Henry's Songbook

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The Gypsy Laddie


  • (Trad - Child #200)

    Three gypsies cam to oor ha' door
    And oh but they sang bonnie o
    They sang sae sweet and sae complete
    They stole the heart o' a lady o

    When she cam trippin' doon the stair
    Her maidens twa before her o
    They took one look at her weel-faured face
    And they cast their spells a' aboot her o

    She's cast aff her bonnie silk goon
    Put on her tartan plaidie o
    She gathered roon' her maidens twa
    Bid fareweel to the lady o

    When her good lord cam hame that night
    He was speirin' for his lady o
    The hounds has run and the hawks has flown
    And the gypsy's awa' wi' yer lady o

    Gae saddle tae me my bonnie black horse
    The broon was ne'er sae speedy o
    For I will neither eat nor drink
    Till I win back the hand o' my lady o

    Oh they rade east and they rade west
    And they rade through Strathbogie o
    There they spied the bonnie lass
    She was following the gypsy laddie o

    Will ye gie up your house and your land
    Will ye gie up your baby o
    Will ye gie up your ain wedded lord
    Tae follow the gypsy laddie o

    It's I'll gie up my hoose and my land
    And I'll gie up my baby o
    I made a vow and I'll keep it through
    Tae follow my gypsy laddie o

    There are seven brothers o' us a'
    And oh but we were bonnie o
    This very night we all shall be hanged
    For the stealin' o' the earl's lady o

    He sent for a hangman oot o' Fife
    And anither one oot o' Kirkcaldy o
    And ain by ain he's laid them doon
    For the stealin' o' his lady o

    Last night I lay on a fine feather bed
    Wi' my guid lord there beside me o
    This night I maun lie in the cauld cauld clay
    Wi' the gypsies lyin' aroond me o

As sung by Alex Campbell

The Gypsy Rover or The Whistlin' Gypsy


  • (Leo Maguire)

    Ah-de-do, ah-de-do-da-day,
    Ah-de-do, ah-de-da-ay
    He whistled and sang till the green wood rang,
    And he won the heart of a lady

    The gypsy rover came over the hill
    Down through the valley so shady
    He whistled and sang till the green wood rang
    And he won the heart of a lady

    She left her father's castle gate
    She left her own true lover
    She left her servants and her estate
    To follow the gypsy rover

    Her father saddled his fastest steed
    Roamed the valley all over
    Sought his daughter at great speed
    And the whistling gypsy rover

    He came at last to a mansion fine
    Down by the river Clady
    There was music and there was wine
    For the gypsy and his lady

    He's no gypsy, my father, said she
    But lord of these lands all over
    I shall stay till my dying day
    With my whistling gypsy rover

As sung by The Ian Campbell Folk Group

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • [1880:] An old tradition which fixed the incident mentioned in the ballad on the Cassilis family is historically inaccurate. According to this legend, Lady Jean Hamilton, daughter of the Earl of Haddington, was forced to marry John, Earl of Cassilis, who is described as a grim Covenanter, while her preference was for Sir John Faa, of Dunbar. Some years later the Countess was married, and after she had a family to the Earl of Cassilis, her husband attended the Assembly of Divines at Westminster. While he was from home, Faa appeared at Cassilis Castle disguised as a gipsy, and having several of the tribe along with him. The lady, it is said, eloped with her former lover, but had not got far away when the Earl returned and, with a body of retainers, started in pursuit, capturing the fugitives, and hanging Sir John and his followers on a tree. The lady was afterwards, it is said, confined for life in a house at Maybole, which had a staircase on which was carved a set of heads, the effigies of Sir John Faa and his troop of gipsies. As I have said, there is not a particle of evidence in favour of this story. On the contrary, there are letters in existence written by the Countess to her husband after these events were supposed to have taken place, which prove that husband and wife were on the most loving terms. (Ord, Glasgow Weekly Herald, May 15)

  • [1956:] Here is a story essentially romantic, without tragic consequences - at least, in recent tradition. The central parts of this song are generally well preserved, and the tale loses little, where it is remembered at all. [...] only occasionally is it elaborated with details of her enticement, her thoughts of her children, his commands and threats, and the last farewells. The English forms as a rule have no refrain, but the American are likely to repeat the second half of the stanza or even to add a separable and rather extended jingling refrain that often becomes a full-fledged burden, lending a good deal to the high-spirited lyricism of the song. (Bronson, Ballad 166)

  • [1958:] Johnny Faa is a common title for the Gypsy Laddie. The trouble is that it is known with many different tunes. Gavin Greig, for example, printed, among others, one with the melody better known as Wae's Me For Charlie [...]. The story is a well-known one, and is not confined to Scotland. It appears in England as The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies and in America as Gypsy Davy. In Scotland the lady is always associated with the Scottish family of Cassilis, but not, I believe, with any historical justification. [Lyrics Three Gypsies] (Norman Buchan, Weekly Scotsman, Sep 11)

  • [1963:] Many folkies mistakenly regard [The Gypsy Rover] as a traditional song. Though it is clearly based on the Gypsy Davy family of songs (Child 200), it is actually a modern composition by Irish songwriter Leo Maguire. (Reprint Sing Out 5, 283)

  • [1967:] On slender evidence the lady who ran off with the three (or was it seven?) draggletailed gypsies has been identified as the Earl of Cassilis' wife who died in 1631. [...] The fact is, well substantiated or ill, this kind of historical attribution tells us nothing essential about the ballads. Many of their personages are real-life characters, but what of that? (Lloyd, England 129)

