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Heir of Linne

[ Roud 111 ; Child 267 ; G/D 2:273 ; Ballad Index C267 ; trad.]

Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs

Ewan MacColl sang The Heir o’ Lynne in 1956 on the Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume III. He also included this ballad in his 1965 book Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland.

Maddy Prior sang Heir of Linne on Steeleye Span’s 2004 CD They Called Her Babylon. She noted:

I have the mighty Martin Carthy to thank for directing me to this song. I spent a wonderful weekend last summer listening to him play and talk about ballads and he was waxing lyrical about this one, and in his generous way was enthusiastic for me to develop a version of it. For me, it encapsulates the image of the Dark Night of the Soul, when all is gone and despair drowns any hope. Only then is there a change in fortune. It would take a wisdom and ruthlessness that most of us don’t possess to carry through the plan of the father.


Maddy Prior sings Heir of Linne

The bonny heir and the well-faired heir,
The handsome heir of Linne,
Yonder he stands at his father’s gate
And nobody bids him in.
See where he goes and see where he stands,
The weary heir of Linne,
Yonder he stands on the cold causeway
And nobody bids him in.

He’s sold his father’s estate and land,
He’s sold it on a day.
Within three quarters of a year
He’s not one brass penny.
For he has drunk of the wine so clear,
Good company spent his gold.
And now he wanders on the shore
Hungry, wet and cold.

His nurse at her window she looked out,
Beholding dale and down.
And there she saw this sad young man
Come walking to the town.
“Come here, come here my child,” she said,
“And rest yourself with me.
I’ve seen you in much better days
In jovial company.”

“Give me a slice of your bread, Nursey,
And a bottle of your wine.
I’ll pay you for it o’er again
When I’m the Lord of Linne.”
“You’ll get a slice of my bread, my child,
And a bottle of my wine.
But pay me when the seas run dry,
You’ll never be Lord of Linne.”

Then he has turned him right about
As any mother’s son.
So off he has set and found his way
And straightway came to Linne.
But when he came to the castle strong
They were all sat down to dine.
A score of nobles there he saw,
Sat drinking at the wine.

Some said, “Give him the beef, the beef,”
Some said, “Give him the bone.”
And some said, “Give him nothing at all
But let the beggar roam.”
Then up and spake the new-come lord,
A saucy word spoke he,
“Pass round the cup, let my rival sup,
Then send him on his way.”

He’s turned him right and round about
As any father’s son.
He’s reminded of a leaden key
His father left with him.
His father left a meagre key
Just before he died,
He bade him keep it secretly
Till he was most in need.

The forth he went, these nobles left
All drinking in the hall.
And he has found a bolted door
Below the castle wall.
The key has opened up the door
Wherein lies all his hope,
But where he thought to find good gold
There stood a gibbet and rope.

Under the rope was placed a stool
All covered o’er with dust,
The father had condemned the son,
His sentence it was just.
The son he sighed, stood on the stool,
Never a word he spoke
But as he jumped to eternity
Down the gibbet broke.

It broke and cracked above his head,
He landed on the floor.
And round him rolling, shining bright,
Was a hidden golden store.

“Oft have I gone with bitter cold feet,
Likewise with legs all bare,
And many days walked at these gates
With sad sorrow and care.
But now my sorrow’s past and gone,
Joy has all returned,
Now that I have gold enough
To buy my lands again.”

As he galloped back through town,
He jubilantly crowed,
And he’s called out before them all
The nurse from out her house.

“Come here, come here my nurse,” he said,
“I’ll pay you bread and wine.
Seas ebb and flow as they will,
Yet I’m the Lord of Linne.”

He’s gone up the Gallowgate port
In tatty hose and gown,
But he was carried by fifteen lords
When he came back down.