Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Queen Mary, Queen Mary

Queen Mary, Queen Mary, my age is sixteen,
My father’s a farmer on yonder green
He’s plenty of money to dress me sae braw
But there’s nae bonnie laddie tae tak me awa

One morning I rose and I looked in the glass,
Said I tae masel I’m a handsome young lass
Put my hands by my side and I gave a Ha Ha!
But there’s nae bonnie laddie will tak me awa


Children’s street songs such as this were brought to Sangschule at different times by Aileen Carr and Gordeanna MacCulloch.

This one has an identifiable connection with an adult song printed in 1901 in   Vagabond Songs and Ballads Part 2, P. 315, edited by Robert Ford, called “Nae Bonnie Laddie Will Tak Me Awa.” It probably belongs to the end of the eighteenth century. Ford prints 15 verses in all, the first and the tenth being the ones above, adapted by children for their amusement. Plain “Jean” becomes Queen Mary, but her situation is the same. Trust the children to go straight to the heart of the matter.

Seven of the 15 verses concern the young lady’s fashionable attire, from the gauze round her neck to her “barrel-breast stays”; the “haunch-knots” on her gown to her shoes with heels so tiny a sixpence would cover them.” Ford says the song’s special interest is that it supplies “a fairly exhaustive catalogue of the wardrobe of a well-to-do farmer’s daughter in Scotland about a hundred years ago” (i.e. about the end of the eighteenth century).

Other verses set out her skills in dancing and lace-making, and her complaint that
In preaching or prayer there’s no ae word at a’
For to order young men to tak maidens awa
 

Ford quotes an informant who says the song was written by a Falkirk man, Thomas Scot, about a young lady called Russell, the daughter of a local farmer, who actually did in the end find her bonnie laddie.

According to Ewan McVicar in his reference work of Scots children’s songs and rhymes Doh Ray Me, When Ah Wis Wee, 2007, P.148, the song was still in use in Glasgow in the late twentieth century:

“Often the game is acted out by small girls, who place their hands on their hips  (‘henches’ in some versions of the song) to give their dainty laughs. The present day traditional singers Ray and Cilla Fisher sing a version in which ‘what a handsome young lass’ is replaced by ‘with a shove ye might pass’." He also quotes a verse noted by Glasgow teacher, collector and songwriter Ian Davison in the 1970s, which feels to McVicar like “an immigrant or ‘mak-ye-up’:

One morning a drover came in fae Carlisle/ I drapped him a curtsey, he gied me a smile
Now my ain drover laddie I loo aboon aa/ And there has come a laddie tae tak me awa.”

It seems some romantic soul has created a “happy” ending for Jean Russell of Falkirk.

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