Sung by: Almeda Riddle

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(Mrs. Riddle: “Ready? ’The Four Mary’s.’ Now, before I do this, there is some controversy and probably will be between you students and professors on this version of it, but this is as I learned it as a child. And if you’ll remember, in reading it, the body of the child was not found, so if my version wants to claim that it was born dead, all right, that’s the way I’m still going to sing it. We’ll let Joan Baez sing it her version.”)

Last night there were four Marys,
And this night there’ll only be three.
Mary Eaton, and Mary Seton,
And Mary Carmichael and me.

Last night I washed my queen’s feet,
And I put the gold braids in her hair.
Now the onliest thing that it’s ever going to bring
To me is a death full sore.

For word is in the kitchen,
Now the word’s gone out in the hall,
That Mary Hamilton’s great with child
To the highest Stuart of them all.

He courted her in the kitchen;
Then he courted her in the hall.
When he courted her in the low cellar,
That was the time of it all.

Mary Hamilton walks and she’s weeping,
And alone down by the sea.
“I’ll bear this Stuart child alone,
And ‘twill be the death of me.”

And the wee bairn was stillborn,
And they cast it into the sea.
“Lie there, lie there; ye are the king’s grandson,
But you have no more need of me.”

Now down has come the old queen,
And the gold braids still in her hair.
“Oh, Mary Hamilton, where is your child,
For I heard it a-crying full sore?”

“There hath never been a wee bairn here,
And anybody could see,
Oh, it’s just this pain in my poor heart,
And the weeping ye heard, it was me.”

“Then put on your dress of red, my dear,
Or either a black or brown,
For before tomorrow’s sun shall set,
I will ride ye through Edinborough town.”

And she neither put on a dress of red,
Nor yet a black or brown.
She arrayed herself in the purest of white,
Yet they rode her through Edinborough town.

And when she walked into Edinborough court,
Now, a heel came off on her shoe.
‘Twas in the courts at Edinborough
That she was condemned to die.

Oh, it’s little did my poor old mother think,
. . . day she was a-cradling of me,
These distant lands I’d have to roam,
And the death I would have to die e’en.

Last night there were four Marys,
And this night there’ll only be three.
Mary Eaton, and Mary Seton,
Queen Mary ‘twill be beheading of me.

(Mrs. Riddle: “That’s the way I learned it as a child.”
Dr. Wolf: “Who taught it to you?”
Mrs. Riddle: “Do you remember going to a Grandma Gray?" Dr. Wolf: "Yes, indeed." Mrs. Riddle: "I knew a part of this, and because it was only a fragment, for several years I wouldn’t sing it much. And finally . . . and going through an old trunk of my mother’s, I found the tablet of my little sister's that died when I was about six years old. And a part of this, most of this ballad, this latter part from ‘Mary Hamilton walks and weeping down to the lonely sea,’ was there, but the first part of it wasn’t. And I kept asking and asking all through White County, Cleburne County and, because I knew the first part, and that finished up the ballad, I wouldn’t sing it much because I think possibly some people, including Dr. Abrams, thought that I had written this verse, because they never had heard it before. And, uh, I couldn’t . . . I wouldn’t be smart enough to write a song, and if I did, I wouldn’t call it a folk song and tear up a traditional Child’s ballad while I was doing it. But, anyway, I was coming back from here from Memphis. Went back through Pangburn, spent the night, and went out to see Grandma Gray, and I sang down to this verse that the controversy was about, and I said, ‘Now, can you finish that ballad for me?’ And she commenced right where I do, ‘Mary Hamilton walks and a-weeping down by the lonely sea,’ and with the exception that I had forgotten about the verse that said, ‘As she went through Edinborough town or into Edinborough court, the heel come off her shoe,’ I’d forgotten that. And I said, ‘Now tell me, I knew that, I tricked you into singing that (she was then about 86, incidentally, still living, still singing), now where did I learn that?’ And she said, ‘From me, when you were about five years old.’ So you see, right back where I’d learned it. And she tells me that her people came from Ireland. They were Scotch-Irish, as my grandparents were, and she tells me that that is a Scotch-Irish version. Now, that I wouldn’t know.”
Dr. Wolf: “Well, I see no reason to doubt that that version did come from over there.”
Mrs. Riddle: “I think so. The McPeek family now, old Grandpa McPeek, who is around 90, he tells me too that this is a Scotch-Irish version that I do of ‘The Four Marys.’”
Dr. Wolf: “Now, you see, it changes the story somewhat in the version . . . In the version you read in your textbook it isn’t clear whether the queen is angry with Mary and whether she orders her death because the king has been intimate with her, or for some other reason, or because she killed her baby.”
Mrs. Riddle: “Well, in this version that I do, you see, it’s the king’s son, because it’s the king’s grandson.”
Dr. Wolf: “The baby’s born dead.”
Mrs. Riddle: “Dead.”
Dr. Wolf: “So that second motive is eliminated.”
Mrs. Riddle: “But yet, was there . . . Is there ever any place where there was a body of this child found? I’ve never found it. There was no body found.”
Dr. Wolf: “As far as I know, no.”
Mrs. Riddle: “I never . . .”
Dr. Wolf: “All right. You can cut that off while we talk about the next . . .”)

Also found in Randolph, Vol. I, #26.

All Songs Recorded by John Quincy Wolf, Jr., unless otherwise noted

The John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection
Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas
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