Lord Thomas he was a bold forester,
The chasener of the King's deer.
Fair Eleanor she was a fair woman;
Lord Thomas he loved her dear.
'Oh riddle, Oh riddle, dear mother,' he said,
'Oh riddle it both as one,
Whether I shall marry fair Ellen or not,
And leave the brown girl alone?'
'The brown girl she've a-got houses and land,
Fair Ellen she've a-got none,
Therefore I charge thee to my blessing
To bring the brown girl home.'
Lord Thomas he went to fair Eleanor's tower.
He knocked so loud on the ring.
There was none so ready as fair Eleanor's self
To let Lord Thomas in.
'What news, what news, Lord Thomas?' she said,
'What news have you brought to me?'
'I've come to invite thee to my wedding
Beneath the sycamore tree.'
'O God forbid, Lord Thomas,' she said,
'That any such thing should be done.
I thought to have been the bride myself,
And you to have been the groom.'
'Oh riddle, Oh riddle, dear mother,' she said,
'Oh riddle it both as one,
Whether I go to Lord Thomas's wedding,
Or better I stay at home?'
'There's a hundred of thy friends, dear child,
A hundred of thy foes,
Therefore I beg thee with all my blessing
To Lord Thomas's wedding don't go.'
But she dressed herself in her best attire,
Her merry men all in green,
And every town that she went through,
They thought she was some queen.
Lord Thomas he took her by the hand,
He led her through the hall,
And he sat her down in the noblest chair
Among the ladies all.
'Is this your bride, Lord Thomas ?'she says.
'I'm sure she looks wonderful brown,
When you used to have the fairest young lady
That ever the sun shone on.'
'Despise her not,' Lord Thomas he said,
'Despise her not unto me.
For more do I love your little finger
Than all her whole body.'
This brown girl she had a little pen-knife
Which was both long and sharp.
And betwixt the long ribs and the short
She pricked fair Eleanor's heart.
'Oh, what is the matter?' Lord Thomas he said.
'Oh, can you not very well see?
Can you not see my own heart's blood
Come trickling down my knee?'
Lord Thomas's sword is hung by his side,
As he walked up and down the hall,
And he took off the brown girl's head from her shoulders,
And he flung it against the wall.
He put the handle to the ground,
The sword into his heart.
No sooner did three lovers meet,
No sooner did they part.
Lord Thornas was buried in the church,
Fair Eleanor in the choir,
And out of her bosom there grew a red rose,
And out of Lord Thomas a briar.
And it grew till it reached the church steeple top.
Where it could grow no higher,
And there it entwined like a true lover's knot
For all true loves to admire.
Vaughan Williams, R & Lloyd, A.L. (eds) (1959), The Pengiun Book of English Folk Songs
, London. Penguin
Sung by Mrs Pond, Shepton Beauchamp, Som. (C.J.S. 1904)
From the Penguin Book:
The theme of this ballad (Child 73) is banal enough: a triangular love-affair that ends in the death of all three lovers. It is the characters that hold the imagination -weak, fickle Lord Thomas, haughty, fair Eleanor, and the dark, vengeful bride with the dagger hidden in her wedding dress. During this century the ballad has quite frequently been found over an area bounded by Devon, Hertfordshire, Hereford and Staffordshire. Also several Scottish sets are known. It is interesting that most of the English versions, and all the numerous American ones, obviously derive from a broadside text published during the reign of Charles II and often reprinted. Scholars incline to consider oral transmission to be almost a sine qua non
of folk song diffusion, but ballads such as this remind us that word-of-mouth is far from being the only way in which folk songs have been traditionally passed on. In Scotland this ballad is sometimes called Fair Annet
. It must be said that some of the Scottish oral versions hold beauties lacking in the texts under influence of print: such, for instance, as this embellishment to the description of Annet's grand journey to Lord Thomas's wedding:
There were four and twenty gray goshawks
A-flaffin their wings sae wide,
To flaff the stour fra aff the road
That fair Annie did ride.
In the version of the text printed here, Mrs. Pond's words have been expanded from versions collected by Hammond from Mrs. Rowell, of Taunton, Somerset, in 1905 (FSJ vol.II, p.105) and by Sharp from Mrs. Cockram, of Meshaw, Devon, in 1904 (FSJ vol.II, p.107). Other versions have been found in oral tradition in Hampshire (FSJ vol.II, p.106), Somerset (FSJ vol.II, p.109), Hertfordshire (FSJ vol.V, pp.130-1), Staffordshire (English Folk Songs, ed. C. Sharp, 1921, p.651), and Gloucestershire (Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, ed. Alfred Williams, 1923, pp.135-7). Kidson (Traditional Tunes, 1891, p.40) reports a Yorkshire version with words from a broadside of c.
F. J. Child (English and Scottish Popular Ballads
, vol.II p. 73) comments:
"The English version of this ballad, Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor
, given, with alterations, in Percy's Reliques
, III, 82, 1765, is a broadside of Charles the Second's time, printed for I. Clarke, W. Thackeray, and T. Passenger, and licensed by L'Estrange, who was censor from 1663 to 1685. This copy has become traditional in Scotland and Ireland."
