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Lady Diamond / Lady Dysie

[ Roud 112 ; Child 269 ; G/D 6:1224 ; Ballad Index C269 ; DT LADYDIAM , LADYDIA2 ; trad.]

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe: A Ballad Book (1823) Alexander Keith Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs

Winnie Campbell sang Lady Eliza in 1965 on the Campbell family’s Topic album The Singing Campbells. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic’s 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten. Peter A. Hall and Arthur Argo noted on the original album:

Many famous ballads survived most successfully in the North-east and this, called Lady Diamond in Child’s compilation, is a fine example. The early music collector, Dean Christie, published a tune to the ballad in his Traditional Ballad Airs (Vol.II-1881) and Gavin Greig collected two, one of which is sung here by Winnie Campbell. The story, which comes from the Decameron, was translated into English in 1556 and probably found its way into popular circulation via a chapbook copy.

Pete and Chris Coe sang Lady Diamond in 1972 on their Trailer album Open the Door and Let Us In. They noted:

A king’s daughter falls in love with a servant, and her father takes gruesome reprisals. The text is a collation of those found in the Child collection, the tune is our own—out of desperation.

Frankie Armstrong sang Lady Diamond in 1975 on her Topic album Songs and Ballads and in 1997 on her Fellside CD Till the Grass O’ergrew the Corn, with the album’s title coming from a line in the song’s second verse. A.L. Lloyd noted on the Topic album:

The brutal story of the king who kills his daughter’s low-born lover and sends her his heart in a golden cup, was on the go in the Middle Ages. Boccaccio re-tells it in his tale of Ghismonda and Guiscardo, and in later years it was several times made into a play in England and elsewhere. Versified into a ballad, it was widely known throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia. The version here is mainly that sung by Mary Johnston, ‘dairymaid at Hoddam Castle,’ and printed in C. K. Sharpe’s Ballad Book (1823). The song is savage, but as Frankie Armstrong remarks, such savagery is hardly a thing of the past. “As often with old ballads, the moral is not drawn; we experience through the action the consequences of possessiveness and jealousy. How better can we learn?”

And Brian Pearson commented in the Fellside album’s notes:

The story of Lady Diamond descends from Guiscardo and Ghismonda’s tale in Boccaccio’s renaissance best-seller The Decameron. The tragedy of those ill-matched lovers was translated into English in 1566, giving rise to several poems and plays, and there is still a kind of Elizabethan quality to the quick and vivid emotions of the actors here. In typical ballad fashion, no one stops for a moment to consider their course of action, and this headlong rush to disaster somehow mobilises our compassion, not only for the unfortunate lovers, but also for the murderous king. Frankie has been singing this song for 25 years or so and still finds its power to move her undimmed. The words she sings are mostly those of Child’s C text, collected from Mary Johnson, a dairy maid at Hoddan Castle. Not having a tune, Frankie made this one up while flying the Atlantic at 35,000 feet, so it can probably claim the world altitude record for a ballad melody.

Jean Redpath sang Lady Dysie in 1975 on her eponymous album Jean Redpath. She noted:

The story of this ballad comes from the Decameron and was translated in 1556. It probably found its way into popular circulation via the chapbooks (Hall & Argo). I heard the story sung by Winnie Campbell and was intrigued by it. Through the judicious use of a tape-recorder (I find it impossible to learn a song from paper—it never seems to ‘fit’) I managed to get this combination of Bronson’s first printed melody and a collated text to feel almost as comfortable as the well-worn ballads I like to sing.

Ewan MacColl sang Lady Diamond in 1982 on his and Peggy Seeger’s Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 2. They noted:

The English and Scots repertories of traditional songs and ballads contain innumerable stories of star-crossed lovers and the punishments awaiting those ill-fated innocents who find themselves caught in the web of a misalliance. In this ballad, the base-born lover is guilty of the crime of lese-majesty, and the traditional punishment for violating this particular tabu is by smothering. “The ballad is one of a large number of repetitions of Boccaccio’s tale of “Guiscardo and Ghismonda”, Decameron IV, 1. It was translated in Painter’s Palace of Pleasure, 1566, and became the foundation of various English poems and plays.” (Child)

The Tannahill Weavers sang Lady Dysie on their 1983 album Passage. They noted somewhat flippantly:

It is a little difficult to categorise this song. Probably the easiest way out is to call it a song of medieval Scottish birth control. There were two methods of this—the first, very safe, was abstention; the second, not safe at all due to its occurrence after the deed was done, was to kill the man involved. This ensured he didn’t do it again.

