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  • Susan Stoderl

Women Writers Through History | Jean Elliott, Scottish Poet

Woman on music, sedan chair, Battle of Flodden
Jean Elliott, Scottish Poet

Jean, sometimes called Jane Elliot (1727-1805) is best known for her poem “The Flowers of the Forest,” published in 1776. Her poem was set to an earlier tune by John Skene of Halyards Manuscript, dating back to 1615–1625.


The song captures the sorrow and loss experienced by the Scottish people after the Battle of Flodden. Even today, people sometimes sing it at funerals. “The Flowers of the Forest” speaks of the Scottish army’s defeat on September 9, 1513, when James IV, King of Scotland attacked the Earl of Surrey near Braxton, Northumberland. It was a massive defeat for the Scots which had many repercussions for years. The poem tells of the women mourning all the men left in the cold clay that day as they milk their ewes and watch over their now fatherless children. The poem is the only surviving work of Jean Elliott.


Jean’s father, Sir Gilbert Elliot, 2nd Baronet of Minto, was very influential. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, a group of Jacobite Army soldiers came to arrest him. Jean remained composed and hospitable. She entertained the officers at Minto House and convinced them that her father was far away. In reality, he was hiding nearby in the Minto crags.


The Scottish poet never married and lived in Brown’s Square, Edinburgh, from 1782 to 1804. A rumor in her time in Edinburgh was that she was the last lady who kept a private sedan chair in her hall.


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