“The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heughs”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1812 (Bell); Child estimates the date of the "Hagg Worm" version as c. 1775
Keywords: animal magic royalty jealousy beauty father stepmother revenge
Found in: Britain(England(North)

Description

When the king returns from traveling, his daughter welcomes him. A lord calls her very fair; her stepmother turns her to a worm. Child Wynd arrives and, with difficulty, transforms her back. He turns the queen into a toad

Supplemental text

Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heughs, The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

The Laidley Worm

From Stokoe/Reay, Songs and Ballads of Northern England, pp. 180-181.

The King is gone from Bamborough Castle,
  Long may the Princess mourn;
Long may she stand on the castle wall,
Looking for his return.

A lord said, wondering while she spake,
  "This Princess of the north
Surpasses all of female kind
  In beauty and in worth."

The envious Queen replied at last,
  "Ye might have excepted me;
In a few hours I will her bring
  Down to a low degree."

"I will liken her to a Laidley worm
  That warps about the stone;
And not till Childy Wynd comes back
  Shall she again be won."

(Stanzas 1, 4, 5, 6 of 26)

Notes

Child prints this ballad as an appendix to #34, "Kemp Owyne." There are, however, just enough known versions (including Stokoe's, with a tune of uncertain origin) that we split them.

The reference to a King based in, or at least leaving his daughter in, Bamborough, is puzzling; being near the Scots border (but never in Scotland), it is a rather unsafe place; in any case, few Kings of England spent much time in the north, except in cases such as that of Henry VI when he was a fugitive. If, then, we assume a King who campaigned in Scotland, had daughters, and had a second wife, the obvious choice is Edward I (reigned 1272-1307). Which seems awfully early....

The theme of a beautiful daughter and jealous stepmother and a transformation is of course commonplace, with the best known version being "Snow White" (which is from the Grimm collection). - RBW

Cross references

References

  1. Child 34 Appendix, "The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heughs" (1 text plus a "more popular" version, "The Hagg Worm," in the addenda to volume IV)
  2. Stokoe/Reay, pp. 180-181, "The Laidley Worm" (1 slightly defective text, 1 tune)
  3. ST C034A (Partial)
  4. Roud #3176
  5. BI, C034A