Maiden Feast of Cairnkibbie – King looks to win his wager

Wilson’s Tales is a record of our history, legends and people, first serialised in the Berwick Advertiser in the 1830s. The Wilson’s Tales Project is re-telling them for a modern audience.

Friday, 22nd February 2019, 13:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th February 2019, 16:26 pm
The Maiden Feast of Cairnkibbie. Illustration by Sheila Vickers.

PREVIOUSLY: To win a bet, King James V of Scotland gatecrashes a feast at William Hume’s farm, disguised as a beggar. He charms everyone, until the King’s knights come to arrest him.

If the knights thought William and his company would surrender the beggar, they were much mistaken. Everyone was prepared to fight for their charismatic guest, and when a search for the King’s missing mace was organised, the beggar produced it from his wallet, claiming it was his badge as ‘King of the Beggars’.

The knights turned on William, warning him that the charge of high treason would be levelled not only at the beggar, but also at those who sheltered him. But William showed true courage, citing the laws of hospitality.

He said: “This jolly gaberlunzie is king o’ his tribe just as much as King Jamie himself is king o’ this auld land. He sings like a king, dances like a king, and drinks like a king.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Lord Ross saw the twinkle in the disguised King’s eye: James was winning his wager.

There was only one answer: a forced arrest. The women were manoeuvred out the back, while the knights, determined not to shed blood, tried to capture the beggar. He was equally determined not to be caught and the knights found themselves locked in a barn.

William was full of ale, but he still noticed that the knights had submitted surprisingly readily. “Aha!” laughed the beggar. “That was due to terror and awe my name inspires!”

Nevertheless, as old William sobered up, he realised they might have been led astray. Maybe he should have another word with the beggar and release the King’s men. But by then the beggar had disappeared, riding away on one of the King’s horses – and taking the stolen mace with him.

The seriousness of William’s position became all too clear. If the knights were released, William and his men could all be slaughtered, but the longer they were confined, the worse things would be. He proposed a deal: the knights would be freed on a promise of no killings and an amnesty for the loss of the horse.

To the amazement of the feast-goers, the response from the knights was merriment. They even roared with laughter when William told them the beggar had stolen “the best o’ yer horses”.

And so ended the Maiden Feast. The knights rode off and William and his wife went to bed, relieved yet confused.

But with the dawn came a messenger from the King, bringing a schedule of charges against William.

NEXT WEEK: A win for the King, and a verdict for William.

Retold by Christine Fletcher, adapted by Joe Lang and illustrated by Sheila Vickers. Read the full story and background in Volume 5 of the Wilson’s Tales Revival Edition, £8.50 from Berwick booksellers or at