Auld Robin Gray (1)

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AULD ROBIN GRAY [1]. Scottish, Slow Air (4/4 time). G Major (Hunter): F Major (Neil). Standard. One part (Hunter): AB (Neil). This air, which superseded an older air, was composed by Englishman Reverend William Leeves (1748-1828), rector of Wrington in Somerset, to words composed by the Lady Anne Barnard (nee Lindsay, 1750-1825, the eldest daughter of the 5th Earl of Balcarres in Fife). The melody (which, while technically English in provenance, is accepted as Scottish) was set to a song by Lady Barnard, who wrote her lyrics to the favorite tune of one Suphy Johnson of Hilton. Suphy, incidentally, became "one of the intelligent eccentrics of Edinburgh society--the girl who, as an experiment, was left to educate herself, who dressed in an oddly masculine manner, who practiced blacksmithing as a hobby, and played the fiddle!" (Emmerson, 1971). Lady Barnard had the reputation of being comely, quick witted, and vivacious and has been referred to as 'the daughter of a hundred earls' (Neil, 1991). She married at the rather advanced age of 43 to one Andrew Barnard, Bishop of Limerick, who died in 1807. Lady Anne apparently preferred her work to remain anonymous and shunned publicity, however, Neil (1991) tells the story that, on one occasion, she sang "Auld Robin Gray" for Lady Jane Scott (the writer of the modern "Annie Laurie"), who remarked "that she had sung it as if it were her own, and if Lady Barnard would give her a copy, she would keep the secret" (Neil, 1991). The following is the last verse of the song composed by Lady Anne (who originally set the words to the Scottish tune "Bridegroom Grat"):

I gang like a ghaist and I carena to spin,
I darena think o' Jamie, for that wad be a sin;
But I'll do my best a gude wife to be,
For auld Robin Gray is kind to me.

The real Robin Grey was a shepherd on her father's estate of whom the children were rather fond, but the tale related in the song seems to have been fashioned from fantasy. It tells of a young woman, forced by poverty to wed an elderly man, Auld Robin Grey, though she loves young Jamie. She is forced to endure a number of travails, such as Jamie going off to sea, her father breaking his arm, her mother sick, her marriage, but the final sorrow was supplied by Lady Anne's younger sister, Elizabeth, who suggested "steal the cow, sister Anne", and the verse was completed.

The melody was a favorite piece de resistance of many Scottish fiddlers, including J.S. Skinner in the latter 1800's, and fiddler Peter Milne (-1908), the 'Tarland Minstrel', who received a silver medal from Queen Victoria at Balmoral for his rendering of "Auld Robin Gray." A hornpipe setting was also recorded in 1910 by melodeon great Peter Wyper (paired with an untitled hornpipe now called "Peter Wyper's (1)"). In America, the song was included in the music manuscript copybook of Henry Livingston, Jr. Livingston purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rd New York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery's invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Montreal from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly's dancing season of 1774-1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York.

"Auld Robin Gray" was the march past in slow time of the 99th Lanarkshire Regiment. Through a series of amalgamations in the re-organizing of the British army the Lanarkshire's became The Duke of Edinburgh's Regiment in 1874, the 2nd Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment in 1881, the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment in 1959, and most recently the Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment; through it all "Auld Robin Gray" has been retained [David Murray, Music of the Scottish Regiments, Edinburgh, 1994; p. 210].

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Davie's Caledonian Repository. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 8. Manson (Hamilton's Universal Tune Book, vol. 1), 1853, p. 173. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 15, p. 21.

Recorded sources:




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