Captain William Douglas


Annie Laurie

It is traditionally thought that William Douglas, a soldier in the Royal Scots, wrote the words to this old Scottish love song after falling for the daughter of Robert Laurie, the first baronet of Maxwelton, three miles east of Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway.

Also known as "Maxwelton's Braes" (riverbanks), the lines attributed to Douglas speak of a lovers' pact with "bonnie Annie Laurie". The soldier, who rose to become a captain before his Jacobite allegiances resulted in his exile, is believed to have had a romance with Anne Laurie while she was still in her teens.

If there was any romance, it is likely her father opposed the match, either because his daughter was too young, or because of Douglas's political beliefs. Both went on to marry other people, Laurie marrying the Laird of Craigdarroch and Douglas eloping with a Lanarkshire heiress.

The words were first recorded in 1823 in Sharpe's Ballad Book. It became popular with soldiers in the Crimean War thanks to Lady John Scott, who modernised the verses and set it to music. In the late 1850s, she published the song as part of a collection of verse sold to benefit the widows and orphans of those who had fought in the Crimea

Captain William Douglas'  home was at Fingland only 12 miles from Annie's Maxwelton, but they appear to have had their first meeting at an Edinburgh ball. They fell in love, but there were complications. Annie's father, who had been knighted by James VII two years after she was born, was a strong Royalist and a vigorous persecutor of Jacobites and Covenanters--not surprising since he was a cousin of the notorious butcher of Covenanters, Grierson of Lag. Indeed, it was in recognition of his anti-Jacobite and anti-Covenanter activities that he received his knighthood.

Captain Douglas, on the other hand, was pledged to the Stuart cause, a Jacobite to the backbone, so that Sir Robert's attitude towards him as a son-in-law was less than enthusiastic. In any case, Douglas was something of a rough diamond, an expert swordsman with a fiery temper that landed him in a succession of duels. Legend has it that on one occasion he was literally crossing swords with Sir Robert when Annie came on the scene and put an end to it. Another opponent, wounded and disarmed by Douglas, later declared that he was defeated less by Douglas's skill than by his "fierce and squintin eyen".

Despite Sir Robert's disapproval, Annie and her lover continued to meet secretly in the seclusion of Maxwelton Braes until news came that a Stuart invasion was about to be launched. Captain Douglas had to leave at once for Edinburgh, but before he spurred away he penned his poetic tribute to his loved one, making up in passionate enthusiasm whatever may have been lacking in elegance and literary merit. Here is how he described the, apparently, shapely Annie:

She's backit like a Peacock,
She's breastit like a swan,
She's jimp about the middle,
Her waist ye weill may span,
Her waist ye weill may span,
And she has a rollin' eye,
And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I'll lay down my head and die.

Like his grandfather, James of Morton, he was a Commissioner of Supply in Dumfries, in 1693



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This page was last updated on 29 June 2015

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