Lord William

Awake, awake, you brothers seven –
Put on your armour bright,
For while you slept your sister dear
Was stolen away by night.

For while you slept Lord William came,
And she has loved him long.
She knew her father would not consent,
For she is yet so young.

So she is riding her milk white steed,
Lord William rides the grey.
Around his neck a bugle horn
And swift they fly away.

Rise up, rise up, you brothers bold
And with your father ride,
Lest William come to his castle walls
and take his love inside. 

The moon shines bright on the lovers’ road;
Two horses run as one.
At Deeping Brook they cross the bridge,
With ten miles yet ‘til home.

 “I hear the sound of hooves”, he says,
“a-thundering on the ground.
I fear, I fear it will not be long
Before we two are found”.

Says she, “Then faster let us ride,
that we may not be ta’en.
For if they once lay hold on you,
I fear you will be slain”.

Lord William over his shoulder looks
To see what he can spy:
Her brothers bold and her father grim
Beneath the moonlit sky.

“Get down, get down, my own true love
and hold the reins in your hand,
For I must fight your seven brothers
And against your father stand”.

She held the reins all in her hand;
She never shed a tear
Until her brothers all were slain
And her father fighting near.

“Hold off, hold off, my love”, she cried,
“Your strokes are wondrous sore;
True lovers I can get many a one,
But father never more”.

She’s taken out her handkerchief
made of cloth so fine,
And she has wiped her father’s wounds
That ran with blood like wine.

“O choose you now, my own Margaret,
whether you go or stay”.
“I’ll go with you, William”, she said,
“For I am alone this day”.

So she has mounted her milk-white steed
And he has mounted the grey.
His blood-red sword hung by his side
And slowly they rode away.

But when they stopped to take a drink
From the brook both cold and clear,
‘Twas there she spied his heart’s blood run,
And she began to fear.

“Hold up, hold up, my love”, she cried,
“I fear that you are slain”.
“It’s only the shadow of my red cloak
in the water shining plain”.

So they rode on and further on
By light of the waning moon,
Until they came to his castle gates,
And there they both got down.

“Rise up, rise up, my mother dear,
rise up and let us in;
Rise up, rise up, my mother dear,
For my own true love I’ve won”.

“Make my bed both long and wide;
make it soft and deep.
Lay my true love by my side,
that sounder we may sleep”.

Lord William died in the cold dawn light
And Margaret on the morrow;
He died of the wounds her father made,
And she died for the sorrow.

(Note: the parts in italic have a different tune).

Adaptation © 2012 Tim Chesterton

I based this song on Earl Brand/Lord Douglas/The Douglas Tragedy, which is #7 in Francis Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Child records nine versions of this song. An American version is here. The version I based my adaptation on is here, but I was also influenced by Jim Moray’s substantial rewrite, especially the additional detail he puts in before the fight scene.

I love the tragic element in this song; and the suggestion, even in the older versions, that while the girl starts out as a willing accomplice as her lover steals her away, and is even hardened as he kills her brothers one by one, her heart softens when she sees her father mortally wounded and she confronts for the first time the awful cost of what she has done.

Many thanks to Better Know a Child Ballad for bringing this compelling song to my attention.

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Published by

Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

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