“The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin”


A craftsman has married a wife above his station. She, being of good birth, refuses to do housework. Since she is gentle, he cannot beat her -- but he covers her in a sheepskin, thrashes THAT, and causes her to start working


It has been speculated (see, e.g., Warner) that this ballad inspired Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." Evidence is, of course, completely lacking, though some Shakespeare authorities also mention the connection.

Barry et al have an even stranger theory, that this song, which occasionally has the sort of "plant refrain" we know best from "Riddles Wisely Expounded" and "The Elfin Knight," is actually a description of an exorcism, in which the herbs and the beating both play a part!

American forms of this ballad are often much simplified, omitting, e.g., the mention of the wife's noble origin and/or the sheepskin. Ritchie's version is typical of this; such texts are hard to distinguish from degenerate forms of "The Holly Twig" [Laws Q6]. (Pound's "I Bought Me a Wife" seems almost to be mixed with "The Swapping Song.")

Typical of these degenerate forms is "Risselty, Rosselty," which Paul Stamler would split from this ballad. In this he agrees with Randolph. Normally in this Index we would

do so -- but since the gradation is so continuous, I have no good way to draw the line. - RBW

I have a suggested cleaving point for "Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" and "Risselty-Rosselty": If he beats her, it's "Wether Skin"; if he only complains, it's "Risselty-Rosselty". (I've never heard a version of the song with that refrain that includes a beating.) - PJS

To add to the confusion, there is a nursery song, apparently from Halliwell, beginning "I married a wife by the light of the moon, A tidy housewife, a tidy one." This is not either "The Wife Wrapt" or "Risselty-Rosselty," but it details the wife's strange and "slovenly" habits. And several lines of it, including the first, are found in various versions of Child 277, including e.g. the "B" version in Flanders-Ancient. - RBW

Cross references


  • Warde Ford, "As the Dew Flies Over the Green Valley" (AFS 4197 B1, 1938; tr.; in AMMEM/Cowell) {Bronson's #19a; cf. 18, 19b}
  • Chubby Parker, "Nickety Nackety Now Now Now" (Gennett 6077/Champion 15247 [as Smilin' Tubby Johnson]/Silvertone 5011, 1927; Supertone 9189, 1928) (Conqueror 7889, 1931)
  • Ridgel's Fountain Citians, "The Nick Nack Song" (on CrowTold01)
  • Frank Proffitt, "Dan Doo" (on Proffitt03) {Bronson's #42a/b}
  • Jean Ritchie, "Gentle Fair Jenny" (on JRitchie02) {Bronson's #32}
  • Pete Seeger, "Risselty-Rosselty" (on PeteSeeger02, PeteSeegerCD01) (on PeteSeeger12)


  1. Child 277, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (5 texts)
  2. Bronson 277, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (63 versions)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 322-325, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #33}
  4. Belden, pp. 92-94, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #21}
  5. Randolph 35, "Dan-Doo" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #51}; also 439, "Risselty, Rosselty, Now, Now, Now" (2 texts, 1 tune. Randolph does not believe that this is Child 277, although similar in form, but to me it appears to be the same story with the ending lost)
  6. Flanders/Brown, pp. 222-225, "Cooper of Fife," "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #17, #9}
  7. Flanders/Olney, pp. 221-222, "Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #45}
  8. Flanders-Ancient4, pp. 76-98, "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin" (9 texts plus 5 fragments, 9 tunes) {D=Bronson's #17, J=#45, M=#9}
  9. Fowke/MacMillan 79, "Jenny Go Gentle" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Davis-Ballads 45, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (12 texts, several quite fragmentary, 2 tunes entitled "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin," "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin or Dandoo") {Bronson's #38, #50}
  11. Davis-More 39, pp. 305-315, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (5 texts, 2 tunes)
  12. BrownII 44, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (2 texts plus 2 excerpts)
  13. Hudson 23, p. 123, "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin" (1 text)
  14. Brewster 23, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (3 texts, though two are short)
  15. Creighton/Senior, pp. 94-95, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #24}
  16. Leach, pp. 658-660, "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin" (3 texts)
  17. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 58-63, "The Wife in Wether's Skin -- Dandoo!"; "Geely Don Mac Kling Go" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  18. Ford-Vagabond, pp. 192-194, "The Wee Cooper o' Fife" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #5}
  19. Friedman, p. 449, "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin" (2 texts)
  20. Warner 44, "The Old Wether's Skin" {Bronson's #29}; 103, "Dan Doo" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {cf. Bronson's 42a/b, from the same informant (Frank Proffitt) but not quite the same in text or tune}
  21. FSCatskills 136, "Tinna Clinnama Clinchama Clingo" (1 text, 1 tune)
  22. SharpAp 39, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (5 texts, 5 tunes) {Bronson's #38, #43, #25, #31, #44}
  23. Ritchie-Southern, p. 70, "Gentle Fair Jenny" (1 text, 1 tune, with a chorus perhaps from "Riddles Wisely Expounded," and a text which may well mix this with "The Holly Twig" [Laws Q6]; I thought seriously about filing it there) {Bronson's #32}
  24. Lomax-FSNA 85, "Gentle Fair Jenny" (1 text, 1 tune, claiming to be from Jean Ritchie, but Lomax does not cite a recording and the song bears very little resemblance in text or tune to Ritche's recorded version)
  25. Sharp-100E 70, "Ruggleton's Daughter of Iero" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #36}
  26. Niles 59, "The Unwilling Bride" (1 text, 1 tune, possibly of this ballad but, in my opinion, more likely a form of "The Holly Twig" [Laws Q6])
  27. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 23, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #43}
  28. Chase, pp. 122-123, "Nickety Nackety" (1 text, 1 tune)
  29. DBuchan 63, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (1 text)
  30. JHCox 29, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (5 texts)
  31. JHCoxIIA, #13A-C, pp. 57-60, "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin," "Dandoo" (3 texts, 1 tune, though the "B" text omits the beating and has the husband run away; it appears to have mixed with "Devilish Mary" [Laws Q4] or something like it) {Bronson's #26}
  32. Abrahams/Foss, pp. 167-169, "The Wife in Wether's Skin -- Dandoo!" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #46}
  33. LPound-ABS, 6, pp. 16-17, "The Wife Wrapped in a Wether's Skin"; pp. 17-18, "Dandoo" (2 texts); 118, pp. 236-237, "I Bought Me a Wife" (1 text, very mixed, with almost no plot and lyrics from several sources)
  34. Darling-NAS, pp. 80-81, "The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin" (1 text)
  35. Silber-FSWB, p. 171, "Risselty-Rosselty"; p. 174, "The Wee Cooper Of Fife" (2 texts)
  37. Roud #117
  38. BI, C277


Alternate titles: “The Cooper of Fife”; “The Wee Cooper of Fife”; “Bandoo”; “Gentle Virginia”; “Kitty Lorn”; “Kitty Alone”; “Dan-you”; “The Old Man Who Lived in the West”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1803
Found in: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland(Aber,Bord) Canada(Mar) Ireland US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So)