The Twa Sisters
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John Renfro Davis

Twa Sisters first appears on a broadside in 1656 as The Miller and the King's Daughter. Variants and alternate titles include: The Cruel Sister, The Bonnie Milldams of Binnorie, The Bonny Bows o' London, Binnorie and Sister, Dear Sister. Child has 21 versions of lyrics for the tune. The ballad also appears in Scandinavia.

These lyrics appeared in Jamieson's Popular Ballads (1806). I am not exactly certain how the lyrics fit into the tune - you may have to be creative!

This ballad is Child Ballad #10.

Versions of the ballad vary a great deal. In one version a harper comes to the body and makes a harp out of the breastbone (so "he can play it forever...") In a Norse version the authorities bring a pipe for the family to play to determine who killed her. When the sister plays the pipe, blood spews forth and the pipe plays of her guilt - so she is condemned and pulled apart by horses. One version from Sweden has a miller discover the girl and bringing her back to her family where she forgives her sister.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site go to Francis J. Child Ballads.

There was twa sisters in a bowr,
Edinburgh, Edinburgh
There was twa sisters in a bowr,
Stirling for ay
There was twa sisters in a bowr,
There came a knight to be their wooer.

He courted the eldest wi glove an ring,
But he lovd the youngest above a' thing.

He courted the eldest wi brotch an knife,
But lovd the youngest as his life.

The eldest she was vexed sair,
An much envi'd her sister fair.

Into her bowr she could not rest,
Wi grief an spite she almost brast.

Upon a morning fair and clear,
She cried upon her sister dear:

"O sister, come to yon sea stran,
An see our father's ship come to lan."

She's taen her by the milk-white han,
An led her down to yon sea stran.

The youngest stood upon a stane,
The eldest came and threw her in.

She tooke her by the middle sma,
And dashd her bonny back to the jaw.

"O sister, sister, tak my han,
An Ise mack you heir to a' my lan."

"O sister, sister, tak my middle,
An yes get my goud and my gouden girdle."

"O sister, sister, save my life,
An I swear Ise never be nae man's wife."

"Foul fa the han that I should tacke,
It twin'd me and my wardles make."

"Your cherry cheeks an yallow hair,
Gars me gae maiden for evermair."

Sometimes she sank, and sometimes she swam,
Till she came down yon bonny mill-dam.

O out it came the millers son,
An saw the fair maid swimmin' in.

"O Father, father, draw your dam,
Here's either a mermaid or a swan."

The miller quickly drew the dam,
An there he found a drownd woman.

You couldna see her yallow hair,
For gold and pearle that were so rare.

An by there came a harper fine,
That harped to the king at dine.

When he did look that lady upon,
He sighd and made a heavy moan.

He's taen three locks o her yallow hair,
An wi them strung his harp sae fair.

The first tune he did play and sing,
Was, "Farewell to my father the king."

The nextin tune that he playd syne,
Was, "Farewell to my mother the queen."

The lasten tune that he playd then,
Was, "wae to my sister, Fair Ellen."
Additional Versions
From The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
See Bibliography for full information.