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Wae's Me for Prince Charlie

[ Roud 16902 ; Ballad Index DTwebird ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang Wae's Me for Prince Charlie on his 1962 Topic album The Jacobite Rebellions. This track was also included on his anthologies The Definitive Collection (2003) and An Introduction to Ewan MacColl (2018). He noted on the original album:

In spite of the harsh repressive measures which followed the collapse of the Forty Five rebellion, Scots ballad makers continued to extoll the virtues of Prince Charles for almost another hundred years. This song is the work of William Glen, born Glasgow in 1789. It is set to the ballad tune Gypsy Davy.

The Exiles sang Wae's Me for Prince Charlie on their 1966 Topic album Freedom, Come All Ye. Gordon McCulloch noted:

After the Jacobite forces under Charles Edward Stuart had been finally crushed at Culloden in 1745, the Young Pretender became a fugitive with [a] price of £30,000 on his head. After narrow escape he was eventually smuggled out of Scotland into France where he died in ignominy in 1788. However dubious his cause, and however questionable the romantic personal qualities popularly ascribed to him, Bonnie Prince Charlie caught (and continues to hold) the imagination of many of his countrymen. Songs like Wae’s Me for Prince Charlie went on being written about him long after his cause was lost. James Hogg, in his Jacobite Relics tells us that this song was “said to have been written by a Mr William Glen, about Glasgow”. The air is The Gypsy Laddie, variants of which carry the tradition ballad The Bonnie Hoose o Airlie.

Nigel Denver sang Wae's Me for Prince Charlie in 1967 on his Decca album Rebellion!.

Battlefield Band sang Wae's Me for Prince Charlie as the title track of their 1978 album Wae's Me for Prince Charlie.

Ellen Mitchell sang Wae's Me for Prince Charlie in 2001 on her and Kevin Mitchell's Musical Traditions album Have a Drop Mair and in 2002 on her Tradition Bearers album On Yonder Lea. Rod Stradling noted on the first album, quoting Ellen:

Ellen: I learned this song from Willie Beaton, shortly after we both left ( the same) school.

There's a lot of controversy about Prince Charlie. However, this is a great song to a great tune, and is, as far as I am aware, historically accurate. James Hogg, the ‘Ettrick Shepherd’, in his Second Series of Jacobite Relics, gives this song to the air The Gypsy Laddie, and says it was written by William Glen from Glasgow. It was first published 1819, was printed in many chapbooks and songsters in the 1820s, and regularly since.

Readers who enjoy the quiet pleasures of the Mondegreen may be interested to know that this song has, at times, undergone transliteration into Where's Me Fourpence, Charley?.

Fiona Ross sang Wae's Me for Prince Charlie in 2020 on her and Shane O'Mara's CD Sunwise Turn. She noted:

This Jacobite song was written by Glaswegian poet William Glen (1789-1826) and is sung to the famous air The Bonnie Hoose o Airlie. It imagines Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), on the run and fleeing the redcoats following the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising—the famous Battle of Culloden which took place on 16 April 1746.

Lyrics

Ellen Mitchell sings Wae's Me for Prince Charlie

A wee bird cam tae oor ha door
And he warbled sweet and clearly.
And aye the o'ercam o' his sang
Was “Wae's me for Prince Chairlie?”
Oh when I heard the bonnie bonnie bird,
The tears come dropping rarely.
I took ma bonnet aff ma heed
For weel I loo'ed Prince Chairlie.

Quoth I, “Ma bird, ma bonny, bonny bird,
Is that a tale ye borrow?
Or is't some word you've learned by rote
Or a lilt o dule and sorrow?”
“Oh no, no, no,” the wee bird cried,
“Ah flown since morning early
On sich a day o dule and woe
Oh wae's me for Prince Chairlie?

“O'er hills that are by rights his ain
He roams a lonely stranger.
On ilka side he's pressed by want,
On ilka side by danger.
Yestreen I met him in the glen,
Ma heart near bursted fairly,
For sadly changed indeed was he,
Oh wae's me for Prince Chairlie?

“Dark night cam o'er, the tempest roared
Loud o'er the hills and valleys.
But where was that your prince lay doon
Whas hame should ha been a palace?
He's rowed him in a heelan plaid
Which covered him but sparely,
And slept beneath a bush o broom
Oh wae's me for Prince Chairlie?”

But noo the bird saw some redcoats
And he shook his wings wi anger,
“Oh this is no a land for me
And I'll tarry here nae langer.”
A while he hovered on the wing
Ere he departed fairly,
But weel I mind the fareweel strain
Was “Wae's me for Prince Chairlie?”

Fiona Ross sings Wae's Me for Prince Charlie

A wee bird cam to our ha' door
He warbled sweet and early
And aye the o'ercam o his sang
Was wae's me for Prince Charlie
And when I heard the bonnie sound
The tears cam droppin rarely
I took the bonnet aff my head
For weel I lo’ed Prince Charlie

Said I, “My bird, my bonnie bonnie bird
Is that some tale you’ve borrowed?
Or is't some words ye've learnt by rote
Some lilt o dool and sorrow?”
“O no no no,” the wee bird sang
“I’ve flown since mornin early
Thru sic a day o’ wind and rain
O wae's me for Prince Charlie

“On hills that are by right his ain
He roams a lanely stranger
On ilka side he's press’d by want
On ilka hand in danger
Yestreen I met him in a glen
My heart near bursted fairly
For sadly changed indeed was he
O wae's me for Prince Charlie

“Dark nicht cam on, the tempest roared
Loud o'er the hills and valleys
And where was't that your Prince lay down
Whose hame should be a palace?
He row'd him in a Highland plaid
That covered him but sparely
And slept beneath a bush o' broom
O wae's me for Prince Charlie”