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Lady Maisry, a burning love

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Lady Maisry is a Scottish ballad about seventeenth-century, that deals with a hot topic (in a more than literal sense) for those times: an unmarried woman who became pregnant has been burnt on the pyre.
Or rather, an unmarried woman who became pregnant and did not want to bow to an arranged marriage to save the honor of the family, has been burnt (and her own relatives lit the pyre). This at least in this ballad, in which the protagonist is a Lady of blue blood!
Dark times those of the Middle Ages (which lasted until the seventeenth century) in the Lowlands and Highlands of Scotland!
The literary sources are mainly two, Professor Child (Child ballad # 65) and Motherwell (“Bonnie Susie Cleland”) – as Riccardo Venturi points out, there is also the early eighteenth-century lesson of Robert Jamieson in “Popular Ballads And Songs From Tradition, Manuscripts And Scarce Editions With Translations Of Similar Pieces From The Ancient Danish Language “(1806).
According to some scholars, the ballad is a “collection of fragments” from other ballads and reassembled by some writers and this would also explain the poor diffusion of the same in the oral tradition.
The recorded versions are a few, among these I would point out this Lady Maisry of Lucy Pringle e Chris Wright (in The Speaking Heart 2010)

There lived a gentleman in the east,
he had a dochter fair, o
And naethin else wid her suffice
but she wid gang tae London, o
Her faither gied her geir aneuch,
her mither gied her mair, o
And she’s awa tae London toun
to learn some unco lair (1), o
She hadna been in fair London
a year bur only three, o
Wi bairn she fell tae the king hissel
as big as big could be, o
Oh word is up and word is doon
and word is tae the ha, o
And word is tae her fairher gane
and that’s the worst o aa, o
When her faither heard o this
an angry man was he, o
And naethin else wad him suffice
but his dochter he wad burn, o
Her fairher wis the verra man
wha bigg’t a muckle fire, o
Her brither wis the verra man
wha tyit her tae the stake, o
Her sisrer sat doon by the fire,
there tae weep and wail, o
Her mither sat in a chair o gowd
tae see her dochter burn, o
“Whaur is there a pretty lad
that will my erran rin o?
Tae rin awa tae Birkhoose Ha,
and bid my luve tae come o?”
“lt’s here am I yer pretty lad,
thy auldesr sister’s son , o
And Ah’ll awa tae Birkhoose Ha
and bid thy luve tae come, o”
 trad, arrang. by Byrne/Wright;
music: C. Wright
It is written in the notes: ” based on a variant collected around 1826 from Mary Orr of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire. Andrew Sloan collected the song on behalf of Renfewshire scoholar Andrew Crawfurd for his “Auld Ballats” collection, now housed in Paisley Central Library; the collection was later edited by Emily Lyle and published in 1975/ 1996 by the Scottish Text Society.”

1) Sc. forms of Eng. lore.

As often happens for old ballads the melodies are not unique, here is the “classic” arrangement by John Duarte
English Suite no.5, op.112

This other version by a great interpreter of early music, John Langstaff, begins around half-ballad, the lover arrives when Maisry is already dead. We do not know anything about the background that led to the death of the lady.
The version comes from “One Hundred English Folksongs” reported by Cecil J. Sharp (1916) who omits the refusal of the lady to marry with a Scottish suitors and the family’s decision to send her to the stake . (cf)

She called to her little page boy
Who was her brother's son 
She told him as quick as he could go
To bring her lord safe home

Now the very first mile he would walk
And the second he would run
And when he came to a broken, 
broken bridge He bent his breast and swum Now when he came to the new castell(1) The lord was set at mead If you were to know as much as I How little would you eat Is my tower falling, falling down? (2) Or does my bower burn? Or is my lady lighter yet Of a daughter or a son? Oh no, your tower is not falling down Nor does your bower burn But we are afraid
e'er you return Your lady will be dead and gone Saddle, saddle my milk-white steed Come saddle my pony (3) too That I may neither eat nor drink 'Til I come to the old castell Now when he came to the old castell He heard a big bell toll And then he saw eight noble, noble men A bearing of a pall Lay down, lay down That gentle, gentle corpse As it lay fast asleep That I may kiss her red ruby lips Which I used to kiss so sweet Six times he kissed her red ruby lips Nine times he kissed her chin Ten times he kissed her snowy,snowy breast Where love did enter in The lady was buried on that Sunday Before the prayer begun And the lord he died on the next Sunday (4) Before the prayer was done

