The Heir of Linne
An Ancient Morality Tale

The Ballad


© Loretta Lynn Layman / House of Lynn
@ comcast . net

This ancient Scottish poem was mentioned briefly in Timothy Pont’s 1600 Topographical Account,  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  To his credit, Pont admitted that Ayrshire tradition was silent on the subject.

As records show, there were others of the name, with title, who lived in Scotland even before the Lynns of that Ilk came to be.  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 1270.  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  John 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 marriage.  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.  The 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 ...

The Ballad



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 



A Topographical Account of the District of Cunningham, Ayrshire. Compiled About the Year 1600 by Mr. Timothy Pont, The Maitland Club, Glasgow (1858): p. 156



Origines Parochiales 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 (1851)



National Archives of Scotland,, Ref. No. GD1/403/2


Heir of Linne - the Ballad

Tam Lin

Wraith of Lord Lyne

Linn of Lynns

Lynn Folke Lore

Lynn History

House of Lynn