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Sir Walter Scott
The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
Lord Maxwell’s Goodnight

Never Before Published

This beautiful ballad is published from a copy in Glenriddel's MSS., with some slight variations from tradition. It alludes to one of the most remarkable feuds upon the West Marches.

A.D. 1585, John Lord Maxwell, or, as he styled himself, Earl of Morton, having quarreled with the Earl of Arran, reigning favourite of James VI, and fallen, of course, under the displeasure of the court, was denounced rebel. A commission was also given to the Laird of Johnstone, then Warden of the West Marches, to pursue and apprehend the ancient rival and enemy of his house. Two bands of mercenaries, commanded by Captains Cranstoun and Lammie, who were sent from Edinburgh to support Johnstone, were attacked and cut to pieces at Crawford-muir, by Robert Maxwell, natural brother to the chieftain; who, following up his advantage, burned Johnstone's Castle of Lochwood , observing, with savage glee, that he would give Lady Johnstone light enough by which "to set her hood." In a subsequent conflict, Johnstone himself was defeated, and made prisoner, and is said to have died of grief at the disgrace which he sustained. - see SPOTTISWOODE and JOHNSTONE'S Histories, and MOVSE'S Memoirs, ad annum 1585.

By one of the revolutions, common in those days, Maxwell was soon after restored to the King's favour in his turn, and obtained the wardenry of the West Marches. A bond of alliance was subscribed by him, and by Sir James Johnstone, and for some time the two clans lived in harmony. In the year 1593, however, the hereditary feud was revived, on the following occasion: a band of marauders, of the clan Johnstone, drove a prey of cattle from the lands belonging to the Lairds of Crichton, Sanquhar, and Drumlanrig; and defeated, with slaughter, the pursuers, who attempted to rescue their property. The injured parties, being apprehensive that Maxwell would not cordially embrace their cause, on account of his late reconciliation with the Johnstones, endeavoured to overcome the reluctance, by offering to enter into bond of manrent, and so to become the followers and liege men; he, on the other hand, granting to them a bond of maintenance, or protection, by which he bound himself, in usual form, to maintain their quarrel against all mortals, saving his loyalty. Thus, the most powerful and respectable families in Dunfriesshire, became, for a time, the vassals of Lord Maxwell. This secret alliance was discovered to Sir James Johnstone by the Laird of Cummertrees, one of his own clan, though a retainer to Maxwell. Cummertrees contrived to possess himself of the bonds of manrent, which he delivered to his chief. The petty warfare betwixt the rival barons was instantly renewed. Buccleuch, a near relation of Johnstone, came to his assistance with his clan, "the most renowned freebooters, (says a historian,) the fiercest and bravest warriors among the Border tribes." With Buccleuch also came the Elliots, Armstrongs, and Graemes. Thus re-enforced, Johnstone surprised and cut to pieces a party of the Maxwells, stationed at Lochmaben. On the other hand, Lord Maxwell, armed with the royal authority, and numbering among his followers all the barons of Nithsdale, displayed his banner as the King's Lieutenant, and invaded Annandale at the head of 2000 men. In those days, however, the royal auspices seem to have carried as little good fortune as effective strength with them. A desperate conflict, still renowned in tradition, took place at the Dryffe Sands not far from Lockerby, in which Johnstone, although inferior in numbers, partly by his own conduct, partly by the valour of his allies, gained a decisive victory. Lord Maxwell, a tall man, and heavily armed, was stuck from his horse in the flight, and cruelly slain, after the hand, which he stretched out for quarter, had been severed from his body. Many of his followers were slain in the battle, and many cruelly wounded, especially by slashes in the face, which wound was thence termed a "Lockerby lick." The Barons of Lag, Closeburn, and Drumlanrig, escaped by the fleetness of their horses; a circumstance alluded to in the following ballad.

This fatal battle was followed by a long feud, attended with all the circumstances of horror proper to a barbarous age. 

John, Lord Maxwell, with whose Goodnight the reader is here presented, was son to him who fell at the battle of Dryffe Sands, and is said to have early avowed the deepest revenge for his father's death. Such, indeed, was the fiery and untameable spirit of the man, that neither the threats nor entreaties of the King himself could make him lay aside his vindictive purpose; although Johnstone , the object of his resentment, had not only reconciled himself to the court, but even obtained the wardenry of the Middle Marches, in room of Sir John Carmichael, murdered by the Armstrongs. Lord Maxwell was therefore prohibited to approach the Border counties; and having, in contempt of that mandate, excited new disturbances, he was confined in the castle of Edinburgh. From this fortress, however, he contrived to make his escape; and, having repaired to Dumfries-shire, he sought an amicable interview with Johnstone, under a pretence of a wish to accommodate their differences. Sir Robert Maxwell, of Orchardstane, (mentioned in the Ballad, verse 1) who was married to a sister of Sir James Johnstone, persuaded his brother-in-law to accede to Maxwell's proposal. The following relation of what followed is taken from an article in Shawfield's MS., mentioned in the introduction to the ballad called Kinmont Willie.

