The widow’s daughter, song

Eddie Butcher, singing in English
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Oh, there were a widow woman in the West moorlands
And she never had a daughter but the one
And her only advice was by night or by day
For to never give her maidenhead to one.
– Hold your tongue, dear mother, she says,
And therefore dinnae let it be
For there were a jolly soldier in the queen’s Life Guards
Last night he stole my maidenhead frae me.

– Oh go, oh go, you saucy jade,
And therefore dinnae let it be
And bring me back the maidenhead you lost last night
Or another night you’ll never lie with me
Now she’s to the soldier gone
And her heart both light and free
Saying, – Give me back the maidenhead you stole last night
For my mammy she’s angry with me.

He catched her by the middle so small
And he threw her into the bed
And he turned up her heels where her heid ought to be
And he give her back her maidenhead.
Now she’s to her mammy gone
And her heart both light and free
Saying, – I’m as clear of all menkind
As the first night you had me.

That fared well and so passed by
Till the soldier’s wedding it came on
And the widow woman dressed up her daughter so grand
With a rose in every hand.
– Who is that, cried the bride’s daddy
That stands so fine and braw?
– It’s the widow woman’s daughter from the West moorlands
And she tells her mammy a’.

– Oh, how can she do it or how can she do it
Or how does she do it for shame?
For this nine long nights I have lay with my love
And I’m sure I never told it to none.
– Well if there’s nine long nights you have lay with your love
Another night you’ll never lie with me!
And he took the widow’s daughter from the West moorland
And he made her his braw lady.


The absence of this early ballad from modern collections can be understood, but it is strange that no other traditional version has come down to us with a melody, much less a sound recording (though E seems to derive from a traditional source). There is a broadside in the Douce collection apparently based on it, ‘The fair maid of the West who sold her maidenhead for a high-crowned hat’, no doubt composed for the popular press – Pinto and Rodway p. 572–4. But ‘The widow’s daughter’ itself looks as if it goes back to an early Scots source from which it has been transmitted by oral means alone.

A girl tells her widowed mammy of an affair with a soldier. The widow drives her out in disgrace (requiring an impossible redress – F). The girl asks the soldier to restore her virginity, which he always does the same way (offering a choice where she will have it restored, from which she chooses ‘the dark corner’ – D). Later, at the soldier’s wedding, the widow’s daughter attracts attention by her fine appearance (her retinue of ‘gay guid knights; and ladies C, her merry singing D). When the bride hears that the widow’s daughter keeps no secrets from her mammy she is vainly impulsive enough to mention secrets of her own which she has not revealed. Learning these, the soldier repudiates her and marries instead his naïve mistress.

The length of this summary draws attention to the ballad’s narrative economy. It neatly combines an absurd joke with a reversal of fortune: the joke is traditional (see for example D. Herd Ancient and modern Scottish songs Edinburgh  1776, II 145–7, while the reversal calls to mind the wedding scene of ‘Lord Thomas and fair Eleanor’ (Child no 73) or of ‘Lord Bateman’ (Child no 53). But ‘The widow’s daughter’ is no burlesque: it is a comic ballad of intrinsic excellence.