Ten years passed during which time the ditty continued to spread. From County Durham, it spread into the neighboring counties. It was passed on by word of mouth by both rich and poor. It quickly reached neighboring county Yorkshire where the mythically wealthy Anne Duncombe lived. Along with many others, she sang it in her youth. By the time that she reached marriageable age she still harbored a secret desire for this bonnie man with romantic silver buckles. The song continued its popularity slowly spreading across the land. It even made its way across The Irish Sea to as far away as Hollybrook, in County Wicklow Ireland[vi]
Thus, it was that when Bobby Shafto returned to England, he found a land replete with women hankering for him. Each hoped that Bobby Shafto’s “silver buckles” meant he was rich and the promise ‘He’ll come back and marry me,” applied to them. He enjoyed his popularity and outlaid the small sum that he had managed to accumulate during his travels to set himself as the desirable bachelor he had become. For the following three years, he moved from place to place wooing women and enjoying his eligible status even though he began to find that once his true net worth became known most of his targeted women’s families told him to move on. Anne Duncombe’s family were different as the size of their fortune immunized them from financial concerns. Bobby liked Anne’s youthful innocence and told her that he was in love. They became engaged.
During Bobby’s absence, Bridget’s parents died leaving her an independent heiress. She felt happy in this state as she was now mistress of her own destiny. She kept up her vigil for Bobby’s return and continued to sing her song. Every day she rode to the glade where she, and Bobby had always met. Here she dismounted to sit and wait. When she heard rumors of Bobby’s return, she increased her vigil. Her doctors advised her to stop lingering in this damp dell. They told her that it was probably the cause of her consumption and most certainly aggravating it. She refused to move to a warmer dry climate to treat her ailment for she knew in her heart that her Bobby would return as he had promised and wanted to be there to meet him. When she heard that Bobby had been seen in Yorkshire wooing Anne Duncombe, her resolve faltered, and she arranged for a trip to London to seek treatment.
Meanwhile, Anne’s youth and fortune reminded Bobby of Bridget. The closer they came to their wedding date the more his old memories of Bridget intensified. He decided that the only thing that he could do was to see Bridget. He traveled north to County Durham, and on the day after his arrival at Whitworth Hall rode out to their meeting place. She was not there so he continued on to Brancepeth Castle. On hearing that she learned of his engagement and had left for London, he followed her with urgency. It was the speed which he now knew he ought to have used on the day of his return to England.
It was here that Bobby Shafto and Bridget Belasyse reconnected. She lay decoratively on a couch and gasped when she saw him. His years in India had aged him, giving him, mature good looks and he still wore his silver buckles. He was in for a greater shock for he hadn’t been prepared to find her pale and thin. They sat together talking until one of her coughing spells exhausted her that her nurse suggested that she ought to return to bed. Bobby swept her up in his arms and carried her to her chamber. When she was in his arms, he was amazed how light she had become. Now his feelings for her intensified, and he knew that he had always loved her.
“Let’s get married.” He suggested.
“Yes.” she responded, “But you have to know that I am dying.”
“But you are not going die.” He shook his head “We’ll help you get the best treatment.” He smiled weakly as he gently stroked her icy cold hand.
“If we did get married …….’ Bridget paused, “if we did, and I died, you’d get everything.” She attempted a smile, “It’d be my gift to you, and I’d much prefer it going to you than to my cousin.” She sank back on her pillows and closed her eyes.
Bobby turned to the nurse, his eyes asked, “What now?”
“She needs to rest.” said the nurse, “Come back tomorrow.”
Bobby stood and lent over to kiss her damp forehead “My only love.” He murmured. “I’ll be back, I’ve learned my lesson I promise; I’ll be back.”
The next day, April 6th 1774, Bobby returned. He was greeted by a front door sporting a black wreath. Bridget had died during the night. The cousin had already materialized and taken over the household. He met Bobby at the door and told him that he was not welcome.
Bobby mourned for a couple of days and then pulled himself together and returned to Anne. On April 18th 1774, two weeks after Bridget’s death Bobby Shafto and Anne Duncombe were married. Their union, by all accounts a happy one, was blessed with children and greatly improved the Shafto holdings for decades to come. They played Bridget’s song at the wedding. Bobby let Anne believe that it was in her honor.
Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto.
[vi] Some believe that the Bobby Shafto song relates to a Bobby Shafto who lived in Hollybrook, in County Wicklow Ireland and died in 1737.