Geordie is taken (for killing a man or the king's deer). When word comes to his lady, she sets out to do all possible to save his life. In most accounts she raises his ransom, though in others Geordie is executed
The historical antecedents of this ballad are disputed. Some suggest that it is based on the life of George Gordon (1512-1562), Fourth Earl of Huntley, the son of Margaret Stewart, she being an illegitimate daughter of James IV. A blackletter ballad cited by Lloyd names Geordie as George Stoole of Northumberland, executed in 1610, but Lloyd suggests the ballad itself predates the 17th century. - PJS, RBW
To the above list of possibilities, I'm going to add one other possibility, though it is later than Lloyd's broadside. But it might have caused the song to be reshaped. According to Susan Maclean Kybett, _Bonnie Prince Charlie_, Dodd Mead, 1988, pp. 16-17, after the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, several peers (including, e.g., Lord Derwentwater) were condemned to death. One of them was William Maxwell of Nithsdale. His wife Winifred begged before George I for his life. Her request was refused, but she was granted a last visit -- and managed to help him escape.
I must admit to sometimes wondering if this is really a single ballad. In most texts, of course, Geordie is charged with murder. But in a few texts, such as Child's "H" and Ord's version "Gight's Ladye," the charge is poaching, and the whole feeling of the song (as well as the lyrics) is different. Coffin's notes in Flanders-Ancient3 observes that there are two endings, one with Geordie ransomed, one with him executed, and that these seem to form distinct family groups. I wouldn't be surprised if two separate songs were mixed. - RBW