The Earl Of Mar's Daughter

: Tales From Scottish Ballads

"It was intil a pleasant time,

Upon a simmer's day,

The noble Earl of Mar's daughter

Went forth to sport and play."

Long, long ago, in a country far away over the sea, there lived a Queen

who had an only son. She was very rich, and very great, and the only

thing that troubled her was that her son did not want to get married in

the very least.

br /> In vain his mother gave grand receptions and court balls, to which she

asked all the young countesses and baronesses, in the hope that the

Prince would take a fancy to one of them. He would talk to them, and

dance with them, and be very polite, but, when his mother hinted that it

was time that he looked for a wife, he only shrugged his shoulders and

said that there was not a pretty girl amongst them.

And perhaps there was some truth in his answer, for the maidens of that

country were all fat, and little, and squat, and everyone of them

waddled like a duck when she walked.

"If thou canst not find a wife to thy liking at home," the Queen would

say, "go to other countries and see the maidens there; surely somewhere

thou wouldst find one whom thou couldst love."

But Prince Florentine, for that was his name, only shook his head and


"And marry a shrew," he would say mockingly; "for when the maidens heard

my name, and knew for what purpose I had come, they would straightway

smile their sweetest, and look their loveliest, and I would have no

chance of knowing what manner of maidens they really were."

Now the Queen had a very wonderful gift. She could change a man's shape,

so that he would appear to be a hare, or a cat, or a bird; and at last

she proposed to the Prince that she should turn him into a dove, and

then he could fly away to foreign countries, and go up and down until he

saw some maiden whom he thought he could really love, and then he could

go back to his real shape, and get to know her in the usual way.

This proposal pleased Prince Florentine very much. "He would take good

care not to fall in love with anyone," he told himself; but, as he hated

the stiffness and ceremony of court life, it seemed to him that it would

be good fun to be free to go about as he liked and to see a great many

different countries.

So he agreed to his mother's wishes; and one day she waved a little

golden wand over his head, and gave him a very nasty draught to drink,

made from black beetles' wings, and wormwood, and snails' ears, and

hedgehogs' spikes, and before he knew where he was, he was changed into

a beautiful gray dove, with a white ring round its neck.

At first when he saw himself in this changed guise he was frightened;

but his mother quickly tied a tiny charm round his neck, and hid it

under his soft gray feathers, and taught him how to press it against his

heart until a fragrant odour came from it, and as soon as he did this,

he became once more a handsome young man.

Then he was very pleased, and kissed her, and said farewell, promising

to return some day with a beautiful young bride; and after that he

spread his wings, and flew away in search of adventure.

For a year and a day he wandered about, now visiting this country, now

that, and he was so amused and interested in all the strange and

wonderful things that he saw, that he never once wanted to turn himself

into a man, and he completely forgot that his mother expected that he

was looking out for a wife.

At last, one lovely summer's day, he found himself flying over broad

Scotland, and, as the sun was very hot, he looked round for somewhere to

shelter from its rays. Just below him was a stately castle, surrounded

by magnificent trees.

"This is just what I want," he said to himself; "I will rest here until

the sun goes down."

So he folded his wings, and sank gently down into the very heart of a

wide-spreading oak tree, near which, as good fortune would have it,

there was a field of ripening grain, which provided him with a hearty

supper. Here, for many days, the Prince took up his abode, partly

because he was getting rather tired of flying about continually, and

partly because he began to feel interested in a lovely young girl who

came out of the castle every day at noon, and amused herself with

playing at ball under the spreading branches of the great tree.

Generally she was quite alone, but once or twice an old lady, evidently

her governess, came with her, and sat on a root, which formed a

comfortable seat, and worked at some fine embroidery, while her pupil

amused herself with her ball.

Prince Florentine soon found out that the maiden's name was Grizel, and

that she was the only child of the Earl of Mar, a nobleman of great

riches and renown. She was very beautiful, so beautiful, indeed, that

the Prince sat and feasted his eyes upon her all the time that she was

at play, and then, when she had gone home, he could not sleep, but, sat

with wide-open eyes, staring into the warm twilight, and wondering how

he could get to know her. He could not quite make up his mind whether he

should use his mother's charm, and take his natural shape, and walk

boldly up to the castle and crave her father's permission to woo her, or

fly away home, and send an ambassador with a train of nobles, and all

the pomp that belonged to his rank, to ask for her hand.

