[1959:] This ballad, No. 209 in Child, is well-known both in England and Scotland. The Scottish sets differ considerably from the English ones, for in them the hero is not a thief but a nobleman, thought by some scholars to be George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, who suffered royal displeasure when he showed clemency towards a Highland robber in 1554. In the English versions, which may be re-makes of the Scottish, the main character is always an outlaw. An old black-letter ballad names him as George Stoole of Northumberland, who was executed in 1610; but even in its 'robber' form (if that is the more recent) the song probably pre-dates the seventeenth century. [...] Geordie has been found in oral tradition also in Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Somerset, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and Dorset, and Yorkshire. (EFS114)
[1964:] The "Geordie" of this old Scottish ballad [...] is supposed to have been an actual person, presumably George Gordon, the fourth Earl of Huntly (circa 1554). He was imprisoned by the crown on a political charge and sentenced to die, but he was eventually released. There are many versions of the old ballad, particularly in America, some of which report Geordie's release, some his death. (Reprint Sing Out 7, 53)
[1976:] It is often said that the English version of Geordie is a later copy of the Scottish song about George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, who was imprisoned and threatened with death in 1554 for "failing to execute a commission against a Highland robber". The motive was obviously political and in the end a fine was exacted and he was freed. A later song called The Life and Death of George of Oxford, while being superficially a copy of the Scots one, at least in part, also seems to me to be an attempt to tart up and bring up to date something else. The "something else" being the English version of an idea with, maybe, two distinct strains. It is a gritty, passionate little song with the sting of rage in its tail, and one is tempted to suggest that English versions which have survived - some are still current - could be that "something else" possibly used as the model for George of Oxford. Learned from John Pearse many years ago, I really determined to sing it on hearing a recording of Mrs Louisa Hooper made by Dr Maud Karpeles in about 1941 and deposited in the BBC Sound Archives. (Notes Martin Carthy, 'Crown of Horn')
[1979:] Bohenny [= Bohemia, acc. to Palmer's notes]. The judge looked over his left shoulder - ["over his right shoulder" would have been] a good sign, since the right is associated with good, and therefore with mercy. Since this was not possible, the judge turned to the (literally and figuratively) sinister side, and confirmed the sentence.
While some songs accurately reflect historical conditions and events, others are more concerned with emotional than with factual truth. A ballad called Georgie or Geordie, very widely known until recent times in both Britain and America, is really two separate narratives, albeit with a number of similarities, both in substance and terminology. The Scottish ballad tells of Geordie being saved from the scaffold in Edinburgh on the payment by his wife of a ransom. It is said to refer to George, Earl of Huntly, who, after failing on a mission for the Queen Regent of Scotland in 1554, was imprisoned and subjected to the forfeiture of his estates, but afterwards restored to favour.
The English variety also tells of a wife's travelling on an errand of mercy, this time to Newcastle. George Stoole, alias Skelton, alias Stowell, who is said to have inspired this ballad, was executed at Newcastle in 1610 for stealing horses and cattle. Street ballads on the event appeared almost immediately afterwards, passed into oral circulation, and continued to be sung for some three centuries. (Palmer, Country 85)