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The Four Marys

Scottish Folk Song
Arranged by Robert De Cormier
SSA Chorus, Soprano Solo, and Guitar or Keyboard 

The Four Marys tells the story of Mary Hamilton, a lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart, 1542-1587). This young woman is about to die: She has had a child by the Queen’s husband, Lord Darnley, and is to be executed for abandoning her newborn baby to the sea. 

The ballad first appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” (1802), and since then countless versions have been found. For nearly two centuries ballad collectors have puzzled over the derivation of the story, as there is no historical record of these events. 

It is known that Queen Mary had as her constant companions from childhood four Marys: Seton, Beton, Livingston and Fleming. It is also well known that Mary Stuart’s court spawned a great deal of gossip, rumor and intrigue. One contemporary account asserts that the Queen once fell ill because her “potticary” (pharmacist) had got “one of the Queen’s maydens, near abowt to her Grace’s self, with chylde.” The couple were apparently sent to prison and hanged. 

From a later century comes the story of Mary Hambleton, a Scottish lady-in-waiting at the court of Peter the Great of Russia. Lady Hambleton, it is said, was found guilty of infanticide and beheaded in 1719. 

It would seem that by 1802 this material had become entwined, or tangled, into one tale. However, it is not the business of a work of art to convey information, but rather to be true to itself, which is why The Four Marys, in its many versions and with its lovely tune, has been treasured by many for hundreds of years.

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