W.Scott (1831)


Location: town
Papa Stour
Time of Occurrence
[Not given]
Collective name
Sword Dance


Source author
Walter Scott
Source title
Waverley Novels: Vol.XXIV: The Pirate
Source publication
Edinburgh, Robert Cadell, 1831


Saint George / Master
Saint James
Saint Dennis
Saint David
Saint Patrick
Saint Anthony
Saint Andrew




{Enter MASTER, in the character of ST GEORGE.}

[Saint George]

Brave gentles all within this boor, [Note 2]
If ye delight in any sport,
Come see me dance upon this floor,
Which to you all shall yield comfort.
Then shall I dance in such a sort,
As possible I may or can;
You, minstrel man, play me a Porte, [Note 3]
That I on this floor may prove a man.

{He bows, and dances in a line.,}

Now have I danced with heart and hand,
Brave gentles all, as you may see,
For I have been tried in many a land,
As yet the truth can testify;
In England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, and Spain,
Have I been tried with that good sword of steel.

{Draws, and flourishes.}

Yet I deny that ever a man did make me yield;
For in my body there is strength,
As by my manhood may be seen;
And I, with that good sword of length,
Have oftentimes in perils been,
And over champions I was king.
And by the strength of this right hand,
Once on a day I kill'd fifteen,
And left them dead upon the land.
Therefore, brave minstrel, do not care,
But play to me a Porte most light,
That I no longer do forbear,
But dance in all these gentles' sight;
Although my strength makes you abased,
Brave gentles all, be not afraid,
For here are six champions, with me, staid,
All by my manhood I have raised.

{He dances.}

Since I have danced, I think it best
To call my brethren in your sight,
That I may have a little rest,
And they may dance with all their might;
With heart and hand as they are knights,
And shake their swords of steel so bright,
And show their main strength on this floor,
For we shall have another bout
Before we pass out of this boor.
Therefore, brave minstrel, do not care
To play to me a Porte most light,
That I no longer do forbear,
But dance in all these gentles' sight.

{He dances, and then introduces his knights as under.}

Stout James of Spain, both tried and stour, [Note 4]
Thine acts are known full well indeed;
And champion Dennis, a French knight,
Who stout and bold is to be seen;
And David, a Welshman born,
Who is come of noble blood;
And Patrick also, who blew the horn,
An Irish knight amongst the wood.
Of Italy, brave Anthony the good,
And Andrew of Scotland King;
Saint George of England, brave indeed,
Who to the Jews wrought muckle tinte. [Note 5]
Away with this! - Let us come to sport,
Since that ye have a mind to war.
Since that ye have this bargain sought,
Come let us fight and do not fear.
Therefore, brave minstrel, do not care
To play to me a Porte most light,
That I no longer do forbear,
But dance in all these gentles' sight.

{He dances and advances to JAMES of Spain.}

Stout James of Spain, both tried and stour,
Thine acts are known full well indeed,
Present thyself within our sight,
Without either fear or dread.
Count not for favour or for feid,
Since of thy acts thou hast been sure;
Brave James of Spain, I will thee lead,
To prove thy manhood on this floor.

{JAMES dances.}

Brave champion Dennis, a French knight,
Who stout and bold is to be seen,
Present thyself here in our sight,
Thou brave French knight,
Who bold hast been;
Since thou such valiant acts hast done,
Come let us see some of them now
With courtesy, thou brave French knight,
Draw out thy sword of noble hue.

{DENNIS dances, while others retire to a side.}

Brave David a bow must string, and with awe
Set up a wand upon a stand,
And that brave David will cleave in twa. [Note 6]

{DAVID dances solus.}

Here is, I think, an Irish knight,
Who does not fear, or does not fright,
To prove thyself a valiant man,
As thou hast done full often bright;
Brave Patrick, dance, if that thou can.

{He dances.}

Thou stout Italian, come thou here;
Thy name is Anthony, most stout;
Draw out thy sword that is most clear,
And do thou fight without any doubt;
Thy leg thou shake, thy neck thou lout, [Note 7]
And show some courtesy on this floor,
For we shall have another bout,
Before we pass out of this boor.
Thou kindly Scotsman, come thou here;
Thy name is Andrew of Fair Scotland;
Draw out thy sword that is most clear,
Fight for thy king with thy right hand;
And aye as long as thou canst stand,
Fight for thy king with all thy heart;
And then, for to confirm his band,
Make all his enemies for to smart. - {He dances.}

