Lady Viscountess Duncan

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LADY VISCOUNTESS DUNCAN. AKA - "Viscountess Duncan." Scottish, Strathspey. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB. The melody appears as "Miss Hunter of Blackness Strathspey/Mrs. Hunter of Blackness" in the music manuscript of James Webster, Alehouse Hill, New Deer, Aberdeenshire, begun in 1839. His manuscript was in the possession of J. Murdoch Henderson, who made some comments and annotations. Henderson indicates the tune was also in the published collection of Charles Duff.

Viscountess Duncan was born Henrietta Dundas, who married in 1777 Captain Adam Duncan (1731-1804) of the Royal Navy-it was a fortunate match for him politically, as Henrietta's uncle became secretary of state for war under Pitt in 1794. The couple had five daughters and two sons. She died in Edinburgh in December 1832, and little is recorded about her life. Too typically, there is considerable record of the males in her life. She was the second daughter of the Right Honourable Robert Dundas (1713-1787), Esquire, 4th Lord of Arniston, who was a Solicitor General for Scotland and later MP for Midlothian, and finally, in 1760, Lord President of the Court of Session. He was the most important person in public affairs in Scotland of his era. When he died Robert Burns wrote a commemorative verse called "On the Death of Lord President Dundas," wherein he said:

O heavy loss, thy country ill could bear!
A loss these evil days can ne'er repair!

Burns was a mature and well-respected writer when he penned the poem, for which he nevertheless admitted included some "commonplace" verses along with "others rather hide-bound," and he sent it off to the family, who ignored it. The poet was incensed at being so slighted, and never forgave the insult. He later wrote to a friend:

From that time, highly as I respect the talents of their Family, I never see the name, Dundas, in the column of a newspaper, but my heart seems straitened for room in my bosom; and if I am obliged to read aloud a paragraph relating to one of them, I feel my forehead flush, and my lip quivers. Had I been an obscure Scribbler, as I was then in the hey-day of my fame; or had I been a dependent Hanger-on for favor or pay; or had the bearer of the letter been any other than a gentleman who has done honour to the city in which he lives, to the Country that produced him, and to the God that created him, Mr Solicitor might have had some apology.

After his marriage to Henrietta, Adam Duncan went on to make a name for himself as a fighting commander. His most famous victory came at Camperdown in October 1797, when he helped foil the French plan to aid the rebels in Ireland. The French had leveraged their ally, Holland, into making a show of force with their fleet, capitalizing on unrest in the English fleet following the mutinies at the Nore and Spithead. The British North Sea Fleet was then commanded by Duncan, who managed to intercept the Dutch and in a sharp and bloody fight Duncan lost not a single vessel. The Dutch, meanwhile, lost nine ships of the line and a number of frigates. Duncan was named Admiral Duncan, 1st Viscount Camperdown, for his efforts and was feted by a grateful nation who saw his victory as one of the most famous naval actions in history. A pension of £3,000 was awarded to him by the government, the largest ever awarded. Finally, he was made Baron Duncan of Lundie, his family home on the Perthshire-Angus border. Adam Duncan, and presumably Henrietta, are buried in the little churchyard at Lundie. Her obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine of 1832 reads in part: "Her many amiable qualities and her fascinating manners will long endear the memory of Lady Duncan. She continued in possession of all her faculties to her advanced age."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 106. Gow (Fifth Collection of Strathspey Reels), 1809; p. 25. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 122.

Recorded sources:




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