“The Jolly Beggar”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1769 [Herd]
Keywords: begging courting escape money sex nobility mother children
Found in: Britain(England(West),Scotland(Aber,Bord)) Ireland US(NE,So)


A beggar asks lodging. He is admitted to the house, but wants more than his beggar's fare. Receiving much of what he asks, he at last receives the daughter of the house into his cloak. He then reveals that he is a nobleman; (perhaps he marries the girl)


Although this ballad is associated in tradition with James V of Scotland, there is no evidence that he ever courted in a manner such as this. James V in fact married a noble foreign lady, Mary of Guise-Lorraine.

Child draws a distinction between this and "The Gaberlunzie Man" (which he calls "The Gaberlunyie-Man" -- and, indeed, his texts are metrically distinct ("Gaberlunzie Man" uses eight-line stanzas with four feet per line; "The Jolly Beggar" typically has the standard four-line 4-3-4-3 stanza). In addition, his "Gaberlunyie-Man" lacks the ending. However, both songs occur in tradition and have so heavily cross-fertilized that it is often not possible to distinguish.

If there is a distinction to be drawn, it is probably in the form of the ending. In "The Jolly Beggar," the beggar sleeps with the girl and then reveals his status the next morning (perhaps abandoning her); in "The Gaberlunzie Man," he lures the girl away (as opposed to sleeping with her on the spot), and only later returns and reveals his wealth.

Due to the degree of cross-fertilization of these ballads, one should be sure to check both songs to find all versions. - RBW

Of the Bodleian broadsides listed, "Was a Jolly Beggerman" lacks the usual ending. - BS

Cross references




  1. Child 279, "The Jolly Beggar" (3 texts)
  2. Bronson 279, "The Jolly Beggar" (37 versions, but #21 is a fragment of "Johnny Lad" and #28 is "Davy Faa (Remember the Barley Straw)"; it is likely that several of the other texts also belong with other songs.)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 475-476, "The Jolly Beggar" (1 songster text)
  4. Flanders/Olney, pp. 47-48, "Hind Horn" (1 short text, properly titled "The Jolly Beggar," which might be "Hind Horn" [Shild #17] or "The Jolly Beggar" [Child #279] or a mix; 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
  5. Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 223-225, "Hind Horn" (1 short text, properly titled "The Jolly Beggar," which might be "Hind Horn" [Shild #17] or "The Jolly Beggar" [Child #279] or a mix; 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
  6. Ford-Vagabond, pp. 9-12, "The Jolly Beggar" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  7. Randolph 37, "The Jolly Beggar" (1 short text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #9}
  8. SHenry H183, p. 268, "The Rambling Suiler" (1 text, 1 tune, in which the visitor is not a nobleman but the colonel of a visiting headquarters; there might be a bit of "Pretty Peggy-O" mixed in)
  9. MacSeegTrav 18, "The Jolly Beggar" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Davis-More 41, pp. 328-332, "The Jolly Beggar" (1 fragment, which Davis believes to be this song but which in fact could be almost anything)
  11. JHCoxIIA, #14, pp. 61-63, "The Jolly Beggar" (1 text, but not from West Virginia) {Bronson's #2}
  12. BBI, ZN2500, "There was a jovial Begger-man"
  14. Roud #118
  15. BI, C279