Willie o Winsbury

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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.


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.


Andy Irvine sang "Willy O'Winsbury" on Sweeney's Men's eponymous debut album in 1968, 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] In 2010, Irvine re-recorded the song with a fuller arrangement of the same tune for his album Abocurragh, adding: "This is Child 100. I collected the words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story".[4]

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, for each entry, the year of release, artist, song title, and album title:

Year Artist Title Album
1968 Sweeney's Men "Willy O' Winsbury" Sweeney's Men
1969 Fairport Convention "Farewell, Farewell" Liege & Lief
1971 Anne Briggs with Johnny Moynihan "Willie O' Winsbury" Anne Briggs
1971 Tony Capstick (with Hedgehog Pie) "Sir Thomas of Winesberry" His Round
1971 John Renbourn "Willy O' Winsbury" Faro Annie
1972 Pentangle "Willy O' Winsbury" Solomon's Seal
1972 Barbara Dickson "Lord Thomas Of Winesberry and The King's Daughter" From the Beggar's Mantle...Fringed with Gold
1975 Robert Cinnamond "The Rich Shipowner's Daughter" You Rambling Boys of Pleasure
1978 Dick Gaughan "Willie O' Winsbury" Gaughan
1994 Connie Dover "Willie of Winsbury" The Wishing Well
1999 Frankie Armstrong "Thomas of Welshbury" The Garden of Love
2001 Nic Jones "William of Winesbury" Unearthed
2004 Great Big Sea "John Barbour" Something Beautiful
2006 Richard Thompson "Willy O' Winsbury" RT - The Life and Music of Richard Thompson
2007 Meg Baird "Willy of Winsbury" Dear Companion
2007 Kate Rusby "John Barbury" Awkward Annie
2007 Joel Frederiksen "Willie O' Winsbury" The Elfin Knight
2009 Nathan Rogers "Willie O' Winsbury" The Gauntlet
2010 Andy Irvine "Willy of Winsbury" Abocurragh
2010 The Owl Service "Willie O' Winsbury" The View From a Hill
2013 Snorri Helgason "Willie O' Winsbury" Autumn Skies
2013 Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer "Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)" Child Ballads
2017 Olivia Chaney (as Offa Rex with The Decemberists) "Willie O' Winsbury" The Queen of Hearts

See alsoEdit


  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.
  4. ^ Sleeve notes from Andy Irvine - Abocurragh, Andy Irvine AK-3, 2010.