand reference to the plight or comfort of characters. Singers often associate the ballad characters very closely with the related landscape.

It is important, then, to have some awareness of the landscape associated with the ballads, both of the Minstrelsy and the wider ballad corpus. To this end, we have created a Minstrelsy map, which maps the locations mentioned in the Minstrelsy ballads.

To provide more information with regard to the human geography of the ballads (the towers, bridges, houses etc), we have provided links to Canmore, the online resource of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland.


Home »