Strangely enough, this song comes from a region of Scotland where the population has remained the same for 200 years. Every time a child is born, a man leaves town.

Martin Carthy sang Lady Dysie in a John Peel BBC Radio 1 session that was recorded on 18 April and broadcast on 25 April 1983.

Dick Miles sang Lady Diamond, accompanied by himself on concertina and by Martin Carthy on guitar, on his 1984 Greenwich Village album Cheating the Tide.

Steeleye Span recorded Lady Diamond for their 1986 album Back in Line. It was also included in their 2 CD anthology Spanning the Years.

Sylvia Barnes sang Lady Diamond on her and Jim Barnes’ 1991 album Mungo Jumbo.

Carolyn Robson sang Lady Diamond on her 1999 album All the Fine Young Men. She noted:

A Child ballad, this one has a really strong melody and a good yarn.

Bryony Griffith sang Lady Diamond in 2011 as the title track of her and Will Hampson’s CD Lady Diamond. They got their version from Bronson’s The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, Volume IV, and finished it with the English session tune Iron Legs.

Rachel Newton sang Lady Diamond in 2012 on her CD The Shadow Side. She used Child’s C text like Frankie Armstrong did.

Paul Downes sang Lady Diamond on Mick Ryan’s and his 2016 WildGoose CD The Passing Hour. He noted:

I learned this, about thirty five years ago, from Annie Fentiman. It sounds Scottish to me. In the long time I have been singing it, I will have changed, and Anglicised, the words.

The Long Hill Ramblers sang Lady Diamond on their 2014 CD Beauty And Butchery. They noted:

Laura [Hockenhull] and Ben [Paley] realised they had each been singing this version of Child 269 since childhood, having learnt it independently from Frankie Armstrong’s unaccompanied singing on her 1975 album Songs and Ballads. The melody is so stark and the lyrics so unremitting that we saw no option but to do it as a band.

Georgia Lewis sang Lady Diamond in 2017 on her RootBeat album The Bird Who Sings Freedom. She noted:

The importance of marriage in England bears far less weight than it used to, as families aren’t so dependent on the income and security it generates. However, the concerns parents still hold for their children in this regard are unavoidable. This brutal Scottish ballad was first printed in [Charles Kirkpatrick] Sharpe’s A Ballad Book (1823), collected from Mary Johnson, a dairy maid at Hoddan Castle, Dumfriesshire. The tune comes from Frankie Armstrong and I first heard it sung by Sylvia Barnes.

Cath and Phil Tyler took the words of Lady Dysie from Martin Carthy’s 1983 John Peel radio session. They sang it in 2018 on their CD The Ox ad the Ax.

Helen Diamond sang Lady Diamond on her 2018 eponymous first album Helen Diamond. She noted:

I initially researched this song out of curiosity at the name—it seemed that any song called Lady Diamond was just asking to be learned and sung by a Diamond. Luckily it turned out to be a good one! The words come from Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads (no. 269). The melody I’ve used is from Bertrand Harris Bronson’s Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads.

Alasdair Roberts sang Lady Eliza on the Furrow Collective’s 2018 album Fathoms. They noted:

Alasdair learnt this ballad, which features in Child’s collection under the title Lady Diamond, from the singing of Winnie Campbell, as featured on the 1965 Topic Records LP The Singing Campbells: Traditions of an Aberdeen Family. The tune used is one of two collected by the Aberdeenshire folklorist Gavin Greig. Apparently the story recounted in the song has mediaeval roots; it forms the basis of the tale of Ghismonda and Guiscardo in Boccaccio’s Decameron.

The Outside Track sang Lady Diamond on their 2018 CD Rise Up. They noted:

This heart-wrenching story is from The Decameron, by Boccaccio (a writer in 14th century Florence) and became very popular in Scotland and England. There was a king with one daughter, in love with someone below her station. In a rage, the king has her lover killed, and in turn, she takes her own life, leaving her father full of regret and loss.

Jim and Susie Malcolm sang Lady Dysie on their 2019 CD The Berries. Jim Malcolm noted:

I plucked this tragic ballad from the singing of Jean Redpath. It starts badly and spirals downhill into a puddle of blood.

