‘The father of Scottish poets’, as Lives of Scottish Poets (v.3, Thos. Boys, 1822), declared him to be, sometimes known as ‘True Thomas’ or Thomas Lermont, Sir Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun, both knight and semi-mythical figure, has been credited as the writer of a range of poems, dramas, songs and prophesies.
There are records of his estate being in Berwickshire in the 13th Century, and he is first credited in 1232 as the writer of a popular version of the Arthurian ‘Sir Tristrem’ romance, a copy of which was found extant in the Auchinleck MSS at the library of the Faculty of Advocates.
More obliquely, he is recorded in popular tale and ballad with having been kidnapped by an elfin queen before being returned, replete with the art of prophesy and the inability to tell a lie. The earliest source seems to be 700-line story recounting this event which is commonly attributed to him, however, since little is told of what happened during his 7-year kidnap, while, after the first few lines, the Rhymer oddly switches to being spoken of in the third person, his authorship is doubtful.
According to Henry the Minstrel, he was still alive in 1296, apparently fighting alongside William Wallace, by which time he must have been nearing a hundred. His last day was presaged by a foretold hart and hind strolling through the village; the Rhymer, understanding his fate, followed them to his Fairy Queen beneath the Mountains.
The writer of his entry in Lives of Scottish Poets, one A.R., makes enjoyably short work with regards to the veracity of Rhymer’s prophecies- “a jingle of absurdities, strung together out of irony, and after the fashion of a very common figure of speech, by which the impossibility of one occurrence is illustrated by the still more obvious impossibility of another: Scotland shall be subjugated by England, when Scotchmen run for terror into the sea, &c. It is a prediction only deserving of notice, in as far as it helps to shew by what sort of nothings the fame of a prophet could, in olden time, be acquired.”
In 1999, a researcher from the University of Kuban in Krasnodar, Russia, visited the Rhymer’s Stone in the Eildon Hills to announce that she had gathered together the Scottish family tree of the great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov, and that the Rhymer was his ancestor. Ilona Gumenyuk told of a drawing by Lermontov of a figure he had met in a dream after reading ballads edited by Walter Scott of ‘one Thomas, from whom I am descended.’ This dubious connection led to a monument with a bust of Lermontov being erected in Earlston in 2015, designed by Moscow sculptor Stepan Mokrousov, seemingly without further scrutiny.
AULD RYMR– inscription from the Rhymer’s Stone
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