“Sir John Butler”


Men cross a moat by leather boat to Sir John Butler's hall. His daughter Ellen warns him his uncle Stanley is here. He says he is therefore doomed, and, indeed, he is murdered. His wife, in London, dreams his death, confirms it, seeks redress in vain.


Child gives a good deal of background to this murder, while admitting to some very substantial questions about it. But he distinctly fails to give some additional background -- notably the fact that this happened during the Wars of the Roses, when battles between noble families were commonplace. And he makes, in my view, far too little of the complicated connections of the families involved.

Lord Stanley was Thomas Stanley, the future Earl of Derby -- and the future husband of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII. And Ellen Butler? Well, there was an Eleanor Butler who (at least acording to the Bishop af Bath and Wells and King Richard III) was betrothed to King Edward IV, who was king in 1463 -- and who, if she *did* have a relationship with Edward IV, was having it right about the time of this murder. (For more on the Stanleys, see e.g. "The Vicar of Bray"; for the whole mess of Eleanor Butler, see e.g. "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34].

I'm not claiming that any of this is neccessarily meaningful. But if anyone decides to try to learn more than Child had to say about this ballad, this probably needs to be looked into. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1463 - The Butler Murder


  1. Child 165, "Sir John Butler" (1 text)
  2. Roud #4000
  3. BI, C165


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1750 (Percy folio)
Keywords: family homicide dream