Adrienne O’Shea sang Lady Diamond on her 2023 album Threads of Gold. She noted:

I learned this song (Child Ballad 112) from the wonderful Helen Diamond. It is an old story which is derived from Ghismonda and Guiscardo from the Decameron. I thought the powerful and dramatic story behind it was a perfect opener for this album.


Jean Redpath sings Lady Dysie

There was a king and a very great king
And a king o’ muckle fame,
He had a bonny dochter fair,
Lady Dysie was her name.
An’ word’s gane up an’ word’s gane doon
An’ word’s gane tae the king:
Lady Dysie she gans rieht roond aboot
An tae whom they dinnae ken.

When bells were rung and mass was sung
An’ they’re a’ bound tae their rest,
The king’s gane tae Lady Dysie’s bower
But he wasnae a welcome guest.
He’s pu’d the curtains roond an’ roond,
There he sat him doon.
“Oh tell me, Lady Dysie,” he said,
“Wha gars ye gan sae roond?”

“Is it tae a lord, or tae a laird,
Or a baron o’ high degree?
Oh, tell me, Lady Dysie,” he said,
“A n’ I pray ye, dinnae lee.”
“Oh, it’s no tae a lord, and it’s no tae a laird,
Not tae ony barony,
But it’s tae Roger, the kitchen boy,
What cause hae I tae lee?”

He’s ca’d his merry men oot by one,
By one, by twa, by three,
And at last cam’ Roger the kitchen boy,
And he’s dashed him tae a tree.
And he’s ta’en oot that bonny boy’s heart,
Put it in a cup o’gold,
And he’s sent it tae Lady Dysie’s bower
Because she’d been sae bold.

“Fareweel, faither, fareweel, mither,
Fareweel tae pleasure and joy.
He died for me, I’ll die for him,
Though he was but a kitchen boy.
Fareweel faither, fareweel, mither,
Fareweel, my brithers three,
For ye thocht ye had ta’en the life o’ ane
But ye’ve ta’en the lives o’ three.”

Ewan MacColl sing Lady Diamond

There was a king and a noble king,
A king o’ muckle fame,
And he had an only dochter dear,
Lady Diamond was her name.

He had a servant, a kitchie boy,
A lad o’ muckle scorn,
And she loved him lang and she loved him aye
Till the grass o’er-grew the corn.

When twenty weeks were gane and past,
Then she began to greet;
For her petticoat grew short before
And her stays they wadnae meet.

Then it fell oot on a winter’s nicht,
The king could get no rest;
And he has gane by his dochter’s bower
Just like a wandering ghaist.

He’s led her by the milk-white hand
Tae the bed-chamber within;
“What ails ye, lass, that ye look sae wan,
And your apron winna pin?”

“O father dear, upbraid me not,
Dinna tak’ frae me my joy;
For I hae forsaken your high-born lords
Tae marry your kitchie boy.”

“Gae ca’ to me my merry men a’,
By thirty and by three;
Gae fetch to me yon kitchie boy,
We’ll kill him secretly.”

There wasnae ae sound to be heard,
No’ another word was said,
Till they hae got him fast and sure
Between twa feather beds.

They’ve cut the hairt oot o’ his white breast,
Put it in a gowden bowl;
And they’ve gi’en it to his lady dear
That she might her love behold.

“O come to me, my honey, my hairt,
O come to me, my joy;
O come to my, my honey, my hairt,
My ain dear kitchie boy.”

She’s ta’en the heart o’ her ain true love,
And she grat baith lang and sair;
Till the blood was washed by her ain saut tears
And at last she breathed nae mair.

“O where were ye, my good men a’
That took baith meat and fee,
That ye didnae hold my cruel hand
And keep his blood frae me?

“For gane is a’ my heart’s delight,
And gane frae me my joy,
For my bonnie Diamond she is deid
For the love o’ a kitchie boy.”

Steeleye Span sing Lady Diamond

There was a lord, a lord lived in the north country
Who was a man of wealth and fame.
He only had one child, a child but only one,
And Lady Diamond was her name.

She did not love a lord, she did not love a king,
She loved a kitchen boy and William was his name.
And though he brought her joy, he also brought her shame,
And he gave his heart to Lady Diamond.

