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.