FolkWorld #75 07/2021
© Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Andy's Favourite Child Ballads

When Andy Irvine revisited his recording career for the "Old Dog Long Road Vol. 2" album, he unsurprisingly stumbled over a couple of Child ballads. Let's have a closer look.

Willie o Winsbury

Andy Irvine

Artist Video »John Barlow«: »Learned from another of my favourite singers, Robert Cinnamond from Balinderry, Co. Antrim. He called this song “The Rich Shipowner’s Daughter”. I had recorded a different version of this song back in 1967 with Sweeney’s Men, called “Willy of Winsbury”. Child Ballad #100.« (2020)

Artist Video Sweeney's Men »Willy o Winsbury«: »Learned back in the sixties from Professor Child's collection of traditional ballads which was like the bible at the time. This is Child 100. I collated words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101 [Willie o Douglas Dale]. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story. I recorded it solo on Sweeney's Men's eponymous first album in 1968 accompanying myself on guitar.« (2010)

Artist Video Anne Briggs A.L. Lloyd: »English singers have called this Johnny Barbary or Tom the Barber, but from Somerset to Aberdeen its distinguishing feature is that the seduced girl's father—often, as here, the king—is so taken by the young man's looks that he forgives all. Cecil Sharp, publishing a West country version, suppresses this amiable but equivocal motif. Ah well.« (1971)

Artist Video Andy Irvine @ FROG

Willie O Winsbury is Child Ballad 100 (Roud 64). The song, which has numerous variants, is a traditional Scottish ballad that dates from at least 1775, and is known under several other names, including "Johnnie Barbour" and "Lord Thomas of Winesberry".


A king is away for a long time. His daughter becomes pregnant by the hero, William or Thomas. The king threatens to hang him, but is struck by his beauty and offers him the heroine, gold, and land. The hero accepts the lady but declares the gold and the land to be his lady's, not his own.


This ballad closely parallels Child ballad 99, "Johnie Scot".

In one variant, the lands are specifically described: he will be king when he returns to Scotland. It may, in fact, be based on James V's courtship of and marriage to Madeleine de Valois of France; James came to see the woman he was betrothed to in disguise, and went on to meet the princess, who fell in love with him.

Nowadays the song is often sung to the tune of "Fause Foodrage", rather than its own traditional tune.


Andy Irvine sang "Willy O'Winsbury" on Sweeney's Men's eponymous debut album in 1968, accompanying himself on guitar. The recording featured the tune of "Fause Foodrage" (Child 89), which is now commonly used for "Willie O' Winsbury". On the album's sleeve notes, band member Johnny Moynihan wrote, "A ballad for which Andy is renowned. He got the text from Child's 'English and Scottish Ballads'; looking up the tune he got his numbers confused and emerged with the wrong air. By chance it suited the song very well". In 2010, Irvine re-recorded the song with a fuller arrangement of the same tune for his album Abocurragh, adding: "This is Child 100. I collected the words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story".

The song "Farewell, Farewell", recorded by Fairport Convention on their album Liege and Lief in 1969, is an adaptation featuring new lyrics by Richard Thompson. A recording of "Willie O' Winsbury" played and sung by Thompson was included in the 2006 boxset RT - The Life and Music of Richard Thompson.

Following is a list of notable recordings of the ballad including, for each entry, the year of release, artist, song title, and album title:

