Thank you, Loy! Hoping I can get her to join me more often. Seems all the beautiful old ballads have heartbreaking stories to them...lol...but the musical part of them is so beautiful you gotta do them. I used to sing old ballads to Annie to help her get to sleep at night back when she was a little tot.
As a Scot it is interesting to hear this song coming from the United States' This song is about Mary Queen of Scots , beheaded by the English in 1583 The four Marys refer to Mary herself and her three handmaidens, all named Mary.
Thanks, Blair...straight from the source! We know lots of old ballads that were supposed to have come from Ireland, Scotland, and England...I'm sure they got changed some being here so long, but that's where so many of our beautiful ballads came from.
I don't mean to tell a Scotsman his business, but from what I can tell the story in this ballad does not correspond to any historical incident. The "four Marys" were the four well born Scottish women who accompanied the young queen as ladies in waiting when she was sent to live in France in 1548. Their actual last names were Beaton, Seaton, Fleming and Livingston. There is no evidence that any of them bore or killed a child, or was punished for such an offense. Mary Stuart was beheaded in 1587 for complex political reasons surrounding the English throne that have nothing to do with this ballad. Her son James did succeed Elizabeth as monarch of England, uniting the two kingdoms. I just finished reading a grisly account of the execution and I think I'll move on to something else. As far as being modified in the US, I don't think this particular ballad was ever very popular over here until Joan Baez recorded it in the 1960's. Jean Ritchie may have known a version, but Cecil Sharp didn't collect it, for example.
Blair, I'd love to hear the Scottish version that you know...do you know of that version floating around anywhere on youtube? I don't know about historical accuracy, but this is the version I've always heard in Kentucky.
Thanks, Anja. I hope to try to get daughter to sing more of the old ballads for me while I fumble around figuring out something to play in the background...lol. It's a fun thing, if I can get her to do it.