Jacobite songs “overlooked” in Scottish cultural history, says an American scholar

It’s an era that helped define Scotland – and produced a unique tradition of music and verse.

But there are fears that much of the cultural heritage from the Jacobite Risings is fading and lost.

Now an American student has started a project to collect and record all the songs and poems related to this period.

Andrew Simpson, originally from rural Nebraska but now based in Arizona, said he was disappointed to learn how little has been documented about folk music about the 1715 and 1745 rebellions.

Without such songs one could not understand “his cultural history”.

His interest in the Jacobite period began when he wrote a college dissertation on Viscount Dundee, a Scottish nobleman and professional soldier who led the First Rebellion of 1689 and became the subject of a song written by Sir Walter Scott.

“Bonnie Dundee,” as he became known, led a rebellion in support of the deposed Roman Catholic monarch James II.

Mr Simpson said: “During my research I stumbled across the song ‘Braes O’ Killiecrankie’ and was disappointed to learn how little there was in the field of documentation on Jacobite folk music.

“After that I came across The Corries and their work in traditional folk music and wanted a complete compilation of Jacobite folk music for my own use.

“It really fascinated me that so much of the Jacobite music loved by modern generations is an evolution from Romantic writers like Robert Burns and James Hogg and how their work helped shape modern cultural understanding of the Jacobite cause to consolidate.”

He pointed to the Skye Boat Song, which he described as “heavy romanticization of the event, less historical accuracy”.

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He said: “Currently the goal is to do three things with the compiled music. Firstly, to provide a more dispositive list of Jacobite music to understand the cultural meaning of the songs and the stories they tell, and secondly, to provide the actual music with the lyrics.


“Several such works published in the 19th century contained lyrics but no music. I would also like to give a brief historical introduction to the song.

“Many of the folk songs written before or after the ’45 riot require a deep level of cultural and contextual knowledge to understand what is being communicated.

“In addition, I am firmly convinced that cultural history that is often remembered is recorded in our folk songs.

“It would be impossible to understand one’s own cultural history without understanding the folk music behind it.”

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The Jacobite cause ended with the defeat of Charles Edward Stuart by British government forces on Drumossie Moor near Inverness. It was the last field battle on British soil.

Mr Simpson’s family can trace their roots back to the Frasers of Lovat and he has 19th century ancestors living in small farming towns and villages in Kincardineshire.


He is expected to study for a Masters of Letters degree in Early Modern European History at St Andrews University later this year and has reached out to Scottish societies in the US and members of the wider Scottish diaspora for help.

He said, “If anyone has sheet music, lesser-known Jacobite songs, or stories about Jacobite songs, I would be happy to collect and record the material.”

Despite growing up in a predominantly farming community in rural Nebraska, Andrew said his family grew up surrounded by the traditional legends of Scotland, adding: including those of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace.

He added, “I developed a love for the bagpipes and started taking lessons in high school; I’ve been playing for eight years.”

Fort William’s West Highland Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest Jacobite collections, has received nearly a quarter of a million pounds in funding to expand it.

Andrew can be reached at a_simpson1@outlook.com.

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