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The Jolly Beggar / The Beggar Man

[ Roud 118 ; Master title: The Jolly Beggar ; Child 279 ; G/D 2:274 ; Ballad Index C279 ; Mudcat 118078 ; trad.]

[ See also the related ballad The Gaberlunzie Man (Child 279 Appendix) ]

Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger David Herd: Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Second Volume Katie Howson: Blyth Voices Gale Huntington: Sam Henry's Songs of the People Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs James Kinsley: The Oxford Book of Ballads Ewan MacColl: Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger: Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland Roy Palmer: Everyman's Book of British Ballads James Reeves: The Everlasting Circle Stephen Sedley: The Seeds of Love

Ewan MacColl sang The Jolly Beggar in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume I. This song and 28 other from this series were reissued in 2009 on his Topic double CD set Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

The earliest printing of this delightfully ribald Scottish ballad is from the middle of the 18th century, though an English broadside from the Pepysian collection (ca. 1675) has the same story and may have been the foundation for it. Child, however, thought the Scottish ballad “a far superior piece of work” to the English forerunner.

The Jolly Beggar has not been reported from tradition in England and only fragmentary texts have been collected in the United States. Though Greig collected six versions in Aberdeenshire at the turn of this century, the ballad may well be extinct in tradition in Scotland at the present time.

The version sung by MacColl was learned from Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs].

Sandy Paton sang The Begging Tongue in 1959 on his Elektra album The Many Sides of Sandy Paton. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

He came begging for food and went away with a lady's heart. At that, his excuse for not taking her with him seems pretty slim—a few months with the tinkers (the Scottish travelling folk) and she would have picked up enough cant (tinkers' slang) to beg with the best of them.

Jeannie Robertson sang Davy Faa in 1959 on her Collector EP Twa Brothers. A 1958 live performance recorded by Hamish Henderson was released in 1984 on her Lismor album Up the Dee and Doon the Don. A recording made by Alan Lomax in between 1951 and 1957 was included in 2011 on Drag City's anthology commemorating the 60th anniversary of the first of Alan Lomax's Scottish recordings, Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree. Hamish Henderson noted on the first EP:

One of her mother’s songs. The Faas were a famous Scots tinkler-gypsy family—in a document of 1540 a Johnne Faw is styled “lord and earl of Little Egypt”, and Johnny Faa is the name of the hero in the earliest version of The Gypsy Laddie (Child 200).

The figure of the jolly beggar who seduces a farmer’s daughter is a popular one in Scottish balladry. He steers his pawkie erratic course from The Gaherlunzie Man, traditionally ascribed to King James V, to Jeannie’s mumper song, which is also known as The Tinker Loon (=Lad). This may well be related to earlier ballads on the same theme.

Lucy Stewart sang The Beggar King on her 1961 Folkways album Traditional Singer from Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Liner notes:

The earliest printing of this delightful (sometimes ribald) ballad is from the middle of the 18th century, though an English broadside from the Pepysian collection (ca. 1675) has the same story and may have been the foundation for it. Child, however, thought the Scottish ballad “a far superior piece of work” to its English forerunner.

The Jolly Beggar has not been reported from tradition in England and only fragmentary texts have been collected in the United States. It is however, still widely known in Scotland, especially in Aberdeenshire.

Lucy's title for the ballad, The Beggar King, is a reflection of the popular tradition that this ballad was written by James V of Scotland about one of his adventures in disguise as a beggar. (Lucy also knew various legends relating to “the beggar King” in his guise as “the goodman of Ballengeich.”) Alex.Keith, however, raises the excellent point that if the ballad was indeed the work of James V, it is certainly strange that there is no trace of it in Scotland before 1750, 200 years after James's death.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Jolly Beggar in 1962 on their Topic EP Ceilidh at the Crown.

Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor sang Davy Faa in 1962 on their album Two Heids Are Better Than Yin.

Enoch Kent sang The Jolly Beggar in 1967 on the The Exiles Topic album The Hale and the Hanged. A.L. Lloyd and Gordon McCulloch noted:

We don’t know how old this ballad is. A version covering the same story was printed on an English broadside in the 1630s, but the song was probably circulating before that, both in Scotland and England, in one form or another. The notion of the scruffy beggar who turns out to be some rich nobleman gave rise to several ballads, most of them attributed romantically—and on no grounds at all—to James V of Scotland. Some of the ballads are a bit rough, and Alan Cunningham cleaned up a version before printing it in his influential Tea-Table Miscellany in 1724. Cunningham’s rewritten version went back into tradition and was lightly ‘re-folkIorized’, and it is in this form that the ballad is sung here. The version is substantially as collected by Gavin Greig from an Aberdeen parson’s daughter, Mrs Gillespie, who knew many fine ballads which she had learnt from a washerwoman. In former times in Scotland, many beggars operated under special license from the king; they wore a blue gown and displayed a pewter badge, and were entitled to respect and privileges; thus, as many beggar-ballads show, it was easy for them to find warm lodgings with amiable perquisites.

Davie Stewart sang The Jolly Beggar to Hamish Henderson in Dundee in 1962. This recording was included in 1978 on his eponymous Topic album Davie Stewart. Hamish Henderson noted:

Another favourite of the travelling people, this classic ballad is always associated in popular tradition with James V (father of Mary Queen of Scots), about whom a number of stories of the Haroun-al-Raschid type are told. The most celebrated of these is the Gudeman of Ballengiech, this being the alias which he King is reputed to have taken when roving around disguised as a commoner (cf Sir Walter Scott, Tales of a Grandfather, 1st Series, XXVII, page 287). Lord Byron, whose mother was a Gordon of Gight, and who spent his childhood in Aberdeen, took the chorus of an “ancestor” of this particular version of the ballad as starting-off point for one of his most famous poems So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving. Not long ago Adrian Henri carried the “folk literary” process a stage further by adapting Byron's poem to suit “the swinging 60s”. (“We'll go no more a-raving.”)

Nigel Denver sang The Jolly Beggar on his 1967 Decca album with Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Rebellion!.

Norman Kennedy sang There Was a Jolly Beggar in 1968 on his Folk-Legacy album Ballads & Songs of Scotland. Peter Hall noted:

This song first appears in a broadside circa 1670-1675 in the Pepys collection. The Scots versions are, however, more numerous and usually much superior. This tune and half a dozen verses were collected from the Aberdeen traveller (tinker) Willie Robertson, and a collated version was published in the Aberdeen Folk Song Club song sheet. This has given it a new lease on life among young Scottish singers and it has become a firm favourite in many clubs.

Lizzie Higgins sang Davie Faa in 1969 on her Topic album of Scots songs and ballads, Princess of the Thistle. Peter Hall noted:

Some versions of The Jolly Beggar (Child No. 279) begin by revealing that the beggar or tinker is in reality a nobleman or at least well-off. This lends credibility to the notion that Davie Faa is a version of the Child ballad. The family of Faa was once well known in southern Scotland and the stealing of the lady in The Gypsy Laddie is often attributed to them. A number of well known tunes are used for the song including Tramps and Hawkers The Banks of Sweet Dundee.

Cyril Tawney sang The Ragged Beggarman in 1969 on his album of traditional ballads from Devon and Cornwall, The Outlandish Knight, and in 1976 on his Trailer album Down Among the Barley Straw. He noted on the first album:

Collected by Baring-Gould between 1889-90 from three Devon singers, Will Setter of Two Bridges, J. Gerard of Hellhole, Chaffed, and James Parsons of Lew down. The tune is Will Setter's. There are two recognised forms of this ballad, namely The Jolly Beggar and The Gaberlunzie Man, of which the former is the older. Even in this form, however, the beggar frequently turns out to be a rich lord in disguise. Which leaves us with the interesting question: Have the Devonshire singers ‘lost’ those last few stanzas of preserved an even older form of the ballad?

