Mary Hamilton

The Queen's Marie

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From Child, Vol. 6, Border Minstrelsy

Marie Hamilton's to the kirk gane,
Wi ribbons in her hair;
The king thought mair o Marie Hamilton,
Than ony that were there.

2. Marie Hamilton's to the kirk gane,
Wi ribbons on her breast;
The king thought mair o Marie Hamilton,
Than he listend to the priest.

3. Marie Hamilton's to the kirk gane,
Wi gloves upon her hands;
The king thought mair o Marie Hamilton,
Than the queen and a' her lands.

4. She hadna been about the king's court
A month, but barely one,
Till she was beloved by a' the king's court,
And the king the only man.

5. She hadna been about the king's court
A month, but barely three,
Till frae the king's court Marie Hamilton,
Marie Hamilton durst na be.

6. The king is to the Abbey gane,
To pu the Abbey tree,
To scale the babe frae Marie's heart;
But the thing it wadna be.

7. O she has rowd it in her apron,
And set it on the sea:
"Gae sink ye, or swim ye, bonny babe,
Ye's get na mair o me."

8. Word is to the kitchen gane,
And word is to the ha,
And word is to the noble room,
Amang the ladyes a',
That Marie Hamilton's brought to bed,
And the bonny babe's mist and awa.

9. Scarcely had she lain down again,
And scarcely faen asleep,
When up then started our gude queen,
Just at her bed-feet,
Saying "Marie Hamilton, where's your babe?
For I am sure I heard it greet."

10. "O no, O no, my noble queen!
Think no such thing to be!
'Twas but a stitch into my side,
And sair it troubles me."

11. "Get up, get up, Marie Hamilton,
Get up, and follow me,
For I am going to Edinburgh town,
A rich wedding for to see."

12. O slowly, slowly raise she up,
And slowly put she on;
And slowly rode she out the way,
Wi mony a weary groan.

13. The queen was clad in scarlet,
Her merry maids all in green;
And every town that they cam to,
They took Marie for the queen.

14. "Ride hooly, hooly, gentlemen,
Ride hooly now wi' me!
For never, I am sure, a wearier burd
Rade in your cumpanie."

15. But little wist Marie Hamilton,
When she rade on the brown,
That she was ga'en to Edinburgh town,
And a' to be put down.

16. "Why weep ye so, ye burgess-wives,
Why look ye so on me?
O, I am going to Edinburgh town,
A rich wedding for to see!"

17. When she gaed up the Tolbooth stairs,
The corks frae her heels did flee;
And lang or eer she cam down again,
She was condemned to die.

18. When she cam to the Netherbow Port,
She laughed loud laughters three;
But when she cam to the gallows-foot,
The tears blinded her ee.

19. "Yestreen the queen had four Maries,
The night she'll hae but three;
There was Marie Seaton, and Marie Beaten,
And Marie Carmichael, and me.

20. "O, often have I dressd my queen,
And put gold upon her hair;
But now I've gotten for my reward
The gallows to be my share.

21. "Often have I dressd my queen,
And often made her bed:
But now I've gotten for my reward
The gallows-tree to tread.

22. "I charge ye all, ye mariners,
When ye sail ower the faem,
Let neither my father nor mother get wit,
But that I'm coming hame.

23. "I charge ye all, ye mariners,
That sail upon the sea,
Let neither my father nor mother get wit,
This dog's death I'm to die.

24. "For if my father and mother got wit,
And my bold brethren three,
O mickle wad be the gude red blude,
This day wad be spilt for me!

25. "O little did my mother ken,
The day she cradled me,
The lands I was to travel in,
Or the death I was to die!"


A made-up copy from Scott's edition of 1833. This ballad has caused a great deal of controversy. Queen Mary had no Mary Hamilton among her Four Maries. No Marie was executed for child-murder. But we know, from Knox, that ballads were recited against the Maries, and that one of the Mary's chamberwomen was hanged, with her lover, a pottinger, or apothecary, for getting rid of her infant. These last facts were certainly quite basis enough for a ballad, the ballad echoing, not history, but rumour, and rumour adapted to the popular taste. Thus the ballad might have passed unchallenged, as a survival, more or less modified in time, of Queen Mary's period. But in 1719 a Mary Hamilton, a Maid of Honour, of Scottish descent, was executed in Russia, for infanticide. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe conceived that this affair was the origin of the ballad, and is followed by Mr. Child. We reply:

(1) The ballad has almost the largest number of variants on record. This is a proof of antiquity. Variants so many, differing in all sorts of points, could not have arisen between 1719, and the age of Burns, who quotes the poem.

(2) This is especially improbable, because, in 1719, the old vein of ballad poetry had run dry, popular song had chosen other forms, and no literary imitator could have written Mary Hamilton in 1719.

(3) There is no example of a popular ballad in which a contemporary event, interesting just because it is contemporary, is thrown back into a remote age.

(4) The name, Mary Hamilton, is often NOT given to the heroine in variants of the ballad. She is of several names and ranks in the variants.

(5) As Mr. Child himself remarked, the "pottinger" of the real story of Queen Mary's time occurs in one variant. There was no "pottinger" in the Russian affair.

All these arguments, to which others might be added, seem fatal to the late date and modern origin of the ballad, and Mr. Child's own faith in the hypothesis was shaken, if not overthrown. - From "A Collection of Ballads" by Andrew Lang.

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