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Crow and Pie

[ Roud 3975 ; Child 111 ; Ballad Index C111 ; trad.]

TatterSmith (Cathy Tattersfield and Jess Arrowsmith) sang the rare Child ballad Crow and Pie on a January 2024 download single. ‘Pie’ is the magpie. They noted:

Words: Taken by F.J. Child from a collection in the Bodleian Library (Rawlinson C.813, “The Welles Anthology”). Humphrey Welles was a courtier in the Tudor Court. The manuscript is dated from around 1520, but the ballad is probably from the late 15th Century oral tradition. The text has been slightly modernised from the original Middle English lyrics to aid understanding and to scan in the music, but the meaning has been kept as written.

Tune: Douce Dame Jolie by Guillaume De Machaut. 14th Century French.

The ballad illustrates how medieval society held the raped woman to be guilty. But if the woman discovered the identity of the assailant, or if a token was obtained, or if compensation was given it would prove that the woman wasn’t promiscuous. Or if the man was a man of reputation and means the woman was shown to be more selective, not choosing to be assaulted by any ‘common man’. Today in some countries a rape is acceptable if the assailant marries the victim, and sometimes the woman is blamed for the assault, so the ballad is still relevant for us.

The final message from the woman is that she will survive, ‘recover my heart again’, and that she curses the man. She is not despondent.


TatterSmith sing Crow and Pie

Through a forest as I can ride,
To take my sport in a morning,
I cast my eye on every side,
I saw a bride a singing.
I saw a fair maid ride;
I spoke to her of love, or so I believe;
She answered me in scorn, all in scorn,
And said, “The crow shall bite you.”

“I pray you, damsel, scorn me not;
To win your love it is my will;
For your love I have dear bought,
And I will take good heed ther’till.”
“Nay, sir, that I nay;
I know thee, is it Little John? as I believe?,
Thou shalt not find me such a girl
There-fore the crow shall bite you.”

He took then out a good gold ring,
A purse of velvet, that was so fine:
“Have ye this, my dear sweeting,
With that ye will be mine.”
“I dare not, for my dame,
To deal with him that I do not know,
For so I might despise my own name;
Therefore the crow shall bite you.”

He took her round the middle so small,
And laid her down upon the green;
Twice or thrice he served her with all,
He would not stint his sin.
But sayeth, “How I learn me by,
Ye will wed me now, as I trust:
I will be advised, girl!” said he in scorn,
“For now the pie hath pecked you.”

“But sayeth ye how I learn me by,
And bought my body unto such shame,
Some of your goods ye will give to me,
Or else, ye be to blame.”
“I’ll be advised,” he said;
“The wind is waste that you do blow as I believe
I have another one that must be paid;
Therefore the pie hath pecked you.”

“Now sayeth you how I learn me by,
A little thing you will tell to me.
In case that I with child might be,
What is your name? Where do you dwell?”
“At London, Oxford York
At Leicester, Cambridge, or at merry Bristow,
Some call me Richard, Will, Robert or Jack;
For now the pie hath pecked you.

“But all maidens, beware be rue,
And let no man down you throw;
For and you do, you will yet rue,
For then the pie will peck you.”
“Fare-well, courtier scoured!
over the meadow, pluck up your heels, I you beshrew!
Your track, where so ever you ride or go
Christ the Lord’s curse shall go with you!

“Though a knave hath by me lain,
Yet am I neither dead nor slow;
I trust to recover my heart again
And Christ’s curse go with him!”
Fair maids come listen with
No shame, take no blame for him you do not know
None shall make you despise your name,
Go tell him the crow shall bite him.