Happy Anniversary, Gil & Katie!
According to Child, Gilbert Hay, the tenth Earl of Errol, married
Catherine Carnegie on January 7, 1658. Errol died in 1674 without having
had any children. Their marital problems may have produced a hearing in
1659. There was a family court case, but the records were trashed.
According to at least one text, the Carnegies may have conspired to force
the matter, probably to avoid having to pay a dowry. The idea was, and
still is, that a marriage, to be legal, constitutes both the public
declaration and consumation. Until it is consumated, or presumed
consumated, it can be set aside. The dowry wasn't strictly due until the
consumation was proven one way or another. It seems that Catherine & her
father (also an Earl) hit on the clever notion a year after the marriage
that non-consumation could be assumed if she could carry the claim Hay was
impotent. Hay didn't go for that.
In the song, she complains a whole lot about how there's not much point
being married to a "powerless" lord; so he "chooses" the virgin
An' they were laid intae a bed,
Wi' the lords a' stannin' roon,
An' a' o' them's cried oot at yince,
"Lord Errol's proved a man!"
He kept her locked intae a room
Three quarters o' a year,
And when three quarters ended were,
A braw young son she bare.
"Tak' back your daughter, Carnegie,
And wed her tae a man,
For Errol canna please her,
Nor nane o' a' his men."
"Noo haud yer tongue, Kate, ye hoorish bitch,
Sae lood's I hear ye lee;
For yonder sits Lord Errol's son,
Altho' he's no by thee.
"The Earl of Errol" Child #231
I think the Folk weren't really comfortable with this usage of Pretty
Peggy, the milkmaid. Many versions have her showered with gifts from the
Lords in Edinburgh & then Hay marries her. It's most unlikely the Earl
would wed a (now) non-virginal commoner. Anyway, we know he died
This is one of my favorite ballads. Nearly all the tunes and texts do it
justice - the story's compelling & unusual and there are just enough known
facts to peg it to history. (And, more importantly, trivia.) This is, of
course, one of the songs I sing to celebrate peoples' anniversaries.
It's also unusual to me in the mention of the
Stand-Up-Comic-Caustic-Review-of-Today's-Events-in-the-News we have now.
That is, the street kids made up verses about it: "there wasnae a lad in
a' the toon, But on Katie had a sang."
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