An Ancient Ballad
© Loretta Lynn Layman / House of Lynn
@ comcast .
This ancient Scottish ballad
is set in Selkirkshire, near the country’s border with England.
of it takes place in Carterhaugh, a once heavily wooded plain at the confluence
of the Ettrick and Yarrow Waters, just a few miles southwest of the
town of Selkirk. The first known mention of it is in Robert
The Complaynt of
and the oldest surviving print version reportedly is dated 1769.
The ballad’s enduring appeal is
evidenced by a 1999 reading, accompanied by
The Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club, on an album
, and by the many websites where the ballad appears.
The name of the title character has been written
variously as Tam Lin, Tam Linne, Tam-a-Line, Tamlin, Tomlin, and
even Tam Lane. One theory
proposes that the name is a corruption of the surname Tomlin or
Thomlin. However, Tam is a
Scottish nickname for Thomas; and Lin, Linn, and Linne are common
variations of the much older Scottish surname Lyne, Lynn, or Lynne,
which has an obscure but notable history beginning in the time of
William the Lion. An 1846
history of Borthwick Parish in Edinburghshire notes that the Lynes
were “the most remote possessors of the extensive [Borthwick]
estates in this district of whom we have any account” and that they “occupied
the domain till the time of Alexander II, when it passed to the
Prior to the Hays’ succession to the Lynes, Borthwick Parish
was called Locherworth. The
Lynes were the “lords of the manor of Locherworth in Lothian”
and also owned the “small
manor” of Lyne in Peeblesshire.2
Peeblesshire shares its southeastern border with
Selkirkshire. And thus, we
are returned to the southern shires of Scotland.
Tam Lin was carried
off by the Queen of Fairies, fell under her enchantment, and was
made to guard the woods of Carterhaugh ... till fair
Janet herself may have been the daughter
a knight. In January 1598/99, as evidenced
by "letters of reversion" held by the National Records of Scotland,
"Carterhaugh in [the] lordship of Ettrick Forest, sheriffdom of
Selkirk" belonged to Sir Walter Scott, knight of Branxholm (apparent
forebear of the 18th-century poet Sir Walter Scott). Branxholm
and Carterhaugh are separated by about 16 miles; and knights,
nobles, and aristocracy of the day often owned properties at varying
distances from their main residence or manor place.
Tam Lin questioned Janet's presence in Carterhaugh, she replied that
Carterhaugh was rightfully hers, a gift from her father.
Janet returned to her father’s house,
showing signs of early pregnancy, and declared that her lover was
Going again to Carterhaugh, she met
Tam once more.
He revealed his true identity and
entreated her, for the sake of their child, to rescue him from the
Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Comprising the Several
Counties, Islands, Cities, Burgh and Market Towns, Parishes,
and Principal Villages, with
Historical and Statistical Descriptions,
2nd Ed., Vol. I, Samuel Lewis, London (1846)
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
Tam Lin - The Ballad
House of Lynn