Henry's Songbook

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Parcel O' Rogues

  • (Trad / Robert Burns)

    Fareweel tae all oor Scottish fame
    Fareweel oor ancient glory
    Fareweel even tae oor Scottish name
    Sae famed in martial story
    Now Sark runs tae the Solway sand
    Tweed runs tae the ocean
    To mark where England's province stand
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation

    What force or guile could ne'er subdue
    Through many warlike ages
    Is wrought now by a coward few
    For hireling traitor's wages
    The English steel we could disdain
    Secure in valour's station
    But English gold has been oor bane
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation

    Oh would that ere I saw the day
    That treason thus should sell us
    My auld grey heid was laid in clay
    Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace
    But pith an' power tae my last hour
    I'll mak' this declaration
    We're bought and sold for English gold
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation

    (as sung by Hamish Imlach)

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • [1962:] This song embodies rather well the anti-Union feeling of Scotland during the eighteenth century. The charge of corruption which is made here against the majority of the Scottish Parliament who 'treasonably sold us for English gold', is repeated again and again in the Jacobite songs. (Notes Ewan MacColl, 'The Jacobite Rebellions')

  • [1970:] Scottish poetry has its share of satires and popular broadsides. James Maidment collected many of these in his 'Book of Scottish Pasquils'. I give two of them here showing the popular mind about the Treaty of Union of 1707 [Verses on the Scots Peers 1706, p 274; A Litanie anent the Union, p 275]. (Penguin Book of Scottish Verse 12)

    The Treaty of Union, the first and biggest take-over bid in British history, completed the work begun by the lamentable James VI, whose death as James I of England was followed in a few decades by the political murder of his son by his English subjects, and in a few decades more by the expulsion of his grandson and the end of the House of Stewart's rule. The Kingdom of Scotland, established by Kenneth MacAlpin in 843, re-established by Robert Bruce from 1306-1328, seemed at last to have been destroyed, through Scottish ruling-class greed, by the Auld Enemy. Only the kirk and the law were left as some remnant of separate Scottish identity. There was a swelling 'trahison de clercs', treason of the intellectuals, in the universities, which has gone on ever since, and still goes on; and all seemed lost. (Penguin Book of Scottish Verse 44)

  • [1972:] In 1701 the English Parliament, foreseeing that Anne, William's inevitable successor, might leave no heirs when she died, provided that the succession should in that case pass to her nearest Protestant kinswoman, the Electress Sophia of Hanover, and her heirs, stipulating also that the new sovereign must be a communicant of the Church of England. This Act of Settlement was passed without any reference to Scotland. [...] She could choose a monarch of her own, perhaps even the Old Pretender [son of the exiled James VII and II]. William saw the danger, and to him it appeared that the only remedy was a complete union between the two realms. He had indeed suggested this immediately after his succession, but though the Scottish Convention favoured the idea, the English would have nothing of it. [...]

    The Act of Union was a remarkable achievement. It made two countries one and yet, by deliberately preserving the Church, the Law, the Judicial System, and some of the characteristics of the smaller kingdom, it ensured that Scotland should preserve the definite nationality which she had won for herself and had preserved so long. It realized the desires of both countries. To England it gave security, in face of French hostility, for the Hanoverian succession and for the constitutional settlement of the Revolution; to Scotland it gave a guarantee of her Revolution Settlement in Church and State, and an opportunity for economic development which was sorely needed. [...]

    [Yet] jealousy remained and it was heightened by the patronizing attitude of the English who represented, and still represent, that Scotland was 'merged' into England and that on terms of great generosity. Very recently an English historian wrote 'henceforward Scotland was to be represented both in the English House of Lords and House of Commons, and Scottish members were given the right to vote on all questions whether of domestic concern or not'. The Act of Union makes it quite clear that after 1 May 1707, there was no English Parliament; there was a Parliament of Great Britain in which all members could vote on any subject which came before it. Again he refers to the financial generosity shown by the English in granting a large sum to Scotland as compensation for her assuming a share of the national debt. The Equivalents were, in fact, the capital value of the Scottish obligations as computed by competent financiers. Moreover, there was a moral as well as a financial aspect of the matter. By the Treaty, part of the capital sum of the Equivalents was to be used - in fact more than half was required - to recoup the shareholders of a Scottish company which had been deliberately ruined in the interests of English commerce. Yet within a few years of the Union, Treasurer Harley told the Scottish members that when England gave them the Equivalent she had bought the right to tax them.

    The idea that Scotland was 'sold' is due, partly, to the assertions of Scottish opponents of the Union, that it was effected by bribery. All public servants at that time and for long afterwards expected some rewards from their governments as a matter of course. In this case, of the £20,000 secretly sent from England, far the greater part was already due to Queensberry and other officers in respect of unpaid salaries and allowances, and £1,000 went to Atholl who was, and who remained, a vigorous opponent of the government. Many nobles favoured Union to preserve the trade with England which they had already established.

