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Willie o Winsbury

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".[1]

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.[2]

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


The first known recording of the ballad was by Robert Cinnamond in 1961. The recording was released under the title "John Barlow" on 1975's You Rambling Boys of Pleasure on the Topic label.

The trio Sweeney's Men recorded "Willy O'Winsbury" for their eponymous debut album in 1968 with Andy Irvine on vocals 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".[3]

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 their artists, titles, albums, and years:

Artist Title Album Year
Frankie Armstrong "Thomas of Welshbury" Garden of Love 2000
Meg Baird "Willy of Winsbury" Dear Companion 2007
Anne Briggs with Johnny Moynihan "Willie O Winsbury" Anne Briggs 1971
Robert Cinnamond "John Barlow" You Rambling Boys of Pleasure 1975
Barbara Dickson "Lord Thomas Of Winesberry and The King's Daughter" From the Beggar's Mantle...Fringed with Gold 1972
Connie Dover "Willie of Winsbury" The Wishing Well 1994
Fairport Convention "Farewell, Farewell" Liege & Lief 1969
Joel Frederiksen "Willie O'Winsbury" The Elfin Knight 2007
Dick Gaughan "Willie O'Winsbury" Gaughan 1978
Great Big Sea "John Barbour" Something Beautiful 2004
Hedgehog Pie with Tony Capstick "Sir Thomas of Winesberry" His Round 1972
Snorri Helgason "Willie O 'Winsbury" Autumn Skies 2013
Andy Irvine "Willy of Winsbury" Abocurragh 2010
Nic Jones "William of Winesbury" Unearthed 2002
Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer "Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)" Child Ballads 2013
Offa Rex (The Decemberists & Olivia Chaney) "Willie o' Winsbury" The Queen of Hearts 2017
The Owl Service "Willie O'Winsbury" The View From a Hill 2010
Pentangle "Willy O' Winsbury" Solomon's Seal 1972
John Renbourn "Willy O'Winsbury" Faro Annie 1972
Nathan Rogers "Willie O' Winsbury" The Gauntlet 2009
Kate Rusby "John Barbury" Awkward Annie 2007
Richard Thompson "Willy O'Winsbury" RT - The Life and Music of Richard Thompson 2006
Sweeney's Men "Willy O'Winsbury" Sweeney's Men 1968

See also


  1. ^ Francis James Child (1965) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 2, p 377, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  2. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 2, p 398-9, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  3. ^ Sleeve notes from Sweeney's Men LP, Transatlantic Records Ltd, TRA SAM 37, 1968.