Bonny Earl of Murray, The [Child 181]

DESCRIPTION: The Earl of Huntly slays the Earl of Murray (in his own bed?) as a result of the violent feud between them. The largest part of some versions is devoted to describing how noble Murray was
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1750 (Ramsay)
KEYWORDS: feud homicide
Feb 7, 1592 - Murder of the Earl of Moray. James VI ordered the Earl of Huntley to apprehend Moray/Murray (said to be involved in rebellion), and Huntley apparently decided to do more than that
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland) US(MA,MW,SE)
REFERENCES (25 citations):
Child 181, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (2 texts)
Bronson 181, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (6 versions)
BronsonSinging 181, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (4 versions: #1, #3, #4, #5)
ChambersBallads, pp. 69-71, "The Bonnie Earl of Murray" (1 text)
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 468-469, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (notes to a version called "The Treachery of Huntley" plus parts of 2 texts from Child)
Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 226-228, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Flanders/Olney, pp. 133-134, "Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 185-189, "The Bonnie Earl of Murray" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
BrownII 36, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
BrownSchinhanIV 36, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 excerpt, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
McNeil-SMF, p. 23, "(no title)" (1 text)
Leach, pp. 491-493, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (2 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 90-91, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 264, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
OBB 95, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Gummere, pp. 155+334, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Hodgart, p. 144, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Whitelaw-Ballads, pp. 16-17, "The Bonnie Earl of Murray" (2 texts)
TBB 24, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
HarvClass-EP1, pp. 107-108, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 212, "The Bonny Earl Of Murray" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume II, #177, p. 185, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text, 1 tune)
Edward D. Ives, _The Bonny Earl of Murray: The Man, The Murder, The Ballad_, Tuckwell Press {in Great Britain]/University of Illinois Press [United States], 1997 (ncludes multiple texts and tuns plus extensive historical background)
Michael Brander, _Scottish and Border Battles and Ballads_, 1975 (page references to the 1993 Barnes & Noble edition), pp. 97-98, "The Bonny Earl of Murray" (1 text, 1 tune) {should be Bronson's #1, but the printed version shows differences}; pp. 246-247 (1 text, unsourced and very unlike the usual versions)

ST C181 (Full)
Roud #334
cf. "Willie Macintosh" [Child 183] (characters & situation)
NOTES [826 words]: James Stewart (c. 1567-1592) became Earl of Moray as a result of marrying a daughter of Lord James Stewart (1531-1570), the bastard of James V who had been Regent of Scotland for much of the early reign of James VI prior to being murdered (Mitchison, p. 160). The younger James succeeded to the Moray earldom in 1590.
Moray's murder by Huntley seems to have been the result of a feud between the two, though James VI (by then ruling in fact as well as name) didn't seem too bothered by it; Huntly (c. 1563-1636), despite several quarrels with James VI (some of which look suspiciously like rebellion) was made a marquis in 1599. It probably helped that Huntly had married a daughter of the Earl of Lennox, a favorite of James's (Mitchison, p. 151).
The murdered Moray doesn't seem to have been a particularly noteworthy figure, except for his looks and the fact that he was murdered. In a place as messed-up as sixteenth century Scotland, getting killed by a rival was probably a positive.
In a combination of police work and propaganda, Moray's mother had a painting made of his corpse, of which a copy can be seen in one of the photo sections of Magnusson. The corpse has a caption (it almost looks like a speech balloon), "God revenge my cavs [cause]."
The artist looks to have been completely incompetent -- but, if the drawing is accurate enough to depict where the blows fell, it's hard to tell what actually killed Moray. There is a large wound on his leg, but that could not have been fatal unless he bled to death. The only wounds in the chest area are a couple of small scratches on his right side, the largest near the shoulder and not in a particularly vital area; in any case, it does not appear deep. There are the scratches on the face, but both look like flesh wounds (though one came close to Moray's right eye).
According to Thomson, p. 60, the conspiracy was also supposed to eliminate several senior members of Clan Cambell, who controlled the great Earldom of Argyll, but little came of that part of the plot.
According to Magnusson, pp. 396-397, the conspiracy arose because James VI was having trouble with his barons (in other words, nothing unusual in Scotland). The Earl of Bothwell had been fighting against the King -- at one time almost capturing him -- and Moray was allied with Bothwell.
James was even more afraid of Bothwell than he would have been of an ordinary rebel, because he was deeply superstitious, and Bothwell was reputedly involved with witches (Mitchison, p. 150). The king commissioned Huntley to put down Bothwell's faction, meanwhile negotiating with Moray. But Huntley had a grudge against Moray (whose father had enriched himself at the expense of an earlier Huntley -- plus Huntley had a chance to perhaps inherit the Monray earldom).
Moray was at Donibristle, awaiting the chance to confer with the King, when Huntley showed up on February 7 and set fire to the castle. Moray reportedly escaped out a side gate, but was found and killed -- folklore claims that Huntley struck the first blow.
James may have been prepared to negotiate with Moray, but he certainly didn't grieve for him; Huntley was merely placed under house arrest for a week. This is what caused Moray's mother to raise such a stink; she wanted justice for her son.
James VI never did catch up with Bothwell, though the earl eventually fled into exile. But he did not die until 1624, only a year before James himself.
Cowan, in the article "Calvinism and the Survival of Folk," notes on p. 43 that, shortly before Moray was killed, Sir John Campbell of Cawdor was also killed. These two were both strong supporters of the Kirk, and Cowan reports a speculation that, instead of being killed for political reasons, they were killed by enemies of Calvinism. Cowan suggests, "The ballad was almost certainly Kirk-inspired and it attacks King James at several vulnerable points."
It appears that Cowan is referring to the lines stating that the earl, "He might have been a king," and "He was the Queen's love." Moray, as the husband of the descendent of a bastard of James V, was not in line for the kingship -- but some might have seen him so. As for being the Queen's love, this is pretty definitely false -- but it plays upon James VI's apparent homosexuality; James had children by his wife Anne, but was known for his male favorites.
Cowan on p. 44 says that James was forced to accept legislation establishing Presbyterianism in May 1592.
This is certainly an interesting speculation but its ultimate weakness is that there seems no hint of it in the chronicles, and the ballad as we now have it has no Presbyterian references that I can see.
It is ironic to note that this ballad is best-known for an error of hearing *after* it moved out of tradition: The lines "They ha(v)e slain the Earl of Murray And laid him on the green" was heard as "They have slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen," giving us the word "mondegreen." - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.3
File: C181

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