All the following information about this tune I got from the Fiddler’s Companion. Apparently this Scottish reel is from at least as far back as the 1700’s. Glen (1891) finds the tune earliest in print in Robert Bremner’s 1757 collection (pg. 65). That setting has very antique sounding semiquaver runs. I’ve adapted it from the FC and taken out slurs and trills.
Perhaps this sheds some light on the origins of the story, ‘The Princess and the Pea’. The presence of dried peas* in one’s pease straw would no doubt have made for an uncomfortable nights sleep - but only a true princess would be troubled by a single pea* under 100 feather mattresses.
*Dow, being the linguist he is, will know this. So I am mentioning it for the benefit of those with an interest in words but with better things to do with their time than read dictionaries. The word ‘pease’ originally referred to the whole pea plant. The singular, ‘pea’ only came about as a back-formation from ‘pease’ or ‘peas’, which was misconstrued as a plural.
Having said that, I know nothing of the word’s earlier history. I presume it is of Romance and not Anglo-Saxon origin - cf. Fr. pois, L. pisum (This, at least, is the botanical name. I don’t know whether this is derived from classical Latin or a modern Latinisation).
The R.S.C.D.S. in their handbooks have a dance called ‘Broon’s Reel or Clean Pease Strae’
Duke of Perth
I knew something was at the back of my mind … Broon’s and Cleane Pease Strae or alternative titles to the well known dance the Duke of Perth - danced (or rather staggered) at the best Scottish weddings
The old man promised to obey. Oldbuck thrust something into his hand—-Ochiltree looked at it by the torchlight, and returned it—-“Na, na! I never tak gowd—-besides, Monkbarns, ye wad maybe be rueing it the morn.” Then turning to the group of fishermen and peasants—-“Now, sirs, wha will gie me a supper and some clean pease-strae?”
And an old rhyme
By working late and early
We’re come to what ye see,
Although we made our bridal bed
On clean pease strae.
Another old rhyme
The best bed of all,
the best bed in our house
is clean pease straw.
Pease straw is dirty,
will dirty all my gown;
never mind my bonny lass –
just lay the cushion down"
And Sir James George Frazer from "The Golden Bough"
At Kloxin, near Stettin, the harvesters call out to the woman who binds the last sheaf, “You have the Old Man, and must keep him.” As late as the first half of the nineteenth century the custom was to tie up the woman herself in pease-straw, and bring her with music to the farmhouse, where the harvesters danced with her till the pease-straw fell off. In other villages round Stettin, when the last harvest-waggon is being loaded, there is a regular race amongst the women, each striving not to be last. For she who places the last sheaf on the waggon is called the Old Man, and is completely swathed in corn-stalks; she is also decked with flowers, and flowers and a helmet of straw are placed on her head. In solemn procession she carries the harvest-crown to the squire, over whose head she holds it while she utters a string of good wishes.
Kipling’s "Puck Of Pook’s Hill"
‘I groped, and one by one - the tower was pitchy dark - I counted the lither barrels of twenty serpentines laid out on pease straw. No conceal at all!
I remember this tune being in Braveheart, so it must actually be from the 13th century! 😉
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