  • [1969:] The idea of a wife being taken by the gypsies is as old as the gypsies themselves. I have taken the liberty of filling the story out by plundering different versions. (Notes Martin Carthy, 'Prince Heathen')

  • [1975:] Other versions call the gypsy Johnny Faa, which was a common family name among the Romany folk of the 16th and 17th centuries. (Faber Book of Ballads)

  • [1977:] Variously known as 'Johnny Faa', 'Davie Faw', 'Gypsy Davy', 'The Egyptian Laddy', 'Johnnie Gad' and 'Lady Cassilis Lilt'. Legend has it that the ballad chronicles an actual incident. The sixth earl of Doon whose seat was Cassilis House in Ayrshire was married to Lady Jean Hamilton who, in turn, loved Sir John Fall (Johnnie Faa). Sir John led a band of sixteen men in the abduction of Lady Jean. All sixteen were caught and hanged on the 'Dool Tree' in 1643. (Notes Alex Campbell, 'Traditional Ballads of Scotland')

  • [1979:] When the gypsies arrived in Northern Europe at the close of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries, after their fabulous thousand-year-long migration from North-West India, they were at first greeted by the populace and the authorities with awe and even with reverence; then, usually within a year or so, the authorities rumbled them, and they started getting hanged. Nowhere is this pattern better illustrated than in Scotland. In a document of 1540 James V recognized John Faw (Faa) as "Lord and Earl of Little Egypt"; the following year, by an act of the Lords of Council, "Egyptians" [i.e. gypsies] are ordered to quit the realm within thirty days on pain of death. In the 17th century, as McRitchie points out in his "Scottish Gypsies under the Stewarts", it was a capital crime in Scotland to be a gypsy; [...]

    The Gypsy Laddies is one of the most widely known and sung classic ballads, in America as well as in the British Isles - Bronson prints no less than 128 items under this heading - but there are good grounds for believing that it does in fact reflect the turbulent history of the gypsies in Scotland. Even if, respecting judgment, one disregards the extremely strong and deeply-rooted Ayrshire tradition connecting the ballad with the noble house of Cassilis, the circumstantial evidence suggesting that the ballad originated in Scotland is overwhelming. (Hamish Henderson, notes 'The Muckle Sangs', Scottish Tradition, vol. 5)

  • [1979:] Peter Hall collected [our version] from Jessie McDonald of McDuff as The German Laddies. By mistake Jessie sang the first half of the song to the tune of a song she had sung earlier. Peter preferred the mistaken tune to the original and decided to use it when he came to perform it himself. (Notes 'Cilla & Artie Trezise')

  • [1980:] The earliest texts date from the eighteenth century; later versions [...] omit both the spell at the beginning and the hangings at the end: the heroine has become (to use current jargon) merely a romantic 'drop-out'. (Palmer, Ballads 118)

  • german [1983:] Hier ist ein Lied, von dem in England, Schottland und Irland viele verschiedene Varianten mit Titeln wie Gypsy Laddie oder Seven Yellow Gypsies existieren. Offenkundig sind auch Ähnlichkeiten mit Liedern wie z. B. Roving Ploughboy u. a. Manchmal endet der Zigeuner in der jeweiligen Geschichte am Galgen, weil er die Frau des Lords entführte. (Walton 118)

  • [1984:] [My version comes from] the singing of the late John Reilly from Boyle, Co. Roscommon. There are literally hundreds of versions of this song worldwide, some of which are very well known, like The Whistling Gypsy or The Ballad of Gypsy Daly, but this, I think, is one of the outstanding versions. I started singing it around 1969. (Christy Moore Song Book 20)

  • [1986:] The Skene MSS (c. 1630) contains the earliest known text of this ballad. Its theme is one that lends itself to adaptation and relocation, a fact borne out by its many fine North American variants. An Irish version popularised on radio and television by a well-known singing group [Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem?] has tended to become the form of the ballad standard in Britain. During the last decade we have recorded five sets of the ballad from traditional singers, four of which agree in text and melody with the broadcast version.
    A current parody [by Miles Wootton] circulating in British folk-clubs adds emphasis to the ballad's widespread popularity:

    Go fill up the tank of the 4-litre Jag
    For the Mini is not so speedy-O
    And I will drive till I find her alive
    Or dead with the hippies and the beatniks-O

    What makes you leave your house and your car
    The washing-machine and the telly-O
    Your children three (not to mention me)
    To go with the hippies and the beatniks-O

    ['The Hippies and the Beatniks-O'; for the rest of the words see, 18/07/2001] (MacColl/Seeger, Doomsday 176f)

  • [1987:] Different versions of individual traditional songs tend to emphasize different aspects of a given story. Within an apparently straightforward framework, there is enormous scope for individual variation and creativity. I have never been able to decide how best to finish this song, but over the years I have inclined towards alternative (1)

    And it was there they lay by the river clear
    All for to bask themselves in the sunshine-o .

    However, of late I have wondered if the starker conclusion of alternative (2)

    And they were hanged one by one
    For a-stealing away his lady-o

    is not the better one. (Carthy, Guitar 17)

  • [1992:] Dorothy Scarborough in her "Song Catcher from the Southern Mountains" says that in the earliest edition of the ballad, the gypsy is called Johnny Faa, a name common among gypsies. When the gypsies were banished from Scotland in 1624, Johnny Faa disobeyed the decree and was hanged. (DC, UWP Archive,

    [2001:] Meanwhile, those who want to hear an alternate version of the story should look for Heather Alexander's "Black Jack's Lady." (Dan,, 30 Jul)

  • See also (for Gypsy Rover) (for Black Jack Davy)

Quelle: Scotland / Ireland

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