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The Laird of Wariston

[ Roud 3876 ; Child 194 ; Ballad Index C194 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang The Laird o' Wariston in 1982 on his and Peggy Seeger's Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 2. They noted:

Jean Livingstone of Dunnipace and John Kincaid of Wariston, the two main protagonists in this prosaic domestic tragedy, were (according to contemporary accounts) married against their will at a very early age. Kincaid's consistent ill-treatment of his young wife eventually caused her to murder him. Janet Murdo, her nurse, and Robert Weir, a former servant in her father's house, helped her to carry out the deed.

No attempt was made to cover up the crime and within three days of having committed it Jean Livingstone was tried, found guilty and condemned to death. She was beheaded at the Canongate in Edinburgh on 5 July 1600 and Janet Murdo was burned at the stake on the same day. Robert Weir fled but was apprehended four years later and was executed by having his body broken on a cartwheel by the coulter of a plough.

Gordeanna McCulloch sang The Laird o' Warriston in 1997 on her Greentrax CD In Freenship's Name. She noted:

A new friend, Paul Adams, is responsible for the recent addition of this song and Chylde Owlet to the list of ballads I sing. He lent me a copy of MacColl's album Blood & Roses Volume 2, and I was instantly hooked. I've always loved the big ballads, perhaps because I love a good story well told, and I shiver to imagine a 16 year old child bride saying “Strike aff this dolwie heid o' mine”.


Gordeanna McCulloch sings The Laird o' Warriston

“My mother was an ill woman,
At fifteen years she married me;
I hadna wit to guide a man,
Alas! ill fortune guided me.

“O Warriston, O Warriston,
I wish that ye may sink for sin!
I was but bare fifteen years auld,
Whan first I cam your yates within.

“I hadna been a month a bride,
When my gude lord gaed tae the sea;
I bore a bairn ere he came hame,
And set it on the nurse's knee.

“Then it fell oot upon a day,
That my gude lord cam frae the sea;
I dressd myself in rich attire,
As blythe as ony bird on tree.

“I took my young son in my airms,
My lord he hailed me corteosly.”
“I'm blight to see you, my dear lass,
But wha's is that bairn at your knee?”

She turnd hersel' richt roond aboot,
“ Oh why think ye sae ill o' me?
Ye ken I was so young a bride
To ken ony other man but thee.”

“Ye lie, ye lie, my lady gay,
And black's the tongue that spak tae me;
I never got ye with a bairn,
While I was sailin' on the sea.”

“O Warriston, ye acted ill
Tae lift yer hand tae yer ain lady.”
He struck her till the blood run doon
And cursed his bairn maist bitterly.

Sae she grat as she gaed hame,
And so the tear did blind her ee;
Her faither's steward counseled her,
It was to gar her lord to dee.

The nurse she took the deed in hand,
And e'er I wat her fee she won.
She cast the knot and drew the noose
That killed the Laird of Warriston.

What has gane through bower and hall?
And what has gane tae Ambre toon?
But the lass has killed her ain dear lord,
I killed the Laird of Warriston.

“Oh tie my kerchief roon my face,
Let no' the sun upon me shine.
And tak me tae yon heading-hill,
Strike aff this dowie heid o mine.”

They've taen her oot when nicht did fa',
Nae sun nor moon on her did shine,
They've taen her to yon heading-hill,
And headed her baith neat and fine.

O Warriston, o Warriston,
Wi' your gear an gowd an pride an a',
Yer bairn awaited you in death
And you bonny lady's cruen doonfa'.