Year Artist Title Album
1968 Sweeney's Men "Willy O' Winsbury" Sweeney's Men
1969 Fairport Convention "Farewell, Farewell" Liege & Lief
1971 Anne Briggs with Johnny Moynihan "Willie O' Winsbury" Anne Briggs
1971 Tony Capstick (with Hedgehog Pie) "Sir Thomas of Winesberry" His Round
1971 John Renbourn "Willy O' Winsbury" Faro Annie
1972 Pentangle "Willy O' Winsbury" Solomon's Seal
1972 Barbara Dickson "Lord Thomas Of Winesberry and The King's Daughter" From the Beggar's Mantle...Fringed with Gold
1975 Robert Cinnamond "The Rich Shipowner's Daughter" You Rambling Boys of Pleasure
1978 Dick Gaughan "Willie O' Winsbury" Gaughan
1994 Connie Dover "Willie of Winsbury" The Wishing Well
1999 Frankie Armstrong "Thomas of Welshbury" The Garden of Love
2001 Nic Jones "William of Winesbury" Unearthed
2004 Great Big Sea "John Barbour" Something Beautiful
2006 Richard Thompson "Willy O' Winsbury" RT - The Life and Music of Richard Thompson
2007 Meg Baird "Willy of Winsbury" Dear Companion
2007 Kate Rusby "John Barbury" Awkward Annie
2007 Joel Frederiksen "Willie O' Winsbury" The Elfin Knight
2009 Nathan Rogers "Willie O' Winsbury" The Gauntlet
2010 Andy Irvine "Willy of Winsbury" Abocurragh
2010 The Owl Service "Willie O' Winsbury" The View From a Hill
2013 Snorri Helgason "Willie O' Winsbury" Autumn Skies
2013 Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer "Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)" Child Ballads
2017 Olivia Chaney (as Offa Rex with The Decemberists) "Willie O' Winsbury" The Queen of Hearts
2019 Ye Vagabonds "Willie O Winsbury" The Hare's Lament

Ye Vagabonds

Artist Video Ye Vagabonds: »As has unfortunately been the case with folk music since recording began, often credit is not given to people where it is due for their arrangements and work on songs. No one fixed version of any folk song exists until recordings are made. As far as we’re concerned, this is Andy Irvine’s arrangement of this song, since he was the first we know of to have sung it with this melody. We learned this song first from Andy and Anne Briggs’ recordings, and from our uncle Dominic who always sings it at family gatherings. We’ve been singing it since we were teenagers, at first imitating Andy—as we were when Myles O’Reilly first filmed us a few years ago, and the song has developed for us a fair bit since. We’ve heard and read a lot of versions of it under different names—sometimes also as Johnny Barton, John Barlow or John Barbour. In the great 1868 book The Legendary Ballads of England and Scotland a version of the song Lord Thomas of Winesberrie is thought to relate to events from 1536 when James V of Scotland married Magdalene de Valois, daughter of the king of France (who then died shortly after their return to Scotland just a month before her 17th birthday). Another theory is that Thomas of Winesberry was the name of the Chamberlain to the king of France who wooed the princess. In any case, most of these versions tells a less romantic, more materialistic version of the story. There is some questionable fatherly behaviour in this song, but the most remarkable part of the story for us is that the king himself seems to fancy Willie o Winsbury, so offers him his daughter in marriage rather than sending him to the gallows.« (2019)

Artist Video

Willie O Winsbury
 Listen to  Willie O Winsbury  from:
       Dick Gaughan, Andy Irvine, Dougie Mackenzie, Nathan Rogers

 Watch  Willie O Winsbury  from:
       Andy Irvine, Dougie Mackenzie, Anaïs Mitchell, Pentangle, Nathan
       Rogers, Sweeney's Men,  Martha Tilston, Ye Vagabonds

Lyrics (© Mainly Norfolk): Willie o' Winsbury / Tom the Barber

The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter

Andy Irvine

Artist Video The Royal Forester: »Learned from the singing of John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire. This is a Child Ballad #110. John Strachan’s recorded version has the audience laughing at the last couplet, where it’s revealed that the King’s high forester is actually a Blacksmith’s son and the lowly maid he has seduced but refuses to marry is the Earl of Airlie’s daughter.« (2020)

"The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter" is an English ballad, collected by Francis James Child as Child Ballad 110 and listed as number 67 in the Roud Folk Song Index.


A knight persuades a shepherd's daughter to give him her virginity. Afterward she chases after him to the royal court, on foot while he is on horseback, and demands marriage. He attempts to bribe her, but she insists he must marry her or be executed. After the marriage it is revealed, either by the woman herself or by Billy Blin, that she is in fact the daughter of royalty or high nobility; it may also be revealed that the man is a noble instead of a mere knight.


Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span)

Artist Video Steeleye Span: »Subtitled “The Aboriculturist Meets Superwoman”. From the singing of John Strachan. The first English text appeared in Anchovy Ram's elementary drum tutor Half Way to Para-diddle, published in 1293. Although a faithful translation of the original Latin, there is still scholarly dispute as to the spelling of the name ‘Erwilian’ and over the use of the word ‘leylan’.« (1972)

Artist Video Steeleye Span @ FROG

Her pursuit of the knight on foot while he is on horseback also appears in Child Ballad 63, "Child Waters", where it fits a very different plot. The motif is very similar to that of the loathly lady, particularly the variant found in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale".

Lise et Mainfroi, a 1740 French imitation of this ballad, has an actual shepherdess as the heroine; she announces at the altar that she is satisfied without the wedding, and the king and his court must persuade her to agree.

See also

Collected Versions

A version of the tune and lyrics were included by William Chappell in his 1859 book Popular Music of the Olden Time. Sabine Baring-Gould collected a version written in 1785, and notated another version she personally found in Lewdown, Devon in 1887, whilst Frank Kidson collected a version sung by a Benjamin Holgate of Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1891. The famous composer and folklorist Percy Grainger collected and notated a version in 1906 performed by William Roberts of Burringham, Lincolnshire, and another by Joseph Leaning of Brigg, Lincolnshire in 1908.

The song reached North America, where a handful of traditional versions were found to exist.

The folklorist Alan Lomax recorded John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire singing a version in 1957, which is publicly available online. Many Scottish versions had previously been recorded by James Madison Carpenter in the 1930s. A later version was performed by Lizzie Higgins of Aberdeenshire in the 1970s, and is now available on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website.

Desmond and Shelagh Herring recorded Emily Sparkes of Rattlesden, Suffolk singing a version of the song in 1958, and another sung by Charlie Carver of nearby Tostock, both of which can be heard online via the British Library Sound Archive.

Commercial Recordings

Steeleye Span recorded a version as "Royal Forester" on their 1972 album Below the Salt, based on the aforementioned recording of John Strachan by Alan Lomax.

There are various versions in the Argo Records series of ballads by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, The Long Harvest record 4.

Other recorded versions are by The Young Tradition on the album So Cheerfully Round (entitled "Knight William") and by Dave Burland on the album Dave Burland (entitled "Earl Richard").


Artist Video Malinky: »A version of The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter, primarily from the singing of Maggie Stewart of Banchory (1954) and Lizzie Higgins of Aberdeen (1970), both Scottish Traveller tradition bearers. It’s a fairly well-known ballad but one in which the story has not always been clear owing to the mix of voices in the narrative. To make the ballad work for two singers, Steve [Byrne] incorporated additional stanzas from the singing of John Strachan, Willie Mathieson, Bell Robertson (and others in the Greig-Duncan Folksong Collection), plus Kinloch’s Ancient Scottish Ballads (1827), and Prof Child’s version G from the James Gibb of Joppa manuscript of 1860. If the tune sounds familiar, it is also that used for the ballad of The Battle of Harlaw, Child 163. In 2017, Steve taught a shortened version of The Forester to the main cast and soldiers while working as folk singing coach on the Netflix Robert the Bruce epic Outlaw King.« (2019)

Artist Video Malinky @ FROG

Joshua Burnell

Artist Video Joshua Burnell: »Child Ballad 110 and apparently popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Will it come soaring back into fashion during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II? We can but hope. This is the segment of the album where I continue the long tradition of adding an original tune to a traditional song. I always think the best songs are those that come quickest. As I was tinkering around with the lyrics, the melody seemed to spring into my head from nowhere along with the tune and this is possibly my favourite of this collection. At first I was a bit horrified that she ended up marrying the dastardly knight, but actually it's a real testament to her character that she insisted on the marriage and had the guts to face the king about it. In historical context, the consequences of not being married would have been fairly grim.« (2019)

Artist Video Joshua Burnell @ FROG

The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter

 Listen to  The Royal Forester  from:
       Malinky, Steeleye Span

 Watch  The Royal Forester  from:
       Steeleye Span

Lyrics (© Mainly Norfolk): Knight William / Royal Forester / Shepherd's Daughter

The Lochmaben Harper

Andy Irvine
Artist Video The Blind Harper: »Another Child Ballad #192. I was on a solo tour in Britain in 1970 when I first heard Nic Jones. I was immediately captivated by his singing and guitar playing and, in 1973, Planxty invited him to open the show for us at the Carlton Cinema in Dublin. Later again, in 1976, Nic and I went on tour, together with others, to accompany Maddy Prior and June Tabor on their “Silly Sisters” tour. This was one of Nic’s great songs and my accompaniment is largely as he played it.« (2020)

Andy Irvine "Old Dog Long Road Vol. 2 (1961-2015)", Own label, 2020

"The Lochmaben Harper" or "The Blind Harper" is a traditional British Folk ballad (Child # 192, Roud # 85) and is one of the ballads collected by Francis Child in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–1898).