The question was settled for him one day, however, and everything

happened quite differently from what he expected.

On a very hot afternoon, Lady Grizel came out, accompanied by her

governess, and, as usual, the old lady sat down to her embroidery, and

the girl began to toss her ball. But the sun was so very hot that by and

by the governess laid down her needle and fell fast asleep, while her

pupil grew tired of running backwards and forwards, and, sitting down,

began to toss her ball right up among the branches. All at once it

caught in a leafy bough, and when she was gazing up, trying to see where

it was, she caught sight of a beautiful gray dove, sitting watching her.

Now, as I have said, Lady Grizel was an only child, and she had had few

playmates, and all her life she had been passionately fond of animals,

and when she saw the bird, she stood up and called gently, "Oh

Coo-me-doo, come down to me, come down." Then she whistled so softly and

sweetly, and stretched out her white hands above her head so

entreatingly, that Prince Florentine left his branch, and flew down and

alighted gently on her shoulder.

The delight of the maiden knew no bounds. She kissed and fondled her new

pet, which perched quite familiarly on her arm, and promised him a

latticed silver cage, with bars of solid gold.

The bird allowed the girl to carry him home, and soon the beautiful cage

was made, and hung up on the wall of her chamber, just inside the

window, and Coo-me-doo, as the dove was named, placed inside.

He seemed perfectly happy, and grew so tame that soon he went with his

mistress wherever she went, and all the people who lived near the castle

grew quite accustomed to seeing the Earl's daughter driving or riding

with her tame dove on her shoulder.

When she went out to play at ball, Coo-me-doo would go with her, and

perch up in his old place, and watch her with his bright dark eyes. One

day when she was tossing the ball among the branches it rolled away, and

for a long time she could not find it, and at last a voice behind her

said, "Here it is," and, turning round, she saw to her astonishment a

handsome young man dressed all in dove-gray satin, who handed her the

ball with a stately bow.

Lady Grizel was frightened, for no strangers were allowed inside her

father's park, and she could not think where he had come from; but just

as she was about to call out for help, the young man smiled and said,

"Lady, dost thou not know thine own Coo-me-doo?"

Then she glanced up into the branches, but the bird was gone, and as she

hesitated (for the stranger spoke so kindly and courteously she did not

feel very much alarmed), he took her hand in his.

"'Tis true, my own love," he said; "but if thou canst not recognise thy

favourite when his gray plumage is changed into gray samite, mayhap thou

wilt know him when the gray samite is once more changed into softest

feathers; and, pressing a tiny gold locket which he wore, to his heart,

he vanished, and in his stead was her own gray dove, hovering down to

his resting-place on her shoulder.

"Oh, I cannot understand it, I cannot understand it," she cried, putting

up her hand to stroke her pet; but the feathers seemed to slip from

between her fingers, and once more the gallant stranger stood before


"Sit thee down and rest, Sweetheart," he said, leading her to the root

where her governess was wont to sit, while he stretched himself on the

turf at her feet, "and I will explain the mystery to thee."

Then he told her all. How his mother was a great Queen away in a far

country, and how he was her only son. Lady Grizel's fears were all gone

now, and she laughed merrily as he described the girls who lived in his

own country, and told her how little and fat they were, and how they

waddled when they walked; but when he told her how his mother had used

her magic and turned him into a dove, in order that he might bring home

a wife, her face grew grave and pale.

"My father hath sworn a great oath," she said, "that I shall never wed

with anyone who lives out of Scotland; so I fear we must part, and thou

must go elsewhere in search of a bride."

But Prince Florentine shook his head.

"Nay," he said, "but rather than part from thee, I will live all my life

as a dove in a cage, if I may only be near thee, and talk to thee when

we are alone."

"But what if my father should want me to wed with some Scottish lord?"

asked the maiden anxiously; "couldst thou bear to sit in thy cage and

sing my wedding song?"

"That could I not," answered Prince Florentine, drawing her closer to

him; "and in order to prevent such a terrible thing happening,

Sweetheart, we must find ways and means to be married at once, and then,

come what may, no one can take thee from me. This very evening I must go

and speak to thy father."

