“Riddles Wisely Expounded”


A knight arrives to court three sisters. The youngest goes to bed with him. He promises to marry her if she can answer his riddles. She does, and he either marries her or is revealed as the Devil.

Supplemental text

Riddles Wisely Expounded [Child 1]
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

(Riddles Wisely Expounded)

A modified version of Child's "A" text, collated from four texts in
(a) Rawlinson [broadside], (b) Pepys, (c) Douce, and (d) Pills to Purge
Melancholy (volume IV of the 1719 edition). The following text is
reconstructed from Child's notes to reflect the majority reading in all
stanzas, with the critical apparatus recast on that basis. Changes from
the Child text are marked *. Spelling and punctuation variants are not

1  There was a lady of the North Country
     Lay the bent to the bonny broom
   And she had lovely daughters three.
     Fa la la la, fa la la la ra re

2  There was a knight of noble worth
   Which also loved in the North.

3  The knight, of courage stout and brave,
   A wife he did desire to have.

4  He knocked at the ladie's gate
   One evening when it was late.

5  The youngest* sister let him in,
   And pin'd the door with a silver pin.

6  The second sister made his bed,
   And laid soft pillows under his head.

7  The youngest that same* night,
   She went to bed to this young knight.

8  And in the morning, when it was day,
   These words unto him she did say:

9  'Now you have had your will,' quoth she,
   'I pray, sir knight, will you marry me?'

10 The young brave knight to her replyed,
   'Thy suit, fair maid, shall not be deny'd.

11 If thou canst answer questions three,
   This very day I will marry thee.'

12 'Kind sir, in love, O then,' quoth she,
   'Tell me what your three questions be.'

13 'O what is longer than the way,
   Or what is deeper than the sea?

14 'Or what is louder than the horn,
   Or what is sharper than a thorn?

15 'Or what is greener than the grass,
   Or what is worse then (sic.) a woman was?'

16 'O love is longer than the way,
   And hell is deeper than the sea.

17 'And thunder's* louder than the horn,
   And hunger's* sharper than a thorn.

18 'And poyson's* greener than the grass,
   And the Devil's* worse than woman was.'

19 When she these questions answered had,
   The knight became exceeding glad.

20 And having [truly]* try'd her wit,
   He much commended her for it.

21 And after, as 't is verifi'd,
   He made of her his lovely bride.

22 So now, fair maidens all, adieu,
   This song I dedicate to you.

23 I wish that you may constant prove
   Vnto the man that you do love.

 1.1  of the ] c: i' th; d: in the
 3.1  The ] c: This
 5.1  Youngest: Child reads "eldest" (conjecture, probably correct)
 7.1  The youngest that same ] a Child: the youngest daughter that same;
         c: the youngest daughter that very same
 7.3  to this ] c: with this
 9.3  will you ] d: you
11.3  I will ] c: I'll (d unclear)
12.1  in love ] omit c
12.2  three ] a omits; in [] in Child
14.1  the ] d: a
17.1  thunder's ] a Child: thunder is
17.3  hunger's ] a Child: hunger is
18.1  poyson's ] a Child: poyson is
18.3  Devil's ] a Child: Devil is; than woman ] d: than the woman
19.1  these ] c: those
20.1  truly ] a b omit (Child in [])
21.2  as 't is ] a Child: as it is


This ballad is also, as "Sven Nordmand," found in Danish tradition.

"Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom", cited in Chappell/Wooldridge, should not be confused with the version of "The Twa Sisters" that uses those words as a refrain. - PJS

Same tune

  • "Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom" (tune, per broadsides Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(193) and Douce Ballads 2(168b) -- though that may be just the "tune name" for this song)

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 4o Rawl. 566(193), "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded" or "The Maids Answer to the Knights Three Questions", F. Coles (London), 1674-1679; also Douce Ballads 2(168b), "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded" or "The Maids Answer to the Knights Questions"


  1. Child 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (5 texts)
  2. Bronson 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (7 versions)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 429-430, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (scraps and notes only)
  4. Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 45-50, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text plus two riddle fragments possibly associated with this, 1 tune); also pp. 299-315, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts plus two fragments, 5 tunes; the "A" text and the F fragment and tune are mixed with "Riddles Wisely Expounded")
  5. Leach, pp. 47-51, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (3 texts)
  6. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 116-118, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Davis-Ballads 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text; 1 tune entitled "The Devil's Nine Questions") {Bronson's #5}
  8. Davis-More 1, pp. 1-7, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text plus an excerpt from another, 1 tune)
  9. OBB 9, "The Riddling Knight" (1 text)
  10. Friedman, p. 4, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (2 texts)
  11. PBB 10, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
  12. Niles 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (3 texts, 3 tunes, but only the first, "The Devil's Questions," is Child 1)
  13. Lomax-FSNA 86, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Chase, pp. 110-111, "The Devil's Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. Hodgart, p. 25 ,"Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
  16. Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 717, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. Abrahams/Foss, pp. 86-87, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
  18. Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 80-81, "Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom" (1 tune, partial text)
  19. Stokoe/Reay, pp. 56-57, "Lay the Bent to the Bonnie Broom" (1 text, 1 tune) {cf. Bronson's #1 and its comments on Bruce/Stokoe}
  20. Darling-NAS, pp. 18-19, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
  21. BBI, ZN2508, "There was a Lady of the North-Country"
  23. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #343, "There Was a Knight" (1 text)
  24. ST C001 (Full)
  25. Roud #161
  26. BI, C001


Alternate titles: “Jennifer Gentle”; “There Was a Man Lived in the West”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1680 (broadside, Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(193))
Found in: US(Ap,NE,SE) Britain(England(North,West),Scotland)