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The Ballad of Sir John Boetler


Tracey Bennett
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Those of us who posted on the page-whose-name-we-do-not-speak may have seen this before, it's an article I wrote in about 1994 for the Big Issue about a night we spent ghost hunting in Bewsey Old Hall. I was also given a 'history' of the Hall by the then caretaker John Morris (a long standing friend of my Dad). After digging out the article a few weeks ago I decided to look into the story of the murder of John Boetler (or Butler) and see what the actual facts were. 

 

Specific facts are hard to come by, the death itself seems to have taken place roughly around 1430 - 1460ish. The story took on a life of it's own and was written and sung about in ballads for 100's of  years after the murder took place and these ballads are now our primary source of information though they must have romanticised and embellished the actual events. 

 

Here's my article;

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There are a few different ballads. John Fitchett wrote a 'Bewsey, a Poem' in 1745, John Roby also published 2 volumes called Traditions of Lancashire which quotes another version of the ballad (this is available to download for free from the kindle store). Both the Roby and Fitchett versions are quoted in John Harland's Ballads and Songs of Lancashire (available to download for free from archive.org). Below are the lyrics of the ballad as recorded by Frances Childs in his famous ballad series. 'Sir John Butler' is no 165 in volume 6. There appear to be no recordings of it in the pubic domain but I'm hoping my friend Gayle Ripley and her husband can be persuaded to record a version! 

 

BUT word is come to Warrington,
And Busye Hall is laid about;
Sir Iohn Butler and his merry men
Stand in full great doubt.
 
When they came to Busye Hall
Itt was the merke midnight,
And all the bridges were vp drawen,
And neuer a candle-light.
 
There they made them one good boate,
All of one good bull skinn;
William Sauage was one of the first
That euer came itt within.
 
Hee sayled ore his merrymen,
By two and two together,
And said itt was as good a bote
As ere was made of lether.
 
Waken yoi, waken you, deare father!
God waken you within!
For heere is your vnckle Standlye
Come your hall within.’
 
‘If that be true, Ellen Butler,
These tydings you tell mee,
A hundred pound in good redd gold
This night will not borrow mee.’
 
Then came downe Ellen Butler
And into her fathers hall,
And then came downe Ellen Butler,
And shee was laced in pall.
 
‘Where is thy father, Ellen Butler?
Haue done, and tell itt mee:’
‘My father is now to London ridden,
As Christ shall haue part of mee.’
 
‘Now nay, now nay, Ellen Butler,
Ffor soe itt must not bee;
 Ffor ere I goe forth of this hall,
 Your father I must see.’
 
 The sought that hall then vp and downe
 Theras Iohn Butler lay;
 The sought that hall then vp and downe
 Theras Iohn Butler lay.
 
 Ffaire him Ffall, litle Holcrofft!
Soe merrilye he kept the dore,
Till that his head from his shoulders
Came tumbling downe the floore.
 
 ‘Yeeld thee, yeelde thee, Iohn Butler!
 Yeelde thee now to mee!’
 ‘I will yeelde me to my vnckle Stanlye,
And neere to false Peeter Lee.’
 
‘A preist, a preist,’ saies Ellen Butler,
‘To housle and to shriue!
A preist, a preist,’ sais Ellen Butler,
‘While that my father is a man aliue!’
 
 Then bespake him William Sauage,
 A shames death may hee dye!
 Sayes, He shall haue no other preist
 But my bright sword and mee.
 
 The Ladye Butler is to London rydden,
Shee had better haue beene att home;
 Shee might haue beggd her owne marryed lord
 Att her good brother Iohn.
 
 And as shee lay in leeue London,
 And as shee lay in her bedd,
Shee dreamed her owne marryed lord
Was swiminnge in blood soe red.
 
 Shee called vp her merry men all,
 Long ere itt was day;
 Saies, Wee must ryde to Busye Hall,
With all speed that wee may.
 
 Shee matt with three Kendall men,
Were ryding by the way:
‘Tydings, tydings, Kendall men,
I pray you tell itt mee!’
 
 ‘Heauy tydings, deare madam;
 Ffrom you wee will not leane;
 The worthyest knight in merry England,
 Iohn Butler, Lord! hee is slaine!’
 
 ‘Ffarewell, farwell, Iohn Butler!
 Ffor thee I must neuer see:
 Ffarewell, farwell, Busiye Hall!
 For thee I will neuer come nye.’
 
 Now Ladye Butler is to London againe,
 In all the speed might bee,
 And when shee came before her prince,
 Shee kneeled low downe on her knee.
 
‘A boone, a boone, my leege!’ shee sayes,
 ‘Ffor Gods loue grant itt mee!’
 ‘What is thy boone,Lady Butler?
Or what wold thou haue of mee?
 
‘What is thy boone, Lady Butler?
 Or what wold thou haue of mee?’
‘That false Peeres of Lee, and my brother Stanley,
And William Sauage, and all, may dye.’
 
 ‘Come you hither, Lady Butler,
Come you ower this stone;
 Wold you haue three men for to dye,
All for the losse off one?
 
 ‘Come you hither, Lady Butler,
 With all the speed you may;
 If thou wilt come to London, Lady Butler,
 Thou shalt goe home Lady Gray.’

 

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