Maiden Feast of Cairnkibbie – the King passes sentence

Wilson’s Tales is a record of our region’s history, legends and people. First serialised in the Berwick Advertiser in the 1830s, the Wilson’s Tales Project is re-telling them.

Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 1:29 pm
The Maiden Feast of Cairnkibbie. Illustration by Sheila Vickers.

PREVIOUSLY: To win a bet, King James V of Scotland gatecrashes a harvest feast at William Hume’s farm, disguised as a beggar. He charms everyone and when knights come to arrest him for theft, he escapes on a stolen horse. Now William faces the consequences.

The King’s messenger read out the charges against William. One: he had given refuge to the thieving beggar. Two: he had defended the thief against the King’s men. Three: he had imprisoned them, enabling the beggar to escape.

William was summoned to Duns to answer the charges before the King. Will Carr and some of the servants accompanied him.

Arriving in Duns, they were led to a fine chamber. The awe-inspiring King was seated on an elevated throne with the Scots lords at his feet.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In answer to the charges, William declared what he believed to be the truth: he had been led astray by the Devil. Who else could have so deceived the entire company?

“Who indeed?” mused the King. “And what exactly were his devilish accomplishments?”

William’s list included the beggar’s ability to turn enemies into friends, skill in playing, dancing, kissing, singing like a bullfinch and inspiring by his “glamour and witchery o’ fun and frolic”.

This was music to the King’s ears and the lords were agog to learn how the King had won his wager. Evidently he had near-superhuman qualities, even invisibility when the horse was stolen.

While William, his family and friends waited in agony, the King and Lord Ross whispered as Ross conceded the wager. But the Humes’ torment was not yet over.

William’s words were “an artifice to escape vengeance”, declared the King, and he was now withdrawing to don the black cap for sentence.

Only when he returned in the beggar’s cap with the stolen mace did the penny drop. The King’s deception was revealed, but he still intended to pass sentence.

First, he overruled William’s objection to a match between Lilly and Will Carr. Lilly was too overwhelmed to speak so the King asked William for his assent. What could he do but withdraw his opposition when the King was reading the banns?

Then came the rewards. For allowing the marriage, William was given free grant of the lands of Cairnkibbie, raising him from farmer to a small Border laird.

And Will Carr was no longer a pauper after receiving 200 marks from the royal purse. So Will and Lilly were married, and another feast took place – this time without the beggar.

At the King’s insistence, his visit to the Maiden Feast remained a secret. Until today.

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