Willy of Winsbury

I first heard this tune performed by Fairport Convention with only two or three verses, written by them, none of which had anything to do with Willy. Later, I learned this version of the ballad from another electric folk group called Pentangle.

Gordon Bok – cellamba; Tom Judge – fiddle; Nick Apollonio – guitar & vocal.


The king had been a prisoner
And a prisoner long in Spain
And Willie of the Winsbury
Has lain long with his daughter at home

“What ails you, what ails you, my daughter Janet?
Why you look so pale and wan.
Have you had any sore sickness
Or yet been sleeping with a man?”

“I have not had any sore sickness
Nor yet been sleeping with a man.
It is for you, my father dear,
For biding so long in Spain”

“Cast off, cast off your berry-brown gown;
Stand naked on the stone,
That I may know you by your shape
If you be a maiden or no.”

So she cast off her berry-brown gown;
Stood naked on the stone.
Her apron was low, her haunches round
Her face was pale and wan.

“Was it with a lord or a duke or a knight,
Or a man of birth and fame,
Or was it with one of my serving men,
That’s lately come out of Spain?”

“It wasn’t with a lord or a duke or a knight,
Nor a man of birth and fame;
But it was with Willie of Winsbury
I could bide no longer alone.”

The king has called on his merry men all;
By thirty and by three,
Saying “Fetch me this Willie of Winsbury
For hanged he shall be.”

But when he came before the king,
He was clad all in the red silk.
His hair was like the strands of gold,
His skin was as white as the milk.

“It is no wonder,” said the king,
“That my daughter’s love you did win.
For if I was a woman, as I am a man,
My bedfellow you would have been.”

“Now will you marry my daughter Janet,
By the truth of your right hand?
Will you marry my daughter Janet,
I’ll make you lord of all my land.”

“Oh yes, I will marry your daughter Janet,
By the truth of my right hand.
Oh yes I will marry your daughter Janet,
But I’ll not be the lord of your land.”

He’s mounted her on a milk-white steed,
Himself on a dapple grey.
|: He has made her the lady of as much land
As she will ride in a long summer’s day :|


2 Responses to Willy of Winsbury

  1. Joanne McCarthy says:

    I first heard this song (and a few others from Clockwinder) in a coffee house/pub on the corner of Elm and Orange/or State street in New Haven circa 1971-1975. You were the singer.

    I believe my sister had recorded the performance on an audiocassette. I played that tape over and over again and it eventually broke.

    No one since your recording has sung this song as it was meant to be sung, as well as the other slower ballads from the same album are fine works.
    These ballads were my favorites.

    It’s my opinion that anyone with a decent voice can sing shanties, but not many voices can bring the gravitas, heart and soul to songs like Willy of Winsbury. Your voice is so unique, its timbre, and your expression of the songs along with the guitar playing (arrangement) takes the listener to another time and place and lifts the song above the typical folksingers singing these tunes.

    You have an incredible voice that doesn’t come along too often. I never forgot your singing of those songs.

    Please record more ballads, material other than shanties, and get them online for people to hear how fine a singer you are.

    • Joseph says:

      Joanne, thank you for your very kind words to Cliff. I am passing your comments along to him… I wish more people would say such things to the man for he is rather humble and certainly underappreciated in the field.


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