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Willie and Lady Maisry / William and Lady Marjorie

[ Roud 198 ; Child 70 ; Ballad Index C070 ; trad.]

The Oxford Book of Ballads

Joe Rae sang William and Lady Marjorie in 2001 on his Musical Traditions album of ballads, songs and stories from Ayrshire, The Broom Blooms Bonny. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

Joe learnt William and Lady Marjorie from Ned Robertson and he remembers Ned saying that he, in turn, had learnt the ballad from his father who had picked it up in the vicinity of Selkirk, where he had once worked as a shepherd. Joe believes that the ballad is set in the area around Selkirk—possibly at Thirlstane Castle, in Lauderdale, to the north-east of Selkirk—although Professor Child makes no mention of a possible location in his short note to the ballad. Child does, however, comment that it has much in common with another ballad, Clerk Saunders (Child 69), except for Willie’s killing of the King’s guards.

Joe also believes that the first verse suggests that Willie is some kind of monk—he wore a milk-white weed, a reference to the Cistercians, perhaps?—and that mention of his ability to read and write may mean that the ballad predates the middle of the fifteenth century, when it became the law in Scotland for the eldest son of a landowner to attend school. Prior to that date, only the clergy, in general, were literate.

Joe’s tune is a slowed-down version of the one that he uses for the song Oor Young Lady.


Joe Rae sings William and Lady Marjorie

Sweet Willie was a wedow’s son,
And he wore a milk-white weed, O.
Aye and weel could Willie read and write,
Far better ride on steed, O.

Lady Marjorie was the first lady,
That drank to him the wine, O.
Aye and aye as the healths gaed roun and roun,
Says, “Laddie, your love is mine, O.”

“For it’s you must come, my booer within,
When the evening bells do ring, O.
And it’s you must come, my booer within,
When the evening mass doth sing, O.”

He has put yae foot upon the wall,
The ither on a stane, O.
Aye and he’s killed aa the king’s life’s-guairds,
He has killed them every ane, O.

“Oh open, oh open, Lady Marjorie,
Open and let me in, O.
For the weet weets aa my yellow hair,
And the dew draps on my chin, O.”

Wi her feet sae sma an neet,
She walked her booer within, O.
Aye an with her fingers lang and small,
She has looten Willie in, O.

She louted doon unto his foot,
Tae lowse sweet Willie’s shuin, O.
But the buckles were sae stiff they wadna lowse,
The blood had frozen in, O.

“Oh Willie, Oh Willie, I fear that thou
Hast bred me dule and sorrow.
The deed that thou has done this night,
Will kythe upon the morrow.”

It’s noo this couple tae bed are boun,
Tae tak their pleasures there, O.
And it’s lang ere lang aa the play was ower,
And Willie he slept soun, O.

It’s in there cam her auld faither,
Wi a braid sword by his gair, O.
Aye an he’s gien Willie, the widow’s son,
A deep wound and a sair, O.

“Lie yont, lie yont, Willie,” she says,
“Your sweit weets aa my side, O.
Lie yont, lie yont, Willie,” she said,
“For your sweit I downa bide, O.”

She has turned her back unto the waa,
Her face unto the room, O.
And it’s there she saw her auld faither,
Fast walkin up and doon, O.

“Oh wae be tae you, faither,” she said,
“And an ill deid might ye dee, O.
For ye’ve killed Willie, the widow’s son,
And he would hae mairrit me, O.”

She has turned her back unto the room,
Her face unto the waa, O.
And wi a deep and heavy sigh,
Her hairt did brak in twa, O.