Flowers of the Forest (1)
X:1 T:Flowres of the Forest , The M:C L:1/8 S:Skene Ms. (1615-20) K:D d2d2 efab|afed B2A2|d2d2 efab|afed d4:|| AB =c2 Bc d2|A2 fe d/B/ A3|A2 Bd b2 af|e3 d/e/ d4||
FLOWERS OF THE FOREST . Scottish, Lament (4/4 time). G Mixolydian (Neil): A Mixolydian (Martin). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Martin): AB (Niel). This melody, the "old air" (also called "Liltin' (The)"), appears earliest under this title in the Skene Collection, a lute manuscript of c. 1615-20. The lament makes reference to the Battle of Flodden Field, fought in Northumberland on the 9th of September, 1513, when the Scots army of James IV was soundly defeated by the English under Thomas Howard, Earl of Surray. During the fray a majority of the Scots nobility, as well as the supporting army, were slain. "'Flowers of the Forest' refers to the Scots who came from Ettrick Forest, the name given to the ancient district of Selkirkshire and Peebleshire and possibly part of Clydeside. The town of Selkirk, the 'favoured Forest Queen', dominated the area which was used by royalty for hunting and the 'Forest' boasted the finest archers in Scotland" (Neil, 1991). The melody is a more ancient version of the tune than that of version #2, which is better known. Words were set to this tune by Jane Elliot ("The Floo'ers o' the Forest") and others.
I've heard them liltin at the ewe milkin',
Lassies a liltin' before dawn o' day,
Now there's a moanin' on ilka green loanin,
The Flowers o' the Forest are a' wede away. ..... (Jane Elliot)
"Ritson says that "the tune Flowden Hill or The Flowers of the Forest, is one of the most beautiful Scottish melodies now extant, and, if of the age supposed, must be considered as the most ancient.' Regarding the words of the song he says, 'its antiquity, however, has been called in question; and the fact is, that no copy, printed or manuscript, so old as the beginning of present (eighteenth) century, can be now produced." (quoted by John Glen, Early Scottish Melodies, 1900, p. 6).
Perhaps due to the subject matter of the song, coupled with the stateliness of the air, playing "The Flowers of the Forest" has been a tradition at Scottish funerals (especially military, where it is often rendered by a lone bagpiper). The tune was played by two pipers in 1903, for example, at King's Cross in honor of the funeral train of General Hector MacDonald (see "Hector the Hero"). It was also played by massed pipers at the funeral of Winston Churchill in the 1960's. Christine Martin (2002) notes that it was played at the funeral of Borders fiddler Tom Hughes in 1986, by fiddler Bob Hobkirk.