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The standard lament played at rememberance services, funerals, and associated functions is Flowers of the Forest. This tune has been widely used by Canadian military pipers since before the Second World War. The lament is often played as a solo performance.
Two versions of the tune exist, and it is believed the oldest dates to approximately the year 1620. The words by Jane Elliot and pipe tune are based on this version.
The earliest version was this one, by Mrs. Cockburn. A man known to Mrs. Cockburn heard a shepherd playing a flute. Fascinated by the air, he learned it was The Flowers of the Forest. He committed the air to memory and communicated it to Mrs. Cockburn. She recognized the tune and knew some lines of the old ballad. He prevailed upon her to write new words.
Jane (Jean) Elliot (1727-1805) also wrote the poem The Flowers of the Forest A Lament for Flodden. She published it anonymously circa 1755. It was, at the time, thought to be an ancient surviving ballad. However, Robert Burns suspected it was an imitation, and Burns, Ramsay and Sir Walter Scott eventually discovered who wrote the song.
Another version, beginning "Adieu ye streams that smoothly glide," was written by Mrs. John Hunter.
The Battle of Flodden Field took place in 1513. Because of the alliance between Scotland and France, James IV attacked England when Henry VIII invaded France. The Battle of Flodden was a disaster for the Scots, with estimates of Scottish losses numbering as high as ten thousand. Numerous nobles were killed in the battle, including King James IV . The 10,000 dead were the "flowers", while the forest was the Ettrick Forest, west of Selkirk.
Flowers of the Forest has since come to be used to commemorate lost relatives.