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Auld Matrons

[ Roud 3915 ; Child 249 ; Ballad Index C249 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang Auld Matrons in 1982 on his and Peggy Seeger’s album Blood & Roses Volume 3. He noted:

Child was probably right in stating that this curious piece was the work of someone who was familiar with the first fit of Adam Bell (Child 116). “The anonymous ‘old wife’ becomes ‘auld matrons’; Inglewood, Ringlewood. The conclusion is in imitation of the rescues in Robin Hood ballads.” In his resume of the story, Child writes: “The sheriff orders a retreat and threatens, very illogically, to burn the old woman.” Illogical or not, it provides the ballad with its most potent stanza.

Steeleye Span sang Old Matron on their 2019 CD Est’d 1969. They noted:

This is a blockbuster of a ballad. The hero fights against incredible odds and wins, despite treachery and overwhelming numbers. A classic storyline.


Ewan MacColl sing Auld Matrons

My love she is a gentlewoman,
Has her living by the seam;
I ken nae how she is provided
This nicht for me and my foot-groom.

Willie’s gane tae Annie’s bower-door
And tirled gently at the pin;
“Sleep ye or wake ye, my dear Annie?
Open the door and let me in.”

Wi’ her white fingers lang and sma’,
She’s lifted gently at the pin;
Flang her airms a’ aboot him,
Kindly welcomed Willie in.

“O, will ye gang tae cairds or dice,
Willie, will ye gang tae play?
Or will ye gang tae a weel-made bed
And lie and sleep awhile till day?”

“My love Annie, my dear Annie,
I would be at your desire,
If it wasnae for yon Auld Matrons
Sitting by the kitchen fire.“

“Willie dear, keep up your hairt,
Keep up your hairt and dinnae fear;
For seiven year and mair hae passed
Since last her feet did file the flee.

They hadnae kissed nor gi’en love’s handsel
The way of lovers when they meet;
When up arose yon Auld Matrons,
And sae weel she spread her feet.

O wae befa’ yon Auld Matrons
Sae clever as she took the gate,
And she’s gane up yon high high hill
And chappit at the sheriff’s yett.

“Sleep ye or wake ye, my good lord,
And are ye no’ your bower within?
There’s a knicht in bed wi’ your dochter
And I fear she’s gotten wrang.”

“Ye’ll gae doon through Kelso toon,
And wauken a’ my merry men;
And when ye hae this wark weel done
Then I will come and tak’ command.”

She’s done her doon through Kelso toon
And waukened a’ his merry men;
And when she had this wark weel done
Then he has come and ta’en command.

He has his horse wi’ corn foddered,
A’ his men were armed in mail;
He’s gi’en Auld Matrons half a mark
Tae lead his men oot ower the hill.

Willie slept but Annie waukened
When she heard their bridles ring;
She shook her Willie by the shouther,
“Rise, my love, ye sleep ower lang.”

“O, gi’e nae sign, my ain dear lassie
Till I’ve pit on my shooting gear;
Then I wadna fear the King himsel’
Though he and a’ his men were here.”

They shot their arrows through the window.
Ane o’ them grazed Willie’s broo,
The lassie grat and tore her hair,
“This nicht we’ll a’ hae cause to rue.”

Willie shot his arrows oot
Until the bow brunt in his hand;
And aye he kissed her rosy lips,
Says, “See they fa’ on ilka hand!”

He set his horn intil his mouth
And blawn a blast sae lood and shrill;
It was heard by Jock, his brither,
In Ringlewood whaur he lay still.

The firsten shot his brither lowsed
It stretched twa men oot on the green;
The neisten shot his brother lowsed
Then it’s ca’d oot the sheriff’s e’en.

“Wha will be my e’en?” he cried,
“Lend me an airm or mebbe twa!
And they that come for strife this nicht
Tak’ horse! Tak’ horse and ride awa’!

“But wae befa’ ye, Auld Matrons,
And an ill deith may ye dee!
I’ll burn ye on yon high hill-heid
And blaw your ashes in the sea.”

Steeleye Span sing Old Matron

My love she is a gentlewoman,
Has her living by the seam.
I know how she has provided
This night for me and my foot-groom.

He is gone to Annie’s door,
Gently tirled at the pin.
“You sleep, you wake, my true love Annie?
Rise up and let your love in!”

“My love Annie, my dear Annie,
I would be at your desire.
But what about the old matron
As she sits by the fire?”

“William, keep your heart,” she said,
“Keep up your heart and do not fear.
It’s seven years or even more
Since her feet did touch the floor.”

They had not kissed nor sworn devotion
As lovers when they meet,
When up rose the old matron
And well she’s spread her feet.

O woe be for the old matron,
So clever she has jumped the gate.
And she’s gone o’er the long, long hill,
Knocked at the sheriff’s gate.

“You sleep, you wake, my lord?” she said,
“Are you at your bower within?
There’s a man lies with your daughter
I fear she has gone wrong”

He had his horse with corn well foddered,
His men all armed in mail.
He gave the matron half a mile
To show them o’er the hill.

William slept, but Annie wakened
When she heard their bridles ring.
She tapped on her true lover’s shoulder
And said, “You’ve slept too long!”

“Oh save me, save me, blessed lady
’Til I’ve got on my shooting gear.
I do not fear the sheriff himself
Though all his men were here.”

Then they shot in and William out,
The arrow grazed his brow.
The maid she wept and tore her hair,
Says, “This can never do,”

They shot in and he shot out,
The bow burnt William’s hand.
But then he kissed her ruby lips
And says, “My dear, we will stand!”

He set his horn unto his mouth
And has blown both loud and shrill,
And he has called his brother John
In the woods where he lay still.

The first round that Lord John he.shot
He wounded fifty and fifteen,
The next shot that he did let fly
Put out the sheriff’s eye.

“Oh, some of you lend him an arm,”
Says William to the sheriff’s men,
“And you that came for strife this day
Take horse and ride fast home.”

“But woe be to you old matron,
An ill death may you see.
I’ll burn you on yon high hill-head,
Blow your ashes in the sea.”