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The Bonny Light Horseman / Broken-Hearted I Wander

[ Roud 1185 ; G/D 8:1584 ; Henry H122a ; Ballad Index HHH122a ; VWML FK/16/125/1 , FK/17/326/2 ; Bodleian Roud 1185 ; trad.]

The Bonny Light Horseman is a lament from the Napoleonic Wars.

Martin Howley sang The Young Horseman to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in his home in Fanore, Co. Clare, in summer 1975. This recording was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology A Story I'm Just About to Tell (The Voice of the People Series Volume 8).

Canny Fettle sang Bonny Light Horseman in 1975 on their Traditional Sound album Varry Canny. This track was also included in 2002 on Fellside's anthology CD Enlist for a Soldier.

Lal and Norma Waterson sang Bonny Light Horseman on their 1977 album A True Hearted Girl. This recording was also included in the Watersons' 1992 CD re-release of For Pence and Spicy Ale and on the English folk anthology And We'll All Have Tea. Lesley Nelson comments:

Sam Henry noted the tune is probably over four hundred years old and is of Irish origin because it used the old Irish gapped scale (which did not use the fourth and seventh notes of the modern scale). According to William Barrett the song appeared frequently in England after 1790 on broadsides printed in London, Birmingham and Preston. There are several variants of the tune. The song, also known as Broken Hearted I Wander, had widespread popularity during the Napoleonic Wars.

Pat Ryan sang Bonny Light Horseman in 1977 on her Folk Heritage album Leaboy's Lassie.

Mary Ann Carolan sang The Bonny Light Horseman to Roly Brown at home in Hill o' Rath, Co. Louth in 1978. It was released in 1982 on her Topic album Songs from the Irish Tradition. Sean Corcoran commented in the sleeve notes:

This English song was circulated on ballad sheets in Ireland and became quite popular. Versions have been found in Wexford (Stanford-Petrie No. 779), and the P.J. McCall Collection in the National Library in Dublin, in Galway (sung by Sean O Conaire) and in Antrim (Sam Henry, Songs of the People, No. 122). It was sung to two distinct airs—a Southern and a Northern/Western. Mrs Carolan sings the Southern air while the Galway tune is the same as Henry's version A, although Sean O Conaire sings it in the highly decorated sean-nós style of Connemara. When first recorded in 1970 Mrs. Carolan sang this song in a much faster tempo.

Jacquey Gabriel sang The Bonny Light Horseman to Mike Yates in Winchombe, Gloucestershire in 1978. This recording was included in 2004 on the Musical Traditions anthology The Birds Upon the Tree. Rod Stradling or Mike Yates commented in the accompanying booklet:

A song from the days of Waterloo. Numerous broadside printers issued it, including Catnach, Such, Goode, Fortey and Batchelor (all of London), Pearson and Swindells (both of Manchester), Fordyce (Newcastle-upon-Tyne), Cooper (Newcastle, Staffs.), Harkness (Preston) and Pratt of Birmingham. And at least two American printers issued it in their Forget-Me-Not Songsters. (Locke & Bubier of Boston c. 1850 and Nafis & Cornish of New York in 1835). Some versions include verses relating to Napoleon Bonaparte—see, for example, the version in Terry Moylan's The Age of Revolution in the Irish Song Tradition 1776-1815 (Dublin, 2000, p. 139).

Planxty recorded Bonny Light Horseman in 1979 for their album After the Break.

Lisa Null sang Bonny Light Horseman in 1980 on her and Bill Shute's LP American Primitive. Peter Bellamy and Claudia Schmidt sang chorus vocals.

Nic Jones sang The Bonny Light Horseman in 1980 at the Sidmouth International Festival. This recording was included in 2004 on the 2 CD anthology Folk Festival Sidmouth. Another live recording from the 1970s but of unspecified origin was included in 2006 on his Topic CD Game Set Match. Tony Rose learned the song from Nic Jones when they were working together in Bandoggs. He recorded it in 1982 for his album Poor Fellows and again in 1999 for Bare Bones.

Simon Haworth and Tina Cooper sang The Bonny Light Horseman in 1994 on their Fellside cassette The First Shift. Simon Haworth returned to this song in 1998 on his Fellside CD Coast to Coast.

Eliza Carthy and Nancy Kerr also recorded this song—followed by Michael Turner's Waltz—in 1995 for their CD Shape of Scrape. This track has been reissued on their compilation On Reflection and on the anthology Troubadours of British Folk Vol. 3. An alternate take of this recording can be found on the 1995 Mrs Casey Records compilation Evolving Tradition. Eliza Carthy commented in original album's sleeve notes:

This is an Irish version of Bonny Light Horseman, learned from Norma Waterson, and originally from Mary Ann Carolan.

And Nancy Kerr wrote:

Michael Turner's Waltz comes from the Sussex Tune Book, and is about Michael Turner, clerk of the parish and fiddle player.

In fact, Michael Turner's Waltz is the trio from Mozart's Deutscher Tanz KV 536 no. 2, published in 1788. See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Michael Turner's Waltz.

Kate Rusby sang Broken-Hearted I Will Wander on Over the Hills and Far Away, the 1996 soundtrack album of the TV drama series Sharpe.

Mick Ryan and Pete Harris sang The Bonny Light Horseman on their 1996 compilation CD The Widow's Promise.

