Thomas the Rhymer
Thomas the Rhymer, was a famous Scottish prophet who is also known as Thomas of Ercildoune, Lord Learmont and True Thomas. There can be no doubt that he was actually a real person living in the thirteenth century, as documents exist signed by him as Thomas Rymour de Ercieldoune. It is difficult to find any more evidence about his life, but the traditions that have built up around him must have some root in real events.
There are many accounts of his prophecies printed in chapbook form from the sixteenth century onwards. It is said that he gained his powers of prophecy from a meeting with the Queen of Elfland. He travelled with her for forty days and forty nights into the underworld, and served her for seven years. He then returned to the upper-world endowed with the gift of a tongue that can not lie, which he is said to have protested against.
One of his most famous prophecies involved the crowning of James the VI of Scotland or the I of England. He said that when the Tweed flooded into Merlin’s grave, Scotland and England would have one king. This happened at Merlin’s grave in Drumelzier when James was crowned.
Thomas is said to have returned to fair Elfland. He was feasting at his castle, when word came that a white hind and doe were walking calmly around the village streets. Thomas took his leave from the castle and was never seen again.
Although he is thought to have returned to the fair realm he makes notable appearances in other later tales such as Canobie Dick, and can be seen as a mediator between this world and the otherworld.
This is a role he serves with other figures such as the Reverend Robert Kirk and archetypal figures such as Merlin.
A version of the romance or ballad of Thomas the Rhymer may have been available as early as the fourteenth century:
True Thomas lay oer grassy bank,
And he beheld a lady gay,
A ladie that was brisk and bold
Come riding oer the fernie brae.
Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantel of the velvet fine,
At ilka tett of her horses mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
True Thomas he took off his hat,
And Bowed him low down till his knee:
‘All hail. Thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For your peer on earth I did never see.’
‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
‘That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
And I am come here for to visit thee.
‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
True Thomas ye maun go wi me,
For ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro Weel or wae as may chance to be.’
She turned about her milk white steed,
And took True Thomas up behind,
And eye wheneer her bridle rang,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
For forty days and forty nights,
He wade through red blude to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon,
But heard the roaring of the sea.
O they rade on, and further on,
Until they came to a garden green:
‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’
‘O no. O no, True Thomas,’ she says
‘That fruit maun be touched by thee,
For a’ the plagues that are in hell
Light on the fruit of this countrie.
‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
Likewisea bottle of claret wine,
And now ere we go farther on,
Ae’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’
When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
The lady sayd, ere we climb yon hill,
And I will show you fairlies three.
‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
So beset wi thorns and briars?
That is the path of rightousness,
Tho after it but few enquiries.
‘Ande see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
‘And see ye not that bonnie road,
which winds about the fairnie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where you and I this night maun gae.
‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever you may hear or see,
For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’
He has gotton a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years where passed and gone
True Thomas on earth was never seen.