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Fair Janet

[ Roud 44 ; Child 64 ; G/D 6:1100 ; Ballad Index C064 ; trad.]

David Herd: Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. James Kinsley: The Oxford Book of Ballads

Peggy Seeger sang Fair Janet (Child 64A) in 1981 on her and Ewan MacColl’s Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 2. They noted:

Throughout balladry, the women are challenging the right of their fathers and brothers to dispose of their hands in marriage. No reason is given in Fair Janet for Willie’s ineligibility as a bride-groom though it is suggested that he is not high-born enough. It is a brutal ballad in its earlier forms, in which Janet dances to prove that she has not born a child, that she is physically fit. The ballad shares many motifs with Northern European song and tale, but seems to have practically died out in oral tradition.

Corinne Male sang Fair Janet on her 2015 CD To Tell the Story Truly. She noted:

I found this in the Oxford Book of Ballads and fell in love with the characters, who are all so human and real. It was in broad Scots, however, which I wouldn’t feel comfortable singing, and I didn’t like the tune … it took ten years to evolve the version here and the final touch was realising I could use the tune of a particularly beautiful French song given to me by Catherine Perrier: La Claire Fontaine.

Jack Rutter sang Fair Janet and Young James (Child 64C) on his 2019 album Gold of Scar & Shale. He noted:

The cinematic story of this song leapt out at me from the page of my old and fairly battered copy of Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. From what I gather It’s never been recorded before really, this particular ballad. The melody is from June Tabor’s version of The Old Garden Gate.


Peggy Seeger sings Fair Janet

“Go to your father, Janet,
Go to your father soon,
Go to your father, fair Janet
I fear his days are done.”

So she’s away to her father
Down upon her knee;
“What would you have, dear father?
What would you have with me?”

“My will with you, Janet,
It is for bed and board,
They say you love little Willie
But you’re gonna marry a lord.”

“If I must leave little Willie
All for to marry some lord,
Then by my vow, said fair Janet,
He’ll never come in my bed.”

Then she’s away to her chamber,
Fast as she could run;
Who’s the first one knocking there,
Little Willie, her darling one.

“We must part our love, Willie,
That’s long been us between,
For there’s a lord come over from France
Gonna marry me with a ring.
There’s a lord come over from France
I got to go with him.”

“If we must part our love, Janet,
It’s for sorrow, grief and woe,
If we must part our love, Janet,
I’ll into mourning go.”

“First send to me your sisters,
Meg and Mary and Jean,
Bid them come to my bedside,
I fear my time is come.”

So he’s away to his sisters,
Meg and Mary and Jean,
Bid them go to fair Janet,
“I fear her time is come.”

Some drew on silk stocking,
Some drew on silk gown;
Some drew on their green mantle
All for to ride to town,
And they’re away to fair Janet
Fast as they could run.

“Come here, come here, little Willie,
Take your little young son;
Carry him home to your mother’s house,
Mother I dare be none.”

He’s taken to him his baby,
Kissed both cheek and chin,
He’s away to his mother’s house,
“Open and let me in.”

The rain rains on my shoulder,
The dew drops on my skin,
Here’s my little young baby,
Open and take him in.”

“Go back to Janet, Willie,
She has more need of thee,
And where you had but one nurse,
Your young son shall have three.”

In and came her father,
Stood at her bedside,
“Get up, get up, you fair Janet,
Tonight you become a bride.”

“There’s a cruel pain in my breast, father,
And a cruel pain in my side,
Too ill, too ill, dear father,
This night to become a bride.”

“Get up get up, you Janet,
Put on your wedding gown,
For you’ll be a bride in the evening
Though you be dead in the morn.”

“Bridesmaidens, lift me up easy,
Lift me up easy for to ride,
Bridesmaidens, sit me up easy,
I am a deathly bride.”

When they brought her to marry
To tie the wedding band,
Janet was so pale and wan,
Barely could she stand.

Up and bowed her husband:
“Bride, will you dance with me?”
“Away, away, you old French man,
Your love I never will be.”

Up and stepped little Willie:
“Janet, dance with me.”
“By my vow and that I will
Though my body do break in three.”

Through the dance, fair Janet,
Through the dance but twice,
When down she fell at Willie’s feet,
Never again to rise.

“Take the bracelet from my arm, Willie,
Take the garter from my knee;
Give them to our little young son,
His mother he never will see.”

“Go home and tell my mother
My little mare has me thrown;
Bid her be kind to my little young son,
Father he’ll never have none.”