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,
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
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)
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
The faither tae the dochter cam’ “Will ye forsake yer Englishman?” And bonnie Susie Cleland’s
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.