“The Cruel Brother”


A man and woman agree to wed, but fail to ask her brother's permission. As the woman prepares for the wedding, her brother stabs her. She does not name her murderer, but reveals the facts in the terms of her will.


Flanders, in her notes in _Ancient Ballads_, observes that some scholars have seen the possibility of an incest motif in this song. Possible, of course, since the brother's extreme rage seems unreasonable. But the only real evidence is the last will scene, found in the incest ballad of "Lizzie Wan" -- but *not*, we note, in "Sheathe and Knife," nor is the last will scene in Lord Randall in any way linked with incest. - RBW

Compare the first verse lines of Child 10.H to Opie-Oxford2 479, "There were three sisters in a hall" (earliest date in Opie-Oxford2 is c.1630)

Child 10.H: "There were three sisters lived in a hall, ... And there came a lord to court them all...."

Opie-Oxford2 479 is a riddle beginning "There were three sisters in a hall, There came a knight amongst them all ...." - BS

This item is also found as Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #702, p. 275, but this appears to be simply a greeting rhyme unrelated to the various rather murderous ballads (notably Child 10 and 11) using these lines. - RBW


  1. Child 11, "The Cruel Brother" (14 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  2. Bronson 11, "The Cruel Brother" (10 versions)
  3. SharpAp 6 "The Cruel Brother" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #3, #4}
  4. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 431-433, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
  5. Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 171-174, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. BrownII 5, "The Cruel Brother" (2 texts)
  7. Leach, pp. 78-81, "The Cruel Brother" (2 texts)
  8. OBB 64, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text)
  9. Friedman, p. 175, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text)
  10. PBB 32, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text)
  11. Niles 8, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Gummere, pp. 185-187+344, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text)
  13. LPound-ABS, 8, pp. 21-23, "The Cruel Brother" (1 text)
  14. DT 11, CRUELBRO*
  15. Roud #26
  16. BI, C011


Alternate titles: “Brother's Revenge”; “Oh Lily O”; “Lily O”; “Three Ladies Played at Ball”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1776 (Herd)
Found in: Britain(England (West),Scotland) Ireland US(NE,SE)