“Sir James the Ross”


Matilda's father wants her to marry John Graham rather than James Ross. James kills John's brother and hides with Matilda while she sends her page to raise John's men. The page betrays James to John Graham. James is killed and Matilda commits suicide.

Long description

"Of all the Scottish northern chiefs... The bravest was Sir James the Rose." He leads 500 warriors. He loves Matilda, daughter of "Buchan's cruel lord," who prefers that she wed Sir John the Graham. John's brother Donald spies on James and Matilda and hears her say "the grave shall be my bridal bed If Graham my husband be." Donald confronts James and is killed. He tells Matilda he has killed Donald and must hide because his own men are "far far distant." He plans to go to raise his men but she convinces him to hide and send a page to raise his men. The page meets Graham and twenty of his men and tells where James is hiding. James fights bravely. Matilda pleas for his life but he is mortally wounded. She kills herself on James's sword. With his dying effort James kills Graham.


Child has only one version of 213 ("O heard ye of Sir James the Rose") but acknowledges a different ballad: "'Sir James the Ross, A Historical Ballad' (sometimes called 'The Buchanshire Tragedy'), was composed by the youthful Michael Bruce (1767) upon the story of the popular ballad, and has perhaps enjoyed more favor with 'the general' than the original." Coffin, _The British Traditional Ballad in North America_ (Philadelphia, 1950), pp. 128-129: "The Child 'Sir James the Rose' ballad is not in America. The American texts [including Pound's from Nebraska] are highly sophisticated and based on 'Sir James the Ross,' a song Child, IV, 156 thought to have been composed by Michael Bruce [disputed by Coffin citing Barry citing Keith 'that Michael Bruce is mistakenly considered the composer....']." Mackenzie regarding his two versions: "[They] represent 'Sir James the Ross,' an unacknowledged adaptation by Michael Bruce, of the old Scottish ballad 'Sir James the Rose' (Child, No. 213)." Confirming Coffin's observation, Karpeles-Newfoundland, Peacock, Creighton-SNewBrunswick, and Creighton-Maritime all are derived from the same text as MacKenzie's. - BS

Cross references


  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(50), "Tragedy of Sir James the Rose," Poet's Box (Glasgow), 1869; also RB.m.143(157), "Sir James the Ross"


  1. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 284-291, "Sir James the Ross" (1 text from manuscript)
  2. Flanders/Olney, pp. 147-154, "Sir James, the Rose" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #25}
  3. Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 239-254, "Sir James the Ross" (3 texts, 1 tune; of the three texts, "C" is short, while "A" is based on penciled changed George Edwards wrote in the margin of BarryEckstormSmyth) {Bronson's #25}
  4. Creighton/Senior, pp. 75-79, "Sir James the Ross" (1 text plus 2 fragments, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #27, 26}
  5. Creighton-Maritime, pp. 23-25, "Sir James the Ross" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 7, "Sir James the Ross" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  7. Peacock, pp. 715-719, "Sir James the Rose" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Karpeles-Newfoundland 18, "Sir James the Ross" (2 texts, 3 tunes)
  9. Mackenzie 11, "Sir James the Rose" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #16}
  10. DT 213, JAMEROSE
  11. Roud #2274
  12. BI, C213A


Author: Michael Bruce?
Earliest date: 1869 (broadside, NLScotland L.C.Fol.70(50))
Found in: Canada(Mar,Newf) US(NE)