“And his hair shines like gold,” says Lady Diamond,
“And his eyes like crystal balls,” says Lady Diamond,
“Bright as the silver moon,” she says, bright as the sun that shines,
“Bright as the silver moon,” she says, bright as the sun that shines
On Lady Diamond.

It was a winter night, the lord he got no rest,
To Lady Diamond’s room he came.
And sat down on the bed just like a wandering ghost,
“Now Lady Diamond tell me plain,”

“Do you love a lord,” he said, “or do you love a king?”
“I love a kitchen boy and William is his name.
And better I love that boy than all your well-bred men,
I have his heart,” says Lady Diamond.

“Where are all my men,” he said, “that I pay meat and fee?”
Go fetch the kitchen boy and bring him here to me.”
They dragged him from the house and hung him on a tree
And they gave his heart to Lady Diamond.


Bryony Griffith sings Lady Diamond

There lived a king, and a very great king,
A king of great renown;
And he had a lovely daughter fair,
Lady Diamond was her name, her name,
Lady Diamond was her name.

Now news goes up and news goes down
And news came to the king
That Lady Diamond’s round about,
But to her maid do not care, not care,
But to her maid do not care.

As bells were rung and mess was sung
And all were bound for bed
The King’s come to his daughter’s bower
But he was not welcome there, not there,
But he was not welcome there.

“Rise up, rise up out of your bed,
Rise up, put on your gown,
Come tell to me, my Diamond dear
To whom you go so round, so round,
To whom you go so round.

“Is it a baron or a lord
Or a man of high degree?
Come tell to me, my Diamond dear
And I pray don’t lie to me, to me,
And I pray don’t lie to me.”

“Well it’s not a baron nor a lord
Nor a man of high degree.
But it’s my darling kitchen boy
Where but I lie to thee, to thee,
Where but I lie to thee.”

So the king called up his merry, merry men
By one and by two and by three,
And at last came Robin the kitchen boy
And he dashed him to a tree, a tree,
And he dashed him to a tree.

Then he’s taken out his bonny, bonny heart
Placed in a cup of gold,
And they’ve taken it to Lady Diamond’s bower
All because she was so bold, so bold,
All because she was so bold.

“Adieu, adieu my father dear
And to this world adieu,
My darling Robin’s died for me
I will do the same also, also,
I will do the same also.”

So she’s taken up his bonny, bonny heart
And placed it by her heart
And she’s washed it with her falling tears
And by morning she was dead, was dead,
And by morning she was dead.

Rachel Newton sings Lady Diamond

There was a king, a glorious king,
A king of noble fame,
And he had daughters only one,
Lady Diamond was her name.

He had a boy, a kitchen boy,
A boy of muckle scorn.
She loved him long, she loved him aye,
Til the grass o’ergrew the corn.

It fell upon a winter’s night,
The king could get no rest.
He came onto his daughter dear,
Just like a wandering ghost.

He came unto his daughter dear,
Pulled back the curtains long.
“What aileth thee, my Diamond dear,
I fear you’ve gotten wrong.”

“Oh, if I have, despise me not,
For he is all my joy.
I will forsake both dukes and earls
And marry your kitchen boy.”

“Oh, bring to me my merry men all,
By thirty and by three.
And bring to me my kitchen boy,
We’ll murder him secretly.”

Not a sound into the hall
And ne’er a word was said
Until they had him safe and sure
Between two feather beds.

“Now cut the heart from out of his breast,
Put it in a cup of gold,
And present it to my Diamond dear,
For she was both stout and bold.”

“Oh, come to me, my hinny, my heart,
Oh, come to me my joy.
Oh, come to me, my hinny, my heart,
My father’s kitchen boy.”

She took the cup from out of their hands,
Set it at her bedhead,
Washed it with tears that fell from her eyes;
Next morning she was dead.

“Oh, where were you, my merry men all,
When I gave meat and wage,
That you didn’t stay my cruel hand
When I was in a rage?

“For gone is all my heart’s delight,
Oh, gone is all my joy,
For my dear Diamond, she is dead,
Likewise my kitchen boy.”

Acknowledgements and Links

See also the FolkWorld (Issue #72, July 2020) article Decameron Web: The Child Ballads.

Thanks to Martin Underwood for lyrics corrections and to Bob Askew for help and information.