Maid tale is myth

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IN his tribute to the late Michael Spens (Obituaries, 7 May), Richard Demarco repeats the old heresy of the Maid of Norway going down with Sir Patrick Spens in his ship. Re-read the ballad with a critical eye and it is perfectly clear that Sir Patrick did not succeed in the hopeless task of persuading the King of Norway to part with his daughter. So far as I know, ­historians have been unable to confirm Sir Patrick was a genuine historical figure.

The relevant facts are that the Maid of Norway was, in August/September 1290, entrusted to a Norwegian ship bound for Orkney. She was dead or dying (accounts differ) when she arrived at St Margaret’s Hope, was quickly coffined and taken back to Bergen for burial at the cathedral there.

On a trivial point, it was “Half owre, half owre to Aberdour (not Aberdeen)” that the gude Sir Patrick Spens was said to lie “Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet.” Note – no mention of the Maid.

Dougal G Andrew

Erskine Loan

Gullane, East Lothian