> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Fair Margaret and Sweet William
> Shirley Collins > Songs > Lady Margaret and Sweet William
> June Tabor > Songs > Fair Margaret and Sweet William

Fair Margaret and Sweet William

[ Roud 253 ; Child 74 ; G/D 2:337 ; Ballad Index C074 ; Bodleian Roud 253 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang Fair Margaret and Sweet William in 1956 on his and Ewan MacColl's Riverside album of Child ballads, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Volume II. All of his ballads on this series were reissued in 2011 on his Fellside CD Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun.

Pete Seeger sang Fair Margaret in 1957 on his Folkways album American Ballads and in 1963 on his Columbia live album We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Recording June 8, 1963. He commented in the Folkways album's liner notes:

This ballad was on of the first I ever learned, in 1935, from the country lawyer and old-time banjo picker of Ashville, North Carolina, Bascom Lunsford. My thanks to him. It is a medieval vignette, and the last verses describing the conversation between Lady Margaret's ghost and her false lover are as close as we get to superstition in this LP.

Hedy West sang Little Margaret in 1964 on her Vanguard album Hedy West Volume 2.

Almeda Riddle from Heber Springs, Arkansas, sang Lady Margaret in 1972 on her Rounder album Ballads and Hymns from the Ozarks.

Martin Howley of Fanore, north-west Clare, sang this ballad as The Old Armchair in July 1974 to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie. This recording was included in 2004 on the Musical Traditions anthology Around the Hills of Clare. The collectors commented in the accompanying booklet:

The ballad of Fair Margaret and Sweet William was first quoted in part in the Beaumont and Fletcher play The Knight of the Burning Pestle in 1611, the first full text being a broadside or stall copy published in Percy's Reliques in 1767.

While it has been found in the oral tradition in England and Scotland, it seems to have survived best among singers in the United States; all other sound recordings are American. The only other version to have turned up in Ireland was in the Percy manuscripts and had been written down by the mother of the Bishop of Derry in 1776.

Martin [Howley] learned his version “when I was very young” from a travelling woman named Sherlock some ninety years ago.

Shirley Collins sang this ballad as Lady Margaret and Sweet William in 1976 on her album The Power of the True Love Knot; it was also included in her anthology A Favourite Garland. She commented in the original album's liner notes:

Another song from Jean Ritchie, as sung to her by Justus Begley of Hazard, Kentucky. There are more complete versions, but none I can find explain why Sweet William passed up Lady Margaret, or how she died or how he died. But with all its ambiguities, or maybe because of them, it remains the outstanding ballad of its type where the true-lover's knot triumphs over human pride, tragedy and death.

June Tabor sang Fair Margaret and Sweet William in 2003 on her CD An Echo of Hooves. Her version was collected by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles from Jeff Stockton of Flag Pond, Tennessee in 1916. It is much older though; according to June Tabor's notes it was first mentioned in Beaumont and Fletcher's 1611 play The Knight of the Burning Pestle.

Pete Coe sang Fair Margaret and Sweet William in 2010 on his Backshift CD Backbone.

Jim Moray sang Fair Margaret and Sweet William in 2016 on his CD Upcetera. He commented in his sleeve notes:

Words from Jeff Stockton of Flagpole, Tennessee, collected by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles on September 14, 1916. The tune is my own.

Lyrics

Shirley Collins sings Lady Margaret and Sweet William June Tabor sings Fair Margaret and Sweet William

Sweet William arose one May morning
And dressed himself in blue;
We want you to tell of something about
The long love between Lady Margaret and you.

Sweet William arose on a May morning
And he dressed himself in blue;
We want you to tell of that long love that's been
Between Lady Margret and you.

“I know nothing of Lady Margaret's love,
I'm sure she don't love me.
But tomorrow morning at eight o'clock
Lady Margaret my bride shall see.”

“Oh, I know nothing of Lady Margret's love,
And I know she don't love me.
Before tomorrow morning at eight of the clock
Lady Margret a bride shall see.”

