The Heir of
An Ancient Morality
© Loretta Lynn Layman / House of Lynn
This ancient Scottish poem
was mentioned briefly in Timothy Pont’s 1600
preserved in Thomas Percy's 1765
Reliques, and reprinted many times thereafter.
Writing for English audiences,
Percy said that the ballad had been “originally composed beyond the Tweed”1,
meaning in Scotland.
While Percy was no more specific than
that, Pont and others have associated this tale with the Lynns of
that Ilk in
Ayrshire. Unfortunately, Pont erred, assuming that the ballad
must have been a tale of the Lynns of that Ilk because - as he
mistakenly believed and stated - “no other race of the same name and
designation [was] ever known to have existed in the country ...”2
his credit, Pont admitted that Ayrshire tradition was
silent on the subject.
As records show,
were others of the name,
with title, who lived in Scotland even before the Lynns of that Ilk came
Specifically, they were lords of both the manor
of Lyne in Peeblesshire, which lies in the area of Scotland known as
the Borders, and the manor of Locherworth in Midlothian.3
They were established in
Peeblesshire at least as early as 1164 but became titularly extinct by
By contrast, the Lynns of that Ilk in
Ayrshire - sometimes known as Lords of Lynn - retained their title
and some portion of their barony until 1670, and are well
remembered in Ayrshire history. And yet, as Pont
pointed out, there is no local tradition of
this poem relating to them.
No doubt it was the early extinction and resulting obscurity
of the Lords of Lyne in Peeblesshire that led to Pont’s wrong view and the
repetition thereof by those who followed him.
Consider also the secondary
character in this ballad ~ John o’ the Scales.
It can hardly be coincidence that he
bears the same unusual name as a certain land in Annandale, which
also lies in the Borders and is about sixty miles from the
manor of Lyne.
In fact, as evidenced in documents deposited with
the National Archives of Scotland, “the 5£ lands of Scales, lying in
Annandale” was owned by “John Irving, son of the late John Irving of Scales”, at least as early as 1526.4
While the place name Scales is not
easily found, it survives as East Scales and West Scales on the west
side of Gretna.5
Irving of Scales, or some predecessor, must be the person portrayed
in the ancient ballad as John
o’ the Scales, regardless of whether the tale is history or fiction.
Together, these facts all point
to one of the Lords of Lyne in Peeblesshire, rather than the Lynns
of that Ilk in Ayrshire, as being the heir of Linne in this ballad.
With the honesty of Pont, however, it
must be admitted that, beginning in the early thirteenth century,
the Lords of Lyne were no longer Lynes but Hays, owing to a Lyne-Hay
Thus, depending on the age of the ballad - which most probably will
never be discovered - The Heir of Linne may refer either to
one of the Lynes or to one of the Hays.
The Heir of Linne
takes fifty-three verses for the telling.
It speaks of a young lord who squandered
his inheritance but was given an opportunity to regain it through
the provision of his deceased father, who had possessed not only an
understanding of the weakness of human nature but also an
appreciation of irony and the element of surprise.
words of the ballad as published in 1845 ~ chosen over the 1765
version because it purports to have had some language restored from
the folio manuscript ~ are as follows ...
Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: Consisting of Old Heroic
Ballads, Songs, and Other Pieces of Our Early Poets,
Sir Thomas Percy, London (1765):
Vol. II, p. 309
Account of the District of Cunningham, Ayrshire. Compiled
About the Year 1600 by Mr. Timothy
Pont, The Maitland Club, Glasgow (1858)
: p. 156
Scotiae. The Antiquities Ecclesiastical and Territorial of
the Parishes of Scotland, Vol.
First, Lord Jeffrey, Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisband, Bart.,
and the Hon. Charles Francis Stuart, Edinburgh and Glasgow
Heir of Linne
- the Ballad
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