FS26: Mary Hamilton

The lead song for this week is Mary Hamilton, also known (in fragmentary form) as The Four Maries.

I only came across this song relatively recently, on John Kelly’s excellent second album For Honour and Promotion, but I was immediately taken with it. Like a number of my favourite folksongs, it ends with several verses of defiant gallows rhetoric, but in this case it’s wrapped up with an hauntingly childlike little rhyme:

Yest’reen the Queen had four Maries
Tonight she’ll have but three.
There was Mary Seaton and Mary Beaton,
And Mary Carmichael and me.

The real Mary Hamilton evades identification, along with the real Patrick Spens and the real Hughie the Graeme. Mary Queen of Scots did in fact have four maids named Marie, two of whom were Marie Seaton and Marie Beaton; the names obviously lodged in people’s minds. (The other two were Marie Fleming and Marie Livingston.)

Singing this unaccompanied, I had trouble getting John’s tune to work; I ended up using the tune that’s generally used for Willie o’ Winsbury (see how all this fits together?), only in 4/4 rather than 6/8. Properly speaking, this is the tune to False Foodrage rather than Willie o’ Winsbury; one of these days I’ll dig out the original tune to Wo’W and set False Foodrage to it.


Filed under Child ballad, folk song, John Kelly, O my name is, traditional

2 responses to “FS26: Mary Hamilton

  1. Chez Mary Hamilton, on vit venir la Reine.
    « Mary, levez-vous donc. À présent, dites-moi
    Où est allé l’enfant dont j’entendais la voix. »
    « Un navire ai choisi pour lui, ma Souveraine,

    Et l’ai livré aux flots que hante la sirène,
    À la grâce de Dieu, qu’il nous garde en sa loi. »
    « Mary, vous n’avez point agi en bonne foi ;
    Si l’enfant eût vécu, j’eusse été sa marraine,

    Mais en ville, aujourd’hui, je crois que nous irons,
    N’écoutez en chemin ceux qui vous maudiront. »
    Mary, un bref instant, se pose en suppliante,

    Puis prend sa robe blanche et son collier doré
    Que tout à l’heure, en ville, elle veut arborer ;
    Elle marche au supplice, à-demi souriante.

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