Mary Hamilton (The Four Maries)

Child 173

Rise up, rise up, Mary Hamilton,
Rise up and tell to me
What did ye with that sweet little baby
Ye dandled upon your knee.

I rowed it up in a handkerchief
And throwed it into the sea.
I could not have it come between
The prince’s bed and me.

English: Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second ...

Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Darnley is on the left, Mary on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rise up, rise up, Mary Hamilton,
Put on your robe so fine,
For you must go to Edinbro’ town
To stand before the line.

I’ll not put on my robes of black,
Nor yet my robes of brown,
But I will dress myself in white
And shine through Edinbro’ town.

As she went up the castle stairs
The tears stood in her eye
For ere that she came down again
She was condemned to die.

I charge you all, you mariners,
That sail upon the sea,
Say nothing to my father dear
Save that all is well with me.

Last night the queen had four Maries,
Tonight she’ll have but three.
There was Mary Seaton and Mary Beaton
And Mary Carmichael and me.

(Click here for a PDF version of the music) * (Click here to hear an MP3 of the American Version) * (Click here to hear an MP3 of the Scottish Version)

From the singing of Austin Faricy, formerly of Austin, Minnesota, as learned by Sam Hinton. Hinton recorded it for the Library of Congress in 1947; his version is available on the recording “Sam Hinton: The Library of Congress Recordings,” on Bear Family records. Hinton does not say where Faricy learned it, but it uses the most common tune for “Mary Hamilton,” and the words are pretty standard also. It is possible that Faricy had it from a recording, but still, Hinton collected it from a Minnesotan….

Mary Stuart GenealogyIf you want to understand what it is to be a Scot, the first place to look may well be the ballads. Although there are fine ballads from England, Ireland, and the United States, the a disproportionate share of the most heart-wrenching are Scottish.

This definitely is an example. Mary Stewart (“Mary Queen of Scots”) became Queen of Scotland before she was a week old; her father James V, already ill, was said to have turned his face to the wall when he learned his only legitimate child was a daughter, and promptly died.

Soon after, in England, King Henry VIII — Mary’s great-uncle — was putting together plans to take over Scotland by having Mary (born 1542) wed his only son Edward VI (born 1537). The Scots were not interested, so Henry turned to the “Rough Wooing” — he intended to conquer Scotland, or at least force them to ask for peace, and marry Edward and Mary whether the Scots wanted it or not.

The Scots had a better idea. They would send little Mary to France, their long-time ally. This was done soon after Henry died. When Mary went to France, it was decided to send four well-born Scots girls with her for company. They came to be known as the “Four Maries,” since all were named Mary: Mary Seton, Mary Beaton, Mary Livingston, and Mary Fleming.

While in France, Queen Mary was married to the heir to the French throne. When Henry II died in 1559, her husband Frances II became King of France — and Mary Stuart (as she now spelled it, to match French spelling conventions) was Queen of France. They also claimed to be King and Queen of England, since — under Catholic law — Elizabeth I of England was illegitimate and Mary was the next in line for the throne.

History would doubtless have been very different had little Francis II, Mary Stewart’s husband, lived longer. But he died in 1560, and the couple had no children. Mary was still Queen of Scotland — but Queen of a land she could hardly remember, whose language she had nearly forgotten, and which in her absence had turned Protestant. She went home, but she did not understand the country she now ruled. By the time she was 25, she had been deposed and forced to flee to England — to the country of Elizabeth I, whom she claimed was not Queen!

Before her deposition, Mary had taken as her second husband Henry, Lord Darnley. He was, by different lines, her half first cousin and second cousin, and the next in line for the English throne after Mary herself, and was probably the next in line for the Scottish throne as well (this was a little more dubious, because of a complicated question about the legitimacy of some other relatives. For the complex story of this, see the genealogy). As her husband and the heir to the throne, he wanted to be declared King of Scotland. This seemed straightforward enough — after all, if he and Mary had a child, the child would be the next monarch, and if they didn’t, then Darnley would be King in his own right. But Mary, although styling him “King” when she married him, later officially denied him the Crown Matrimonial. That helped sour a relationship that was already going bad; Mary and Darnley soon came to hate each other. They had one child, the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England — but were soon separated, and in early 1567, Darnley was murdered. It is not known whether Mary had anything to do with his murder, but later in the year, she became involved with the Earl of Bothwell, and his behavior caused her to be forced from the throne. She arrived in England in 1567, and eventually her intriguing forced Eliabeth I to execute her in 1587. But when Elizbeth died in 1603, she let Mary’s son James succeed her, and finally England and Scotland were united.

The mention of the Four Maries in this song obviously seems to imply a setting in the court of Mary Stewart, after her return to Scotland. But there is no historical record of anything like this happening. Ballad scholars have gone so far as to ring in a Mary Hamilton who got herself in trouble in Czarist Russia to explain the origin of this ballad. But the most likely explanation is that a rather pitiful plot about a queen’s lady-in-waiting somehow was attached to the story of Mary Stewart. This would explain some of the confusion in the lyrics: When Mary Hamilton bore her child “to the highest Stewart o’ all,” does that mean that Darnley was the father? Or merely that she bore the child while in the service of Queen Mary, who was the true “highest Stewart”? We cannot answer; indeed, the versions are inconsistent upon this point.

The text below is a composite of the various Scots versions I have learned over the years, which tries to give a feeling for what the song perhaps originally looked like. I’m presenting it in Braid Scots (with glosses), rather than anglicizing it, because, first, it’s better that way, and second, there are several places where an anglicized version becomes difficult to sing.

Braid Scots
Word is tae the kitchen gane,
And word is tae the ha’,
That Mary Hamilton’s borne a bairn
Tae the highest Stewart o’ a’.
English glosses
to, gone
of all.
Arise, arise, Mary Hamilton,
Arise and tell tae me
What thou hast done with thy wee bairn
I saw and heard greet by thee.
I put him in a tiny boat
And cast him oot tae sea,
That he might sink, or he might swim,
But ne’er return tae me.
Och — Mary, pit on your robes o’ black,
Or else your robes o’ broon,
And cam’ alang wi’ me tonight
Tae see fair Edinbro’ toon.
come along with
Edinburgh town
But she pit nae on her robes o’ black
Nor yet her robes o’ brown
But she pit on her robes o’ white
To shine through Edinbro’ toon.
And as she gaed up the Parliament stair
The heel cam’ aff her shee
And lang ere she cam’ doon again
She was condemned to dee.
came off her shoe
long, down
And as she gaed oot the Cannogate
The Cannogate sae free,
There’s mony a lady looked o’er her window
And wept for sweet Mary.
went out; an entrance to Edinburgh (properly “Canongate”)
“Oh, ye needna weep for me,” she cried,
“Ye needna weep for me.
For had I no slain my ain wee bairn,
This death I wadna dee.
need not
would not
Oh, little did my mither ken
When first she cradled me,
The lands I was to travel through,
The death I was to dee.
mother know
Last necht I washed the Queen’s feet
And put the gowd in her hair,
And the only reward I’ll hae for this
Is the gallows to be my share.
Last necht there were four Maries;
This necht there’ll be but three.
There were Mary Beaton and Mary Seaton
And Mary Carmichael and me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s