April 12, 2010

The Ballad of Lady Margaret and William: A Short History with Song Lyrics

Many people have come to love the song Lady Margaret, most recently performed by Cassie Franklin. You might have heard it on the Cold Mountain CD. I absolutely love that version, even though it did not make it into the movie. The song originated in Scotland in the early 1600s. It later was taken to America where it, along with a lot of other songs, was sung in the Appalachian region. The songs were played in the region with very little outside influence until the songs morphed and changed with each performer until the original songs and the Appalachian songs shared only common themes. (If I was an anthropologist, I would call this: Parallel Evolution. :D)

The songs share similar lyrics and themes but most of them are different enough to warrant being completely different songs. The varieties are really interesting to follow and it’s neat because it’s as if the story never ends.
Some Good Versions and Variations of the story of Lady Margaret and Sweet William can be listened to below:

Lady Margaret (Ghost Story) is a good version similar to some of these.
Lady Margaret by Buffy Sainte-Marie, This one is similar to the Cassie Franklin Version, this was recorded in 1966. 
Lady Margaret: by Trees from 1970
Lady Margaret and Sweet William by Shirley Collins
Fair Margaret and Sweet William by June Tabor in 2003

Sweet William's Ghost by Kate Rusby in 2003

Read the Lyrics of Fair Margaret and Sweet William which is most similar to the Cold Mountain Version. This is an excerpt from English and Scottish Ballads, read the rest here.

I hope this song and the stories pull you in as they have me. It is a very grisly-sweet story, a dark romantic one , it has the same kind of feel as Wuthering Heights. I was surprised to see how many newer versions of the song there was. There seemed to be a revival of the song in the 1970s as well as another in 2003 (when Cold Mountain was released.) I'm glad this song has stood the test of time--It has been performed for over 400 years! I hope people continue to record new versions. Are there any other historical songs that entrap you like this one?  


  1. I really like the June Tabor version. The story is really creepy. I thought that the song was originally written for cold mountain. i'm really excited to know that there are other versions. I love your blog. I re-enact too!

  2. I really like that version too, I guess I should have said that in the post. I really like the piano playing. Thanks for commenting!


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