Scottish Ballads - History
You may have read our article about Robert Burns, who was not only famed for his writings, but was also one of the great ballad collectors. So also were Sir Walter Scott and Francis J Child.
Such people listened to the folk songs of the working class and chose selected parts of the repertoire which they then modified and 'polished' to create finished ballads with some class and prestige.
It is thanks to these collectors that we can read, listen to and enjoy these ballads today.
The creators and singers of these ballads were working class and for the most part, illiterate thus never recording a fixed version on paper.
Instead they committed the crucial parts of the narrative to memory, filling in the gaps as they sang. This is probably one of the main reasons why there are several versions of the same ballads in existence.
The scholars and ballad enthusiasts among you may have come across what is referred to as The Oral Tradition.
Accepted knowledge contends that there are three main theories surrounding this:
Whichever of these theories is true, or whatever are your own views on the subject, it is widely accepted that the ballads are a significant and intriguing part of Scottish literary heritage.
- The first is that the ballads stem from the folk music or the common folk of the time.
- A second theory is that many of the ballads were written by those who had close links to the royal court, for many ballads recount events that befell royalty or nobility. Also, they are very well versed and highly accomplished.
- Thirdly, is the theory, that they stem from a mysterious source. They were then collected and collated by the aforementioned ballad collectors.