Border ballad

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The Anglo-Scottish border has a long tradition of balladry, such that a whole group of songs exists that are often called "border ballads", because they were collected in that region.[1][2]

Border ballads, like all traditional ballads, were traditionally sung unaccompanied. There may be a repeating motif, but there is no "chorus" as in most popular songs, the supernatural is a common theme in border ballads, as are recountings of raids and battles.

Ballad types[edit]

The ballads belong to various groups of subjects - such as riding ballads like Kinmont Willie, historical ballads like Sir Patrick Spens, and comic ballads like Get Up and Bar the Door[3]


Representative samples include "Thomas the Rhymer" (also known as "True Thomas", "Thomas of Erceldoune"), which opens in the Scottish town of Erceldoune (modern Earlston, Berwickshire); and "Tam Lin".

Writings about[edit]

Sir Walter Scott wrote about border ballads in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border - which was first published in 1802-3.

A.L. Lloyd said of the ballads:

The bare rolling stretch of country from the North Tyne and Cheviots to the Scottish southern uplands was for a long time the territory of men who spoke English but had the outlook of Afghan tribesmen; they prized a poem almost as much as plunder, and produced such an impressive assembly of local narrative songs that some people used to label all our greater folk poems as 'Border ballads'.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cohen, Anthony P. (2000). Signifying Identities: Anthropological Perspectives on Boundaries and Contested Values. London: Routledge. p. 123. 
  2. ^ Beattie, William (1952), Border ballads, Penguin, retrieved 12 May 2013 
  3. ^ About this book - inside front cover of Beattie, William (1952), Border ballads, Penguin, retrieved 12 May 2013 
  4. ^ Lloyd, A.L. (2008). Folk Song in England. London: Faber and Faber. p. 150.