Thomas the Rhymer

(1220 - 1297)

 

Thomas was from Ercildoune (This was later to become Earlston) and loved to go to and lie upon the bank under his favourite tree. Once, when he was young, he was enjoying his favoured spot when he saw the beautiful Queen of the Elves who lived in the Eildon Hills come riding along on her graceful white horse. She wore green silk and velvet and on her horse’s mane there hung fifty-nine silver bells.

Thomas bowed down to her beauty, entranced by her, but it was by no accident that they’d met for it was him she had come to see, and she asked him to kiss her, right where they were, under his favourite Eildon tree. Instantly in love, he agreed to go with her, as her lover, for seven years. They both rode into the Eildon Hills on her white steed as fast as the wind could carry them. Once they had travelled far from mortal land, they eventually reached Elfland.

The Elf Queen explained to Thomas that whilst in her land, whatever he saw and heard, he would never speak of, or he would never get back to Learmont Tower, or Ercildoune. Thomas agreed, such was his love for her. Time past and eventually his seven years was up, the Elf Queen led Thomas to a garden where she picked an apple and gave it to Thomas, saying, "Take this for thy wages Thomas, it will give thee a tongue that can never lie", from this point on he was known as “True Thomas”.

Thomas returned to Ercildoune. Though he told why he had gone away, he never spoke of anything that happened during his time. He had, however, returned with the gift of prophecy.

One of his most famous prophecies, recorded in the history of Scotland, is his prediction about the death of King Alexander III. Thomas had predicted it on a stormy night, 18th March, 1286, the night before the king died. He also predicted the Battle of Bannockburn, the Jacobite uprisings, the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England to name but a few.

 

"The Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer"

 

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True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
A marvel with his eye spied he.
There he saw a lady bright
Come riding by the Eildon Tree.

Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantle of the velvet fine,
At every lock of her horse's mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.

True Thomas he pulled off his cap
And bowed down to his knee:
"All hail, thou Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see."

"O no, O no, Thomas," she said,
"That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland
That am hither come to visit thee."

"Sing and play, Thomas," she said
"Sing and play along with me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your body I will be."

"Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That fate shall never frighten me."
And he has kissed her rosy lips,
All under the Eildon Tree.

"Now ye must go with me," she said,
"True Thomas, ye must go with me,
And ye must serve me seven years,
Through weal and woe, as chance may be."

She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She's taken True Thomas up behind,
And every time her bridle rung
The steed flew faster than the wind.

O they rode on, and farther on,
The steed went swifter than the wind;
Until they reached a desert wide,
And living land was left behind.

 

"Lie down, lie down now, True Thomas,
And rest your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will show you wonders three."

"O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
Though after it but few enquire."

"And see ye not that broad, broad road
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Though some call it the road to heaven."

"And see ye not that lovely road,
That winds about the fern'd hillside?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night must ride."

"But Thomas, you must hold your tongue,
Whatever you might hear or see,
For if you speak in fair Elfland,
You'll never get back to your own country."

Soon they came to a garden green,
And she pulled an apple from a tree;
"Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will give ye the tongue than can never lie."

"My tongue is my own," True Thomas said,
"A goodly gift ye would give to me!
I'd neither dare to buy or sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be."

"I dare neither speak to prince or lord
Or ask favor from fair lady -"
"Now hold thy peace," the Lady said,
"For as I say, so must it be!"

He has gotten a coat of velvet cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were gone and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

 

 

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