The High Level Ranters sang The Jolly Beggar in 1971 on their Trailer album High Level.

Planxty sang The Jolly Beggar in 1973 on their eponymous first album, Planxty. A 1980 live recording of this song from the Abbey Tavern was included in 2015 on their retrospective Between the Jigs and the Reels. This video is from the Abbey tavern in Howth in 1980:

Jean Redpath sang Davy Faa on her 1977 album Song of the Seals. She noted:

This latter day and lesser known member of the Faa Family fares rather better than his classic cousin’ (Johnny Faa. a name common among the Gypsies, is that of the hero at the Gypsy Laddie Child 200). The melody is that also used for Tramps and Hawkers and is totally infectious. I think I learned this from the singing of Arthur Argo.

Charlotte Renals sang The Beggar to Pete Coe in 1978. This recording was included in 2003 on her family's Veteran album of songs from Cornish Travellers, Catch Me If You Can. Her nephew Vic Legg sang The Beggarman in 1994 on his Veteran album of Cornish family songs, I've Come to Sing a Song. Mike Yates noted on the first album:

Charlotte’s song is somewhat removed from the texts printed by Professor Child in his ballad collection, though it is similar to versions collected by Cecil Sharp in the early 1900’s. Child’s earliest text, dated 1769, comes from Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, although notes in other collections suggest that it may be slightly older. Sabine Baring-Gould informed Professor Child that the song was well-known throughout Cornwall and Devon and supplied Child with broadside sets, which carried titles such as The Jovial Tinker and Farmer’s Daughter. Sharp noted no fewer than ten versions, one of which, collected on Christmas Day, 1905, from Abraham Lawrence of Ilminster, Somerset, is close to our present set.

Cilla Fisher and Artie Tresize sang The Jolly Beggar in 1979 on their Kettle/Folk-Legacy album For Foul Day and Fair. The noted:

One of Scotland's most ardent collectors is Pete Shepheard. This song came from his collection, recorded from Willie Stewart of Springfield, Fife. Although it is incomplete, we enjoy the song as it stands.

Jack Beck sang The Jolly Beggar in 1989 on his Greentrax album of Scots songs and ballads, O Lassie, Lassie. He noted:

This ballad is traditionally attributed to King James V of Scotland who is is alleged to have adopted beggar's ‘gear’ to travel ‘incognito’ around his realm in order to witness at first hand the state of the people.

Ceolbeg sang The Jolly Beggar in 1993 on their Greentrax CD An Unfair Dance.

Stravaig sang Davey Faa' in 1994 on their Greentrax CD Movin' On. They noted:

The first ballad Jean [McMonies] ever sang—it will always have a special place in her heart.

Lucy Stewart's niece Elizabeth Stewart sang The Jolly Beggar on her 1992 cassette 'Atween You an' Me and on her 2004 Elphinstone Institute CD Binnorie. She and Tom McKean sang it in May 2004 at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife. This recording was included in the following year on the festival CD Here's a Health to the Company (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 1). She also sang it on the 2007 Springthyme cassette of new recordings from the North East Folklore Archive, North East Tradition I.

Andrew Watson sang The Jolly Beggar on The Gaugers' 2000 Sleepytown album No More Forever.

Dan Walsh and Will Pound played the tune of The Jolly Beggarman in 2011 on their eponymous album Walsh & Pound.

Fiona Ross sang Davy Faa in 2017 on her Tradition Bearers album with Tony McManus, Clyde's Water. She noted:

This is a version of The Jolly Beggar (Child 279). It was one of Jeannie Robertson’s songs, although I first heard it sung by Jean Redpath. I’ve come across additional verses where the father succeeds in marrying his “shamed” daughter off to the son of a local farmer—but she continues to meet with the handsome Traveller behind her husband’s back…

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings The Jolly Beggar

There was a jolly beggar; and a beggin' he was boun',
    Wi' my fal an' my dal an' my dandie, O;
An' he's ta’en up his quarters into some lanwart toon,
    Wi a teeran ooran eeran ooran andie, O.

