“The Broom o the Cowdenknowes (II - lyric)”


"How blythe each more was I to see My lass come ower the hill, She tripped the burn and ran to me, I met her wi' good will." The singer is exiled for loving the girl (who is above his station?). "To wander by her side again Is a' I crave or care."


Although this song is very popular in folk revival circles (probably because it has the excellent "Cowdenknowes" tune but is short), it is much less popular in tradition than its ballad cousin.

It's interesting to note that the _Scots Musical Museum_ version, which is by far the earliest known to me, is longer than any I've ever heard sung: Eight stanzas plus the chorus. I rather suspect rewriting, because some of the verses are pretty poor. The tune is not quite the same as what we usually hear today.

That the song is even older than that seems nearly certain from the existence of a broadside, NLScotland, Ry .III.a.10(007), "The New Way of the Broom of Cowden Knows," unknown, n.d. Said broadside clearly is based on this song -- the lyric begins "Hard Fate that I should banishet be, And Revell called with Scorn. For serving of a Lovely Prince, As e'er yet was Born. O the Broom, the Bonny Broom, The Broom of Cowding (sic.) knows, I wish his Frinds had Stayed at home, Milking there Dadys Ewes."

There can be no question that this is a Jacobite song. The notes at the NLScotland site suspect it of coming from the 1715 rebellion, probably because it mentions Huntly and his treachery, plus Seaforth. I'd be more inclined to date it to 1746, because 1. It refers to a *prince* (James III was King, in the Jacobite view, in 1715 as well as 1745), and it wishes his friends had stayed at home -- a much more likely sentiment after 1746, when the Highlanders were ruined, than in 1715, when nothing much happened.

Either way, though, the broadside is strong evidence for the existence of the lyric version of "Broom" long before the 1797 publication. - RBW

Cross references


  1. Bronson 217, "The Broom of Cowdenknows" (21 versions+1 in addenda; the #4 version belongs here, implying that at least some of #1-#6 also go with this piece)
  2. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 293-295, "The Broom of Cowden-Knowes" (1 excerpt plus a text and tune from the Child ballad)
  4. Roud #8209
  5. BI, DTcowden


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1797 (_Scots Musical Museum_, #69); almost certainly in existence in some form by 1750 (see notes)
Keywords: love separation exile
Found in: Britain(Scotland)