Monday, 10 February 2020

Willy O Winsbury by Pentangle (1972)

File this as an Albion Awakening retrospective - a lovely Border Ballad, performed with what could only be described as Pure Class; and a surprise happy ending:


The king had been a prisoner
At a prison long in Spain
And Willie of the Winsbury
Has lain long with his daughter at home

"What ails you, what ails you, my daughter Janet
Why you look so pale and wan
Have you had any sore sickness
Or yet been sleeping with a man?"

"I have not had any sore sickness
Nor yet been sleeping with a man
It is for you, my father dear,
For biding so long in Spain"

"Cast off, cast off your berry-brown gown
You stand naked upon the stone
That I may know you by your shape
If you be a maiden or none"

And she's cast off her berry-brown gown
She stood naked upon the stone
Her apron was low and her haunches were round
Her face was pale and wan

"Was it with a lord or a duke or a knight
Or a man of birth and fame
Or was it with one of my serving men
That's lately come out of Spain?"

"No it wasn't with a lord nor a duke or a knight
Nor a man of birth and fame
But it was with Willie of Winsbury
I could bide no longer alone"

The king has called on his merry men all
By thirty and by three
Saying "Fetch me this Willie of Winsbury
For hanged he shall be"

But when he came the king before
He was clad all in the red silk
His hair was like the strands of gold
His skin was as white as the milk

"And it is no wonder, " said the king
"That my daughter's love you did win
For if I was a woman, as I am a man
My bedfellow you would have been"

"Now will you marry my daughter Janet
By the truth of your right hand?
Oh will you marry my daughter Janet
I'll make you lord of my land"

"Well yes, I'll marry your daughter Janet
By the truth of my right hand
Well yes I'll marry your daughter Janet
But I'll not be the lord of your land"

He's mounted her on a milk-white steed
Himself on a dapple grey
He has made her the lady of as much land
As she shall ride in a long summer's day


Note: Apparently; the significance of the ending is that Willy, from his generosity of spirit, passes on the King's gift of land directly to Janet.

4 comments:

Joel said...

"Note: Apparently; the significance of the ending is that Willy, from his generosity of spirit, passes on the King's gift of land directly to Janet."

I see that suggested on Wikipedia, but I think that this may be one of those cases where it errs. The variant versions all seem to suggest that it was understood as referring to Willy having other lands.

https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch100.htm

My own understanding -- with no special knowledge other than I read from Quiller-Couch's
Oxford Book of Ballads to my children frequently, and have enjoyed particular ballad for years -- is that he means that they will be wanderers together.

Jake said...

Thanks for this. I really enjoy certain folk music from the UK and the USA.
Pentangle is wonderful.

Back at you: not sure if you like American folk, but check out "Mandolin Orange."

Bill said...

This another lovely song, set to the same tune.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69sLI4n674s

Bruce Charlton said...

@Joel - I think your interpretation - that the couple become wanderers - works much better than the one I noted as an unpacking of the meaning of the last verse!