Now the Earl of Mar was a violent man, and his fear lay on all the

country-side--even his only child was afraid of him--and when her lover

made this suggestion she clung to him and begged him with tears in her

eyes not to do this. She told him what a fiery temper the Earl had, and

how she feared that when he heard his story he would simply order him to

be hanged on the nearest tree, or thrown into the dungeon to starve to

death. So for a long time they sat and talked, now thinking of one plan,

now of another, but none of them seemed of any use, and it seemed as

though Prince Florentine must either remain in the shape of her pet

dove, or go away altogether.

All at once Lady Grizel clapped her hands. "I have it, I have it," she

cried; "why cannot we be married secretly? Old Father John out at the

chapel on the moor could marry us; he is so old and so blind, he would

never recognise me if I went bare-headed and bare-footed like a gipsy

girl; and thou must go dressed as a woodman, with muddy shoes, and an

axe over thine arm. Then we can dwell together as we are doing now, and

no one will suspect that the Earl of Mar's daughter is married to her

tame pet dove, which sits on her shoulder, and goes with her wherever

she goes. And if the worst comes to the worst, and some gallant Scotch

wooer appears, why, then we must confess what we have done, and bear the

consequences together."

A few days later, in the early morning, when old Father John, the priest

who served the little chapel which stood on the heather-covered moor,

was preparing to say Mass, he saw a gipsy girl, bare-headed and

bare-footed, steal into the chapel, followed by a stalwart young

woodman, clad all in sober gray, with a bright wood-axe gleaming on his


In a few words they told him the purpose for which they had come, and

after he had said Mass the kindly old priest married them, and gave them

his blessing, never doubting but that they were a couple of simple

country lovers who would go home to some tiny cottage in the woods near

by. Little did he think that only half a mile away a page boy, wearing

the livery of the Earl of Mar, was patiently waiting with a white

palfrey until his young mistress should return, accompanied by her gray

dove, from visiting an old nurse, "who," she told her governess, "was

teaching her how to spin."

And little did her father, or her governess, or any of the servants at

the castle, think that Lady Grizel was leading a double life, and that

the gray dove which was always with her, and which she seemed to love

more than any other of her pets, was a gray dove only when anyone else

was by, but turned into a gallant young Prince, who ate, and laughed,

and talked with her the moment they were alone.

Strange to say, their secret was never found out for seven long years,

even although every year a little son was born to them, and carried away

under the gray dove's wing to the country far over the sea. At these

times Lady Grizel used to cry and be very sad, for she dare not keep her

babies beside her, but had to kiss them, and let them go, to be brought

up by their Grandmother whom she had never seen.

Every time Prince Florentine carried home a new baby, he brought back

tidings to his wife how tall, and strong, and brave her other sons were

growing, and tender messages from the Queen, his mother, telling her how

she hoped that one day she would be able to come home with her husband,

and then they would be all together.

But year after year went by, and still the fierce old Earl lived on, and

there seemed little hope that poor Lady Grizel would ever be able to go

and live in her husband's land, and she grew pale and thin. And year

after year her father grew more and more angry with her, because he

wanted her to marry one of the many wooers who came to crave her hand;

but she would not.

"I love to dwell alone with my sweet Coo-me-doo," she used to say, and

the old Earl would stamp his foot, and go out of her chamber muttering

angry words in his vexation.

At last, one day, a very great and powerful nobleman arrived with his

train to ask the Earl's daughter to marry him. He was very rich, and

owned four beautiful castles, and the Earl said, "Now, surely, my

daughter will consent."

But she only gave her old answer, "I love best to live alone with my

sweet Coo-me-doo."

Then her father slammed the door in a rage, and went into the great

hall, where all his men-at-arms were, and swore a mighty oath, that on

the morrow, before he broke his fast, he would wring the neck of the

wretched bird, which seemed to have bewitched his daughter.

Now just above his head, in the gallery, hung Coo-me-doo's cage with the

golden bars, and he happened to be sitting in it, and when he heard this

threat he flew away in haste to his wife's room and told her.

