NATIONAL STORYTELLING WEEK – DAY ONE – THOMAS THE RHYMER
13th Century Scottish Laird, prophet, and rhymer.
Thomas of Erceldoune (also known as Thomas The Rhymer or True Thomas) was a Scottish laird and a prophet from Earlston. Nobody knows where or how Thomas got his ‘powers’. However, in literature he is the protagonist in the tale about Thomas the Rhymer. It was written that he had been carried off by the “Queen of Elfland” and returned with the gift of prophecy, as well as the inability to tell a lie.
True Thomas made many prophecies. One even inspired an American Gothic author to write a short story named ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ maybe you’ve heard of him? Edgar Allan Poe.
One of Thomas The Rhymers popular prophecies was about the well-know ‘Haig’ clan.
“Tide, tide, whate’er betide,
There’ll aye be Haigs in Bemerside.”
This rhyme prophesized that the ancient family of the ‘Haig’s of Bemerside’ will continue on without end. It was reported that the Haig’s had died out, and Thomas had been wrong. However, the famous and controversial Field Marshall Douglas Haig comes from this family, and was even made Earl in 1919. The Haig family line still continues to this day.
One of his most accurate prophecies came when he uttered the words,
The Burn o’ Breid,
Sall rin fu’ reid.
Which translates to say ‘The river of bread, Shall run full red.’ The river of bread refers to the river in Bannockburn, which was ‘the chief bread’ of Scotland in those days. This river did indeed run red during the ‘Battle of Bannockburn’.
Another prophecy that’ll bring joy to all those who love Edinburgh. It is however, only rumoured to come from True Thomas. It was collected from a 72 year old Edinburgh resident. It may come from another very accurate Scottish prophet ‘The Brahan Seer’.
“York was, London is, and Edinbruch ‘ill be,
the biggest and the bonniest o’ a’ the three”
It suggests that one day, the Scottish capital will become the most important city in Britain.
The earliest version (below) of the ballad about Thomas The Rhymer may date back as early as the 14th Century.
“True Thomas lay oer grassy bank,
And he beheld a lady gay,
A ladie that was brisk and bold
Come riding oer the fernie brae.
Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantel of the velvet fine,
At ilka tett of her horses mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
True Thomas he took off his hat,
And Bowed him low down till his knee:
‘All hail. Thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For your peer on earth I did never see.’
‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
‘That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
And I am come here for to visit thee.
‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
True Thomas ye maun go wi me,
For ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro Weel or wae as may chance to be.’
She turned about her milk white steed,
And took True Thomas up behind,
And eye wheneer her bridle rang,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
For forty days and forty nights,
He wade through red blude to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon,
But heard the roaring of the sea.
O they rade on, and further on,
Until they came to a garden green:
‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’
‘O no. O no, True Thomas,’ she says
‘That fruit maun be touched by thee,
For a’ the plagues that are in hell
Light on the fruit of this countrie.
‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
Likewisea bottle of claret wine,
And now ere we go farther on,
Ae’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’
When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
The lady sayd, ere we climb yon hill,
And I will show you fairlies three.
‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
So beset wi thorns and briars?
That is the path of rightousness,
Tho after it but few enquiries.
‘Ande see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
‘And see ye not that bonnie road,
which winds about the fairnie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where you and I this night maun gae.
‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever you may hear or see,
For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’
He has gotton a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years where passed and gone
True Thomas on earth was never seen.”