Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Annie Laurie

Here is a bit about the background of this immortal Scottish love song:

The original words were penned by William Douglas of Fingland, which lies just off the Moniaive to Carsphairn road. Born at Sanquhar Castle, he was the eldest son of Douglas of Morton Castle. From an early age Douglas became a soldier in the Royal Scots and he fought with bravery and distinction through several continental campaigns. Still a young man, he left the army with the rank of Captain. He was a fervent supporter of the recently exiled King James VII of Scotland.

In 1694, he returned to Scotland and took up residence on his inherited estate of Fingland. Life there must have been tame after his exploits in the Spanish and German wars. During his time soldiering he learnt to be an excellent swordsman and he is known to have had a fiery temper. He is acknowledged as fencing duels on at least two occasions. One of these bouts was against his cousin Captain Menzies of Enoch, whom her seriously wounded. Douglas had to hide from the authorities till Menzies recovered. On another celebrated occasion he fought, wounded and disarmed a professional duelist.

It is unknown when Douglas first met Annie Laurie. Some traditions say it was at an Edinburgh ball. Other versions state this was at a social gathering of Dumfriesshire high society. It has also vaunted that the never met at all. This seems highly unlikely. Douglas's song eludes to a lover's pact. He also set the scene at Maxwelton and its bonnie braes. Annie also refers to him in a letter. This document shows that they certainly knew one another. The truth of any romance is lost in the mystery of legend.

Anna Laurie (the famous Annie of the song) was born at Maxwelton House in the 1680s. Her father was to become the first Baronet of Maxwelton. Anna grew up with her three sisters and three brothers in the pleasant surroundings of Maxwellton. It is likely - but unproven - that Anna and Douglas had a fleeting romance. This romance was ill fated and Anna's family would not consent to any marriage. We can only surmise why the match was frowned upon.

It may have been the age difference between the pair. Local legend relates that Douglas fought a duel with Anna's father over the matter. If this story is true Anna was very young at the time. She was only in her mid-teens when her father died. There may be some truth in this tale. Douglas was a decade older than Anna and her father might have thought her too young to marry.

It also may have been Douglas's Jacobite tendencies and the Laurie's may not have wished their daughter associated with a known rebel. Anna's father could also have had other plans for a more favourable match. Laurie may have thought Douglas a poor match for a Baronet's daughter. It may have been one or more of these reasons that caused the match to fail. Whatever happened, the romance was doomed to failure and the lovers went their separate ways.

Though the romance with bonnie Annie failed, Douglas certainly did not die of a broken heart. He eloped with - Lanarkshire heiress - Elizabeth Clerk of Glendroth and they were married in Edinburgh in 1706. Douglas continued his career as a mercenary soldier; selling his sword to the highest bidder. He sold off his inheritance at Fingland in the 1720s and died in Peeblesshire around 1760.

At the age of 27, Anna also wed in Edinburgh. She married Alexander Fergusson the then Laird of Craigdarroch. Fergusson was a close relative and neighbour of Douglas of Fingland. So in the end neither kept their promise true and Douglas was first to break it.

Anna died at Friar's Carse in her eighty-third year.

Here is the song:

Maxwellton braes are bonnie,
Where early fa's the dew,
And 'twas there that Annie Laurie
Gave me her promise true.
Gave me her promise true,
Which ne'er forgot will be,
And for bonnie Annie Laurie,
I lay me doon and dee.

Her brow is like the snowdrift,
Her throat is like a swan,
Her face it is the fairest
That e'er the sun shone on.
That e'er the sun shone on,
And dark blue is her ee,
And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I lay me doon and dee.

Like dew on th' gowan lying,
Is the fa' o' her fairy feet,
And like winds in summer sighing
Her voice is low and sweet.
Her voice is low and sweet,
And she's a' the world to me,
And for bonnie Annie Laurie,
I lay me doon and dee.



Anonymous said...

It was a top ten hit during the War between the States.

de Brantigny

elena maria vidal said...

Really? Very interesting! I suppose because so many of Scottish descent settled in the South....

Anonymous said...

It was a catchy tune.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard it sung?


de Brantigny

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is one of my favorites. Thanks for the link!