Bonnie Moorhen, The
DESCRIPTION: "My bonny moorhen's gane over the main" and won't return before summer. Her feathers are red, white, green and gray, "but nane o' them blue" "Ronald and Donald are out on the fen, To break the wing o' my bonny moorhen"
EARLIEST DATE: 1819 (Hogg1)
KEYWORDS: Jacobites bird exile colors
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Hogg1 77, "The Bonny Moorhen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Montgomerie-ScottishNR 17, "(The bonnie moor-hen)" (1 short text)
NOTES: With only the internal evidence of the text, Hogg says "the song is only a fragment."
Hogg comments that "the allegory is ... perfectly inapplicable, but there can be no doubt who is meant [James III and VIII]. Had it been a moorcock the likeness would have been much better. The colours are supposed to allude to those in tartans of the Clan-Stuart." - BS
This is one of those conundrums. The lyrics by the Montgomeries seem to be a simple rhyme about a bird. But sources going back to Hogg's Jacobite Relics have a fuller text in which the singers give a toast to the bonnie moorhen, who is in exile, and who wears red, green, white, and grey but not blue feathers (colors associated with the Stuart tartan).
It seems clear that these two forms are related, though which is earlier I cannot tell.
Then there is the version that provides most of Roud's texts, often starting "You brave lads of Wardhill/Wardale I pray tend an ear." This exists in several Bodleian broadsides [Harding B 25(261), ""Bonny moor hen," Stephenson (Gateshead), 1821-1850; also Harding B 11(414), Firth c, 19(39)]. This is an even fuller text, mostly about hunting, though there might be some Jacobite elements in there somewhere. My feeling is that that should be split off, though Roud lumps them.
Incidentally, it might be noted that Bonnie Prince Charlie, handsome though he was, would not have met the moorhen standard for attractiveness. According to Olivia Judson's tongue-in-cheek book on evolutionary biology, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation (Henry Holt, 2002), p. 126, the ideal male moorhen is fat (because the males sit on the eggs, and a fat bird can sit on them longer) and small (because a small bird can get fat more easily). - RBW
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