From the album Two To Get Ready
Traditional, revised by Robert Burns
Mark Clavey: vocals, guitar
Mary Hanover: lead vocals, hammered dulcimer
Rachel Gaither-Vaughan: vocals, fiddle
There are two distinct flavors of this ballad… “Georgy”, a (blander) flavor that takes place in London where a fair maid laments for her deer-thieving Georgy. The other (heartier) flavor takes place in Scotland where (according to George Kinloch, “Ancient Scottish Ballads”, 1827) George Gordon, fourth Earl of Huntly, is blamed for the killing of Sir Charlie Hay, and is taken prisoner and ransomed. Our version (#358, from "The Complete Works Of Robert Burns") sees the Lady Gordon ride to Edinburgh with a contingent of Gordons ready to spill blood for the life of Geordie. Geordie is an English song about a disproportionate punishment for a crime which evolved from a Scottish song about a frame-up. The historical basis of the ballad is much disputed. Some suggest it is based on the life of George Gordon (1512-1562), fourth Earl of Huntly and son of Margaret Stewart, an "illegitimate" daughter of James IV. George Gordon was imprisoned in 1554 for failing to execute a commission against a Highland robber. He was threatened with death but was fined and freed. However, according to James Kinsley's second edition of *The Oxford Book of Ballads*, Geordie may have been the sixth Earl of Huntly who rose against James VI in 1589, was imprisoned as a traitor, and later freed. But a blackletter broadside (a 17th or early 18th century ballad sheet in Old English/Gothic type) names Geordie as George Stoole of Northumberland who was executed in 1610. Whatever the origin may be, the song has gone through the inevitable 'Chinese whispers' oral process to reach its current forms. Geordie is now found guilty of stealing either sixteen of the king's white steeds or sixteen of his wild, white, fat or royal deer or indeed the lord judge's deer or five pearls, he sold them either in Bohenny or in the army or in a hurry, and his true love has an alarming variation in the number of pretty babies that she has got, though she always has a bun in the oven.
There was a battle in the north. The nobles there were many. And they hae kill’d Sir Charlie Hay, and they laid the wyte on Geordie. And he has written a lang letter, and sent it tae his lady – “Ye maun cum up to Enbrugh town tae see what words o’ Geordie.”
When first she look’d the letter on, she was baith red and rosy. She had na read a word but twa till she wallow’t like a lily. “Gar get to me my gude grey steed, my menzie a’ gae wi’ me. And I shall neither eat nor drink till Enbrugh town shall see me.” She has mountit her gude grey steed, her menzie a’ gaed wi’ her. And she did neither eat nor drink till Enbrugh town did see her.
And first appear’d the fatal block, and syne the aix to head him, then Geordie cam’ down the stair wi’ bands o airn upon him. Tho’ he was chain’d in fetters strang, o’ airn and steel sae heavy, there was na man in a’ the court, sae braw a man as Geordie. She’s down on her bended knee, I wat she’s pale and weary, “O pardon, pardon, noble king, and gie me back my Dearie.”
“Gar bid the headin’-man mak haste!” the king reply’d fu’ lordly. “O noble king, tak a’ that’s mine, but gie me back my Geordie.” The Gordons cam, the Gordons ran, and they were stark and steady, and aye the word amang them a’ was, “Gordons get you ready.” An aged lord at the king’s right hand says, “Noble king, but hear me – Let her tell down five thousand pound and gie her back her Dearie.” Some gae her marks, some gae her crowns, some gae her dollars many. and she’s tell’d down five thousand pound, and gotten again her Dearie.
She’s blinkit blythe in her Geordie’s face, says, “Dear I bought thee, Geordie. But there sud been bluidy bouks on the green, or I had tint my laddie.” He’s claspit her by the middle sma’, and kissed her lips sae rosy. “The fairest flower o’ woman-kind is my sweet, bonie Lady!”