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Loch Katrine Jig

A Scene from The Lady of the Lake, Alexander Johnston, 1849

"The Lady of the Lake"

May 8

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

“So wondrous wild, the whole might seem the scenery of a fairy dream.”

~ Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, 1810

Walter Scott's influential poem, The Lady of the Lake, draws on the romance of the Arthurian legends, but with an entirely different story set near Loch Katrine in the Trossachs of Scotland. The poem has three main plots: the contest among three men, Roderick Dhu, James Fitz-James, and Malcolm Graeme, to win the love of Ellen Douglas; the feud and reconciliation of King James V of Scotland and James Douglas; and a war between the lowland Scots (led by James V) and the highland clans (led by Roderick Dhu of Clan Alpine). Highly influential, this poem was a key influence during the Highland Revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, itself part of the wider Romantic movement (the counterpoint to the Industrial Revolution and Age of Enlightenment), which hearkened back to the art, music, literature, philosophy, architecture, and scholarship of the Middle Ages. With 25,000 copies sold in eight months, this poem marked the peak of Scott's popularity and broke all records for the sale of poetry! ✍️

Loch Katrine Jig

The Lady of the Lake is a famous narrative poem, one of the centerpieces of the Highland Revival period, by Sir Walter Scott, first published on May 8, 1810. 


Set in the Trossachs region of Scotland, near Loch Katrine,  it is composed of six cantos, each of which concerns the action of a single day.

Scott began writing The Lady of the Lake in August 1809 while on holiday with his wife, Charlotte, and daughter, Sofia, in the Trossachs and along the shores and islands of Loch Katrine, inspiring the setting though the events in the poem are not strictly historical.


The poem has three main plots: the contest among three men, Roderick Dhu, James Fitz-James, and Malcolm Graeme, to win the love of Ellen Douglas; the feud and reconciliation of King James V of Scotland and James Douglas; and a war between the lowland Scots (led by James V) and the highland clans (led by Roderick Dhu of Clan Alpine).


"The Lady of the Lake" marked the pinnacle of Scott's popularity as a poet.  With 25,000 copies sold in eight months, it broke all records for the sale of poetry, and Scott's fame spread beyond Great Britain to the United States.

Sightseers flocked to Loch Katrine, and a hotel was built at Callander catering for those who wished to visit 'Ellen's Isle'. The Lady of the Lake created a vogue for the Trossachs and is primarily responsible for the area's enduring popularity with tourists.

Its influence was indirect but far-reaching: 

The famous melody by composer Franz Schubert, Ave Maria, (1825) originally titled in German "Ellens Gesang III" (“Ellen’s Song”) uses as inspiration the text from a section of the poem.  In Scott's poem the character Ellen Douglas, the Lady of the Lake (Loch Katrine) has gone with her exiled father to stay in the Goblin's cave as he has declined to join their previous host, Roderick Dhu, in rebellion against King James. Roderick Dhu, the chieftain of Clan Alpine, sets off up the mountain with his warriors, but lingers and hears the distant sound of the harpist Allan-bane, accompanying Ellen who sings a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary, calling upon her for help. Roderick Dhu pauses, then goes on to battle.


The plot was also used as the basis of Rossini's opera, La Donna del Lago (1819). 


The modern song "Hail to the Chief", the official Presidential Anthem of the United States, was also inspired directly from verse from this poem!   Set to music by around 1812 by the songwriter James Sanderson, the verses from the "Boat Song" which begins "Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances" became popularly incorporated into unauthorized romantic melodramas, both in Britain and the United States.

Association with the American President first occurred in 1815, when it was played to honor both George Washington and the end of the War of 1812 (under the name "Wreaths for the Chieftain").  On July 4, 1828, the U.S. Marine Band performed the song at a ceremony for the formal opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was attended by President John Quincy Adams. But Andrew Jackson was the first living President to have the song used to honor his position in 1829.   President Chester A. Arthur did not like the song and asked John Philip Sousa to compose a new song, which was entitled "Presidential Polonaise".  Howeer, after Arthur left office, the Marine Band resumed playing "Hail to the Chief" for public appearances by the President.

"The Boat Song"

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances! 

   Honored and blessed be the ever-green Pine! 

Long may the tree, in his banner that glances, 

   Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line! 

      Heaven sent it happy dew, 

      Earth lend it sap anew, 

   Gayly to bourgeon and broadly to grow, 

      While every Highland glen 

      Sends our shout back again, 

   “Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! ieroe!” 


Ours is no sapling, chance-sown by the fountain, 

   Blooming at Beltane, in winter to fade; 

When the whirlwind has stripped every leaf on the mountain, 

   The more shall Clan-Alpine exult in her shade. 

      Moored in the rifted rock, 

      Proof to the tempest’s shock, 

   Firmer he roots him the ruder it blow; 

      Menteith and Breadalbane, then, 

      Echo his praise again, 

   “Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! ieroe!” 


Proudly our pibroch has thrilled in Glen Fruin, 

   And Bannochar’s groans to our slogan replied; 

Glen-Luss and Ross-dhu, they are smoking in ruin, 

   And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on her side. 

      Widow and Saxon maid 

      Long shall lament our raid, 

   Think of Clan-Alpine with fear and with woe; 

      Lennox and Leven-glen 

      Shake when they hear again, 

   “Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! ieroe!” 


Row, vassals, row, for the pride of the Highlands! 

   Stretch to your oars for the ever-green Pine! 

O that the rosebud that graces yon islands 

   Were wreathed in a garland around him to twine! 

      O that some seedling gem, 

      Worthy such noble stem 

   Honored and blessed in their shadow might grow! 

      Loud should Clan-Alpine then 

      Ring from her deepmost glen, 

   “Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! ieroe!”


For more on this poem in its entirety, click the painting of "Ellen and the  Harper" by Howard Chandler Chisty, 1910.

And to see the dance performed by The University of St Andrews Celtic Society's Display at Newcastle Festival 2014, see below.

Loch Katrine Jig

Click the dance cribs or description below to link to a printable version of the dance!

Loch Katrine Jig

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