Lady Margaret sat in her own hall door,
A-combing down her hair,
When she saw Sweet William come a-riding by,
Bringing his new bride home.

Lady Margret was a-sitting in her own bower room,
Combing back her yellow hair,
And she saw Sweet William and his new wedded bride
And the lawyers a-riding by.

She first threw down her ivory comb,
Tied up her long yellow hair,
And out of the door went this lady gay,
To never return any more.

It's down she stood her ivory comb
And back she threw her hair,
And it's you may suppose and be very well assured,
Lady Margret was heard no more.

Now late that night when William was in bed,
And most all men was asleep,
lady Margaret's ghost came to Sweet William's side
And stood at his own bed feet.

The day being past and the night coming on,
When most all men were asleep,
Something appeared to Sweet William and his bride
And stood at their bed feet.

Saying, “How do you like your snow-white pillow?
How do you like your sheet?
And how do you like the new found bride
That's a-lying in your arms asleep?”

Saying, “How do you like your bed making
And how do you like your sheets?
And how do you like that new wedded bride
That lies in your arms and sleeps?”

“Very well, very well do I like my pillow,
Better do I like the sheet,
But the best one of all is that pretty little girl
That's a-standing at my own bed feet.”

“Very well do I like my bed making
Much better do I like my sheets,
But best of all is that gay lady
That stands at my bed feet.”

So early next morning when William awoke,
And most all men was at work,
Sweet William said he was troubled in his head
By the dreams that he dreamed last night.

The night being past and the day coming on,
When most all men were awake,
Sweet William he said he was troubled in his head
By the dreams that he dreamed last night.

“Such dreams, such dreams I do not like,
Such dreams they are no good.
I dreamed that my hall was filled with wild swine,
Lady Margaret was drowning in blood.”

“Such dreams, such dreams cannot be true,
I'm afraid they're of no good.
I dreamed that my chamber was full of wild swine
And my bride's bed floating in blood.”

So he called his comrades to his side
And numbered them one, two, three,
And the last one of them, “Go tell my bride
Lady Margaret I've gone to see.”

He's called down his waiting men
One by two by three,
Saying, “Go and ask leave of my new wedded bride
If Lady Margret I mayn't go and see.”

He rode till he came to Lady Margaret's hall,
Pulled all on the ring.
There's none so ready as Lady Margaret's brother
For to rise and let him in.

He's rode up to Lady Margret's own bower room
And tingled all on the ring,
And who was so ready as her own born brother
To rise and let him in.

“Now, is she in the garden?,” he said,
“Or is she in the hall?
Or is she in the upper parlour
Among them ladies all?”

“Is Lady Margret in her own bower room
Or is she in her hall?
Or is she high in her chambery
Amongst the ladies all?”

“She neither is in the garden,” he said,
“Nor yet into the hall,
But yonder she lies in her cold coffin
With her pale face turned to the wall.”

“Lady Margret's not in her own bower room
Nor neither is she in her hall,
But she is in her long cold coffin
Lies pale against yon wall.”

“Unroll, unroll those winding sheets
Although they're very fine,
And let me kiss them cold pale lips
Just as often as they've kissed mine.”

It's first he's kissed her ivory cheeks
And then he's kissed her chin,
And when he kissed them cold pale lips
There was no breath within.

Three times he's kissed her ivory cheeks,
Three times he's kissed her chin,
And the last time he kissed them cold pale lips
It crushed his heart within.

Lady Margret died like it might be today,
Sweet William he died on tomorrow,
Lady Margret she died for pure true love,
Sweet William he died for sorrow.

Lady Margaret was buried in the old churchyard,
William lay anigh her,
And out of her grave grew a red, red rose
And out of his a briar.

Lady Margret was buried in yons churchyard,
Sweet William was buried by her,
And out of her grave sprung a red, red rose,
Out of his a green, green briar.

They grew and they grew on the old church tower
Till they could grow not higher
They met and they twined in a true lover's knot,
The red rose around the briar.

And they both growed up the old church wall
Till they could not grow any higher
And they met and they tied in a true love's knot,
Red rose around green briar.