Martin Carthy Dave Swarbrick

Artist Video Martin Carthy: »The Lochmaben Harper is a busker whose very wealthy ‘friends’ come severely unglued when trying to put him in what they consider to be his place—thanks also due to the imagination of his wife. The air is a pipe march called Follow My Highland Soldier.« (1990)

Artist Video
Martin Carthy @ FROG

Emily Smith

Artist Video Emily Smith: »Another song from my home region of Dumfries and Galloway. This version dates back to the 1500s and tells the tale of a harper, in some versions a blind harper, who stole the King of England's best horse, the ‘wanton broon’.« (2005)

Artist Video Emily Smith @ FROG


Rakoczy: »A folk song about equine fraud. Whilst nor horses were harmed in the recording of this song, please don't try this at home; we recommend finding safer ways of overthrowing the ruling classes.« (2020)

Artist Video Rakoczy @ FROG

A blind harp-player resolves to steal King Henry of England's brown horse, in some versions, as a result of a bet for substantial stakes. He tells his wife of his plans and that he needs their good grey mare to achieve them. She agrees, and tells him to leave the foal behind, as the mare will quickly return to her still suckling young. He sets off and, at Carlisle, he meets the king, who asks for a song. The harper replies that he'd rather have a stable for his mare. The king tells his stable boy to house the grey mare next to his own brown horse. Now the harper plays and sings so beautifully that he spellbinds his audience and they all fall asleep. He tiptoes out of the room, makes his way to the stable, tethers the two horses together and releases them. The good grey mare makes her way back home taking the stolen brown horse with her. When the morning comes, the harper falsely mourns the loss of his horse, saying that, as a result, her foal will die. The king tells him not to fret and makes good the harper's losses by paying him for the foal and three times the worth of the good grey mare. Thus the harper not only wins his bet but also gets handsomely remunerated for the animals that he never lost.


This is another of the songs Robert Burns came across and contributed to a Scots Musical Museum. It is one of several songs about blind harpers from all over Britain and Ireland (for example, On a Blind Harper, The Blind Harper (traditional Welsh Song), The Blind Harper of Johnson Hall, The Blind Harper of Tyrone and Lament for a Blind Harper) although Roud only indexes the one. Blind harpers crop up frequently in British folklore and one features in another Child ballad, The Cruel Sister, where he is called to play at the wedding of the surviving sister. There are a number of paintings of them including The Blind Harper of Conway (1792) by Julius Caesar Ibbetson. In fact, traditionally, a good proportion of harpists were blind and these were often the most accomplished, for example, Turlough O’Carolan from Ireland (1670–1738), Ruairidh Dall Morison from Scotland (1646–1725) and John Parry (Bardd Alaw) from Wales (1760–1765). It has been suggested that this is because blind people were encouraged to take up a musical instrument.


Many artists have recorded this song including:

The Lochmaben Harper

 Listen to  The Lochmaben Harper / The Wanton Brown  from:
       Rakoczy, Emily Smith

 Watch  The Blind Harper  from:
       Andy Irvine

Lyrics (© Mainly Norfolk): Lochmaben Harper / Blind Harper / Wanton Brown

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [,,]. Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Date: June 2021.

Photo Credits: (1),(10) Andy Irvine, (2) Sweeney's Men, (3) Anne Briggs, (5) Ye vagabonds, (6) Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span), (10) Joshua Burnell, (12) Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, (15) Rakoczy (unknown/website); (4) 'Willie O Winsbury', (9) 'The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter', (14) 'The Lochmaben Harper' (by ABC Notations); (6) Andy Irvine, (8) Malinky (by Walkin' Tom); (13) Emily Smith (by Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup).

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