Hardyknute
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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Hardyknute, in Child's opinion, was a "tiresome and affected" song, which was "much esteemed" in the 1700s. He did not include it in his ballads. The tune was published in Oswald's Curious Collection... in 1742. The ballad also appeared in Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs(1776). It is also known as The Battle of Largs.

Hardyknute was originally thought to be an ancient ballad, discovered on scraps of paper "wrapped round the bottoms of clues." According to Bertrand Harris Bronson, it was, in fact, the composition of Lady Wardlaw (in 1719).*

The Scots Musical Museum speculates that while several stanzas are hers, many stanzas are from a much older ballad. SMM notes there are several historical mistakes in the ballad that would be consistent with the oral tradition. For instance, Hardyknute could have been Hardyknycht and Queen Eleanor should have been Margaret.

Only three verses are given in Songs of Scotland (1877), the rest are from Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803).

This ballad is said to commemorate The Battle of Largs (August 1, 1263) between Alexander III of Scotland and Haakon Haakonsson of Norway. The Scots won.

The identity of Hardyknute is a mystery. SMM lists three possibilities, not all of which make sense. There was a Hardicanute, who succeeded Harold to the English throne in 1039 but died after a "brutal" reign of two years. Sir Alexander, the High Stewart, and Hardykycht (this may be a typo for Hardyknycht which is used later in the passage) of Scotland. Sir Alexander distinguished himself at the battle of Largs. (He was also the great-grandfather of the first Stewart king). Hugh de Douglas also fought in the battle and was succeeded by his brother who was called "Hardihood."

Although Haakon Haakonsson is remembered in Scotland as the loser of the Battle of Largs, Norway reached its zenith under his rule. He acquired Iceland and Greenland, carried out legal reforms, and Norse literature flourished during his reign.

Stately stept he East the wa',
And stately stept he West;
Full sev'nty zeirs he now had seen
With skerfs sevin ziers of rest.

He livit quhen Birton's breach of faith
Wroucht Scotland Meickle wae,
And ay his sword tauld to their skaith,
He was their deidly fae.

Hie on a hill his castle stude,
With halls and towers a hicht,
And guidly chambers fair to se
Quhair he lodgit mony a knight.

His dame fae peerlefs anes and fair,
For chaft and bewtie deimt,
Nae marrow had in all the lands
Saif Elenor the queen.

Full thirtein fons tea him foho bare,
All men of valour frout;
In bludy fichf with fword in hand
Nyne loft their lives hot doubt;

Four zit remain, lang may they live
To ftand by liege and land:
Hie was their fame, hie was their micht,
And hie was their command.

Great luve they bare to Fairly-fair,
Their fifter faft and deir;
Her girdle flawd her middle gimp,
And gowden glift her hair.

Q chat waefou wae her bewtie bred,
Waefou to zung and auld,
Waefou I trow to kyth and kiq,
As ftory ever tauld!
The King of Norfe in fummer tyde,
Puft up with powir and micht,
Landed in fair Scotland the yle,
With mony a hardy knycht.

The tydings to our gude Scots king
Came, as he fat at dyne,
With noble chiefs in braif any,
Drinking the blude - reid wyne

'To hone, to hark, my royal Leige
Zours faes ftand on the ftrand,
Foil twenty thousand glittering fears
The King of Norfe commands.'

'Bring me my fteed Mage dapple gray
Our gude King riafe and cry'd,
'A truftier beaft in all the land
A Scots king nevir feyd.

Go, little page, tell Hardyknute,
That lives on hill fae hie,
To draw his fword, the dreid of fats.
And halt and follow me.'

The little page flew fwift as dirt
Flung by his mafters arm:
'Cum down, cum down, Lord Hardy
A-rid rid zour King frae harm.'

Then reid reid crew his dark-brown che-
Sae did his dark-brown brow;
His luiks grew kene, as they were wont.
In dangers great, to do.

Related Links
From Songs of Scotland
The Royal Edition, Volume II and
*The Ballad as Song (the date is from another source).
Scots Musical Museum
See Bibliography for full information.
Some information from Bruce Olsen's Roots of Folk Website.