Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: Thomas the Rhymer, the Border Prophet.



Just after the first records of the first use of name Carruthers by William of Carruthers, were noted in the reign of Alexander II (1215-1245), and in the time of his son Alexander III (1241-1286), comes a famous and highly revered prophet, whose prophecies were such that it is alleged that even the Jacobites in the 17th century paid close head to his words.

Thomas The Rhymer, also called, True Thomas, Sir Thomas Learmont (Learmounth), or Sir Thomas Of Erceldoune (Earlston), was a laird from Lauderdale, Berwickshire in the East March of the Scottish Borders.

He flourished from 1220–98 as a Scottish poet and prophet who was likely the author of the metrical romance Sir Tristrem, a version of the widely diffused Tristan legend. Interestingly, the romantic legend of Tristrem and Yseult is the earliest specimen of verse in English, known to exist. 

Rhymers Tower

The romance was first printed in 1804 by Sir Walter Scott from a manuscript of about 1300. Thomas is now probably best known through the ballad “Thomas the Rhymer,” included by Scott in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802). In popular lore he was usually coupled with Merlin and other English seers. His prophecies first appear in literary form in the early 15th-century Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune (edited 1875 by J.A.H. Murray).


On the southern edge of the village of Earlston, there still stands the remains of an old keep dating back to the 1400s, called “Rhymer’s Tower” because they are believed to stand on the site of the castle originally built by Thomas the Rhymer.

The amazing prophecies of Thomas the Rhymer

Rhymers Stone

Sir Thomas was a Scottish laird from the border shire of Berwickshire better known as Thomas the Rhymer. He often shows up in folk tales and was also an inspiration to Sir Walter Scott.

One of the most colourful rumours about Thomas is that he was whisked away by the Queen of Elfland while sitting under a tree on the Eildon Hills. The origin of Thomas the Rhymer’s powers was, it is said, was from this meeting and kissing the Queen, while hunting on the estate of Melrose Abbey.

The meeting took place after Thomas fell asleep under the Eildon Tree, a spot now marked by the Rhymer’s Stone near Melrose. He then spent seven years with her in the Land of the Elves before returning to Earlston for seven years, then disappearing for good: presumably back to the Land of the Elves.

Some Prophecies by Thomas the Rhymer

The death of King Alexander III in 1286
– Scottish success at the Battle of Bannockburn 1314
– The succession of Robert the Bruce to the throne
– The removal of Edward Balliol during second war of Scottish independence in 1332
– The battle of Halidon Hill, 1333
– The defeat of King James IV at Flodden in 1513
– The defeat of Mary Queen of Scots’ forces at the Battle of Pinkie in 1567

There are many more predictions. Thomas was such an important figure that some leaders found it useful to support their own policy by linking their actions to Thomas’s prophesies; undoubtedly some of these were made up. One such prophesy was the prediction of the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Yet one of his spookiest prophecies was about his very own town of Erceldoun (Earlston). He predicted its eventual bankruptcy by saying that when the local thorn tree fell, so would the town. In 1814, the huge tree was still thriving in the garden of the Black Bull Inn, but when the landlord cut around its roots, it was weakened. Later that year, when the tree fell down in a gale, the terrified locals tried to revive its roots with whisky. This was to no avail and that same year, the town went bankrupt.

Of course, it’s hard to know how much of the Thomas the Rhymer story is true and how much is legend. But perhaps he will one day tell us himself, as it’s said that he is still living with the elves in the Eildon Hills and will one day return.

Several different versions of the story exist but there are common threads running through every variation. Thomas is transported to Fairyland, where he serves the queen until she tells him to return with her. He returns with the ability to foretell the future. According to the site the story goes………..

The Elf Queen

As Thomas lay on Huntly Bank (a place on the descent of the Eildon Hills, which raise their triple crest above the celebrated monastery of Melrose), he saw a lady so extremely beautiful that he imagined she must be the Virgin Mary herself. Her appointments, however, were those rather of an amazon, or goddess of the woods. Her steed was of the highest beauty, and at its mane hung thirty silver bells and nine, which were music to the wind as she paced along. Her saddle was of “royal bone” (ivory), laid over with “orfeverie” (goldsmith’s work). Her stirrups, her dress, all corresponded with her extreme beauty and the magnificence of her array. The fair huntress had her bow in hand, and her arrows at her belt. She led three greyhounds in a leash, and three hounds of scent followed her closely.


She rejected and disclaimed the homage which Thomas desired to pay her; so that, passing from one extremity to the other, Thomas became as bold as he had at first been humble. The lady warned him he must become her slave if he wished to prosecute his suit. Before their interview terminated, the appearance of the beautiful lady was changed into that of the most hideous hag in existence. A witch from the spital or almshouse would have been a goddess in comparison to the late beautiful huntress. Hideous as she was, Thomas felt that he had placed himself in the power of this hag, and when she bade him take leave of the sun, and of the leaf that grew on the tree, he felt himself under the necessity of obeying her.

“He saw a lady so extremely beautiful that he imagined she must be the Virgin Mary herself.” Illustration by A.G. Walker. Published in A Book of Ballad Stories. Publication date unknown. Gardner, Darton and Co.

A cavern received them, in which, following his frightful guide, he for three days travelled in darkness, sometimes hearing the booming of a distant ocean, sometimes walking through rivers of blood, which crossed their subterranean path. At length they emerged into daylight, in a most beautiful orchard. Thomas, almost fainting for want of food, stretched out his hand towards the goodly fruit which hung around him, but was forbidden by his conductress, who informed him that these were the fatal apples which were the cause of the fall of man. He perceived also that his guide had no sooner entered this mysterious ground and breathed its magic air than she was revived in beauty, equipage, and splendour, as fair or fairer than he had first seen her on the mountain. She then proceeded to explain to him the character of the country.


