[1880:] There are two editions of [this song], one of which was supplied by Burns to The Scots Musical Museum. It was obtained by Burns from oral tradition in Ayrshire, but the poet touched up some of the stanzas, and added the third and the eighth [nos. 2 and 3 above]. The other copy was obtained by Scott from his friend Laidlaw, and was published in the Minstrelsy. There is a ballad entitled The Life and Death of Sir Hugh of the Grime in D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy, which contains practically the same story. The story upon which the ballad is supposed to be founded is a traditional one, and is to the effect that Aldridge, the Bishop of Carlisle, about 1560 seduced the wife of Hugh Graham, one of the chiefs of the Border, and Graham, unable to bring the prelate to justice, made a raid, and with other spoil carried off a fine mare belonging to Aldridge. He was pursued by Sir John Scroope, captured and brought back to Carlisle, where he was hanged for felony. All attempts to save his life failed, and popular tradition attributes the stubbornness of the Bishop to his desire to get rid of the chief obstacle of his guilty passion. The Bishop was no favourite, and hence probably the animus against him in the ballad; for, as a rule, the old ballad mongers were not very hard upon lawless lovers.
[In Burns' version,] Stirling, and not Carlisle, is made the scene of the execution [...]. It was for the Bishop's 'honour' that Hughie must die, the word honour perhaps suggesting that the Bishop's 'mare' had a meaning which may be easily conjectured. [The] ballad ends with the fierce dying words of Hughie
Remember me to Maggy my wife
The niest time ye gang o'er the moor
Tell her she staw the Bishop's mare
Tell her she was the Bishop's whore
And ye may tell my kith and kin
I never did disgrace their blood
And when they meet the Bishop's cloak
To mak' it shorter by the hood
Tradition does not say whether these dying injunctions were fulfilled, but if they were not it may certainly be assumed that it was not out of want of disposition on the part of the Grahams to revenge the death of Hughie upon the Bishop. (Ord, Glasgow Weekly Herald, July 10)
[1964:] We do not know if Hugh Graeme, the border raider, is a figure of history or fiction. Several versions of the ballad set the scene of his plundering activities in the neighbourhood of Carlisle, and we are reminded that in 1548, complaints were laid to the Lord Bishop of Carlisle against more than four hundred freebooters and outlaws, of whom Hugh may have been one. The present version places the action further north, in the neighbourhood of 'Strievelin toun' (Stirling), but as with the Border versions, the sympathies are all with the bad-man and all against the authorities. Hugh was perhaps unusually well-favoured in having the Earl of Home's wife to speak up for him, though her intervention was fruitless.
The earliest printed form of the ballad appears - a little surprisingly, perhaps - in the compilation of mainly saucy songs known as Durfey's 'Pills to Purge Melancholy' (1720), but it was already quite an old song then. Once common, the ballad seems to have become very rare in tradition. Only one version is reported in the twentieth century, obtained by the diligent Scottish collector Gavin Greig from Mrs. Lyall of Skene, near Aberdeen. Mrs. Lyall's excellent Dorian tune is the one used here by Ewan MacColl. (Notes Ewan MacColl & A. L. Lloyd, 'English and Scottish Folk Ballads')
[1974:] The popular conception of a Scotsman is of a kilted Highlander on top of this hill, way up in the Highlands somewhere, clutching a claymore, and shouting, "Wha's like us ...". But down in the Borders there used to be quite a martial scene, too, because that's after all where the English stopped - or were stopped, I should say. And the Border clans, the Lowland clans used to be quite warlike, in particular the Graham. Clan Graham used to occupy the debatable land. They were always untameable.
(Intro The Corries)