Letter: A few ghosts at the Burns Night supper

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CAPTAIN Moonlight really needs better reference books than the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Notebook, 17 January).

Jean Armour and Robert Burns declared themselves married in 1786. (Burns's illegitimate child by another woman was already being brought up by his mother.) Jean was pregnant with twins, but her parents forbade the marriage and defaced the contract. Burns agreed to marry someone else, who was possibly also pregnant, but who soon died. In 1787 one of Jean's twins died.

In 1788 Jean was expecting twins by Burns again, and was thrown out by her family. Burns made her promise to make no claim on him as a husband. She had a violent sexual encounter with him, which he boasted about in a letter to a friend. Ten days later she gave birth to the twins, who died shortly afterwards.

They did none the less marry (one biographer suggests that he needed a strong wife to help run his new farm) and she bore him a further five children. In addition, alongside her third son, she breastfed and brought up one of his other three known illegitimate children all by different mothers. Their last child was born on the day of Burns's funeral. Burns wrote: 'To have a woman to lye with when one pleases, without running any risk of the cursed experience of bastards . . . These are solid views of matrimony'.

A Jean Armour Supper? I wish I'd thought of it first.

Veda Franz

Perth, Scotland