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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.
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.
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".
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:
|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|