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Proud Lady Margaret / The Knicht of Archerdale

[ Roud 37 ; Child 47 ; G/D 2:336 ; Ballad Index C047 ; trad.]

Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs The Oxford Book of Ballads

Ewan MacColl sang Proud Lady Margaret on his 1964 Folkways album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 2—Child Ballads. The album’s booklet commented:

Child published five versions of this story of a proud lady whose brother returns from the dead to teach her humility. In four of them he appears, at first, as a suitor, is tested by riddles and does not reveal his identity until his wooing is successful. In the version given here, the riddle element is absent, the story being confined to the wooing. Stanzas 5 and 6 appear to have been borrowed from Sweet William’s Ghost (Child 77). Learned from Greig and Keith.

Pete and Chris Coe sang Proud Lady Margaret in 1975 on their Trailer album Our of Season, Out of Rhyme.

Lizzie Higgins sang Proud Lady Margaret in the 1970s to Peter Hall. This recording was included in 2006 on her Musical Traditions anthology In Memory of Lizzie Higgins. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

Another rare song; Roud only cites four singers who knew it, so maybe its length daunted most others.

This (literally) haunting ballad was given to Walter Scott by an Edinburgh music-seller “with whose mother it had been a favourite”, and published in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border in 1803. The story is not altogether clear, and there is much suspicion that it has resulted from the merging of two ballads, the riddles perhaps taken from Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship. On the surface it appears to be a warning, from beyond the grave, from the brother of a dangerously proud lady to amend her arrogant ways before it is too late. But are the men whose graves ‘are growing green’ simply broken-hearted, rejected suitors, or the victims of witchcraft?

This has the hallmark of a song surviving in Traveller oral tradition. Greig and Duncan only found two fragmentary pieces in the 1900s, and although Lizzie’s version has verses which were printed in Peter Buchan’s Ballads of the North of Scotland published in 1828, she also has verses (including the unique one referring to ‘Pirie’s Chair’) which Peter collected from North-East tradition around 1800, but never published, and remained in his manuscripts. Lizzie was adamant that it was not only her father’s favourite ballad, learned from his mother, but that he wrote it down before his death and gave it to her alone, for safekeeping, never having given it to his wife.

Katherine Campbell sang The Knicht of Archerdale in 2004 on her Springthyme CD The Songs of Amelia and Jane Harris which is a companion to the book The Song Repertoire of Amelia and Jane Harris, edited by Emily Lyle (2002). Her album notes commented:

A knight on horseback is riding along when he spies a lady “luikin owre her castle wa.” She insults him by saying that he does not seem a “gentle knight” but that he seems to be “some souter’s son” (a shoemaker’s son) for his “boots they are sae wide.” He replies that “ye dinna seem a lady gay” but that she is “bound wi pride” else she would not have taunted and insulted him as he rode past her father’s gate. At that, he “turned aboot his high horse heid” and pretends he is about to ride away. But she asks him to stay.

She then puts to him a series of riddles: “What gaes in a speal”—ale (in a spoon or ladle); “What gaes in a horn green?”—wine; “What gaes on a lady’s head when it is washen clean?”—silk.

Again he turns to ride away when she again asks him to stay. She observes that he looks “as like my ae brither, as ever I did see” but that he is “buried in yon kirkyaird, mair than years is three.” The knight agrees, saying, in effect, that he is the ghost of her brother and that because of her pride and vanity he cannot get peace in his grave. He tells her to leave behind her pride and vanity saying, “if you come the roads that I hae come, sair warned you will be” (i.e. if she had seen what he had seen she would repent her proud ways). He prepares to leave saying that before she comes (in death) to the churchyard she will leave behind the gold pins in her sleeve and gold plaits in her hair. The ballad ends with the lady Janet repenting her ways.

Child has five, quite diverse versions of this rare ballad, first published as Proud Lady Margaret in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Child 47; GD 336; Last Leaves 20). Bronson has three tunes, the Harris version taking pride of place.


Ewan MacColl sings Proud Lady Margaret

“What is your will with me, young man?
What is your will with me?”
“My will with you, fair maid,” he said,
“Is your lover till I dee.”

“Your lover till ye dee,” she said,
“Your lover till ye dee?
I’ve slichted mony a better man
That in their graves lie green.”

“My faither was laird o’ seven castles,
My mither was lady o’ three;
An’ a’ their gowd and a’ their gear,
There’s nane to heir’t but me.”

Gin your faither was laird o’ seven castles,
And your mither was lady o’ three;
I am William, thy brither,
That died beyond the see,
And I canna get into my grave
For the daily pride o’ thee.”

“Is there nae room at your heid, brother?
Is there nae room at your feet?
Is there nae room at your side, brother,
For a lady like me to sleep?”

“There’s nae room at my heid, sister,
There’s nae room at my feet.
There’s nae room at my side, sister,
For a lady like you to sleep.
For when I lie down into my grave
The worms around me creep.”

Lizzie Higgins sings Proud Lady Margaret

It was on a night, and an evening bright
When the dew begun tae fa,
Lady Margaret was walking up and doon,
Looking ower the castle wa.
She looked west, she looked east,
Tae see what she could spy,
When a gallant knight came in her sight
Unto her gates drew nigh.

“God mak ye safe an free, fair maid,
God mak ye safe an free.”
“What is yer will wi me, Sir Knight,
Oh what’s yer will wi me?”
“My will wi you is nae sma, lady,
My will wi you nae sma,
An syne there is nane your bower within,
You’ll hae ma secrets aa.”

“It’s I am come tae this castle
Aa for the love of thee.
If you do not grant me love
All for your sake a’ll dee.”
“If you should dee for me, Sir Knight,
It is few for you will mean.
There’s many a better has died for me
Wha’s5 graves are growin green.

“What is the flooer, the ae first flooer
That grows on muir and dell?
What is the bird, the bonniest bird
That sings next the nightingale?
What is the colour, the bonniest colour
That king or queen can wale?
Oh what is the flooer, the ae first flooer
That grows on muir and dell?”

“The primrose is the ae first flooer
Tae grow on muir and dell.
The mavis is the next bird
Sings next the nightingale.
Yellow is the bonniest colour
That king or queen can wale.
The primrose is the ae first flooer
That grows on muir and dell.

“Ye hiv ower ill washen feet, Margaret,
An ye have ower ill washen hands.
Ye’ve too coarse o robes on your body,
An wi me ye winnae gang.
The worms are my bedfellows
The cauld clay is my sheet.
An the louder that the wind does howl
The sounder dae I sleep.

“My body is buried in Dunfermline
Sae far ayond the sea.
Nae peace or rest ony day I get
Aa for the pride of thee.
Lay up yer pride, Margaret,” he said,
“Use it nae ony mair.
If you hae been far I hae been
Ye will repent it sair.

“Tae sit in Pirie’s chair, Margaret,
It is the lowest seat o Hell.
If you do not amend your ways,
It’s there that ye maun dwell.“
Wi that he vanished frae her sicht
In the twinklin o her ee,
An naething mair the lady saw
But the gloomy clouds in the sky.