Bonnie Annie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"Bonnie Annie" (Child 24, Roud 172) is a folk ballad recorded from the Scottish and English traditions. Scottish texts are often called Bonnie Annie or The Green Banks of Yarrow, English texts are most often called The Banks of Green Willow. Other titles include The Undutiful Daughter, The High Banks O Yarrow, The Watery Grave, Green Willow, There Was a Rich Merchant that Lived in Strathdinah and The Merchant's Daughter.[1][2]

The ballad has been collected from traditional singers in Britain, Ireland, and the USA.[2]


A young woman, either a lord's or a merchant's daughter, in some versions called Annie but often nameless, is seduced by a man who is sometimes a sea captain or a squire, or his occupation isn't mentioned. She falls pregnant. He suggests she steals "some of your father's goodwill and some of your mother's money"[3] In other versions she steals gold from her father. They go aboard a ship. On the voyage she needs "women's help", presumably to help deliver her child, but this is not available. In some variants the ship will not sail, and either the lot falls on Annie or she asks to be thrown overboard "both me and my baby", in others her lover volunteers to throw her and the baby overboard for no apparent reason. He watches her swim, in some versions until she reaches the banks of green willow. He orders her to be buried, either in a coffin made of gold, or in a coffin with golden nails.

"Oh make my love a coffin,
Of the gold that shines yellow,
And she shall be buried
By the banks of green willow."[4]
(Collected from Mrs Overd, Langport, Somerset by Cecil Sharp in 1904.)


The motif of the lots and throwing a person from the ship may be derived from the tale of Jonah. Another ballad featuring these motifs is "Brown Robyn's Confession", (Child 57, Roud 3882).[5]

Early versions[edit]

Broadsides and early printed versions[edit]

Child published two versions, both from Scottish sources.[5] The song doesn't seem to have been printed by broadside publishers.[2]

Versions collected from traditional singers[edit]

The Banks of Green Willow variant was popular with traditional singers across the south of England, where 33 versions were collected in the early twentieth century (14 in Somerset, 8 in Devon). One version was collected in Gloucestershire and another from the Shropshire singer Fred Jordan. 11 versions under various titles were collected in Scotland, one in Ireland and two in the USA, both in Maine.[2] Cecil Sharp reported the song as "very generally sung throughout Somerset".[6]


Field recordings[edit]

There are two wax cylinder recordings of the Hampshire singer David Clements in the British Library Sound Archive, one recorded by George Butterworth, the other by Ralph Vaughan Williams.[7][8] Since one seems to pick up where the other leaves off it seems possible that they were recorded on the same day in 1909. Peter Kennedy recorded Mrs. Maguire of Belfast singing "The Green Banks of Yarrow" variant.[9]

Recordings by revival singers and groups[edit]

This song has frequently been recorded by folk singers including A.L. Lloyd,[10][11] Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger,[12] Nic Jones,[13] Martin Carthy,[14] Tony Rose,[15] Dick Gaughan,[16] Alison McMorland and Peta Webb as The Green Banks of Yarrow,[17] Steve Turner as Bonnie Annie,[18] Patti Reid as Bonnie Annie.[19]

Cultural Influences[edit]

The tune of a version of The Banks of Green Willows collected by George Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams was used by Butterworth in his orchestral piece "The Banks of Green Willow" composed in 1913.


George Ritchie Kinloch, Child's source for one of his versions, states in his notes to "Bonnie Annie" that

"There is a prevalent belief among sea-faring people, that, if a person who has committed any heinous crime be on ship-board, the vessel, as if conscious of its guilty burden, becomes unmanageable, and will not sail till the offender is removed: to discover whom, they usually resort to the trial of those on board, by casting lots; and the individual upon whom the lot falls is declared the criminal, it being believed that Divine Providence interposes in this manner to point out the guilty person."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, "Bonnie Annie"
  2. ^ a b c d Roud Folk Song Index, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website;RoudBS&advqtext=0%7Crn%7C172# Retrieved 2017/03/09
  3. ^ ,Palmer R, (ed); Bushes and Briars, Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams; Llanerch, 1999
  4. ^ Vaughan Williams, R and LLoyd, A L, Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, Harmondsworth, 1959.
  5. ^ a b Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 245, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  6. ^ Vaughan Williams, R., and Lloyd, A. L.; The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).
  10. ^ The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV Riverside RLP 12-627/628 (2 LP, USA, 1956)
  11. ^ Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun; Fellside Recordings FECD240
  12. ^ Popular Scottish Songs Smithsonian Folkways FW08757
  13. ^ Trailer Records LERCD2027
  14. ^ A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs; Fellside Recordings FECD47
  15. ^ Bare Bones; Boneshaker Records BSCD2001
  16. ^ Kist o' Gold;Highway/Trailer Records LER 2103
  17. ^ Alison McMorland & Peta Webb; Topic Records TSDL403
  18. ^ Jigging One Now; Fellside Recordings FE030
  19. ^ Rolling Down to Old Maui Shanties and Songs of the Sea Jolly Jack & Friends Fellside Recordings FECD140
  20. ^ Kinloch, G R; Ancient Scottish Ballads; London; 1827