Sir Patrick Spence
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

This ballad is Child Ballad #58 (Sir Patrick Spens).

A fragment of this ballad appears in Percy's Reliques (1765) and it was also in David Herd's Scots Songs (1769).

Motherwell was the first to suggest a historical foundation for the ballad. Margaret, the daughter of Alexander III, was married to Eric, King of Norway, in 1281. That August several knights and nobles drowned in the return voyage. When Alexander died in 1286, Margaret's infant daughter, (also named Margaret) called "The Maid of Norway," was heir to the Scottish throne. Edward I of England proposed a match between his son and the Maid of Norway. Princess Margaret died on the voyage. The ballad takes elements from both events.

Another connection between Scotland and Norway is the fact that James III married the daughter of the King of Norway in 1469, but Child believes this has less material for a ballad that either of the above cases.

In the ballad Sir Patrick objects to sailing. This may have been due to the time of the year, but according to Percy there was also a law in the reign of James III which forbid ships to travel with goods out of the realm from the feast of Simon and Jude and Candlemas (October 28-February 2).

The name of Spens occurs in five charters during David II's reign (between 1329 and 1370). A Patrick Spens was a shipmaster who was lost off Aberdour in the late 16th century. Sir Andrew Wood was an admiral, though he was born two centuries after the events related above. Given the lack of historical record, Child does not consider the ballad historical.

Alternate titles and variants include: Sir Patrick Spense, Sir Andrew Wood, Young Patrick, Skipper Patrick, Earl Patricke Spensse, Sir Patrick and Earl Patrick Graham. There is also a Scandinavian ballad Sir Peter's Voyage.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site see Francis J. Child Ballads.

The king sits in Dunfermline toun,
Drinkin' the bluid red wine
'0 whaur will I get a skeely skipper,
To sail this ship o' mine?'

Then up and spak an eldern knicht,
Sat at the king's richt knee,
'Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor,
That ever sail'd the sea.'

Our king has written a braid letter,
And seal'd it wi' his han',
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,
Was walkin' on the stran'.

'To Noroway, to Noroway,
To Noroway owre the faim;
The king's dochter o' Noroway,
It's thou maun bring her hame.'

The first line that Sir Patrick read,
Sae lond, loud laughed he;
The neist line that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his e'e.

'O wha is this has dune this deed,
And tauld the king o' me,
To send us oot at this time o' the year
To sail upon the sea?

Be't wind, be't weet, be't bail, be't sleet,
Our ship maun sail the faim;
The king's dochter o' Noroway,
It's we maun fetch her hame.'

They boys'd their sails on Mononday,
Wi' a' the speed they may;
They hae landed in Noroway
Upon a Wodnesday.

* * * * *

'Mak ready, mak ready, my merry men a',
Our guid ship sails the morn,'
'0 say na sae, my maister dear,
For I fear a deidly storm.

I saw the new moon late yestreen,
Wi' the auld moon in her arm,
And I fear, I fear, my maister dear,
That we will come to harm.

They had na sail'd a league, a leagne,
A league but barely three,
When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,
And gurly grew the sea.

The ankers brak, and the tapmasts lap,
'Twas sic a deidly storm
And the waves cam owre the broken ship,
Till a' her sides were torn.

* * * * *

Gae fetch a wab o' the silken claith,
Anither o' the twine,
And wap them to our guid ship's side,
That the saut sea come na in.

They fetch'd a wab o' the silken claith
Anither o' the twine,
And they wapp'd them round that guid ship's side,
But still the sea cam in!

O laith, laith were our guid Scots lords,
To weet their cork-heel'd shoon;
But lang or a' the play was play'd,
They wat their hats aboon.

And many was the feather bed,
That flauchter'd on the faim;
And mony was the guid lord's son,
That never mair cam hame!

The ladyes wrang their fingers white,
The maidens tore their hair,
A' for the sake o' their true loves,-
For them they'll see nae mair!

O lang, lang may the ladyes sit,
Wi' their fans into their han',
Before they see Sir Patrick Spence
Come sailin' to the stran'!

O lang, lang may time maidens sit,
Wi' their gowd kaims in their hair,
A' waiting for their ain dear loves,-
For them they'll see nae mair!

It's forty miles frae Aberdeen,
And fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies guid Sir Patrick Spence,
Wi' the Sects lords at his feet!

Additional Versions
Related Links
From Genuine Scottish Melodies and
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
See Bibliography for full information.