Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation
"Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation" is a Scottish folk song whose lyrics are taken from a poem written by Robert Burns in 1791. It has continued to be associated with Scottish nationalism and also been referenced in other situations where politicians' actions have gone against popular opinion.
In 1695 an Act of the Scottish Government 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). It is therefore poetic justice that their greed brought about a larger loss. 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, such that Scotland would thereafter be ruled by the English government. As the English government (paying the "compensation") had no legal link to the original company, this can certainly be viewed as "a bribe" and was morally if not legally corrupt. If the 40 signatories to the Act of Union of 1707 are compared to those on the Company of Scotland the "rogues" can be identified These include:
- Adam Cockburn, Lord Ormiston
- Francis Montgomery of Giffen
- Sir John Clerk of Penicuik
- Sir Patrick Johnston, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the broker of the deal
Scottish politicians signing the Act were:
- Hew Dalrymple, Lord North Berwick
- John Erskine, Earl of Mar
- James Ogilvy, Earl of Seafield
- Archibald Primrose, 1st Earl of Rosebery
- Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Baronet
Other shareholders compensated (but not signing the Act of Union) included:
- James Foulis, 3rd Baronet of Colinton (as a commissioner for Edinburgh he possible jointly brokered the deal with Sir Patrick Johnston)
- James Balfour of Pilrig
- James Smollett of Bonhill (grandfather of Tobias Smollett)
- Robert Chieslie of Dalry, former Lord Provost of Edinburgh (Robert died before the compensation was paid and his niece Rachel received the compensation)
- Robert Corse a Glasgow sugar and tobacco merchant (Robert died before compensation was paid)
- Sir James Foulis, 3rd Baronet
- John Maxwell, Lord Pollok
- John Hamilton, 2nd Lord Belhaven and Stenton
- Robert Blackwood of Pitreavie
- Samuel McLellan, Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1707 and first MP after the Union.
One Englishman was a member of the Company of Scotland and signatory to the Act, and certainly under modern rules would be deemed to have an unacceptable personal interest and motive in the Act:
History of the PoemEdit
"Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation" was written by Scotland's National poet Robert Burns in 1791. He decried those members of the Parliament of Scotland who signed the Act of Union with England in 1707, some of whom were bribed. 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 song 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 Corries, Alastair McDonald, Jean Redpath, The Dubliners (Luke Kelly), Dick Gaughan, Makem and Clancy, Hamish Imlach, Old Blind Dogs, Jesse Ferguson--The Bard of Cornwall and Heelster Gowdie.
The song's lyrics are in Lowlands Scots.
- 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!
- Burns Country
- Hogg, James (1819). The Jacobite relics: volume 1. Edinburgh: William Blackwood. p. 56.
- The Jacobite Relics of Scotland