When the King Comes O'er the Water (Lady Keith's Lament)
DESCRIPTION: "I may sit in my wee croo hoose, Wi' my rock and my reel tae toil, fu' dreary," but the singer is certain things will be better "The day our king comes o'er the water." Though old, she will rant and dance when he comes -- and she again becomes Lady Keith
EARLIEST DATE: 1819 (Hogg)
KEYWORDS: Jacobites return exile hardtimes work nobility age
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Hogg1 27, "When the King Comes O'er the Water " (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: _Sing Out_ magazine, Volume 42, #1 (1997), p, 118-119, "Lady Keith's Lament" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: There seem to be no traditional collections of this (unless Hogg's is one) -- but it has become fairly popular in pop folk circles (presumably because of the magnificent if hard-to-sing tune). I have indexed it on that basis.
The notes in Sing Out! state that this is a Bonnie Prince Charlie song. I frankly don't think so, although it is obviously Jacobite. There are no explicit references to the name of the exiled Stuart king (as the song says, "there is one I will not name"), but there is no mention of a young prince, or a young prince's father. And remember that the singer was, at some time, Lady Keith, but now has lost the title. The strong implication is that she had the title in 1688 ("when Royal Stuart held the sway And none heard tell of Whig or Tory" -- the terms "Whig" and "Tory" were first widely used in the Exclusion Crisis of the period around 1680, according to HistTodayCompanion, pp. 297, 747, 804). If the song were being sung in 1745, the singer would be probably in her seventies at least. Far more likely that she is referring to the Old Pretender, perhaps around 1715. It could even be earlier -- she refers to a "foreign King," which sounds like George I and the Hannoverians, but William III was known as "Dutch William," so he was foreign too.
It seems likely that the Lady Keith of the song was the wife of the ninth Earl Marischal. The Keith family, which had been granted the Marischal earldom by James II in the 1450s, had a long history of Jacobite activity; at the time of the execution of Charles I, William Keith, the seventh Earl Marischal (died 1670?), was keeper of the Scottish crown jewels, and his son John Keith saved them for Charles II (Magnusson, p. 469). After the death of William, George Keith became the eighth Earl Marischal, dying in 1694.
William Keith, the ninth Earl Marischal was also a confirmed Jacobite; he died in 1712, and his sons George Keith the tenth earl (c. 1693-1778) and James Keith (1696-1758) fought at Sheriffmuir in 1715, joined the 1719 rising, and then fled to Germany (OxfordCompanion, pp. 542, 618-619; Magnusson, p. 572, blames some of the problems of the 1719 on George Keith's stubbornness). In 1743, the French had contemplated having George Keith invade England as part of a pro-Jacobite move, but that came to nothing, and Keith did not play a role in the 1745 rising.
The wife of the ninth earl was Mary Drummond, daughter of the fourth Earl of Perth; her mother was the daughter of the Earl of Douglas. Thus the description of Lady Keith as having a good lord's son and an earl's daughter as parents would fit Mary Drummond.
The Keiths were a family of long and distinguished lineage -- Sir Robert Keith had led the Scottish cavalry at Bannockburn (McNamee, p. 62) -- but by the time of the Jacobite conflicts, they seem to have become rather ineffective. William the ninth earl, based on the information on Wikipedia, seems to have been a very inconsistent character. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- HistTodayCompanion: Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn, Editors, The History Today Companion to British History, Collins & Brown, 1995
- Magnusson: Magnus Magnusson, Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
- McNamee: Colm McNamee, The Wars of the Bruces: Scotland, England and Ireland 1306-1328, Tuckwell, 1997
- OxfordCompanion: John Cannon, editor, The Oxford Companion to British History, Oxford, 1997
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