1) the new castell is opposed to the old castell; the term is 14th century; we do not know where the new residence of the Lord is (in other versions it is in England) in the old castle we are in Scotland
2) as Venturi explains in his notes “In traditional ballads, when a messenger arrives to bring bad news, there are practically always a couple of verses according to this scheme that serves to create the” suspense ” (cf)
3) the detail tells us that even the page boy will make the path backwards riding a pony: curious that despite the urgency the page boy had to do all those miles on foot, it is another device always aimed at the effect suspense on spectators
4) here is the death of a broken heart, the leading cause of death in traditional ballads about romantic love (followed by a dagger to the heart or a mortal duell)

Lady Maisry (Child # 65 A)

The most complete recording of the “main” version reported by Professor Child (and reworked by Peter Bellamy by stripping some stanzas and adapting it to a melody composed by him) was recorded more recently by Chris Foster who found it in Hammond Ms at Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London.
“Henry Hammond collected the song in 1906 from Sam Gregory at Beaminster, a small Dorset town … I filled out the Sam Gregory text with verses from versions in the Child collection in order to complete the story.”

O the young men of the North Country
Have all a wooing gone
To win the love of Lady Maisry (1)
But of them she would have none

"O hold your tongues young men said she
And think no more on me
For I've given my love to an English lord
Who promised to marry me"

Then word has to her father gone
As he put on his shoe (2) 
That Lady Maisry goes with a child
Unto some English lord

Then in there come her bold father dear
Stepping on the floor -He says 
"they tell to me my daughter Maisry
That you are become a whore"

"O a whore father a whore father
That is what I'll never never be
Though I've given my love to an English lord
Who promised to marry me"

"But couldn't you have gotten a duke or a lord
From your own country
But now you have gone with this English lord
To bring this shame on me"

"Now where are all my merry young men (3)
Whom I give meat and fee
To pull the thistle and the thorn
To burn her vile body"

Then her father's to the green wood gone
Her brother has to the broome
All for to kindle a bold bonfire
To burn her body in

Then in there come an old woman
Lady Maisry's nurse was she
But before she could speak one single word
A salt tear blinded her eye

"O your father has to the green wood gone
Your brother has to the broome
All for to kindle a bold bonfire
To burn your body in"

And her father he was the first man
Who tied her to a stake
And her brother he was the second man
Who did the fire make

And her mother was the first woman
Who did the fire fetch
And her sister she was the second woman
Who lighted it with a match

They blew the fire and they kindled the fire
'Til it reach her knee
"O mother mother quench the fire
For the smoke it'll smother me"

"O had I but a little footboy
My errand he could run
He would run unto gay London town
And bid my lord come home"

"O nurse go and fetch to me my little footboy
Who is called my sister's son
So that he may go and tell to my own true love
That I am sick at home"

Well the first two miles that little boy walked
The second two he run
And he run until he come unto some broad waterside
And then he's fell upon his breast and he swum

Until he come to some dry land again
Then he took to his heels and he run
And he run until he come to some high park gate (4)
Where lords were sitting at their meat

"O if you did but know what news 
I have brought Not a bite more would you eat"
"O is my park gates overthrown
Or is my walls falling down"

"O your high park gates they are all overthrown
Your high park walls they are all a falling down
And your Lady Maisry lies sick at home
And shall die before you can come"

"O mother go and fetch to me my milk white steed
And saddle it with speed
So that I may go and kiss her cherry cheeks
Before they are turned to clay"

"Now where are all my merry young men
By one by two and three"
Then he's mounted up on his milk white steed
To go to his Lady Maisry

They blew the fire and they kindled the fire
'Til it did reach her head
"O mother mother quench the fire
For I am nearly dead"

