“The Plains of Waterloo (I)”


The singer, a soldier, sees Sally lamenting for her Willie -- the wars are over but Willie has not returned. He tells her that Willie died at Waterloo after bidding her farewell, but then shows his half of a broken token and reveals himself as Willie


Creighton-Maritime: "I have two quite different songs by the same title." I believe Creighton's complete version and fragmentary text are both Laws N32.

Creighton's problem seems to come from the fragment's following "eighteenth of June" verse that matches no other "eighteenth of June" I've found for any Waterloo ballad or broadside; the sense of the verse -- that Willie was killed in battle -- belongs with Laws N32. In addition, the only other verse in the fragment also belongs to Laws N32.

"On the eighteenth day of June the battle was ended

Which caused many the British heroes to sigh and complain,

The drums they did beat and the cannons they did rattle

And by a French soldier your true love was slain."

Mackenzie: "The hypothesis that I have finally excogitated is that 'Waterloo' [Laws N32] is a fragmentary and modified version of the early nineteenth-century English ballad entitled 'The Mantle So Green,' [Laws N38] and that 'The Mantle So Green' is in its turn a modified version of the late eighteenth-century English ballad 'George Reilly.' [Laws N36]" Mackenzie's discussion includes a detailed examination of the three ballads.

Online, you can get some idea of the similarities by using these texts at one of the Digital Tradition sites [searching on the DT number works, for example #459]:

Laws N32: "Plains of Waterloo" DT #459.

Laws N38: "The Mantle So Green" DT #463.

Laws N36: "George Reilly (6)" DT #592 [unfortunately, as noted there, this one "sort of stops short," before the narrator tells of George's supposed dying words "Farewell, my dearest Nancy ...." Laws reveals the end: Finally he [the narrator] puts an end to the girl's grief by revealing that he is Riley."] - BS

Obviously there is a great similarity between these broken token songs, and the Waterloo-specific versions probably *are* more recent (since the Napoleonic Wars were the last great wars before the telegraph and railroad and widespread literacy). But the vast number of songs of this type (see the mass list under Laws N36) inclines me to think that they are not all related -- but that Laws N36 and "The Mantle So Green" [Laws N38], which are among the most popular, are at the heart of the tradition. - 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 Plains of Waterloo" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte," Hummingbird Records HBCD0027 (2001)) - BS

Historical references

  • June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo

Cross references


  • Amos Jollimore, "The Plains of Waterloo" (on MRHCreighton)


  1. Laws N32, "The Plains of Waterloo I"
  2. Fowke/MacMillan 66, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Greenleaf/Mansfield 85, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Peacock, pp. 1014-1015, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Leach-Labrador 126, "Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Creighton-Maritime, pp. 56-57, "Plains of Waterloo" (1 text plus a fragment, 1 tune)
  7. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 34, "Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Mackenzie 69, "Waterloo" (1 text)
  9. Moylan 189, "The Plains of Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Morton-Maguire 46, pp. 137-138,173, "Smith at Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Roud #960
  13. BI, LN32


Alternate titles: “Smith at Waterloo”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1928 (Mackenzie)
Found in: Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland