“The Knight of Liddesdale”


Only one stanza extant: "The Countesse of Douglas out of her boure she came, And loudly there did she call: 'It is for the Lord of Liddesdale That I let all these tears downe fall.'"


Child apparently included this ballad in his collection "on speculation"; Scott's "Minstrelsy" claimed there were "fragments" still current in his time. Child, however, had only one stanza, and nothing more has been recovered since.

Child has extensive notes on the Knight of Liddesdale, who is the probable subject of this ballad. William Douglas, who was known as the Knight of Liddesdale, was active during the reign of David Bruce, the son of Robert Bruce (for some details on the complicated Scottish succession of this period, see the notes to "The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward" [Child 271]).

David had come to the throne as a child of five, and soon after, the English were invading; the English King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377) was promoting Edward Balliol as King of Scotland (this was, in a way, proper, since Edward Balliol was the son of John Balliol, who was the rightful heir of Scotland's King Alexander III. But the Balliol claim had been abdicated, and Edward III was promoting Edward Balliol solely to gain control of Scotland.)

In this period, there was much conflict between the Balliol adherents and the loyalists who supported David Bruce's claim. This conflict did not really end until Edward III started the Hundred Years' War with France and started sending his troops to France rather than Scotland. The Balliol forces were then pushed out of Scotland. Naturally there was much opportunity for various people to pick up lands at the expense of their neighbors. The Knight of Liddesdale was one of the staunchest defenders of the Bruce legacy (see Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, _The History of Scotland_, 1982; I use the 1995 Barnes & Noble edition; p. 85).

We can't say much about this song, but since it seems to refer to Liddesdale's death, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the song at least mentions the complicated question of his successor (which Child does not elaborate) -- or of Douglas's dealings to obtain his fief in 1342. These were, according to Stephen Boardman's _The Early Stewart Kings_, p. 162, "somewhat dubious."

What followed Liddesdale's death was at least as dubious, since the other William Douglas (the assassin) became "Lord of Liddesdale" by a royal grant in 1354, and the grant was converted to an earldom in 1384. This even though the Knight had had a daugher, Mary, though she died in 1367 without issue.

Earl Liddesdale died in 1388, causing yet another squabble over the inheritance (since there was a major factional struggle in Scotland at the time); eventually the property went to Douglas of Dalkeith. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1353 - Assassination of William Douglas, "The Knight of Liddesdale," by his relative Lord William Douglas


  1. Child 160, "The Knight of Liddesdale" (0 texts!)
  2. Roud #3999
  3. BI, C160


Author: unknown
Earliest date: (1833)
Keywords: death mourning nobility