“The Golden Vanity”


A ship is threatened by a foreign galley. The ship's cabin boy, promised gold and the captain's daughter as wife, sinks the galley. He comes back to his ship; the captain will not take him from the water. (The ending is variable)

Supplemental text

Golden Vanity, The [Child 286]
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

The Goulden Vanitie

As printed by W. H. Logan, The Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs,
pp. 43-45. Immediate source not clearly stated.

There was a gallant ship,
And a gallant ship was she,
      Eck iddle dee, and the Lowlands low.
And she was called "The Goulden Vanitie,"
      As she sailed to the lowlands low.

She had not sailed a league,
A league but only three
      Eck, &c.,
When she came up with a French Gallee,
      As she sailed, &c.

Out spoke the little cabin-boy,
Out spoke he,
      Eck, &c.,
"What will you give me if I sink that French Gallee?
      As ye sail," &c.

Out spoke the Captain,
Out spoke he,
      Eck, &c.,
"We'll gi'e ye an estate in the north countrie,"
      As we sail, &c.

"Then row me up ticht
In a black bull's skin,
      Eck, &c.,
And throw me o'er deck-buird, sink I or swim,
      As ye sail," &c.

So they've rowed him up ticht
In a black bull's skin:
      Eck, &c.,
And have thrown him o'er deck-buird, sink he or soom, (sic.)
      As they sail," &c.

About and about,
And about went he,
      Eck, &c.,
Until he came up with the French Gallee,
      As they sailed," &c.

Oh! some were playing cards,
And some were playing dice:
      Eck, &c.,
When he took out an instrument*, bored thirty holes at twice!
      As they sailed," &c.

Then some they ran with cloaks,
And some they ran with caps,
      Eck, &c.,
To try if they could stap the saut-water draps,
      As they sailed," &c.

About and about,
And about went he,
      Eck, &c.,
Until he cam back to the Goulden Vanitie,
      As they sailed," &c.

"Now throw me o'er a rope,
And pu' mu up on buird;
      Eck, &c.,
And prove unto me as guid as your word;
      As ye sail," &c.

"We'll no throw you o'er a rope,
Nor pu' you up on buird:
      Eck, &c.,
Nor prove unto you as guid as our word."
      As we sail," &c.

Out spoke the little cabin-boy,
Out spoke he,
      Eck, &c.,
"Then hang me, I'll sink ye as I sunk the French Gallee,
      As ye sail," &c.

But they've thrown him o'er a rope,
And have pu'd him up on buiord,
      Eck, &c.,
And have proved unto him far better than their word:
      As they sailed," &c.

* The words "an instrument" are in a different typeface (a
blackletter) from the rest of the song; it appears as if they
are a modification of the original plates.


Connecting this song with actual events is impossible even if one accepts Sir Walter Raleigh as the murderous captain. The following dates may, however, provide some guidelines:

1453 - Fall of Constantinople gives the Turks good access to the Mediterranean (Lowland) Sea.

1571 - Battle of Lepanto cripples the Turkish navy.

1588 - Voyage of the Spanish Armada. Spanish navy crippled.

As far as I know, every version lists the enemy as Spanish, Turkish, or French. It should be noted, however, that the Barbary pirates were often called "Turks," since the Ottoman Empire had (often nominal) soveriegnty over them.

Incidentally, while this song does not have a historical setting, the plot has historical antecedents; Fredson Bowers, in _Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy_, mentions a 1605 pamphlet, "Two most unnatural and bloodie Murthers: The one by Maister Cauerly... the other by mistris Browne and her servant Peter." Apparently Peter, a servant, had been promised land and the girl's hand; when her father reneged, the young couple turned to murder.

The sinking of a ship by a youth is also apparently attested: N. A. M. Rodger reports, in _The Safeguard of the Sea_, p. 46, that a Saracen vessel threatened the fleet of Richard I on his way to the third crusade, but that one report claims it was sunk by a boy with an auger. Unfortunately, Rodger does not cite any primary sources for this account, and I don't believe sinking a ship with an auger is actually possible (by that time, ships had pumps and carpenters to plug leaks). I suspect that one of Rodger's sources actually heard a distorted version of this song. - RBW

Historical references

  • c. 1552-1618 - Life of Sir Walter Raleigh (one of whose ships was named "The Sweet Trinity")

Same tune

  • Sinking of the Great Ship (BrownII, #287, pp. 662-663, the "A" text)