"I must fly home and crave help of my mother," he said; "mayhap she may

be able to aid us, for I shall certainly be no help to thee here, if my

neck be wrung to-morrow. Do thou fall in with thy father's wishes, and

promise to marry this nobleman; only see to it that the wedding doth not

take place until three clear days be past."

Then Lady Grizel opened the window, and he flew away, leaving her to act

her part as best she might.

Now it chanced that next evening, in the far distant land over the sea,

the Queen was walking up and down in front of her palace, watching her

grandsons playing at tennis, and thinking sadly of her only son and his

beautiful wife whom she had never seen. She was so deep in thought, that

she never noticed that a gray dove had come sailing over the trees, and

perched itself on a turret of the palace, until it fluttered down, and

her son, Prince Florentine, stood beside her.

She threw herself into his arms joyfully, and kissed him again and

again; then she would have called for a feast to be set, and for her

minstrels to play, as she always did on the rare occasions when he came

home, but he held up his hand to stop her.

"I need neither feasting nor music, Mother," he said, "but I need thy

help sorely. If thy magic cannot help me, then my wife and I are undone,

and in two days she will be forced to marry a man whom she hates," and

he told the whole story.

"And what wouldst thou that I should do?" asked the Queen in great


"Give me a score of men-at-arms to fly over the sea with me," answered

the Prince, "and my sons to help me in the fray."

But the Queen shook her head sadly.

"'Tis beyond my power," she said; "but mayhap Astora, the old dame who

lives by the sea-shore, might help me, for in good sooth thy need is

great. She hath more skill in magic than I have."

So she hurried away to a little hut near the sea-shore where the wise

old woman lived, while her son waited anxiously for her return.

At last she appeared again, and her face was radiant.

"Dame Astora hath given me a charm," she said, "which will turn

four-and-twenty of my stout men-at-arms into storks, and thy seven sons

into white swans, and thou thyself into a gay gos-hawk, the proudest of

all birds."

Now the Earl of Mar, full of joy at the disappearance of the gray dove,

which seemed to have bewitched his daughter, had bade all the nobles

throughout the length and breadth of fair Scotland to come and witness

her wedding with the lover whom he had chosen for her, and there was

feasting, and dancing, and great revelry at the castle. There had not

been such doings since the marriage of the Earl's great-grandfather a

hundred years before. There were huge tables, covered with rich food,

standing constantly in the hall, and even the common people went in and

out as they pleased, while outside on the green there was music, and

dancing, and games.

Suddenly, when the revelry was at its height, a flock of strange birds

appeared on the horizon, and everyone stopped to look at them. On they

came, flying all together in regular order, first a gay gos-hawk, then

behind him seven snow-white swans, and behind the swans four-and-twenty

large gray storks. When they drew near, they settled down among the

trees which surrounded the castle green, and sat there, each on his own

branch, like sentinels, watching the sport.

At first some of the people were frightened, and wondered what this

strange sight might mean, but the Earl of Mar only laughed.

"They come to do honour to my daughter," he said; "'tis well that there

is not a gray dove among them, else had he found an arrow in his heart,

and that right speedily," and he ordered the musicians to strike up a


The Lady Grizel was amongst the throng, dressed in her bridal gown, but

no one noticed how anxiously she glanced at the great birds which sat so

still on the branches.

Then a strange thing happened. No sooner had the musicians begun to

play, and the dancers begun to dance, than the twenty-four gray storks

flew down, and each of them seized a nobleman, and tore him from his

partner, and whirled him round and round as fast as he could, holding

him so tightly with his great gray wings that he could neither draw his

sword nor struggle. Then the seven white swans flew down and seized the

bridegroom, and tied him fast to a great oak tree. Then they flew to

where the gay gos-hawk was hovering over Lady Grizel, and they pressed

their bodies so closely to his that they formed a soft feathery couch,

on which the lady sat down, and in a moment the birds soared into the

air, bearing their precious burden on their backs, while the storks,

letting the nobles go, circled round them to form an escort; and so the

strange army of birds flew slowly out of sight, leaving the wedding

guests staring at one another in astonishment, while the Earl of Mar

swore so terribly that no one dare go near him.

* * * * *

And although the story of this strange wedding is told in Scotland to

this day, no one has ever been able to guess where the birds came from,

or to what land they carried the beautiful Lady Grizel.