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The Beggar Laddie

[ Roud 119 ; Child 280 ; G/D 2:277 ; Henry H810 ; Ballad Index C280 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang The Beggar Laddie in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume III. 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 commented in the album notes:

This ballad is related to The Jolly Beggar (Child 279) by reason of the “beggar in disguise” theme. The Beggar Laddie is less ribald, however, and has a romantic ending. Here the young lady is rewarded for her belief in the pretended beggar by becoming his bride after he reveals his high station to her.

Outside of Scotland, the ballad appears to be unknown in tradition. This version sung by MacColl was learned in fragmentary form from his mother, with additional lines collated from Greig and Keith[’s Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs (Aberdeen, 1925)].

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger also sang The Begger Laddie in 1964 on their Folkways album Traditional Songs and Ballads. The album’s booklet noted:

The story of a lady marrying a “begger” who is finally revealed as a man of substance was a favourite theme with Scots ballad makers. Child, who printed five versions of this ballad describes it as “a sort of Gaberlunyie Man with a romantic conclusion”. Learned from the singer’s mother and collated with version in Greig and Keith.

Jon Boden sang The Beggar Laddie as the 2 June 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog:

Simon (“admin”) with his Properganda hat on was kind enough to ask me to review a few of the recent Topic re-releases. The double Ewan MacColl CD was a bit of an epic but there’s some great stuff on it. This one struck me particularly. I love the verse where she’s tired and hungry and starts to have second thoughts—a little flourish of realism amongst the romance.


Ewan MacColl sings The Beggar Laddie

’Twas in the pleasant month of June
When gentle ladies walk their lane,
When woods and valleys a’ grow green
And the sun it shines sae clearly.

Doon in yon grove I spied a swain,
A shepherd sheep-club in his hand,
He was drivin’ yowes oot ower the knowes,
And he was a we’el-faurd laddie.

“Come tell to me what is your trade,
Or by what airt you win your bread,
Or by what airt you win your bread
When herding ye give over?”

“Makin’ spindles is my trade,
And fighting’ sticks in time o’need,
For l’m a beggar tae my trade;
Noo, lassie, could ye love me?”

“l could love ye as many fold
As Jacob loved Rachel of old,
As Jesse loved his cups of gold,
My laddie, if ye’ll believe me.”

“Then ye’ll tak’ aff your robes o’reid,
And ye’ll pit on the beggin’weed,
And ye’ll follow me hard my back
And ye’ll be the beggar’s dawtie.”

And when they come to yonder toon
They bocht a loaf and they both sat doon,
They bocht a loaf and they both sat doon,
And the lassie ate wi’ her laddie.

But the lassie’s courage began to fail,
And her rosie cheeks grew wan and pale
And the tears cam’ trinkling doon like hail
Or a heavy shower in summer.

“Oh, gin I were on yon high hill
Whaur my faither’s flocks do feed their fill,
I would sit me doon and greet a while
For the followin’ o’ my laddie.

When they cam’ tae yon marble gate,
Sae boldly as he knocked thereat,
He rappit loud and he rappit late,
And he rappit there sae rudely.

Then fower and twenty gentlemen
Cam’ oot to welcome the beggar hame,
And just as mony ladies gay
To welcome the young knicht’s lady.

His brither John stood next the wa’,
He laughed till he was like to fa’:
“O brither, I wish we had beggit a’
For sic a bonnie lassie.”

“Yestreen I was the beggar’s bride,
This nicht I’ll lie doon by his side,
l’ve come to guid by my misguide,
For noo l’m the young knicht’s lady.”