“The Bonnie House o Airlie”


Argyle sets out to plunder the home of his enemy Airlie while the latter is away (with Bonnie Prince Charlie?). Argyle summons Lady Airlie, asking for a kiss and threatening ruin to the house if she will not. She refuses; they plunder the house


This song seems to have originated in the period when Scotland was in open rebellion against Charles I over the issue of religion -- Charles had tried to impose an Episcopal prayer book on Scotland; that Presbyterian nation reacted with the Covenant, a defiant rejection of Charles's religious schemes. (For this see, e.g. Rosalind Mitchison, _A History of Scotland_, second edition, p. 206ffff.)

Although almost all of Scotland accepted the Covenant, a religious agreement was not a government. The various factions proposed various ways to govern their nation. The two key factions were those headed by Montrose (who still stood by the monarchy, and who would by his military genius later become its chief prop) and Argyle (who was anti-royalist and out for his own profit).

On June 12, 1640, as Charles I was trying to attack Scotland but being delayed by his finances and the increasing unrest of his English subjects, Argyle was empowered by the Scottish parliament (then meeting for the first time without a royal representative) to deal with certain lords as enemies of the Church. One of those under suspicion was the Earl of Airlie (then away in England, apparently to avoid signing the Covenant).

Montrose had taken the lands of Airlie from the Earl's son Lord Ogilvie, but Argyle felt the urge to deal with the house more strenuously.

The earliest copies of the ballad refer to Airlie being present with "King Charlie" (Charles I, reigned 1625-1649). In later versions, "King Charlie" became "(Bonnie) Prince Charlie," a confusion perhaps encouraged by the fact that the Earl of Airlie of 1745 was a follower of Charlie.

The "B" text in Barry et al is even more confused, it dates itself to the days of "the wars of Roses white and red And in the days of Prince Charlie" -- which is, of course, impossible, since the Wars of the Roses took place two and a half centuries before the Jacobite rebellions, and a century and a half before Airlie's first commission. The context of the version suits the Forty-Five. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1640 - Argyle commissioned to clean up certain "unnatural" lords

Same tune

  • Bonnie Den o' Airlie (broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.70(130b), "Bonnie Den o' Airlie" ("It fell upon a day, on a bonnie simmer's day"), Poet's Box (Dundee), n.d, with no tune indicated but clearly this is meant)


  • Murray, Mu23-y1:027, "The Bonnie House o' Airly," James Lindsay Jr. (Glasgow), 19C


  • John MacDonald, "The Bonnie Hoose O' Airlie" (on Voice17)
  • Belle Stewart, "The Bonny Hoose o' Airlie" (on FSBBAL2) (on SCStewartsBlair01)
  • Lucy Stewart, "The Bonnie Hoose o' Airlie" (on LStewart1)


  1. Child 199, "The Bonnie House o Airlie" (4 texts)
  2. Bronson 199, "The Bonnie House o Airlie" (15 versions)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 266-269, "The Bonnie House of Airlie" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #11}
  4. Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 191-192, "The Bonnie House of Airlie" (1 fragment, "The Sacking of Arlee")
  5. Gardner/Chickering 80, "Prince Charlie" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
  6. Ford-Vagabond, pp. 296-299, "The Bonnie House o' Airlie" (1 text)
  7. JHCox 20, "The Bonnie House o' Airlie" (1 text)
  8. Ord, p. 470, "The Bonnie House o' Airlie" (1 text)
  9. MacSeegTrav 15, "The Bonnie House o' Airlie" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Creighton/Senior, pp. 70-71, "The Bonny House o' Arlie" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #16}
  11. Leach, pp. 537-538, "The Bonnie House of Airlie" (2 texts)
  12. OBB 135, "The Bonnie House o Airlie" (1 text)
  13. DT 199, BONAIRLI*
  14. Roud #794
  15. BI, C199


Author: unknown
Earliest date: c. 1790 (broadside)
Keywords: feud courting
Found in: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord)) Canada(Mar) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE)