Willie's Lady

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Willie's Lady is Child ballad number 6[1] and Roud #220.

A variant of this ballad was one of 25 traditional works included in Ballads Weird and Wonderful (1912) and illustrated by Vernon Hill.


Willie has married against his mother's will. She, being a rank witch, has bewitched his wife so that she can not be delivered of her child. He attempts to bribe her with gold, and she tells him his wife will die and he will marry elsewhere. The household sprite Billy Blind tells him to make up a wax dummy of a baby and invite his mother to the christening. The mother came to see and, on seeing the wax figure, burst into a rage, demanding to know who had undone each charm she had put. Willie hurried and undoes them himself, and his wife gives birth.


This ballad is found in several Scandinavian variants, with various charms laid by the witch; sometimes she could not enchant one location in the house, and when the woman in labour is moved there, the baby is born. The woman may be kept in labour for years by the magic; frequently, she dies, and her sons are born eight years old and swearing to avenge her.[2]

In Greek mythology, the birth of Heracles was similarly delayed, by the goddess of childbirth keeping her hands folded. Galanthis, Alcmene's servant, told the goddess that Alcmene had given birth, and surprised her into unfolding her hands.[3] This form of startling the mother-in-law into allowing the baby's birth is found in Italian fairy tales; usually it is done by announcing the birth,[4] but in The King of Love, the baby's father feigns death, and his sisters mourn him, to the same effect.

Italian musician Angelo Branduardi played this tune to talk about Gulliver's Travels in his album Gulliver, La luna e Altri Disegni.


Martin Carthy performs this song on his 1976 album Crown Of Horn

Ray Fisher recorded the song on her 1982 album of the same title Willie's Lady

Neofolk artist Sharon Knight has recorded this song under the title King Willie on the album Song of the Sea (2004).

Vocal harmony trio Lady Maisery recorded a version of this song entitled Willie's Lady on their first album, Weave and Spin (2011).

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer perform this song on Child Ballads (2013).


  1. ^ Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, "Willie's Lady"
  2. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 83-4, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  3. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 84, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  4. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 85, Dover Publications, New York 1965