Thomas Learmonth (c. 1220 – c. 1298; also spelled Learmount, Learmont, or Learmounth), better known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas, was a 13th century Scottish laird and reputed prophet from Earlston (then called "Erceldoune").
He is the protagonist of the ballad "Thomas the Rhymer" (Child Ballad number 37). He is also the probable source of the legend of Tam Lin.
Sir Thomas was born in Erceldoune (also spelled Ercildoune - presently Earlston), Berwickshire, sometime in the 13th century, and has a reputation as the author of many prophetic verses. Little is known for certain of his life but two charters from 1260–80 and 1294 mention him, the latter referring to "Thomas de Ercildounson son and heir of Thome Rymour de Ercildoun".
Popular esteem of Thomas lived on for centuries after his death, to the extent that several peopleScottish independence. His reputation for supernatural powers for a time rivalled that of Merlin. Thomas became known as "True Thomas", supposedly because he could not tell a lie. Popular lore recounts how he prophesied many great events in Scottish history, including the death of Alexander III of Scotland.
have fabricated prophecies attributed to Thomas in order to further the cause of
Thomas' gift of prophecy is linked to his poetic ability. It is not clear if the name Rhymer was his actual surname or merely a soubriquet. He is often cited as the author of the English Sir Tristrem, a version of the Tristram legend, and some lines in Robert Mannyng's Chronicle may be the source of this association.
Prophecies attributed to Thomas
- "On the morrow, afore noon, shall blow the greatest wind that ever was heard before in Scotland."
- This prophecy predicted the death of Alexander III; the exact nature of the blow became apparent only with the king's death the next day.
- "As long as the Thorn Tree stands
- Ercildourne shall keep its lands."
- Of this prophecy, Barbara Ker Wilson writes: In the year the Thorn Tree did fall, all the merchants of Ercildourne became bankrupt, and shortly afterwards the last fragment of its common land was alienated.
- "When the Cows of o' Gowrie come to land
- The Judgement Day is near at hand"
- The Cows of Gowrie, two boulders near Invergowrie protruding from the Firth of Tay, are said to approach the land at the rate of an inch a year.
- The biggest and bonniest o' the three"
- "At Eildon Tree, if yon shall be, a brig ower Tweed yon there may see."
- "Fyvie, Fyvie thou'll never thrive,
- As long as there's in thee stones three;
- There's one in the oldest tower,
- There's one in the lady's bower,
- There's one in the water-gate,
- And these three stones you'll never get."
- To this day, only one of the stones has been found. Since 1885 no eldest son has lived to succeed his father.
Musicologists have traced the ballad, "Thomas the Rhymer", back at least as far as the 13th century. It deals with the supernatural subject matter of fairy-folk. The theme of this song also closely relates to another song, that of Tam Lin, which follows the same general topical lines. Its more general theme relates to temptation and mortal pleasures.
Several different variants of the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer exist, most having the same basic theme. They tell how Thomas either kissed, had sex, or slept with the Queen of Elfland and rode with her or was otherwise transported to Fairyland. One version relates that she changed into a hag immediately after sleeping with him, as some sort of a punishment to him, but returned to her originally beautiful state when they neared her castle, where her husband lived. Thomas stayed at a party in the castle until she told him to return with her, coming back into the mortal realm only to realize that seven years had passed. He asked for a token to remember the queen by; she offered him the choice of becoming a harper or a prophet and chose the latter option.
After a number of years of relating prophecy, Thomas bade farewell to his homeland and presumably returned to Fairyland, whence he has not yet returned.
The 14th century romance "Thomas of Erceldoune", with accompanying prophecies, clearly relates to the ballad, though the exact nature of the relationship is unclear. The romance survives complete or in fragments in five manuscripts, the earliest of which is the Lincoln codex compiled by Robert Thornton. The romance confirms the content of the ballad.
The German version of Tom der Reimer by Theodor Fontane was set as a song for male voice and piano by Carl Loewe, his op. 135.
Recent versions of the "Thomas the Rhymer" ballad include renditions by the electric folk act Steeleye Span which recorded two different versions for their 1974 album Now We Are Six and another for Present--The Very Best of Steeleye Span, released in 2002. Singer Ewan MacColl was also recorded his version of the ballad.
An outstanding earlier recording, in German, is by Heinrich Schlusnus, on Polydor 67212, of 1938 (78 rpm).
The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams left an opera by the title of Thomas the Rhymer incomplete at the time of his death in 1958. The libretto was a collaboration between the composer and his second wife, Ursula Vaughan Williams, and it was based upon the ballads of Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin.
The British country/acid house band Alabama 3 drew upon the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer in a 2003 recording entitled Yellow Rose. Alabama 3's lyrics give the ballad a new setting in the American frontier of the 19th Century, where an enchanting woman lures the narrator to a night of wild debauchery, then robs and finally murders him. Yellow Rose was released as Track 11 of Alabama 3's 2003 album Power in the Blood (One Little Indian / Geffen).
- Composer and teacher R J Stewart provides a full esoteric exegesis of the ballad in his book The UnderWorld Initiation.
- Bruce Glassco composed a short story titled "True Thomas" that posits Thomas' prophetic powers were a gift of alien abduction - the Queen of Faerie from the ballad was the Queen of an extraterrestrial Hive sworn to protect Languages. This short work was written for Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling's 1997 fairy tale anthology Black Swan, White Raven.
- Rudyard Kipling's poem The Last Rhime of True Thomas features Thomas Learmounth and a king who's going to make Thomas his knight.
- Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer is a full-length novel based on the ballad and associated folklore.
- Scottish author Nigel Tranter's 1981 novel True Thomas is based on the known facts and legends of Thomas the Rhymer.
- Thomas is a major character in Alexander Reid's play The Lass wi the Muckle Mou.
- "Erceldoune", a novella by Holy Blood, Holy Grail co-author Richard Leigh, is based on Thomas the Rhymer, and features a folk-singer named Thomas "Rafe" Erlston. Found in Erceldoune & Other Stories. ISBN 978-1-4116-9943-4
- William Croft Dickinson wrote a children's book titled "The Eildon Tree" about two modern children meeting Thomas the Rhymer and traveling back in time to a critical point in Scottish history.
- John Geddie, Thomas the Rymour and his Rhymes. [With a portrait of the author], Edinburgh: Printed for the Rymour Club and issued from John Knox's House, 1920.
- Beneath the Eildon Tree is a painting by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law depicting Thomas the Ryhmer and the Faery Queen.
Books referring to
- Cecilia Dart-Thornton's Bitterbynde Trilogy includes a character named True Thomas Learmont, the Royal Bard, who is also called Thomas Rhymer. His titles include Most Noble Duke of Ercildoune, Marquess of Ceolnnachta, Earl of Huntley Bank, Baron Achduart, and Royal Bard of Erith. He is unable to tell a lie.
- Patricia Wrede's Snow-White And Rose-Red makes use of elements of the ballad, with the Queen of Elfland and two of Thomas's sons appearing as major characters.
- Elizabeth Marie Pope's Newberry Honor book, The Perilous Gard, includes references to the ballad. Certain aspects of the ballad, and particularly its description of fairyland, are used in the novel.
- The character True Tom (also Thomas Learmont, Thomas of Erceldoune, Thomas the Rhymer) makes an appearance in Raymond E. Feist's popular 1988 fantasy novel Faerie Tale.
- Other fantasy novels, including Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, use elements from, and allusions to, the ballad.
- Thomas appears as True Thomas in the comic book Aria: Summer's Spell. He is the lost love of the series' protagonist, Kildare, and finally reunites with her in 1960s London.
- True Thomas has a brief appearance in Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic, Book III, "The Land of Summer's Twilight".
- Thomas 'Tom' Learmont is a major character in Mark Chadbourn's fantasy series The Age of Misrule. The character returned in the Kingdom of the Serpent series. He is often referred to in the stories as True Thomas or Thomas the Rhymer.
- In the novel Final Watch by Sergey Lukyanenko, Thomas Rhymer appears as the Grand Light Mage Thomas 'Foma' Lermont, head of Scottish Night Watch in Edinburgh.
- Seven Soldiers of Victory, a graphic novel series by acclaimed author Grant Morrison, quotes extensively from the ballad and features an alternate depiction of the Queen of Faerie; Spyder, the protagonist to whom the poem is read (who is later employed by the Queen) is named Thomas.
- Thomas the Rhymer (here with the alternative name Tom-lin) also appears in Sheri S. Tepper's novel Beauty.
- Sir Thomas Learmont de Ercildoune is a character in Elizabeth Hand's novel Mortal Love.
- Thomas Learmont appears in James A. Owen's Starchild comic series under the name of "Old Tom" as a somewhat major character.
- In The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams says of the Lake District that "not Thomas Rymer of Erceldoune himself, returning to earth from fair Elfland after not seven, but seven hundred years, could have discerned, from the aspect of that dark and lonely place, what century had arrived in his absence."
- Samuel Rutherford Crockett's "The Black Douglas" makes reference to True Thomas, Thomas Rhymer and Thomas of Ercildoune all in the same chapter, during a conversation between William Douglas and the Fair Lady.
- The novelist Thomas Learmont (b. 1939)
- The Russian Romantic era writer and poet Mikhail Lermontov was probably a distant relative of Thomas the Rhymer.
- ^ Facts On File Online Databases
- ^ Significant Scots - Thomas Rymer
- ^ He is also known as Thomas Rhymer, Thomas Rymour, Thomas Rymer, Thomas de Erceldoune, Thomas Rymour de Erceldoune or Thomas of Erceldoune
- ^ Popular Rymes. pub. 1842 by William and Robert Chambers. page 6. http://www.presscom.co.uk/chambers/chambers_popular.html
- ^ Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, "Thomas Rymer"
- ^ a b c Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v. 1, p. 317, Dover Publications, New York 1965
- ^ Barbara Ker Wilson, Scottish Folk-tales and Legends, p. 17, Oxford University Press, London 1954
- ^ Simon Welfare and John Fairley, Cabinet of Curiosities, p. 88, St. Martin's Press, New York 1991
- ^ Thomas the Rhymer, Part Third in Alfred Noyes (ed), The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: Collected by Sir Walter Scott, London: Melrose, 1908
- ^ Richard Utz, “Medieval Philology and Nationalism: The British and German Editors of Thomas of Erceldoune,” Florilegium: Journal of the Canadian Society of Medievalists 23.2 (2006), 27-45.
- ^ Ursula Vaughan Williams, R.V.W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams (Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 393.