Poem of the Month

Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation 

1791

Type: Poem

 

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!


What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

O would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

 

 

Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation...


 

was written by Burns in 1791. He decried those members of the Parliament of Scotland who signed the Act of Union with England in 1707.

 

Burns contrasted their supposed treachery to the country with the tradition of martial valour and resistance commonly associated with such historic figures as Robert the Bruce and William Wallace.

 

The poet states that he wishes to have lain in the grave with Bruce or Wallace, than have seen this treacherous sale of Scotland in his lifetime.

The melody and lyrics were published in volume 1 of James Hogg's Jacobite Reliques of 1819, there have been many celebrated recordings of the song over the years. It was revived in the 20th century by Ewan MacColl, whose recording of it can be found on the collection 'The Real MacColl'. Steeleye Span later included it under the name 'Rogues in a Nation' on their album 'Parcel of Rogues', and it has been covered by numerous other musicians, including: The CorriesAlastair McDonaldJean RedpathThe Dubliners (Luke Kelly), Dick GaughanMakem and ClancyHamish ImlachOld Blind Dogs, Jesse Ferguson—The Bard of Cornwall and Heelster Gowdie.

In 1695 an Act of the Scottish Parliament set up the 'Company of Scotland Trading in Africa and the Indies' generally just called the Company of Scotland. Although the Act limited investors to a maximum of £3000 simple maths shows that the investors found a way around this and on average invested £35,000 each (around £4 million in modern terms). A total of £400,000 was raised.

 

The main venture undertaken was the disastrous Darien Scheme, a very ill-advised idea to colonise Panama. The investors and shareholders lost everything by 1698/99. The main investors, some 30 in number, were Scots or ex-Scots living in London

 

In the early 1700s a plan was devised, partly within the group, and partly with the necessary politicians, to reimburse the investors 100% of their loss (plus a small bonus) if (but only if) they negotiated the relinquishing of the Scottish Parliament. Many of the 40 signatories to the Act of Union had been investors, and were eventually compensated in this way. These are the Rogues Burns referred to in his poem.