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John Renfro Davis
This ballad is Child Ballad #217.
According to Child this ballad appeared in Bishop Percy's papers (1768) as The Lovely Northerne Lasse where it is noted as "a Scotch tune called The Broom of Cowden Knowes." The ballad was popular during the last five years of the reign of James I. The Lovely Northerene Lass was entered in the Stationers' Register (England) in 1632. It appeared in Dancing Master in the first through fourteenth editions (1651-1709) and in numerous collections thereafter (see Bruce Olsen's site below).
However, in Songs of Scotland (circa 1868) George Graham notes a black-letter ballad entered in the Stationers' Register in 1603 that is to be sung "To a pleasant Scotch tune, called Broom of Cowdenknows."
According to Fiona Richie (of the Thistle and Shamrock radio program) the ballad was written by the favorite suitor of Mary, Queen of Scots. (This probably refers to David Rizzio who was her personal secretary. He was murdered at Holyrood Palace in 1566 by Darnley - see links below.) Rizzio is also rumored to be the author of the tune The Lass of Patie's Mill. Neither credit is confirmed.
Child has fourteen different sets of lyrics, this version is from Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1776).
Variants and alternate titles include The Laird of Knotington, Bony May, Laird o Ochiltree, The Maid o the Cowdenknows, Laird o Lochnie, The Laird of Lochinvar.
The Laird is lord of a different location in each version in Child. They include: Auchentrone (which may be a corruption of Achentrioch - an estate in Stirling), Oakland (which may be a corruption of Ochil Hills - also in Stirling), Ochiltree, Ochilberry, Knottington, Athole, Rochna Hills, Lochinvar, Rock-rock lays, and Rock-rivers.
For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site go to Francis J. Child Ballads.
It was on an evening sae saft and sae clear
A bonny lass was milking the kye,
And by came a troup of gentlemen,
And rode the bonny lassie by.
Then one of them said unto her,
Bonny lass, prythee shew me the way:
O if I do sae, it may bree me wae,
For langer I dare nae stay.
But dark and misty was the night
Before the bonny lass came hame:
Now where hae you been, my ae doughter?
I am sure you was nae your lane.
O father, a tod has come oer your lamb,
A gentleman of high degree,
And ay whan he spake he lifted his hat,
And bonny, bonny, blinkit his ee.
Or eer six months were past and gane,
Six months but and other three,
The lassie began to grow pale and wan.
And think lang for his blinkin ee.
O wae be to my father's shepherd,
An ill death may he die!
He bigged the bughts sae far frae hame,
And trysted a gentleman to me!
It fell upon another fair evening
The bonny lassie was milking her kye
And by came the troop of gentlemen,
And rode the bonny lassie by.
Then one of them stopt, and said to her,
Whae's aught that baby ye are wi?
The lassie began for to blush, and think,
To a father as good as ye.
O had your tongue, my bonny may,
Sae loud I hear you lie!
O dinae you mind the misty night
I was in the bught with thee?
Now he's come aff his milk-white steed,
And he has taen her hame:
Now let your father bring hame the kye
You neer mair shall a them agen.
He was the laird of Auchentrone,
With fifty ploughs and three,
And he has gotten the bonniest lass
In a' the south countrie.
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
***The Songs of Scotland
See Bibliography for full information.
Bruce Olsen's Roots of Folk Website
And from The Mudcat Cafe.