Fi Fraser and Jo Freya sang Bonny Light Horseman in 1998 on their No Masters CD The Fraser Sisters. They commented in their liner notes:

A song unashamedly stolen from the singing of Danny Stradling. As part of our formative years were spent being encouraged, mentored, shepherded etc by Danny and her husband Rod this song has fond memories. It is part of that wonderful store of southern English folk songs that set sad stories to relentlessly cheerful tunes.

James Keelaghan sang Bonny Light Horseman in 2006 on his Fellside CD A Few Simple Verses.

Rachel Newton sang Young Horseman in 2008 on her and Lillias Kinsman-Blake's Fellside CD Dear Someone. The liner notes commented:

Rachel found this version of the popular folk song in the Voice of the People series. It was sung by Irish singer Martin Howley.

Joseph Topping sang Bonny Light Horseman in 2010 on his Fellside CD Ghosts in the Shadow.

Steve Roud included Bonny Light Horseman in 2012 in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Bella Hardy sang it a year later on the accompanying Fellside CD The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Siobhan Miller sang Bonny Light Horseman on her 2017 album Strata.

Lyrics

Martin Howley sings The Young Horseman

I once loved a soldier and a soldier bright and gay,
So now he has left me and gone far away.
To the dark plains of Egypt he was forced for to go
To die in the fields or to conquer his foe.

Broken-hearted I'll wander, broken-hearted I will be,
Since my lovely young horseman to the war he's gone from me.

And it's early each morning as I come down for to dress,
I gaze at his picture hung over my head.
Such a lovely young fellow so manly and so tall.
It was scarcely you would think they would kill him at all.

It was brave Napoleon, it was he who took command,
And he planted his cannons all over the land.
He planted his cannons for some victory to gain,
And he slew brave MacDonald coming over from Spain.

If I was an eagle and had wings for to fly,
I would fly to the plains where my own darling lie.
And in his cold grave I would build my own nest,
And contented I'd be on his lily-white breast.

Lal and Norma Waterson sing The Bonny Light Horseman

Well now Bonaparte, he has commanded his troops for to stand
And he levelled up his cannon all over the land;
Yes he levelled his cannon, the whole victory to gain,
And he slew my light horseman returning from Spain.

Chorus (after each verse):
Broken-hearted I wander all for my true lover,
He's a bonny light horseman, in the war has been slain

All ye wives', sweethearts' and widows' attention I pray,
For me heart it is broken and it's fading away.
I'm a maid so distracted, broken-hearted I wander
For my bonny light horseman in the war has been slain.

You should see my light horseman on a cold winter's day,
With his red and rosy cheeks and his curly black hair.
He's mounted on horseback, the whole victory to gain,
And he's over the battlefield for honour and fame.

Now if I had have had the wings of an eagle I'd fly
To my bonny light horseman and there I'd lie by,
And with me little fluttering wings I would build up me nest.
Oh my bonny light horseman you're the boy I love best.

Note: Eliza Carthy sings nearly the same words but has swapped verses two and three which fits the narrative better.

Jacquey Gabriel sings The Bonny Light Horseman

All you maidens, wives and widows, I would have you pay attention;
For my very heart is aching, aching in its inmost core.
I'm a maiden that's distracted, broken-hearted I must wander,
For my bonny light horseman is slain in the wars.

Chorus (after each verse):
Broken-hearted I wander, broken-hearted I wander.
For my bonny light horseman is slain in the wars.

Were I wing-ed like an eagle, I would fly unto my darling.
To that spot so sad and lonely where my true love he is lain.
I would kiss the grass above him for evermore I love him,
And I'll curse the wars so cruel that my true love has betrayed.

Like a dove I will go mourning for the loss of my own darling.
And no other man on this wide earth my heart will ever gain.
In my grave so cold and cheerless very soon I will be lying.
But my love and I in Heaven above will surely meet again.

Planxty sing The Bonny Light Horseman

Ye wise maids and widows, pray listen to me,
To this sad tale I rehearse unto thee:
A maid in distress who will now be a rover,
She relies on King George for the loss of her lover.

Chorus (after each verse):
Broken-hearted I'll wander, broken-hearted I'll remain,
For my bonny light horseman, in the wars he was slain.

Three years and six months since he left England's shore,
My bonny light horseman, will I ne'er see him more?
He's mounted on horseback, so gallant and gay,
And among the whole regiment respected was he.

When Boney commanded his armies to stand,
He levelled his cannon right over the land,
He levelled his cannons, his victory to gain
And he slew my light horseman on the way coming hame.

The dove she laments for her mate as she flies;
Oh where, tell me where is my darling? she cries,
And where in this world is there one to compare,
With my bonny light horseman who was slain in the war?

Tony Rose sings The Bonny Light Horseman

Oh, when Boney commanded all his troops for to stand,
He's levelled his cannon all over the land,
He's levelled his cannon for the victory to gain,
And he slew my light horseman from the wars coming home.

Chorus (after each verse):
Broken-hearted I'll wander for the loss of my lover,
He's the bonny light horseman, in the wars he was slain.

Oh, if I was a small bird and had wings to fly,
I'd fly o'er the salt sea where my true love he do lie.
And with these fond wings, oh I'd beat on his grave,
I'd kiss the fond lips that lie cold in the clay.

Now the dove she laments for her mate as she flies;
Where, tell me where is my true love? she cries,
And where in this wide world is there one to compare,
To my bonny light horseman who was slain in the war?

(repeat first verse)

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from Lal & Norma Waterson's singing by Garry Gillard.
The Planxty version was taken from the Digital Tradition.