“Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight”

Alternate titles: “King of Spain's Daughter”; “Lady Ishbel and Her Parrot”; “King William's Son”; “The Courting of Aramalee”; “May Colvin”; “An Outlandish Rover”; “The Highway Robber”; “The Old Beau”; “Halewijn”; “The Seventh King's Daughter”; “Pretty Cold Rain”; “Sweet William”; “The Six Fair Maids”; “The Hinges of Ivory”; “The Prating Parrot”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1776 (Herd)
Keywords: elopement homicide seduction bird lie
Found in: Britain(England(All),Scotland) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland Australia; analogues in Poland, Germany, France, Scandinavia, Netherlands

Description

A knight woos a lady. He will marry her if she runs away with him. He leads her to the seashore and threatens to drown/kill her as he has killed others before. She makes him turn his back and kills him instead. She bribes her parrot to keep her secret

Notes

Many theories have been offered as to the origin of this ballad (closely connected with the Franko-Dutch tale of Halwijn). The most widely known is Bugge's theory that this is a corrupt form of the tale of Judith, found in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books of the Bible.

It should be noted, however, that the only actual parallel between Judith and Lady Isabel is that both end with the bad guy being killed by the heroine.

A comprehensive study of the origins of this piece is offered by Holger Olof Nygard in "Ballad Source Study: Child Ballad No. 4 as Exemplar" (first printed in the _Journal of American Folklore_, LXV, 1952; see now MacEdward Leach and Tristram P. Coffin, eds, _The Critics and the Ballad_, pp. 189- 203). Nygard concludes that none of the theories of origin is accurate, and I heartily agree. This piece stands on its own.

Peter Underwood, in _A Gazetteer of English, Scottish & Irish Ghosts_, p. 383, associates this song with Lendalfoot in Ayreshire, and claims that "mysterious shrill cries and strangely fading screams are still heard there." One has to suspect that this is one of those legends that arose after the song. - RBW

MacColl & Seeger cite a German broadside, c. 1550. - PJS

Of course, most of the alleged parallels to this piece (few of which are *truly* parallel) are in German and Scandinavian literature. - RBW

Also collected and sung by Kevin Mitchell, "False Lover John" (on Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, "Have a Drop Mair," Musical Tradition Records MTCD315-6 CD (2001)) - BS

Cross references

Broadsides

Recordings

References

  1. Child 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (8 texts)
  2. Bronson 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (144 versions plus 2 in addenda)
  3. Dixon XI, pp. 63-65, "The Water o' Wearie's Well" (1 text, plus an "Outlandish Knight" text on pp. 101-104 in the notes)
  4. Stokoe/Reay, pp. 130-131, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #29}
  5. BarryEckstormSmyth pp.14-34, "The False-Hearted Knight" (8 texts plus a fragment, 6 tunes; the "B" text is probably mixed as it starts with first person verses from the false knight) {Bronson's #50, #22, #35, #81, #5, #13}
  6. Flanders/Brown, pp. 190-192, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #130}
  7. Flanders/Olney, pp. 4-7, "The False-Hearted Knight"; pp. 109-111, "The Castle by the Sea"; pp. 129-131, "The Outlandish Knight" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #138 ,#57, #141}
  8. Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 82-123, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (14 text plus 5 fragments, 12 tunes; the "C" and "D" texts have scraps from "The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington" [Child 105], and the "J" fragment also appears to be mixed) {A=Bronson's #138, E=#141, F=#130, I=#60, N=#57}
  9. Belden, pp. 5-16, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (8 texts plus variants)
  10. Randolph 2, "Pretty Polly Ann" (4 texts plus a fragment, 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #121, C=#86, E=#131}
  11. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 16-18, "Pretty Polly Ann" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 2A) {Bronson's #121}
  12. Eddy 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (4 texts plus a fragment, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #49, #89}
  13. Gardner/Chickering 1, "Lady Isabe and the Elf-Knightl" (1 text plus a fragment and mention of 1 more, 1 tune) {Bronson's #92}
  14. Davis-Ballads 3, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (17 texts plus 2 fragments, 7 tunes entitled 'Pretty Polly," "The Nine King's Daughters," "The Seven King's Daughters," "The False-Hearted Knight," "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight"; 9 more versions mentioned in Appendix A) { {Bronson's #103, #146, #23, #104, #2, #19, #24}
  15. Davis-More 4, pp. 16-25, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts, including one reconstructed, 2 tunes)
  16. BrownII 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (7 texts)
  17. Chappell-FSRA 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (2 fragments)
  18. Hudson 1, pp. 61-66, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (3 texts plus a fragment)
  19. Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 43-45, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #120}
  20. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 127-128, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 short text, apparently without a local title, consisting mostly of the ending with little of the initial seduction)
  21. Brewster 3, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts, 1 tune)
  22. Creighton/Senior, pp. 2-9, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (4 texts plus 3 fragments, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #74, #44, #42, #43}
  23. Greenleaf/Mansfield 1, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #73}
  24. Peacock, pp. 206-207, "The King's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  25. Karpeles-Newfoundland 1, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
  26. Mackenzie 1, "Pretty Polly" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #61}
  27. Manny/Wilson 53, "The Gates of Ivory (Doors of Ivory)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  28. Ives-NewBrunswick, pp. 72-76, "Doors of Ivory" (1 text, 1 tune)
  29. Leach, pp. 53-59, ""Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts)
  30. Wyman-Brockway I, p. 82, "Six Kings Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #109}
  31. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 143-145, "The Seventh Sister" (1 text, 1 tune)
  32. Ritchie-Southern, pp. 2-3, "False Sir John" (1 text, 1 tune) {cf. Bronson's #102, which has two fewer verses and transcribes the tune rather differently}
  33. OBB 8, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight"; 10, "May Colvin" (2 texts)
  34. Friedman, p. 10, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (2 texts)
  35. Warner 41, "The Castle by the Sea" (1 text, 1 tune)
  36. PBB 12, "Lady Isobel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
  37. Sharp-100E 11, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #28a}
  38. Niles 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts, 2 tunes) {A=Bronson's#96}
  39. SharpAp 3 "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (10 texts, 10 tunes) {Bronson's #110, #106, #9, #111, #116, #99, #118, #100, #135, #55}
  40. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 4, "The Outlandish Knight (Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune, somewhat edited and expanded) {Bronson's #99}
  41. Sandburg, pp. 60-61, "Pretty Polly" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #64}
  42. Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, pp. 80-81, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #39, though Bronson has a different title and no text}
  43. SHenry H163, pp. 413-414, "The King o' Spain's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  44. Morton-Ulster 13, "The Parrot Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  45. Lomax-FSNA 8, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #44}
  46. Hodgart, p. 28 ,"Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
  47. DBuchan 42, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
  48. TBB 32, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
  49. JHCox 1, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (9 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #126}
  50. JHCoxIIA, #IA-B, pp. 5-9, "The False Sir John," "Six Kings' Daughters (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #128, #127}
  51. MacSeegTrav 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
  52. Silber-FSWB, p. 188, "Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight" (1 text)
  53. Darling-NAS, pp. 23-26, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (2 texts)
  54. BBI, ZN975, "Go fetch me some of your father's gold" (said to be combined from several Child ballads)
  55. DT 4, OUTKNGHT* ELFKNGHT* WILLWTRE* KNGSPAIN* FLSESIRJ
  56. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; notes to #427, ("The Water o' Wearie's Well") (1 text)
  57. Roud #21
  58. BI, C004