“Yonder right-hand path,” she says, “conveys the spirits of the blest to paradise. Yon downward and well-worn way leads sinful souls to the place of everlasting punishment. The third road, by yonder dark brake, conducts to the milder place of pain, from which prayer and mass may release offenders. But see you yet a fourth road, sweeping along the plain to yonder splendid castle? Yonder is the road to Elfland, to which we are now bound. The lord of the castle is king of the country, and I am his queen; and when we enter yonder castle, you must observe strict silence, and answer no question that is asked you, and I will account for your silence by saying I took your speech when I brought you from middle earth.”

Having thus instructed him, they journeyed on to the castle, and, entering by the kitchen, found themselves in the midst of such a festive scene as might become the mansion of a great feudal lord or prince.

iu-23.jpegThirty carcasses of deer were lying on the massive kitchen board, under the hands of numerous cooks, who toiled to cut them up and dress them, while the gigantic greyhounds which had taken the spoil lay lapping the blood, and enjoying the sight of the slain game. They came next to the royal hall, where the king received his loving consort; knights and ladies, dancing by threes, occupied the floor of the hall; and Thomas, the fatigue of his journey from the Eildon Hills forgotten, went forward and joined in the revelry. After a period, however, which seemed to him a very short one, the queen spoke with him apart, and bade him prepare to return to his own country.

“Now,” said the queen, “how long think you that you have been here?”

“Certes, fair lady,” answered Thomas, “not above these seven days.”

“You are deceived,” answered the queen; “you have been seven years in this castle, and it is full time you were gone. Know, Thomas, that the archfiend will come to this castle to-morrow to demand his tribute, and so handsome a man as you will attract his eye. For all the world would I not suffer you to be betrayed to such a fate; therefore up, and let us be going.”

Scott-Minstrelsy-Works-v1-p195-True_Thomas_tune.jpgThis terrible news reconciled Thomas to his departure from Elfinland; and the queen was not long in placing him upon Huntly Bank, where the birds were singing. She took leave of him, and to ensure his reputation bestowed on him the tongue which could not lie. Thomas in vain objected to this inconvenient and involuntary adhesion to veracity, which would make him, as he thought, unfit for church or for market, for king’s court or for lady’s bower. But all his remonstrances were disregarded by the lady; and Thomas the Rhymer, whenever the discourse turned on the future, gained the credit of a prophet whether he would or not, for he could say nothing but what was sure to come to pass.

Thomas remained several years in his own tower near Ercildoun, and enjoyed the fame of his predictions, several of which are current among the country people to this day. At length, as the prophet was entertaining the Earl of March in his dwelling, a cry of astonishment arose in the village, on the appearance of a hart and hind, which left the forest, and, contrary to their shy nature, came quietly onward, traversing the village towards the dwelling of Thomas. The prophet instantly rose from the board, and acknowledging the prodigy as the summons of his fate, he accompanied the hart and hind into the forest, and though occasionally seen by individuals to whom he has chosen to show himself, he has never again mixed familiarly with mankind.

In more recent times, Thomas the Rhymer has cropped up in a poem by Rudyard Kipling; in Nigel Tranter’s 1981 novel True Thomas; and in a large number of other books, comics, and paintings. Meanwhile, The Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer was recorded by the group Steeleye Span in 1974, by the singer Ewan MacColl in 2002, and in German by Heinrich Schlusnus in 1938.

Thomas the Rhymer published by Sir Walter Scott

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,

A ferlie he spied wi’ his e’e,
And there he saw a lady bright
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.

Her skirt was o’ the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o’ the velvet fyne.
At ilka tett o’ her horse’s mane
Hung fifty siller bells and nine.

True Thomas he pull’s aff his cap
And louted low down to his knee:
“All hail, thou mighty Queen o’ Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.”

“O no, o no, Thomas,” she said,
“That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland
That am hither come to visit thee.”

“Harp and carp, Thomas,” she said,
“Harp and carp along wi’ me.
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your body I will be.”

“Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunton me.”
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips
All underneath the Eildon Tree.

“Now ye maun gang wi’ me,” she said,
“True Thomas, ye maun gang wi’ me.
And ye maun serve me seven years
Thro’ weal and woe, as may chance to be.”

She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She’s ta’en True Thomas up behind.
And aye whene’er her bridle rung
The steed flew faster than the wind.

O they rode on and farther on,
The steed gaed swifter than the wind,
Until they reached a desert wide
And living land was left behind.

“Light down, light down now, True Thomas
And lean your head upon my knee,
Abide and rest a little space
And I will show you ferlies three.

“O see ye not yon narrow road
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho’ after it but few enquires.

“And see ye not that braid, braid road
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho’ some ca’ it the road to heaven.

“And see ye not that bonny road
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland
Where thou and I this night maun gae.

“But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue
Whatever ye may hear or see.
For if you speak word in Elfyn land
Ye’ll ne’er get back to your ain countrie.”

Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae a tree:
“Take this for thy wages, True Thomas
It will gi’ ye the tongue that can never lie.”

“My tongue is mine ain,” True Thomas said,
“A guidly gift ye wad gie to me!
I neither dought to buy or sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.

“I dought neither speak to prince or peer
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye.”
“Now hold thy peace,”, the lady said,
“For as I say, so must it be.”

He has gotten a coat of the even cloth
And a pair of shune of velvet green,
And till seven years were gane and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey Final to use


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