A British ship is captured by the Turks and its crew enslaved. The singer suffers until his owner offers to free him if he will accept Islam and marry her. He refuses to abandon Christianity. She eventually decides to turn Christian and marry him
Turkish Lady, The [Laws O26] Complete text(s) *** A *** The Turkish Lady As printed by W. H. Logan, The Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs, pp. 16-18. From a broadside ("Four Excellent New Songs," 1782), with the bracketed verse from a later printing. Young virgins all I pray draw near, A pretty story you shall hear; It's of a Turkish lady brave, Who fell in love with an English slave. A merchant ship at Bristol lay. As we were sailing over the sea; By a Turkish rover took were we, And all of us made slaves to be. They bound us down in irons strong, They whipped and slashed us all along; No tongue can tell I'm certain sure, What we poor sailors do endure. [One of the seamen that were there, An Englishman both fresh and fair, Comely in stature, straight, and tall, He went to Turkey amongst them all.] Come sit ye down, and listen a while, And see how fortune on him did smile. It was his fortune for to be A slave unto a rich lady; She drest herself in rich array, And went to view her slaves one day; Hearing the moan this young man made, She went to him and thus she said: -- "What countryman, young man, are you?" "I am an Englishman, that's true." "I wish you were a Turk," said she, "I'd ease you of your misery. "I'd ease you of your slavish work, If you'll consent to turn a Turk. I'd own myself to be your wife, For I do love you as my life." "O no, no no, no no," said he, "Your constant slave I choose to be. I'd sooner be burnt there at a stake, Before that I'll my God forsake." This lady to her chamber went, And spend the night in discontent; Sly Cupid with his piercing dart, Did deeply wound this lady's heart. She was resolved the next day, To ease him of his slavery, And own herself to be his wife, For she did love him as her life. She drest herself in rich array, And with this young man sailed away, Until they came to Bristol shore, With jewels, diamonds, and gold great store. Houses and lands she left behind, And all her slaves are close confined; Unto her parents she bade adieu, By this you see what love can do. Now she is turned a Christian brave, And married is to her own slave, That was in chains and bondage too, By this you see what love can do.
This song is sometimes treated as a variant of "Young Beichan" [Child 53]. The setting, obviously, is similar -- but the difference in the ending marks them as separate ballads. "Young Beichan" stresses the lover's return; "The Turkish Lady," the change in the woman's faith (which, incidentally, was a dangerous thing to do: Islam tolerates Christianity, but many Islamic cultures do not tolerate turning from Islam to Christianity. Though the direct comment on an Islamic woman marrying a pagan, in the Quran, Surah 60:11, merely requires the recovery of her dowry). - RBW