MacPherson's Rant

 

History:

 While under sentence of death in the jail, during the week between his trial and his execution, MacPherson is said to have composed the tune and the song now known as MacPherson’s Lament or MacPherson’s Rant. Sir Walter Scott says that MacPherson played it under the gallows, and, after playing the tune, he then offered his fiddle to anyone in his clan who would play it at his wake. When no one came forward to take the fiddle, he broke it - either across his knee or over the executioner's head – and then threw it into the crowd with the remark, "No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson's fiddle". The broken fiddle now lies in the MacPherson Clan museum near Newtonmore, Inverness-shire. He then was hanged or, according to some accounts, threw himself from the ladder, to hang by his own will. This was allegedly the last capital sentence executed in Scotland under Heritable Jurisdiction, taking place on 16 November 1700.

 The traditional accounts of MacPherson's immense prowess seem justified by his sword, which is still preserved in Duff House, at Banff, and is an implement of great length and weight - as well as by his bones, which were found not very many years ago, and were allowed by all who saw them to be much stronger than the bones of ordinary men.  He was assuredly no ordinary man, that he could so disport himself on the morning of his execution.

 It is universally believed in the North-East of Scotland that a reprieve was on its way to Banff at the time of the execution. The legend has it that Duff of Braco saw a lone rider coming from Turriff and correctly assumed that he carried a pardon for Jamie from the Lord of Grant. As the story goes, he then set about turning the village clock 15 minutes ahead and so hanging MacPherson before the pardon arrived. The magistrates allegedly were punished for this and the town clock was kept 15 minutes before the correct time for many years. Even to this day it is reported that the town of Macduff has its west-facing town clock covered so the people of Banff can't see the correct time!

Lyrics: (Unlike most of the songs, I'm posting the original full lyrics here rather than what is sung. This song has such a singular history I wanted to include the full lyrics).

     I've spent my life in rioting,
    Debauch'd my health and strength,
    I squander'd fast, as pillage came,
    And fell to shame at length.

     Chorus:
    Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
    Sae dauntingly gaed he;
    He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
    Below the gallows-tree.

     My father was a gentleman,
    Of fame and honor high,
    Oh mother, would you ne'er had borne
    The son so doom'd to die.

     Chorus

     Ach, little did my mother think
    When first she cradled me
    That I would turn a roving boy
    And die on the gallows tree

     Chorus

     Farewell, yon dungeons dark and strong,
    The wretch's destinie!
    M'Pherson's time will not be long
    On yonder gallows-tree.

     Chorus

     O what is Death but parting breath?
    On many a bloody plain
    I've dar'd his face, and in this place
    I'll scorn him yet again.

     Chorus

     But vengeance I never did wreak,
    When pow'r was in my hand,
    And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
    It is my last command.

     Chorus

     Forgive the man whose rage betray'd
    MacPherson's worthless life;
    When I am gone, be it not said,
    My legacy was strife.

     Chorus

     It was by a woman's treacherous hand
    That I was condemned tae dee
    Aboon a ledge at a windae she stood
    And a blanket she threw o'er me

     Chorus

     Untie these bands frae aff o' my hands
    And gie tae me my sword
    There's no a man in a' Scotland
    But I'll brave him at his word

     Chorus

     There's some come here tae see me hang
    And some tae buy my fiddle
    But afore that I dae part wi' her
    I'd brak' her through the middle

     Chorus

     He took his fiddle into both of his hands
    And he brak' it o'er a stone
    Said, Nae ither hands shall play on thee
    When I am deid and gane

     Chorus

     Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright, "
    And all beneath the sky!
    May coward shame distain his name,
    The wretch that dares not die!

     Chorus

     A reprieve was coming o'er the brig o' Banff
    Tae set MacPherson free,
    But they pit the clock a quarter afore
    And they hanged him from a tree.

     Chorus

     Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
    Sae dauntingly gaed he;
    He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
    And they hanged him from a tree.