The Barkshire Tragedy
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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Lyrics
This ballad is also known as Binorrie. This version is, of course, from Berkshire. There is a similar version from Lancashire. The earliest known version of the ballad The Miller and the King's Daughter appeared on a broadside in 1656. This ballad is not related to The Berkshire Tragedy (see link below to a graphic of a broadside of that ballad).

This ballad is a variation of Child Ballad #10 (The Twa Sisters).

Variants and alternate titles include: The Cruel Sister, The Bonnie Milldams of Binnorie, The Bonny Bows o' London and Sister, Dear Sister. The ballad also appears in Scandinavia.

Versions of the ballad vary a great deal. In one 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.

A varmer he lived in the West Countree,
With a hey down, bow down
A varmer he lived in the West Countree,
And he had daughters, one, two and three.
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

As they were walking by the river's brim,
With a hey down, bow down
As they were walking by the river's brim,
The eldest push'd the youngest in,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

O sister, O sister, pray gie me thy hand,
With a hey down, bow down
O sister, O sister, pray gie me thy hand
And I'll gie thee both house and land,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

I'll neither, I'll neither gie thee hand nor glove
With a hey down, bow down
I'll neither, I'll neither gie thee hand nor glove
Unless thou'lt gie me thy own true love,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

So down she sank and away she swam,
With a hey down, bow down
So down she sank and away she swam,
Until she came to the miller's dam,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

O vather, vather, here swims a swan,
With a hey down, bow down
O vather, vather, here swims a swan,
Very much like a drownded gentlewoman
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

The miller he fot his pole and hook
With a hey down, bow down
The miller he fot his pole and hook
And he fished the fair maid out of the brook,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

O miller, I'll gie thee guineas then,
With a hey down, bow down
O miller, I'll gie thee guineas then,
If thoul't fetch me back to my father again.
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

The miller he took her guineas ten,
With a hey down, bow down
The miller he took her guineas ten,
And he pushed the fair maid in agen,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

But the Crowner he came and the Justice too,
With a hey down, bow down
But the Crowner he came and the Justice too,
With a hue and a cry and a hullabaloo,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

They hanged the miller beside his own gate,
With a hey down, bow down
They hanged the miller beside his own gate,
For drowning the varmer's daughter Kate,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

The sister she fled beyond the seas,
With a hey down, bow down
The sister she fled beyond the seas,
And died an old maid among black savagees,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.

So I've ended my tale of the West Countree,
With a hey down, bow down
So I've ended my tale of the West Countree,
And they calls it the Barkshire Tragedee,
And I'll be true to my love
If my love'll be true to me.
Additional Versions
Related Links
From One Hundred Songs of England and
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
See Bibliography for full information.
Information on The Berkshire Tragedy from The Ballad Index