DESCRIPTION: "Ken ye how a Whig can fight?" The ballad gives examples that Whigs can't fight, that Sunderland, who had sworn to clear the land, cannot be found. The song imagines "the Dutchmen" drowned, Jacobite victory, and King James crowned.
EARLIEST DATE: 1821 (Hogg2)
KEYWORDS: rebellion Scotland humorous nonballad patriotic Jacobites
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (5 citations):
GreigDuncan8 1694, "Aiken Drum" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Hogg2 7, "Aikendrum" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Robert Chambers, The Popular Rhymes of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1870 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 41-42, "Aiken Drum" ("There cam a man to our town, to our town, to our town") (1 tune)
Robert Chambers (Edited by Norah and William Montgomerie), Traditional Scottish Nursery Rhymes (1990 selected from Popular Rhymes) #101, p. 63, "Aiken Drum"
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, "Aikendrum" (on SCMacCollSeeger01)
cf. "Ye Jacobites By Name" (tune)
NOTES: Opie 7 quotes the first lines of this song noting that it is "a ballad about the opposing armies before the battle of Sheriffmuir (1715)." The Battle of Sheriffmuir took place November 13, 1715 between the Jacobites and Hanoverians. Told from the Jacobite viewpoint this song does not reflect the outcome of the battle. Both sides claimed victory in this biggest battle of the 1715 Jacobite uprising. - BS
The Digital Tradition lists this to the tune of "Captain Kidd." The two are related, I think, but Ewan MacColl's tune is shifted to minor and has other differences.
I suspect that the song may have been mistranscribed by Hogg. The first line was clearly heard as "Ken ye hoo a Whig can fight, Aikendrum, aikendrum." But "hoo" can be either "how" (as Hogg and the above description) or "who"; the latter makes more sense.
The song refers to "Sunderland," which on its face would appear to be Charles Spencer, Third Earl of Sunderland (1674-1722), a Whig politician who had been one of the leaders of the governments from 1706-1710, and who intrigued for high office under George I as well (OxfordCompanion, p. 900). In this period, though, he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and doing very little other than trying to get higher office out of George I.
I would point out, however, that Sunderland did, as the song claims, "vanish frae oor strand." He was forever trying to get George I's attention, and, according to Brumwell/Speck, p. 377, "His chance came when the king went to Hanover. Sunderland wend abroad ostensibly on health grounds, on to make a beeline for the royal presence."
Despite this, it is generally agreed that "Sunderland" is in fact "Sutherland," a Hannoverian general in Scotland who was responsible for guarding Scotland but who was outmanuevered by the Jacobite Sir Donald MacDonald.
Not that that Jacobite success did much good. John Erskine, Earl of Mar (1675-1732), had been part of the government under Queen Anne, but was dismissed after George I took the throne in 1714. He finally cast his lot with the Jacobite forces, and commanded the rebels at Sheriffmuir, the great battle of the 1715 rebellion.
His opponent, the Duke of Argyll (1678-1743), was a genuine soldier, having served with distinction under Marlborough. He had also actively supported the Act of Union (Brumwell/Speck, p. 31). He was an obvious choice to command the Hanoverian forces in Scotland.
According to Sinclair-Stevenson, p. 53, Sheriffmuir took place on a "bitterly cold day." The Jacobites had an overwhelming numerical advantage (usually listed as on the order of 9000 men to Argyll's 3500 or so), but Mar had no idea what to do with his troops and the battle -- the only serious clash of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion -- was a tactical draw, with both armies gaining ground on the right and yielding it on the left (Mitchison, p. 323). Mar, still possessed of his big numerical advantage, didn't even try to hold the field. He proceeded to wander around Scotland for a while, then fled into exile with the Old Pretender James (III).
As for James himself, he hadn't made it to Scotland at the time, and Susan Maclean Kybett (who is, to be sure, rather an anti-Stuart biographer) "wonders why James came to Scotland at all" (p. 16). She also notes that James came to be called "Old Mr. Melancholy" (which fits), adding that his presence largely quelled what enthusiasm for rebellion there remained.
I have never seen an explanation for the "Aikendrum" chorus. Alexander, p. 2, explains the name in a way somewhat reminiscent of J. K. Rowling and her "house elves": "AIKEN DRUM: A Scottish Brownie who lived in Galloway. Aiken Drum would clear up kitchen and complete any work left unfinished by members of the households he visited. In appearance he was unmistakable, as he wore only a kilt woven from rushes, yet if a grateful mortal left clothes out for him in appreciation of his nocturnal efforts, then he would leave the house, never to return.
Katherine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblines, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, 1976 (I use the 1977 Pantheon paperback), p. 2, gives a firm date of 1878 for "Aiken Drum" as the name of a brownie mentioned by William Nicholson. - RBW
Hogg2 credits Sir Walter Scott as provider of the clue that "Sunderland should have been written Sutherland... [The song] refers to the state of the Jacobite and Whig armies immediately previous to the battle of Sheriffmuir [November 13, 1715], and must have been a song of that period." Hogg then has the verse beginning "Donald's running round and round" refer to "Sir Donald MacDonald [who] came down from Sky[e], with 700 hardy islanders in his train; on which ... they chased Lord Sutherland's men to the hills." He has the verse beginning "Did you hear of Robin Roe" refer to Sir Robert Monroe "who was joined with Sutherland at that period." - BS
Last updated in version 3.2
- Alexander: Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, 2002
- Brumwell/Speck: Stephen Brumwell and W. A. Speck, Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cassell & Co., 2001
- Kybett: Susan Maclean Kybett, Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Biography of Charles Edward Stuart, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1988
- Mitchison: Rosalind Mitchison, A History of Scotland, second edition, Methuen, 1982
- OxfordCompanion: John Cannon, editor, The Oxford Companion to British History, Oxford, 1997
- Sinclair-Stevenson: Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, Blood Royal: The Illustrious House of Hannover, Doubleday, 1979, 1980
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.