He wadna’ lie in barn and he wadna’ lie in byre,
But in ahint the ha’ door or else before the fire.

The beggar's bed was weel made wi' rynin’ sheet and hay.
And in ahint the ha' door the jolly beggar lay.

Up rose the gudeman's dochter for to bar the door.
When there she saw the jolly beggar stan'in' on the floor.

He's ta'en her in his airms an' till his bed he ran;
“Be canny wi' me noo,” she says, “ye'll wauken oor puir man.”

The beggar being a cunnin' loon, the ne'er a word he spak,
Until he got his jobbie deen, he then began to crack.

“Hae ye cats or dogs aboot your place? O, maiden tell me true.”
“O, fat wad ye due wi' them, my honey and my doo.”

“They would rive a' my meal pyocks, an' gar me curse and ban'.”
“O, the deil gae wi' your meal pyocks; are ye the beggar man?”

She's ta’en up his meal pyocks and thrown them o'er the wa',
“The deil gae wi' your meal pyocks, my maidenheid's awa'.”

He's ta'en a horn fae his side an' blawn' baith lood and shrill,
Fan four and twenty belted knichts came trippin' ower the hill.

He's ta’en oot his little knife and loot his duddies fa',
And he was the bravest gentleman that was among them a'.

Lucy Stewart sings The Beggar King

There was a jolly beggar an' a beggin' he was bound,
An' he's taen up his quarters in some lanwart town.

Chorus (after each verse):
An we'll gang nae mair a-rovin', so late into the nicht,
We'll gang nae mair a-rovin', let the moon shine e'er sae bricht.

He widna lie in barns or he widna lie in byres,
In ahint the ha' door or before the fire.

The beggar's bed was made at e'en wi guid clean strae and hay,
An' jist ahint the ha' door an' there the beggar lay.

Up an' raise the guidman's dochter an' to bar the door,
An' there she saw the beggarnan was standin' on the floor.

He's ta'en the lassie in his arms, into a neuk he run,
“Oh, holy, holy wi' me, sir, you'll wauken oor guid man.”

He's ta'en a horn fae his side and blawed both loud an' shrill
An' four an' twenty belted knights came skippin' ower the hill.

He's ta'en oot his little knife, loot a' his dudies fa',
An' he stood the brawest gentleman 'at vis among them a'.

Norman Kennedy sang There Was a Jolly Beggar

There was a jolly beggarman, an' he was dressed in green,
An' he was seekin' lodgings in a toon near Aberdeen.

Chorus (after each verse):
And we'll gang nae mair a-rovin',
Sae late intae the nicht;
W e'll gang nae mair a-rovin',
Though the moon shine ne'er sae bricht.

This beggar wouldnae lie in barn, nor yet would he in byre,
But he would lie intae the ha', or by the kitchen fire.

This beggar he has made his bed wi' guid clean hay an' strae,
An' in ahint the kitchen fire the jolly beggar lay.

The guidman's daughter, she rase up tae bar the kitchen door,
An' there she spied the beggar standin' naked on the floor.

He's ta'en the lassie in his airms, tae the bed he ran.
“Oh, hooly, hooly wi' me, sir, ye'll wauken our guidman.”

The beggar bein' a cunnin' chiel, ne'er a word he spak',
Until he got his jobbie daen, syne he began tae crack.

“Hae ye ony dogs aboot the hoose, or ony cats ava'?
For I'm feared they'll rive my meal pocks afore I gang awa'.”

She's ta'en his meal pocks in her hand an' thrown them ower the wa'.
“Oh, the de'il gang wi' your meal pocks, my maidenheid's awa'.”

“Noo, gin ye'd been a kindly lass, as I thocht ye tae be,
I'd hae made ye aye the queen ower a' this hale country.”

He's ta'en a horn fae his side an' blawn it loud an' shrill,
An' four an' twenty belted knights cam' ridin' ower the hill.

