“Sweet William's Ghost”


(Sweet William) dies while engaged. Since he has an unfulfilled commitment, his spirit cannot rest. He goes to his sweetheart, who begs him to wed her/kiss her/etc. When she learns that he is dead, she releases him from his promise


Child versions A, B, C and G end the ghost's visit with crowing cocks; in Ireland (Morton-Ulster 8 and Paddy Tunney on Voice03) the cock may be replaced by the moor cock. The ghost/cock motif accounts for the connection, by some, of "Willy O!" to Child 77. - BS

Tom Shipley, in _The Road to Middle-Earth_ (third edition), p. 210, notes that Herd's text of this (Child's B) mentioned "Middle-Earth," implying that this song might have been a small part of the inspiration of the world (though not the plot) created by J. R. R. Tolkien. Rather a stretch -- but interesting, the more so as Tolkien did have a strong affinity for folklore and folk song. - RBW


  • Bodleian, Harding B 5(1), "Sweet William's Ghost," unknown, n.d.


  • Paddy Tunney, "Lady Margaret" (on Voice03)


  1. Child 77, "Sweet William's Ghost" (8 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  2. Bronson 77, "Sweet William's Ghost" (11 versions+ 1 in addenda)
  3. Morton-Ulster 8, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Percy/Wheatley III, pp. 130-133, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
  5. Davis-More 21, pp. 152-156, "" (1 text, so fragmentary that it might be some other ballad with intrusions from "Sweet William's Ghost")
  6. Flanders/Brown, pp. 240-241, "Lady Margaret and Sweet William" (1 text, taken from the Green Mountain Songster)
  7. Flanders-Ancient2, pp. 178-183, "Sweet William's Ghost" (2 texts, the first being the Green Mountain Songster version)
  8. BrownII 23, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
  9. Greenleaf/Mansfield 9, "Lady Margaret" (1 text)
  10. Peacock, pp. 390-395, "Lady Margaret" (1 text, 6 tunes)
  11. Karpeles-Newfoundland 9, "Sweet William's Ghost" (2 texts, 9 tunes) {Bronson's #3}
  12. Leach, pp. 256-262, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text plus a Danish text for comparison)
  13. Leach-Labrador 4, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Friedman, p. 47, "Sweet William's Ghost" (2 texts)
  15. Gummere, pp. 203-205+348-349, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
  16. HarvClass-EP1, pp. 78-80, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
  17. DT 77, WILIGHOS* WILIGHO2 (GHOSWILL? -- a very worn down version that might be derived from this piece)
  18. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #428, "Sweet William and May Margaret" (1 text)
  19. Roud #50
  20. BI, C077


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1740 (Ramsey)
Found in: US(NE,SE) Canada(Newf) Britain(Scotland(Bord)) Ireland