Sir Robert o' Gordonstown
DESCRIPTION: "Oh! wha has na heard o' that man o' renown -- The wizard, Sir Robert o' Gordonstown!" The wizard had cheated the devil of his soul but is tricked into accompanying the Devil to his death.
AUTHOR: William Hay (source: Cumming, GreigDuncan8)
EARLIEST DATE: 1839 (Cumming)
LONG DESCRIPTION: The wicked wizard Sir Robert had cheated the devil of his soul. Afterwards, he didn't even have a shadow: "langsyne had he lost it in far foreign parts" Then he made "a fiend-salamander" in his furnace to learn secrets that allowed him, for example, to ride his coach across thin ice without falling through. One night the Devil disguised himself as the wizard's friend, the Parson o' Duffus, and they drank until the wizard became drunk and confused. "Duffus"'s shape changed to a charger. Apparently realizing that his soul was in danger again, and believing that safety lay in reaching the graveyard at Birnie, Sir Robert rode the [Devil] charger toward Birnie where "The spries o' the earth, an' fiends o' the air" were waiting. The Devil took Sir Robert's soul and that of the Parson of Birnie as well.
KEYWORDS: shape-changing death suicide magic drink horse clergy Devil witch
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (3 citations):
GreigDuncan8 1887, "Robert Gordon of Gordonston" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Robert Ford, editor, Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland [first series] (Paisley, 1899), pp. 155-159, "Sir Robert o' Gordonstown"
[George Cumming, editor,] The Lintie o' Moray being a Collection of Poems Chiefly Composed for and Sung at the Anniversaries of the Edinburgh Morayshire Society From 1829 to 1841, (Forres, 1851 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 55-58, 81-82, "Sir Roberts o' Gordonstown"
cf. "The Mistletoe Bough" (tune, per Cumming)
cf. "The Warlock Laird o' Skene" (motif: wizard rides across a frozen lake)
NOTES: The ballad leaves holes in the story, which Cumming resolves by telling the whole story in an Appendix. The story, but not the ballad, explains that Sir Richard rode to Birnie because he had been advised by "Duffus" that "if he reached and set foot on the holy mould even of the [Birnie] kirk-yard, no power in hell could touch him." In the ballad "Duffus" is misleading Sir Robert into a trap. In the story the Devil follows and catches Sir Robert after being inadvertently misdirected by the drunk Parson of Birnie; that parson's error leads to his own death at the Devil's hands. In the ballad there is no chance that the Devil is misdirected since he is carrying Sir Robert; the death of the Parson of Birnie by suicide -- "for the Parson o' Birnie has put himself doon" -- in the ballad is not explained.
Cuming: "Sir Robert Gordon was second son ofthe Earl of Sutherland. He had received his education partly in Italy, and travelled abroad during his younger days. He was created a baronet of Nova Scotia in 1625, and in 1634 was a privy counsellor of Charles I. He was a man of uncommon genius, and in a knowledge of art and science, was far in advance of the age in which he lived. Hence he was deemed a 'wizard,' and was the terror of the common people who believed he was familiar with Satan." - BS
It is interesting to note a legend that a man without a shadow was said to have lost his soul. The loss of his shadow presumably predicted Sir Richard's end. - RBW
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