Then she's turned her head on her right shoulder
She saw her lord come riding home
"O mother mother quench the fire
For I am nearly gone"

Then he's mounted off of his milk white steed
And he's leapt into the fire
He was thinking to save his Lady Maisry
But he had stayed too long

And the Lady she was buried in a cold church yard
The lord was buried in the choir
And out of her heart there sprung a sweet rose
And out of his mouth a sweet briar

And they growed so high unto the church wall
Until they could not grow any higher
And there they did twang in a true lover's knot (5)
For all true lovers to admire

1)”Maisry” (Maisery in some versions) has nothing to do with “Mary”: present in other traditional ballads, it is rather an extremely debased form of Margery, Marjorie and is therefore, properly, “Margherita” (but in the original meaning of “pearl”) .- Riccardo Venturi
2) the Lord was in his bedroom (dressing room) and the gossip is brought back to him by a chamber valet
3) in the context the meaning is “bad guys”
4) I think a misunderstanding with the word bower
5) in this textual pastiche the knot of love of the two kindred souls in love who reunite in death could not be missing

Bonny Susie Cleland

This is the adaptation of the ballad set in Dundee, in which the protagonist is named Susy, reported by William Motherwell (Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern 1827): the version of Jean Redpath has become a standard, the melody of the refrain vaguely reminds me of Loch Lomond .
In this version there is no mention of “fait accompli” (sex) or “fruit of sin” (illegitimate child), it seems more the determinated stubbornness of a daughter in love with a stranger, who does not want to submit to her parents. In traditional ballads, it is known, fin amor is considered a serious disease that brings death and destruction (cf)

Jean Redpath e Abby Newton (violoncello)
Bonnie Susie Cleland (1)
There lived a lady in Scotland
Hey my love and ho my joy
There lived a lady in Scotland
Wha dearly lo’d me
There lived a lady in Scotland
She’s fa’n in love wi’ an Englishman
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s 
tae be burnt in Dundee.
The faither tae the dochter cam’
“Will ye forsake yer Englishman?”
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s 
tae be burnt in Dundee.
“If ye’ll no’ that Englishman forsake Then I maun burn ye at the stake” And bonnie Susie Cleland’s
tae be burnt in Dundee.
“I’ll no’ that Englishman forsake Though ye may burn me at the stake” And bonnie Susie Cleland’s
tae be burnt in Dundee.
“Oh whaur will I get a little wee boy Tae carry tidings tae my joy That bonnie Susie Cleland’s
tae be burnt in Dundee?”
“Here am I a pretty wee boy An’ I’ll carry tidings tae yer joy That bonnie Susie Cleland’s
tae be burnt in Dundee.”
“O gie tae him my right hand glove Tell him tae get another love For bonnie Susie Cleland’s
tae be burnt in Dundee.”
“Gie tae him this gay gowd ring Tell him I’m gaun tae my burnin’ And bonnie Susie Cleland’s
tae be burnt in Dundee.”
Her faither he ca’d up the stake Her brither he the fire did make And bonnie Susie Cleland
was burnt in Dundee.
1) it is very unlikely that the song is based on “legitimate” social behavior, the whole “staging” is the annihilating behavior of patriarchy on the female will. So the ballad is a warning song that instructs girls not to disobey parents. Perhaps this version can easily be inserted in a later reworking of the traditional ballad characterized by the English-Scottish rivalry on the Border, but Dundee is not in the Border and even Glasgow (area from which the testimony collected by Motherwell comes) more likely could be an echo of the killing of a number of women who had “fraternized” with the English enemy during the siege of the city by General George Monck in 1651.
2) Although it has been hypothesized a relationship between the Lady and Witchcraft, in my opinion it is a daring hypothesis, perhaps mindful of the high school reading “Sante e Streghe” by Craveri, I was left with the idea that witches were usually the common people, here at best we can hypothesize a crime of adultery.
3) glove and ring are certainly the sweetheart’s gifts considered to be pawns in view of the wedding. The promise of marriage could also have been sealed in secret with the exchange of the ring, therefore the lady dissolves the bond by returning the objects.



Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

folklorista delle Terre Celtiche

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