The Bonnie House of Airlie

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The Bonnie House of Airlie is a traditional Scottish folk song of the seventeenth century, telling the tale of the raid by Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, on Airlie Castle, the home of James Ogilvy, Earl of Airlie, in the summer of 1640.[1] A broadsheet version first appeared in 1790 and it received formal publication as number 199 in Francis Child's collection The English and Scottish Popular Ballads of 1882.


Although there had been traditional enmity between the Campbells and Ogilvys since at least the sixteenth century, their private feud intensified in 1638, when the two clans joined opposite sides in the National Covenant rebellion: Ogilvy supported the king, Charles I, and Campbell the rebels. When James Ogilvy raised a regiment of several hundred men and marched south to the king's aid, Archibald, claiming to act on behalf of the anti-royalist alliance, seized and destroyed the castle of Airlie and, according to some accounts, brutally raped James Ogilvy's wife, Margaret.[2]

The texts[edit]

Child, collecting in the 1870s, found four broadly similar versions.[3] These all describe how the castle was destroyed by fire after Lady Ogilvy refused to reveal the whereabouts of the family treasure. However other versions continued in oral circulation and the one reproduced here, with its bleak penultimate verse, was collected on 27 June 1955 in Fetterangus by Hamish Henderson and Peter Kennedy from Lucy Stewart:[4]

Given the numerous references to "Chairlie" and the allusion to "Locheil", the song has inevitably taken on additional layers of meaning, being understood to refer to Charles Edward Stuart and the 1745 rebellion long after the events at Airlie.[5]


Alan Lomax included the song in his Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland of 1961. It was sung by Belle Stewart, who learned the song from her 91-year-old uncle Henry MacDonald, and recorded by Peter Kennedy.[6] Later recordings, using different tunes, have been made by Ewan MacColl and Kate Rusby.

Different versions of the song were collected in Scotland, Canada, US.[7]


  1. ^ A Handbook for Travellers in Scotland (2 ed.). London: John Murray. 1868. p. 287. OCLC 67865677.
  2. ^ Fraser, Murdo (2015). "An Uneasy Peace". The rivals : Montrose and Argyll and the struggle for Scotland. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 9780857902481. Here the allegation is dismissed as "propaganda".
  3. ^ Child, Francis. "Bonnie House o' Airlie". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2007-06-02.
  4. ^ Kennedy, Peter. "It fell on a day". Folktrax Media Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2007-06-02.
  5. ^ Henderson, Hamish (2004). Alias MacAlias: Writings on Songs, Folk and Literature. Edinburgh: Polygon. p. 141. ISBN 1-904598-21-8.
  6. ^ "Belle Stewart and family". Folktrax Media Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2007-06-03.
  7. ^ Coffin, Tristram Potter (1950). The British Traditional Ballad in North America (1977 ed.). Austin, TX: University of Texas. p. 253. ISBN 0343135396.