“The Bonnie Light Horseman”


The singer calls on listeners to hear of a "maid in distress" who wanders forlorn; "She relies upon George for the loss of her lover." She tells how he went to fight Napoleon and was slain. (She wishes she could join her lover at his grave, and die there)


Napoleon was famous for his handling of artillery (he was the one who gave a crowd the "whiff of grapeshot"), so it is no surprise to find a reference to "Boney" "[fixing] his cannon the victory to gain." - RBW

The ballad is recorded on one of the CD's issued around the time of the bicentenial of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. See:

Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "The Bonny Light Horseman" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte," Hummingbird Records HBCD0027 (2001)) Hall, notes to Voice08: "'The Young Horseman' is the story of a British soldier who dies in the Egyptian campaign, 1798-1802"; "I once loved a soldier ... To the dark plains of Egypt he was forced for to go.... It was brave Napoleon ... slew brave MacDonald coming over from Spain." - BS

Though, to be nitpicky, Napoleon didn't himself fight the British in any significant way in Egypt. After the British beat the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, Napoleon fooled around a little in Palestone, then left the area, leaving his army in Egypt to be defeated and captured. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1760-1820 - reign of George III (the George of the song)
  • June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo


  • Bodleian, Harding B 25(1107), "The Light Horseman Slain in the Wars ," J. Pitts (London), 1802-1819; also Harding B 25(260), Harding B 28(165), Firth c.14(182), Firth c.14(183), Firth c.26(266), "[The] Bonny Light-Horseman"; Harding B 18(55), Harding B 16(34a), 2806 c.16(249), Johnson Ballads 1914, Harding B 20(174), "[The] Bonny Light Horseman"; Firth b.25(230), Harding B 11(413), Harding B 15(29b), "Bonny Light Horseman Slain in the Wars"; Harding B 11(3413), "Bonny Light Horseman Slain in the Wars!"; Harding B 11(1106), "The Light Horseman Slain in the Wars" or "The Lamenting Maiden"


  • Martin Howley, "The Young Horseman" (on Voice08)


  1. SHenry H122a, pp. 88-89, "The Bonny Light Horseman" (1 text, 1 tune, with many variations in the source texts)
  2. Moylan 181, "The Bonny Light Horseman" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Creighton-NovaScotia 69, "Bonny Light Horseman" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Roud #1185
  6. BI, HHH122a


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1820 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 25(1107))
Found in: Ireland Britain Canada(Mar)