{Music begins.}

{FIGUIR. [Note 8]}

{"The six stand in rank with their swords reclining on their shoulders. The Master (St George) dances, and then strikes the sword of James of Spain, who follows George, then dances, strikes the sword of Dennis, who follows behind James. In like manner the rest - the music playing - swords as before, After the six are brought out of rank, they and the master form a circle, and hold the swords point and hilt. This circle is danced round twice. The whole, headed by the master pass under the swords held in a vaulted manner. They jump over the swords. This naturally places the swords across which they disentangle by passing under their right sword. They take up the seven swords, and form a circle, in which they dance round.}

{"The master runs under the sword opposite, which he jumps over backwards. The others do the same. He then passes under the right-hand sword, which the others follow, in which position they dance, until commanded by the master, when they form into a circle, and dance round as before. They then jump over the right-hand sword, by which menas their backs are to the circle, and their hands across their backs. They dance round in that form until the master calls 'Loose,' when they pass under the right sword, and are in a perfect circle.}

{"The master lays down his sword, and lays hold of the point of James's sword. He then turns himself, James and the others, into a clew. When so formed, he passes under out of the midst of the circle; the others follow; they vault as before. After several other evolutions, they throw themselves into a circle, with their arms across the breast. They afterwards form such figures as to form a shield of their swords, and the shield so compact that the master and his knights dance alternately with this shield upon their heads. It is then laid down upon the floor. Each knight lays hold of their former points and hilts with their hands across, which disentangle by figuirs directly contrary to those that formed the shield. This finishes the Ballet.}


Mars does rule, he bends his brows,
He makes us all agast; [Note 9]
After the few hours that we stay here,
Venus will rule at last.
Farewell, farewell, brave gentles all,
That herein do remain,
I wish you health and happiness
Till we return again.



Scott's preamble:


Note, p.261. - THE SWORD-DANCE.

The Sword-Dance is celebrated in general terms by Olaus Magnus. He seems to have considered it as peculiar to the Norwegians, from whom it may have passed to the Orkneymen and Zetlanders, with other northern customs.


'Moreover, the northern Goths and Swedes had another sport to exercise youth withall, that they will dance and skip amongst naked swords and dangerous weapons: And this they do after the manner of masters of defence, as they are taught from their youth by skilful teachers, that dance before them, and sing to it. And this play is showed especially about Shrovetide, called in Italian Macchararum. For, before carnivals, all the youth dance for eight days together, holding their swords up, but within the scabbards, for three times turning about; and then they do it with their naked swords lifted up. After this, turning more moderately, taking the points and pummels one of the other, they change ranks, and place themselves in an triagonal figure, and this they call Rosam; and presently they dissolve it by drawing back their swords and lifting them up, that upon every one's head there may be made a square Rosa, and then by a most nimbly whisking their swords about collaterally, they quickly leap back, and end the sport, which they guide with pipes or songs, or both together; first by a more heavy, then by a more vehement, and lastly, by a most vehement dancing. But this speculation is scarce to be understood but by those who look on, how comely and decent it is, when at one word, or one commanding, the whole armed multitude is directed to fall to fight, and clergymen may exercise themselves, and mingle themselves amongst others at this sport, because it is all guided by most wise reason.'

To the Primate's account of the sword-dance, I am able to add the words sung or chanted, on occasion of this dance, as it is still performed in Papa Stour, a remote island of Zetland, where alone the custom keeps its ground. It is, it will be observed by antiquaries, a species of play or mystery, in which the Seven Champions of Christendom make their appearance, as in the interlude presented in 'All's Well that Ends Well.' This dramatic curiosity was most kindly procured for my use by Dr Scott of Hazlar Hospital, son of my friend Mr Scott of Mewbie, Zetland. Mr Hibbert has, in his Description of the Zetland Islands, given an account of the sword-dance, but somewhat less full than the following:"

Scott's endnote:

"The manuscript from which the above was copied was transcribed from a very old one by Mr William Henderson, Jun., of Papa Stour, in Zetland. Mr Henderson's copy is not dated, but bears his own signature, and, from various circumstances, it is known to have been written about the year 1788."

Scott's Footnotes:

Note 1: "So placed in the old MS."

Note 2: "Boor - so spelt, to accord with the vulgar pronunciation of the word bower."

Note 3: "Porte - so spelt in the original. The word is known as indicating a piece of music on the bagpipe, to which ancient instrument, which is of Scandinavian origin, the sword-dance may have been originally composed."

Note 4: "Stour, great."

Note 5: "Muckle tinte, much loss or harm; si in MS."

Note 6: "Something is evidently amiss or omitted here. David probably exhibited some feat of archery."

Note 7: "Loot - to bend or bow down, pronounced loot, as doubt is doot in Scotland."

Note 8: "Figuir - so spelt in MS."

Note 9: "Agast - so spelt in MS."