An Caoineadh Rioghail

An Caoineadh Rioghail, or The Royal Lament, is a tune said to have been composed by Iain Garbh MacLean of Coll in around 1650, as a lament for the executed King Charles I.

Charles was King of Scots as well as King of England, and he was executed in London in 1649 as part of the civil wars of the early 17th century. These conflicts pitted the Anglo-Catholic Stewart ancien regime against the English and Scottish protestant and presbyterian forces.

The attribution of this tune to MacLean comes from Gunn in 18071.

The tune appears in two different versions. Most straightforwardly, we have a melody which appears in James Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion and also in the MacFarlane-Young fiddle manuscript, both written out during the mid 18th century, and both titled “The Royal Lament” without attribution.


More problematically, a rather different notation appears in Angus Fraser’s manuscript of the mid 19th century. Titled “An Caoineadh Rioghail”, Fraser's notation gives only a set of three ceòl mór style variations. They seem to me to be similar enough in outline to belong with the melodic ground given by Young and Oswald. However I think that Fraser was quite free in making up his own variations based on his theories of ceòl mór, so I don’t see these as being actual harp variations, however well they work in practice. It is an open question where Fraser got this material from, how much of it is traditional and how well it fits the older melody written by Young and MacFarlane.


1. John Gunn, An Historical Enquiry respecting the Performance on the Harp in the Highlands of Scotland, Archibald Constable, Edinburgh, and John Murray, London, 1807 ^