Child was very impressed by a Scottish text also printed by Percy (Reliques
, II, 293, 1765), Lord Thomas and Fair Annet
, which he gave as his "A" text. He goes on to discuss Danish and French analogues, but seems to have been unaware that the song existed in English tradition at all, though it was probably more widespread there than in either Scottish or Irish traditions, or that it was alive and well in America too, though he reported texts noted in America from people who had learned them in Britain or Ireland. He does include some interesting notes on the dangers of wearing green at weddings, however.
The set published by Kidson (referred to above) was from Whitby, and was sent him by a relative. Both Kidson's and Lloyd's notes are slightly ambiguous, but I presume that Kidson added the text he printed, selecting verses from A Tragical Ballad of the Unfortunate Loves of Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor
, which he dates to c.1740, and describes as "the same with a copy which appeared in Old Ballads
A number of broadside editions can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads
, the earliest being of 1677:A tragical story of lord Thomas and fair Ellinor
Printed for F. Coles, T. Vere, J. Wright and J. Clarke, 1677. License note: This may be Printed, Dec. 13, 1676, Ro[ger] L'Estrange. Douce Ballads 1(120b)A tragical ballad on the unfortunate love of ld Thomas and fair Eleanor: together with the downfal of the brown girl
Printed between 1761 and 1788 by Thomas Saint, Newcastle. Douce Ballads 3(58b)A tragical ballad of the unfortunate loves of lord Thomas and fair Eleanor, together with the downfall of the brown girl
Printed between 1780 and 1812 by J. Evans, No. 41, Long Lane [London]. Johnson Ballads 385A tragical ballad of the unfortunate loves of lord Thomas and fair Eleanor; together with the downfall of the brown girl
Printed c.1790 by J. Evans and Co. Long-Lane [London]. Johnson Ballads 386A tragical ballad of the unfortunate loves of lord Thomas and fair Eleanor; together with the downfall of the Brown girl
Printed between 1780 and 1812 by J. Evans, No. 41, Long-Lane [London]. Harding B 3(92)A tragical ballad of the unfortunate loves of lord Thomas and fair Eleanor: together with the downfal of the brown girl
Printed and Sold in Aldermary Church Yard, Bow-Lane, London, no date. Harding B 3(91)A tragical ballad of the unfortunate loves of lord Thomas & fair Eleanor together with the downfal of the Brown girl
Printed between 1802 and 1819 by J. Pitts, No. 14, Great St. Andrew- street, seven-Dials [London]. Harding B 3(93) [Also Harding B 3(94); Johnson Ballads 1034; Johnson Ballads 1035]A tragical ballad of the unfortunate love's of lord Thomas and fair Eleanor
Printed between 1802 and 1819 by J. Pitts, No. 14, Great Saint Andrew- street Seven Dials [London]. Douce Ballads 4(36)Lord Thomas and fair Eleanor, with the downfal of the brown girl
Publish'd June 17th. 1811 by Thos. Evans no. 79 Long Lane Wt. Smithfield London. Harding B 37(38) Lord Thomas and fair Eleanor
Printed between 1813 and 1838 by J. Catnach, 2, Monmouth Court 7 Dials [London]. Harding B 11(2209): also Johnson Ballads 225, Johnson Ballads 226.lca [sic] tragiallad [sic] of the unfortunate loves of Lord Thomas & fair Eleanor
Printed between 1819 and 1844 by J. Pitts, and Toy Warehouse, 6, Great St. andrew Street, 7 Dials [London]. Harding B 11(2208)Lord Thomas & fair Eleanor
Printed between 1855 and 1858 by J.O. Bebbington, 26, Goulden street, Oldham Road, Manchester, sold by J. Beaumont 176, York- st., [Leeds]. Harding B 11(2210) and 2806 c.16(298).
American forms are often called The Brown Girl
(not to be confused with Child 295 / Roud 180); a number of fairly recent examples from tradition can be seen and heard at The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection
:The Brown Girl
Cat. #0208 (MFH #40) - As sung by Mrs. Laura McDonald, Springdale, Arkansas on July 23, 1958.The Brown Girl
Cat. #0241 (MFH #40) - As sung by May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, Missouri on September 23, 1958.Lord Thomas
Cat. #0278 (MFH #40) - As sung by Mrs. Pearl Brewer, Pochahantas, Arkansas on November 12, 1958.Brown Girl
Cat. #0547 (MFH #40) - As sung by May Kennedy McCord in Springfield, Missouri on October 21, 1960.The Brown Girl
Cat. #565 (MFH #40) - As sung by Mrs. Norma Kisner, Springdale, Arkansas on November 25, 1960.Fair Analee
Cat. #0898 (MFH #40) - As sung by Jimmy (Driftwood) Morris, Timbo, Arkansas on August 30, 1969.
(Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six