“Mary Hamilton”


Mary Hamilton, servant to the queen, is pregnant (by the queen's husband). She tries to hide her guilt by casting the boy out to sea, but is seen and convicted. She is condemned to die


Mary Stewart (the French used the spelling "Stuart") became Queen of Scotland when she was eight days old (1542).

Scotland being the chaotic place that it was, she was only a child when she was sent abroad to marry into and be brought up at the court of France (1548). To keep her good company, four well-bred Scots girls were sent with her to keep her company (it should be noted, though, that none of them was named Hamilton). Her husband Francis II died in 1560, however, and Mary Stewart went home.

There she married her cousin, Henry, Lord Darnley. It does not seem to have been an overly happy match, so Darnley might well have engaged in extracurricular activities. In any case, Darnley was murdered in 1567. Soon after, Mary was (forcibly?) married by the Earl of Bothwell; in that same year she was deposed in favor of her son.

Nowhere in her troubled reign do we find reference to a serving girl's pregnancy; one theory has it that the story arose with the troubles of a Mary Hamilton at the Russian court. Another theory, first advanced by Scott, connects it with members of Mary Stuart's court *other than* the four Maries and Lord Darnley.

It also occurs to me that there is the case of the son of George III, who in due time would become George IV. According to Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, _Blood Royal: The Illustrious House of Hanover_ (Doubleday, 1980), p. 118, Prince George at one time "had fallen in love with Mary Hamilton, one of his sisters' governesses." Whether this is relevant depends of course on the earliest date of the song. There are a number of mentions in the early nineteenth century. If we can push it before about 1780, then of course this Mary Hamilton is out of the question. Of course George IV's Mary Hamilton didn't kill her baby, but her affair with the Prince of Wales might have influenced the character in this song.

For extensive discussion of the matter (which is, however, rather more theoretical than practical) see Davis-More, pp. 246-248. - RBW

Also collected and sung by Ellen Mitchell, "Mary Mild" (on Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, "Have a Drop Mair," Musical Tradition Records MTCD315-6 CD (2001)) - BS

Historical references

  • 1542 - Accession of Mary Stewart
  • 1548 - Mary Stewart sent to France (later married to King Francis II)
  • 1561 - Mary Stewart returns to Scotland
  • 1567 - Death of Lord Darnley. Mary Stewart deposed


  • Jeannie Robertson, "Mary Hamilton (The Four Marys)" (on FSB5 [as "The Four Maries"], FSBBAL2)


  1. Child 173, "Mary Hamilton" (27 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's#5}
  2. Bronson 173, "Mary Hamilton" (12 versions+1 in addenda)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 258-264, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts plus some variants and a verse of "Peter Amberley" they claim floated in from this song, 1 tune plus some cited extracts) {Bronson's #7; the first short excerpt is from Bronson's #6}
  4. Randolph 26, "The Four Maries" (1 fragment)
  5. Flanders/Olney, pp. 79-80, "The Four Marys" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
  6. Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 163-169, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts plus a fragment, with the fragment containing parts of "MacPherson's Lament"; 3 tunes) {B=Bronson's #7}
  7. Davis-Ballads 36, "Mary Hamilton" (2 fragments from the same informant, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
  8. Davis-More 32, pp. 245-252, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text plus 2 fragments, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
  9. Leach, pp. 481-483, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  10. Friedman, p. 184, "Mary Hamilton"; p. 219, "Mary Hamilton's Last Goodnight" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
  11. Creighton-Maritime, pp. 22-23, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  12. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 3, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. OBB 83, "The Queen's Marie" (1 text)
  14. PBB 61, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  15. Niles 51, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  16. Gummere, pp. 159-161+334-335, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  17. Combs/Wilgus 32, pp. 124-126, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  18. Hodgart, p. 138, "Marie Hamilton" (1 text)
  19. DBuchan 33, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  20. Ord, p. 457, "The Queen's Maries" (1 text)
  21. TBB 23, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  22. HarvClass-EP1, pp. 117-119, "Mary Hamilton" (1 text)
  23. Abrahams/Foss, pp. 49-52, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
  24. Silber-FSWB, p. 211, "The Four Maries" (1 text)
  26. Roud #79
  27. BI, C173


Alternate titles: “The Purple Dress”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1790
Found in: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord)) US(Ap,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Mar)