    No doubt money and gratifications passed but the Union was not brought about by the bribery of Parliament. That it was unpopular in the country at large cannot be denied; but among those who disliked it were many who realized that it was better than the only possible alternative. That alternative is not always sufficiently considered by critics of the present day, some of whom are more apt to regard the disadvantages of the Union than the benefit it conferred. Yet must it be said that this hostile criticism is due, not only to sentimental attachment to the 'old song' or to regret that the Scottish Parliament should have been extinguished just when it was thriving well, but to the attitude of the English themselves in misinterpreting the spirit of the Act of Union and sometimes even ignoring its text. (Mackie 255ff)

  • [1978:] Robert Burns' song about the union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707. The Scottish parliament, bribed outright, and promised compensation for money lost in the disastrous Darien scheme by King William, ignored the fury of the mobs who rioted in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dumfries, and voted to join England. Scotland's freedom was lost not to English armies, but to English money. (Notes Iain MacKintosh & Hamish Imlach, 'A Man's A Man')

  • [1984:] Thomas Crawford suggests that the original may have been one of the Jacobite songs which Burns altered or touched up, although as always "it is extremely difficult ... to say where tradition leaves off, and Burns ... begins". Allan Morris [...] adds, "I regard it as the first 'folk song' I ever learned. [It] still remains to my mind one of the finest national songs we have. [...] The theme is the betrayal of Scottish nationhood in 1707 ... such betrayal still proceeding today, with tacit agreement of some sections of the Scottish populace." (Munro, Revival 154f)

  • [1985:] [This is] about the Union of Parliaments in 1707, when the English Parliament bought the Scottish one - cheap! (Notes Hamish Imlach, 'Sonny's Dream')

  • [1996:] As an essay in vitriol I've admired this song for years, but it's only as a lament that I felt able to sing it. (Notes Rod Paterson, 'Songs from the Bottom Drawer')

  • [1999:] On July 1, the Scottish Parliament begins its first session. First? That doesn't convey the sense of joy and disbelief around the day. The Scottish Parliament, which dissolved itself in hope, guilt, rage and tears 292 years ago, will gather once more to resume its work. The old one was the assembly of a sovereign kingdom. The new one is technically a sub-parliament within the Union. But in Scotland there is a feeling that a lineage, a thread of continuity across time, has survived. This parliament is not just a bright new constitutional gadget. It is a fresh sapling from an old stump, from the tree felled when Chancellor Seafield closed the final session and said: 'There's ane end to ane auld sang.' [...]

    Compromise is expected [on the controversial question of how to open the new Parliament]. Her Majesty, splendid in Thistle robes, would ride by state coach from Holyrood to the Assembly Hall, temporary home of the Parliament until its new building is ready. Archers, Knights and Heralds may escort her. But the MSPs will do their own walk from the old 1707 Parliament House to the Hall. Only 200 yards, but it is a Riding of sorts. ['Riding of the Parliament', when the members of the old Scottish Parliament walked between the Edinburgh crowds from the palace at Holyrood up to the Parliament House. By tradition, the common people got a good sight of them, shouted at them and flung the odd stone.] And the idea that they should start from where they left off almost 300 years ago is a salute to continuity. When the Queen has left and the trumpets died, they will pick up the thread. 'As we were saying, before we so rudely interrupted ourselves ...' (Neal Ascherson, Observer, 4 Apr)

  • [2000:] Thomas Crawford, "Burns: A Study of the Poems and Songs" (Edinburgh-London: Oliver & Boyd, 1960), p. 239 [...] goes on to say that the song is "in character", as sung by an opponent of the Union of Parliaments in 1707, "and it shows Burns working in the spirit of his source-material to produce an imaginative reconstruction of a patriot's feelings in 1707", etc. He doesn't go much into what "source material" there might be. I should add maybe that the editor of B's complete poems, James Kinsley (Oxford, 1968), notes that in the MS. it's labelled "Mr B---- words", BUT in the Scots Musical Museum is left unsigned, "perhaps because the theme and the refrain were not Burns's own". (Murray on Saltspring,, 13 Jan)

    And the tune "A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation" had been around since about 1752, but no one has ever found any verses for it. Hogg in 'Jacobite Relics I', merely said the song and air were well known (and didn't mention Burns). James Dick in 'The Songs of Robert Burns' also touches on the Act of Union, and the 31 Scottish Union Commissioners, the rogues. Dick also quotes the entry in Grey's MS list, 'Mr. B-- words'. (Bruce Olson,, 14 Jan)

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