He's ta'en a pen-knife fae his pouch, let his auld duddies fa',
And he was the brawest belted knight that was among them a'.

Charlotte Renals sang The Beggar

There was a poor old beggar man, come tripling over the plain;
He called into a farmhouse, some lodgings for to gain.

Chorus (after each verse):
Rove along, rove a-lee,
Rove a-rangle rover thee.

The old farmer he came out, and he searched the beggar around;
He said you are a dirty beggar man, and no lodgings can be found.

Then the daughter she came out, and she searched the beggar around;
She says he’s not a dirty beggar, and so lodgings can be found.

She took him into the barn, and she made him a bed with hay;
She made it soft and easy, and along with him she lay.

She rose early next morning, before the break of day;
She took him into her father’s house, to make him a cup of tea.

The old farmer he came down, he began to curse and swear;
He picked hold of the beggar’s bag, and he dashed it against the wall;
May the Devil have the beggar’s bag, and make them fair and all.

Jack Beck sings The Jolly Beggar

There was a jolly beggar and a beggin' he wis boon'
And he was seekin' lodgins intae a land'art toon.

Chorus (after each verse):
And we'll gang nae mair a rovin' sae late intae the nicht,
We'll gang nae mair a rovin' let the muin shine e'er sae bricht.

The beggar widna lie in barn nor yet wid he in byre
But he wid lie intae the ha' or by the kitchen fire.

The beggar's made his bed fu' saft, o' guid clean strae and hay,
And in ahint the kitchen door, the jolly beggar lay.

The guid man's dochter, she cam doon tae bar the kitchen door,
And there she spied the beggar staunin' naked on the floor.

He's ta'en the lassie by the haun' and tae the bed did run.
“O hooly, hooly wi' me sir, ye'll waukin' oor guid man.”

The beggar bein' a cunnin' loon, it's ne'er a word he spak,
Till he had gotten the jobbie dune, he then began tae crack.

“Ha'e ye ony dogs aboot the hoose, or ony cats ava?
For I'm feart they'll rive my meal pokes afore I gang awa”

She's ta'en the meal pokes in her haund, she's hurled them ower the wa'.
“The de'il gang wi' yer meal pokes, my maidenheid's awa.”

He's ta'en the trumpet frae his side, he's blawn baith loud and shrill
And fower an twenty belted knichts cam ridin' ower the hill.

He's ta'en the penknife frae his pooch, let a' his duddies fa',
And he wis the brawest beltit knicht that wis amang them a'.

“If ye had been a decent lass, as I ta'en ye tae be,
It's I wid ha'e made ye the Queen ower a' this hale countrie.”

Fiona Ross sings Davy Faa

There was a wealthy farmer lived in the north country
He had a lovely dochter, she was always frank and free
And it’s day by day and night by night she was always in my e’e

There cam a rovin tinker lad tae this farm hoose
Have ye ony pots or pans or candlesticks to mend
Or have ye ony lodgins for me, a single man?

Noo the farmer he thocht it nae hairm the tinker for tae keep
The lassie she thocht it nae hairm the tinker’s bed tae mak
But the bonnie laddie followed her and he did bar the door

He’s catched her by the middle sma and laid her on the floor
He’s catched her by the middle sma and up against the wa
And it’s there he’s ta’en the wills o her afore she’s won awa

And it’s oh the bonnie lassie blushed, and oh but she thocht shame
Since ye’ve ta’en the wills o me, come tell tae me your name
He’s whispered in the lassie’s ear, they call me Davy Faa
Ye’ll aye mind upon the happy nicht, amang the pease straw

Six weeks has passed and gane, this maid grew white and pale
Nine months and better brocht her forth a bonnie son
Since the bairnie’s born said she, we’ll call him Davy Faa
We’ll aye mind upon the happy nicht amang the pease straw

Ony man that weds my girl, I’ll gie him gold quite free
Ony man that weds my girl, I’ll gie him farms three
For although she’s tint her maidenhead, what the waur is she?

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription of Lal and Norma Waterson's singing.