"The simple truth and cause of the treasonable murther of umquhile Sir James Johnstone, of Dunskellie, knight, was as efter followes. To wit, John Lord Maxwell having dealt and useit his best means with some nobilemen and baroones within the cuntrey, and likeways with sundrie of the name of Maxwell, being refuised of them all to be partakers of so foull ane deed; till at last he unhappily persuaded one Charles Maxwell, one of the brether of Kirkhouse, to be with him, and having made him assuired to be pairtner in that treasonable plot: therefore, taking advantage of the weakness and unabilitie of umquhill Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchayardtoun, knight, presuming that he had power of the said Sir James, being brother-in-law to him, to bring him to anye part he please; Maxwell, pretending he had special business to do with Sir James, hearing he was going from the court of England, so gave out by reason he was the king's rebel for the time, for breaking weird out of the castle, of Edinburgh, that he had no other houpes to obtaine the King's favour but be his meanes. So upon this pretence, the said Sir James was moved to meet him at Auchnamhill upon the 6th Aprile, 1608, with one man onlie with him as was with the uther, therselves two onlie and the forsaid Sir Robert Maxwell with them, and their servantes being a little off. The forsaid Charles falls out with opprobrions and malicious speeches to Sir James his servant, William Johnstone of Gunmenlie,and before he was aware shott him with ane pistol. Sir James hearing the shott and his man's words, turning about to see what was past, immediatelie Maxwell shott him behind his back with ane pistol chairgit with two poysonit bullets, at which shott the said Sir James fell from his horse. Maxwell not being content therewith, raid about him ane lang tyme, and perused him farder, vowing to use him more cruelly and treacherouslie than he had done, for which it is known sufficiently what followed." - "A fact," saith Spottiswoode, "detested by all honest men, and the gentleman's misfortune severely lamented, for he was a man full of wisdom and courage."

Lord Maxwell, the murderer, made his escape to France; but having ventured to return to Scotland, he was apprehended lurking in the wilds of Caithness, and brought to trial at Edinburgh. The royal authority was now much strengthened by the union of the crowns, and James employed it in stanching the feuds of the nobility, with a firmness which was no attribute of his general character. But in the best actions of that monarch, there seems to have been an unfortunate tincture of that meanness, so visible on the present occasion. Lord Maxwell was indicted for the murder of Johnstone; but this was combined with a charge of fire-raising, which, according to the ancient Scottish law, if perpetrated by a landed man, constituted a species of treason, and inferred forfeiture. Thus the noble purpose of public justice was sullied by being united with that of enriching some needy favourite. John, Lord Maxwell, was condemned , and beheaded, 21st May, 1613. Sir Gideon Murray, treasurer-depute, had a great share of his forfeiture; but the attainder was afterwards reversed, and the honours and estate were conferred upon the brother of the deceased.

The lady mentioned in the ballad, was sister to the Marquis of Hamilton, and, according to Johnstone, the historian, had little reason to regret being separated from her husband, whose harsh treatment finally occasioned her death. But Johnstone appears not to be altogether untinctured with the prejudices of his clan, and is probably, in this instance, guilty of exaggeration; as the active share taken by the Marquis of Hamilton in favour of Maxwell, is a circumstance inconsistent with such a report.

Thus was finally ended, by a salutary example of severity, the "foul debate" betwixt the Maxwells and the Johnstones, in the course of which each family lost two chieftains; one dying of a broken heart, one in the field of battle, one by assassination, and one by the sword of the executioner.

It seems reasonable to believe that the following ballad must have been written before the death of Lord Maxwell, in 1613; otherwise there would have been some allusion to that event. It must therefore have been composed betwixt 1608 and that period. 


"Adieu, madame, my mother dear,
But and my sister three!
Adieu, fair Robert of Orchardstane!
My heart is wae for thee.
Adieu, my ladye, and only joy!
For I may not stay with thee.

"Though I hae slain the Lord Johnstone,
What care I for their feid:
My noble mind their wrath disdains, -
He was my father's deid.
Both night and day I labour'd oft,
Of him avenged to be;
But now I've got what lang I sought,
And I may not stay with thee.

"Adieu! Drumlanrig, false wert aye,
And Closeburn in a band!
The Laird of Lag, frae my father that fled,
When the Johnstone struck off his hand.
They were three brethren in a band -
Joy may they never see!
Their treacherous art, and cowardly heart,
Hae twined my love and me.

"Adieu! Dumfries, my proper place,
But and Carlaverock fair!
Adieu! my castle of the Thrieve,
Wi' a' my buildings there;
Adieu! Lochmaben's gate sae fair,
The Langholm-holm, where birks there be:
Adieu! my ladye and only joy,
For, trust me, I may not stay wi' thee.

"Adieu! fair Eskdale up and down,
Where my puir friends do dwell;
The bangisters will ding them down,
And will them sair compell.
But I'll avenge their feid mysell,
When I come o'er the sea;
Adieu! my layde, and only joy,
For I may not stay wi' thee." -

"Lord of the land!" - that ladye said,
"O wad ye go wi' me,
Unto my brother's stately tower,
Where safest ye may be!
There Hamiltons, and Douglas baith,
Shall rise to succour thee." -
"Thanks for thy kindness, fair my dame,
But I may not stay wi' thee." -

Then he tuik aff a gay gold ring,
Thereat hang signets three;
"Hae, tak thee that, mine ain dear thing,
And still hae mind o' me:
But if thou take another lord,
Ere I come ower the sea -
His life is but a three days' lease,
Though I may not stay wi' thee." -

The wind was fair, the ship was clear,
That good lord went away:
And most part of his friends were there,
To give him a fair convey.
They drank the wine, they didna spair,
Even in that gude lord's sight -
Sae now he's o'er the floods sae gray,
And Lord Maxwell has ta'en his Goodnight.

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