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The Laird of Wariston

[ Roud 3876 ; Child 194 ; Ballad Index C194 ; Mudcat 83165 ; 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 dowie heid o’ mine”.


Gordeanna McCulloch sings The Laird o’ Warriston

“My mither 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 yetts within.

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

“Then it fell oot upon a day,
That my guid lord cam fae the sea;
I dressed mysel’ in rich attire,
As blythe as ony bird in tree.

“I took my young son in my airms,
My lord he hailed me corteoslie.”
“I’m blythe to see ye, my dear lass,
But wha’s is that bairn at your knee?”

She turnd hersel’ richt roond aboot,
“O why think ye sae ill o’ me?
Ye ken I was ower young a bride
To ken ony ither man but thee.”

“Ye lee, ye lee, my lady gay,
And black’s the tongue that spak the lee;
I never got ye with the 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.

Sair she grat as she gaed hame,
And O the sault tear blint her ee;
Her faither’s Jock ill-counselled her,
It was to gar her lord tae dee.

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

Word has gane through bower and ha,
And word has gane tae Embro toon,
That the lassie’s killed her ain dear Lord,
Aye, killed the Laird o Warriston.

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

They’re taen her oot when nicht did fa,
Nor sun nor moon on her did shine,
They’ve taen her to yon heiding-hill,
And heided her baith neat and fine.

O Warriston, o Warriston,
Wi yer gear an gowd an pride an a’,
Ye bear the weight o your ain daith
And you bonnie lady’s cruel doonfa’.