Willie o Winsbury

Willie o Winsbury

Willie O Winsbury is Child Ballad #100, existing in several variants.[1] It is a traditional Scottish ballad that dates from at least 1775, and is known under a number of different names, including Lord Thomas of Winesberry.


  • Synopsis 1
  • Commentary 2
  • Recordings 3
  • References 4


A king is away for a long time. His daughter becomes pregnant by the hero, William or Thomas. The king threatens to hang him, but is struck by his beauty and offers him the heroine and gold. The hero accepts the lady but declares that he has both gold and lands enough of his own.


This ballad closely parallels Child ballad 99, "Johnie Scot".[2]

In one variants, the lands are specifically described: he will be king when he returns to Scotland. It may, in fact, be based on James V's courtship of and marriage to Madeleine de Valois of France; James came to see the woman he was betrothed to in disguise, and went on to meet the princess, who fell in love with him.[3]

Nowadays the song is often sung to the tune of "Fause Foodrage", rather than its own traditional tune.


This song was first recorded by Sweeney's Men on their eponymous debut album in 1968, sung by Andy Irvine accompanying himself on guitar. At the time, Johnny Moynihan stated on the sleeve notes: "A ballad for which Andy is renowned. He got the text from Child's 'English And Scottish Ballads'; looking up the tune he got his numbers confused and emerged with the wrong air. By chance it suited the song very well".[4] In 2010, Irvine re-recorded the song with a fuller arrangement of the same tune on his album Abocurragh, adding: "This is Child 100. I collected the words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story".[5]

The song "Farewell, Farewell" recorded by Fairport Convention on their album Liege and Lief in 1969 features new lyrics (written by Richard Thompson) set to the "Fause Foodrage" tune now commonly used for "Willie O' Winsbury". A recording of "Willie O' Winsbury" played and sung by Thompson was included in his compilation boxset RT.

Barbara Dickson recorded this song as "Lord Thomas Of Winesberry And The King's Daughter" on her album From The Beggar's Banquet ... Fringed With Gold, published 1970.

John Renbourn recorded this song on his album Faro Annie in 1971.

Anne Briggs recorded the song in 1971, accompanied by Johnny Moynihan, for her album Anne Briggs.

The song was recorded by Pentangle in 1972, on their album Solomon's Seal.

John Goodluck sings "Willie O' Winsbury" on his 1974 album The Suffolk Miracle.

Tony Capstick sings "Sir Thomas of Winesberry" on his 1974 album His Round, with Hedgehog Pie ("Stolen from Peter Wood").

Dick Gaughan originally recorded this song in 1978 on his album Gaughan and re-released it in 2002 on Prentice Piece.

This song was sung by Connie Dover and is found on her 1994 album The Wishing Well.

Tony Rose sings "Tom the Barber" on his 1999 album Bare Bones.

Frankie Armstrong sings "Thomas of Welshbury" on her 2000 album The Garden of Love.

Nic Jones sings "William of Winsbury" on his 2001 compilation album Unearthed.

The Great Big Sea song "John Barbour", on their 2004 Something Beautiful* CD, is based on this ballad.

Meg Baird of Espers recorded the song for her 2007 album Dear Companion.

Nathan Rogers recorded this song on his 2009 release The Gauntlet.

Kate Rusby sings a variant of this song, entitled "John Barbury", to the tune of "Fause Foodrage" on her 2007 album Awkward Annie.

The song is included on the 2010 album The View From a Hill by The Owl Service.

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer perform this song on Child Ballads, released in 2013. This version won the best Traditional Song at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Snorri Helgason recorded this song on their 2013 release Autumn Skies.


  1. ^ Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, "Willie o Winesberry"
  2. ^ Francis James Child (1965) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 2, p 377, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  3. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 2, p 398-9, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  4. ^ Sleeve notes from Sweeney's Men LP, Transatlantic Records Ltd, TRA SAM 37, 1968.
  5. ^ Sleeve notes from Andy Irvine - Abocurragh, Andy Irvine AK-3, 2010.