Geordie (ballad)

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"Geordie" is Child ballad 209, existing in many variants.

Synopsis[edit]

The "Geordie" of the title is taken for a crime, to hang; it may be rebellion, murder, horse-stealing, or poaching deer. His wife (or lady) goes to appeal for his life, sometimes refusing offers to marry her, once widowed, along the way.

She pleads for his life, mentioned the children she had borne him, usually seven, or twelve; she may still be pregnant with the youngest, or the youngest has never seen his father. In some versions, a ransom is set, and many people give her money, which adds up to enough to buy his life. In others, the wife's attempts are in vain and he is executed.

Text[edit]

As I walked out over London bridge
one misty morning early
I overheard a fair pretty maid
was lamenting for her Geordie
Ah my Geordie will be hanged in a golden chain
This is not the chain of many
he was born of king's royal breed
and lost to a virtuous lady
Go bridle me my milk white steed,
go bridle me my pony,
I will ride to London's court
to plead for the life of Geordie
Ah my Geordie never stole nor cow nor calf
he never hurted any
Stole sixteen of the king's royal deer,
and he sold them in Bohenny.
Two pretty babies have I born
the third lies in my body
I'd freely part with them every one
if you'd spare the life of Geordie
The judge looked over his left shoulder
he said fair maid I'm sorry
he said fair maid you must be gone
for I cannot pardon Geordie.
Ah my Geordie will be hanged in a golden chain
This is not the chain of many
Stole sixteen of the king's royal deer,
and he sold them in Bohenny.

Adaptations[edit]

One of the earliest recorded versions is by Joan Baez, who included a live performance of the song on her first live album in 1962. The Baez version makes it clear that Geordie's crime was poaching the King's deer, for which the penalty was hanging with a silken rope. It has also been recorded by Ewan MacColl, John Jacob Niles, Doc Watson, Sandy Denny, A. L. Lloyd, Julie Felix, and the British folk rock band Trees, Silly Sisters (band) and Shirley Collins. More recently, Emilie Autumn performed it in live.

The ballad became very popular in Italy thanks to Fabrizio de André who translated the ballad into Italian, and this version was later reinterpreted by the folk band Mercanti di Liquore and the dj Gabry Ponte.

In September 1965, the ballad was adapted in French by Claude François on his EP "Dona Dona".

Danish band Gasolin recorded an adaptation in 1971 heavily inspired by Baez' rendition. "London Bridge" was translated into "Langebro" - the title of the track. The setting shifts from London to 20th century Copenhagen, though the overall sombre mood of the song remains intact.

Geography[edit]

In terms of geography, there are four versions. The Scottish variants mention Geordie being rescued from the scaffold in Edinburgh. This may refer to George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly. One English version mentions Newcastle. This may refer to George Stools, executed in 1610. There are some versions that mention the town "Boheny", but this has never been satisfactorily located. There is a hamlet called Bohenie near Roybridge. Another English version has the execution taking place in London, and the culprit is the Earl of Oxford. The story of the Earl of Oxford was printed in the seventeenth century. The last version is the Danish version taking place in Copenhagen, performed by Gasolin. The Danish title is Langebro.

See also[edit]

Recordings[edit]

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer perform this song on Child Ballads (album), released in 2013.

References[edit]

External links[edit]