Introduced by Lisa Null

The version I sing of “Sweet William’s Ghost” (Child #77) is based on the singing of Mike Kent of Cape Broyle Newfoundland. It was collected as “Lady Margaret” in 1951 by Kenneth Peacock in Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, vol 2. I love the way it deals with the continuance of love and commitment after death. William has to be relieved of the promise he made to marry Margaret who follows him over the hills walking and talking, even asking if she can be buried with him. It’s an old ballad, appearing in Allan Ramsay’s The Tea Table Miscellany (1740) and Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Bill Shute accompanies this song on a guitar played like a hammered dulcimer.

Listen to Bill and Lisa sing the song on this YouTube clip:

Sweet Williams Ghost Score
Click here for a downloadable PDF


Lady Margaret was sitting in her own lone home
Made of lime and stone
Lady Margaret was sitting in her own lone home
When she heard a dead man moan.

“Oh is it my father, Lord Thomas,” she said
“Or is it my brother John?
“Or is it my true love, Sweet William,”
“From Scotland home has come?”

” ‘Tis not your father, Lord Thomas,” he said
“Nor is it you brother John?”
“But it is your true love, Sweet William,
“From Scotland home has come.”

“Did you bring to me any diamonds or pearls?
“Did you bring to me any ring?
“Did you bring to me any token at all
“That a true love ought to bring?”

“I have brought to you no diamonds or pearls
“I’ve brought to you no ring
“But I’ve brought to you my white winding sheet
“That my body was buried in.”

“Oh love where are your red rosy cheeks
“That oft times once did bloom?”
“Oh they now are rotten and they will be forgotten
“By the love I lost so soon.”

He took her by the lily-white hand
And bid him company
He took her by the middle so small
Saying “Follow, follow me.”

She lifted her underskirts one by one
Just about the knee
She went over the hills on a cold winter’s night
In a dead man’s company.

They walked and they talked alone together
Till the cocks began to crow
“O it’s time for the dead and the living to part
“Lady Margaret I must go,”

“Is there any room at your head?” she said
“Is there any room at your feet?”
“Is there any room all about your sides
“Where I might lie down and sleep?”

“My father is at my head,” he said
“My mother is at my feet
“And there’s three hell hounds all about my sides
“Where I would lie down and sleep.”

“One is for my drunkenness
One is for my pride
And one is for promising a fair, pretty maid
That she might be my bride

She took a cross all from her bosom
And smoted him upon the breast
Saying “Here is a token for you, Sweet William,
“God grant you a happy night’s rest.”

“I am grateful to you, Lady Margaret,” he said
“I’m grateful unto you;
“If the dead they are bound to pray for the living
Then I’m bound to pray for you.”

“When will we meet?” Lady Margaret she said
“When will we meet?” said she
“Well I hope the very next time we do meet
“In heaven we both shall be.”

Lisa Null co-founded Green Linnet Records with Pat Sky about 1972. She toured widely in England, Canada, and the United States with guitarist Bill Shute, former lead rock guitarist of “Fifth Estate.” An associate lecturer at Georgetown University, she taught all aspects of music’s relationship to American history. She has three albums available through Folk-Legacy Records: “Sweet William’s Ghost” can be found on her ballad album, “Bill Shute & Lisa Null: The Feathered Maiden.”