Agnes Broun


Singer, Robert Burn’s Mother

Agnes Broun, or Agnes Burnes was the mother of the poet Robert Burns. Her father, Gilbert, was the tenant of the 300 acre farm of Craigenton, in Kirkoswald parish, South Ayrshire, Scotland.

Agnes Broun was the oldest of her five siblings, and was aged just 10 when her mother, Agnes Rainie, died. In 1744, after her father Gilbert was remarried to Margaret Blaine, she was sent to live in Maybole with her maternal grandmother, Mrs. Rainie. This grandmother was a repository of much oral tradition, including Scottish songs and ballads.

Agnes attended a dame school held in a weaver's cottage and learned the psalms by heart, picked up some basic reading skills, but writing was not part of her education and she never even learned to write her own name.

It is thought that she met William Burnes or Burness, eleven years her senior, a market gardener, at the Maybole Fair in 1756. They married on the December 3rd, 1757 in Ayr, and settled at Alloway, South Ayrshire, living in a clay cottage that William had planned and built himself. Here they were to raise four of their seven children, including her eldest, Robert Burns, born on January 25, 1759. Later homes were Lochlea, Mossgiel, and finally Grant's Braes, Bolton, near Haddington in East Lothian where she died.

She was to outlive husband by several decades and she, herself lived until just short of the age of 88. She had seven children, three of whom predeceased her. Of her many grandchildren, at least ten died before her, a reflection of her own old age and the much shorter life expectancies of those times.

Agnes is credited with having a significant influence upon Burns' love for song. A relative, Betty Davidson, was a greater influence, these twin influences resulted in him writing or revising close on three hundred and fifty songs throughout his life. Most of these songs were published, without fee, in the "Scots Musical Museum" compiled by James Johnson and the "Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs" published by George Thomson.

Agnes was buried together with a son and daughter in Bolton Parish Kirkyard within a railed enclosure. There is a monument to her, called Burns' Mother's Well, near Bolton on the roadside from Haddington, East Lothian.

To make your own nomination download the nomination form here