Annotation:Flower of Yarrow (The)

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X:1 T:Flower of Yarraw [sic], The M:6/4 L:1/8 N:A version of "Long Cold Nights" and "Sir John Fenwick" S:Henry Atkinson's music manuscript collection (Northumberland, No. 30, 1694) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:G G4B2 d4g2|B4 g2 B3A G2|A4 B2 e4g2|e4 d2 e4g2| G4B2 d4g2|d4 g2 B3A G2|c2 (dc)(BA) B2 (cB)(AG)|A4 G2e4d2|| g6 g6|g6 B3A G2|A4 c2 e4 ga|b4 a2 e4 g2| G4 B2 (dB)(dB)(dB)|d6 B3 A G2|c2 (dc)(BA) B2 (cB)(AG)|A4 G2 e4 d2|| g2 G2B2 g2G2B2|g2G2B2 g2G2B2|g2A2B2 g2A2B2|g2A2B2 e4 d2| g2G2B2 g2G2B2|g2G2B2 g2G2B2|c2 (dc)(BA) B3 AG2|A4 G2 e4 d2||

FLOWER OF YARROW, THE. AKA - "Mary Scott, the Flower of Yarrow." AKA and see "Long Cold Nights," "Sir John Fenwick," "Sir John Fenwick's the Flower amang Them All." English, Air (6/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). ABC. The tune appears under the "Flower of Yarrow" title in Hartburn, Northumberland, musician Henry Atkinson's 1694 (No. 30) music manuscript collection [1]. It is a version of "Long Cold Nights" printed by Henry Playford in Apollo's Banquet (c. 1687)[1], printed also by D'Urfey as "When ye cold Winter Nights were Frozen." The melody is also the vehicle for the song Northumbrian song "Sir John Fenwick's the Flower amang Them All," popularized in Stokoe and Bruce's Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1992)--the authors assert the melody is one of the old 'gathering' tunes, used to raise the tenantry of Borders lairds in time of strife. That song is an ode to Jacobite Sir John Fenwick (1645-1697) who served under William of Orange (later King William III) in Holland. William had occasion to reprimand Fenwick, and the resulting blow to the latter's narcissism was the source of enmity thereafter. Sir John plotted against William, none too discretely (see note for "Sir John Fenwick" for more), and was beheaded in 1697 for conspiring to assassinate the king. Northumbrian smallpiper and researcher Matt Seattle notes the tune flourished on both sides of the Border and is still popular in Northumberland, where the first and third strains of Atkinson's tune have survived in smallpipe repertoire.

James Johnson printed the song "Mary Scott the Flower of Yarrow" in his Scots Musical Museum, to a variant of Atkinson's melody. Stenhouse, in his notes to the airs in the Museum calls the tune an "ancient Border air" that originally consisted of a simple strain, to which a second strain, barely singable due to its octave leaps was added. It was printed in Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius (1725) to verses by Allan Ramsay, beginning "Happy's the love that meets return." The author said that "I frequently heard the old song, in my younger days, sung on the banks of the Tweed. It consisted of several stanzas of four lines each; and the constant burden of which was, "Mary Scott's the flow'r o' Yarrow."

Mary Scott (c. 1550-c. 1596) was a real person, the daughter of Phillip (or John) Scott of Dryhope in Selkirk, renowned for her beauty. Unfortunately, her husband, Walter Scott[2], laird of Harden, was himself equally "renowned for his depredations," and subsequently featured prominently in legends and literature of the Borders reivers.

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  1. However, thirteen years later when the 1690 edition of Apollo's Banquet was printed the title had reverted to "Mary Scott the Flower of Yarrow".
  2. Walter Scott of Harden was an ancestor of writer Sir Walter Scott.