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(1086), "The Golden Vanity" or "The Low Lands Low," H. Such (London), 1849-1862
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(122a), "Lowlands Low," Poet's Box (Glasgow), 1877; also L.C.Fol.70(103b), "Lowlands Low"


  • Almanac Singers, "The Golden Vanity" (General 5016B, 1941; on Almanac02, Almanac03, AlmanacCD1)
  • Horton Barker, "The Turkish Rebilee" (on Barker01) {Bronson's #74}
  • Justus Begley, "Golden Willow Tree" (AFS, 1937; on KMM)
  • Bill Cameron, "The Golden Vanity" (on FSB5) {Bronson's #10}
  • The Carter Family, "Sinking In The Lonesome Sea" (Conqueror 8644/Okeh 03160, 1936; Columbia 37756) {Bronson's #73}
  • Dodie Chalmers, "The Golden Victory (The Golden Vanity) (on FSBBAL2) {Bronson's #33}
  • Johnny Doughty, "The Golden Vanity" (on JDoughty01, HiddenE)
  • Warde Ford, "The Lowlands Low" [fragment] (AFS 4194 A2, 1938; in AMMEM/Cowell) {Bronson's #20}
  • Sam Hazel, "The Golden Willow Tree" (AFS 2095 B2, 3096 A, 3096 B1, 1939)
  • [Mrs.?] Ollie Jacobs, "A Ship Set Sail for North America" (AFS, 1941; on LC58) {Bronson's #86}
  • Paul Joines, "Green Willow Tree" (on Persis1)
  • Joe Kelly, "The Golden Vanity" (on Ontario1)
  • Paralee McCloud, "The Little Ship" (on FolkVisions1)
  • Jimmy Morris, "The Golden Willow Tree" (AFS, 1937; on LC58) {Bronson's #105}
  • New Lost City Ramblers, "Sinking in the Lonesome Sea" (on NLCR06, NLCR11)
  • Frank Proffitt, "Lowlands Low" [excerpt] (on USWarnerColl01)
  • Almeda Riddle, "Merry Golden Tree" (on LomaxCD1707)
  • Jean Ritchie, "The Merry Golden Tree" (on JRitchie01) {Bronson's #41}
  • Pete Seeger, "The Golden Vanity" (on PeteSeeger16) (Commodore 3006, n.d. -- but this may be the same recording as the General disc by the Almanac Singers)
  • Rob Walker, "The Lowlands Low" [fragment] (AFS 4194 A3, 1938; in AMMEM/Cowell) {Bronson's #49}
  • Doug Wallin, "The Golden Vanity" (on Wallins1)


  1. Child 286, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (3 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #52, #55}
  2. Bronson 286, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (111 versions+1 in addenda)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 339-347, "The Golden Vanity" (4 texts plus 2 fragments, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #108, #66}
  4. Flanders-Ancient4, pp. ,188-263 "The Sweet Trinity or the Golden Vanity" (39 texts plus 11 fragments, 18 tunes) {E=Bronson's #71, HH=#64}
  5. Ford-Vagabond, pp. 103-106, "The Goulden Vanitee" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #53}
  6. Belden, pp. 97-100, "The Golden Vanity" (3 texts)
  7. Randolph 38, "The Lowlands Low" (4 texts plus a fragment, 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #69, D=#48, E=#51}
  8. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 56-59, "The Lowlands Low" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 38A) {Bronson's #69}
  9. Davis-Ballads 47, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (4 texts plus 2 fragments, 1 tune entitled "The Turkish-Rogherlee and the Yellow Golden Tree, or Lowlands Low") {Bronson's #109}
  10. Davis-More 43, pp. 339-343, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. BrownII 47, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (3 texts plus mention of 2 more)
  12. Chappell-FSRA 21, "The Green Willow Tree" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #50}
  13. Hudson 25, pp. 125-127, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (1 text)
  14. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 184-189, "The Sweet Trinity; The Golden Vanity" (2 texts; the first, with no title, is from Randolph; the second has local title "The Golden Willow Tree"; 1 tune on pp. 406-407) {Bronson's #107}
  15. Shellans, pp. 62-63, "The Lonesome Sea Ballad" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. Brewster 25, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #68}
  17. Gardner/Chickering 82, "The Lowlands Low" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #110, related to "The Arkansas Traveller"}
  18. Flanders/Brown, pp. 230-231, "The Green Willow Trees" (1 text)
  19. Linscott, pp. 136-137, "The Gallant Victory or Lowlands Low" (1 short text, with no hint of the Captain's refusal to save the boy; he is hauled aboard and dies, 1 tune)
  20. Creighton/Senior, pp. 101-106, "The Sweet Trinity, or The Golden Vanity" (3 texts plus 2 fragments, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #44, #17, #19, #18}
  21. Creighton-NovaScotia 10, "Sweet Trinity; or The Golden Vanity" (1 text, called "Golden Vallady" by the singer, 1 tune) {Bronson's #21}
  22. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 6, "The Golden Vanity" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  23. Greenleaf/Mansfield 19, "The Golden Vanitie" (2 fragments)
  24. Colcord, pp. 154-156, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #45}
  25. Harlow, pp. 35-36, "Golden Vanitee" (1 text, 1 tune)
  26. Hugill, pp. 62-64, "Lowlands Low" (3 texts, 3 tunes) [AbEd, pp. 58-60]
  27. Logan, pp. 42-46, "The Goulden Vanitie (Golden Vanity, or the Low Lands Low)" (2 texts)
  28. Leach, pp. 667-670, "The Sweet Trinity or The Golden Vanity" (3 texts)
  29. Leach-Labrador 8, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune)
  30. Wyman-Brockway I, p. 72, "The Mary Golden Tree, or The Lonesome Low" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #37}
  31. Cambiaire, pp. 93-94, "The Merry Golden Tree" (1 text)
  32. Ritchie-Southern, pp. 74-75, "Lonesome Sea" (1 text, 1 tune) {cf. Bronson's #41, which is also by Jean Ritchie and uses the same tune but a different title and slightly different words}
  33. McNeil-SFB1, pp. 34-36, "The Green Willow Tree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  34. Friedman, p. 409, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text)
  35. FSCatskills 67, "The Bold Trellitee" (1 text, 1 tune)
  36. OBB 132, "The 'Golden Vanity'" (1 text)
  37. Warner 104, "Lowland Low (or, The Golden Willow Tree)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  38. SharpAp 41, "The Golden Vanity" (7 texts plus 3 fragments, 11 tunes) {Bronson's #94, #93, #88, #104, #43, #46, #78, #90, #99, #39, #106}
  39. Sharp-100E 14, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  40. Niles 61, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  41. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 28, "The Weeping Willow Tree (The Golden Vanity)" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #94}
  42. Ord, pp. 450-451, "The Lowlands Low" (1 text)
  43. Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, pp. 46-47, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #35}
  44. Scott-BoA, pp. 138-139, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune)
  45. Fowke/Mills/Blume, pp. 38-40, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune)
  46. Fowke/MacMillan 82, "The 'Green Willow Tree'" (1 text, 1 tune)
  47. Karpeles-Newfoundland 23, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text fragment, 1 tune)
  48. Lomax-FSNA 95, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text, 1 tune) {should be Bronson's #73, but heavily reworked}
  49. Chase, pp. 120-121, "The Merry Golden Tree" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #74}
  50. Abrahams/Foss, pp. 79-80, "Golden Willow Tree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  51. LPound-ABS, 10, pp. 24-26, "The Lowlands Low" (1 text)
  52. JHCox 32, "The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity)" (2 texts plus a fragment)
  53. JHCoxIIA, #15A-C, pp. 64-69, "The Golden Vanity," "The Mary Golden Lee," "The Green Willow Tree" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #38, which -- despite Cox -- he calls "The Weeping Willow Tree"; this version has two American ships "The Weeping Willow Tree" and "The Golden Silveree"}
  54. Darling-NAS, pp. 64-66, "The Sweet Trinity"; "The Golden Willow Tree" (1 text plus a fragment)
  55. Silber-FSWB, p. 213, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text)
  56. BBI, ZN2370, "Sir Walter Rawleigh ha's built a Ship"
  58. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #411, "The Golden Vanity" (1 text)
  59. ST C286 (Full)
  60. Roud #122
  61. BI, C286


Alternate titles: “The Lonesome Low”; “The Merry Golden Tree”; “The Sweet Kumadee”; “The Weep-Willow Tree”; “The Turkish Revoloo”; “Cabin Boy”; “Lowland Sea”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: c. 1685 (broadside)
Found in: Britain(England(All),Scotland(Aber,Bord)) Ireland US(All) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont)