> Martin Carthy > Songs > Jack Rowland

Jack Rowland

[trad., Martin Carthy]

Martin Carthy sang Jack Rowland on his 1982 album Out of the Cut (with the track re-released in 2003 on The Definitive Collection) and live at Ruskin Mill in December 2004. He noted on the first album:

Bits of Jack Rowland are to be found in Jamieson dovetailed into a narrative remembered by the author from his childhood. As it appears there, it is another example of the continuing love affair of Jamieson and his contemporaries with King Arthur and all his works.

The King appears with Gwynivere and Excalibur as characters in the song but it seems to me that they are entirely superfluous and added later. Strip that away and you are left with a story of the triumph of imagination over stereotype. Alleged to have been sung or at least recited in ballad form by Jamieson’s nurse to him when he was a little boy. From the narrative it would appear that the song would have been at least a couple of hundred lasting verses long, and one can only assume that Jamieson took a bloody age getting to sleep. This is a reworking into verse form from the narrative with liberties taken and the tune adapted from Old Mother Crawley.

and Malcolm Douglas noted in the Mudcat Café thread Child and Waterson/Carthy in 2001:

Jack Rowland is a complicated case, as Carthy wrote much of it himself, based on a narrative published by Jamieson (Illustrations of Northern Antiquities, 1814), as Child Rowland and Burd Ellen, a traditional narrative with some parts in verse, imperfectly recalled from Jamieson’s childhood.

Child quotes one verse in his Fragments section (vol. V, p. 201). It would be necessary to see Jamieson’s text in order to establish how much is him, and how much is Carthy; although various motifs are included that occur in, for example, The Twa Magicians, Sir Cawline and The Maid Freed from the Gallows, that doesn’t in itself imply any actual connection.


Martin Carthy sings Jack Rowland

There was Jack Rowland and his two brothers
Went out to play at ball
And there was their sister Ellen Rowland
in the midst among them all

She tossed the ball so very high
She caught it with her knee
She kicked it high over high churchyard
Where no-one it could see

And she’s hitched her skirts up around her waist
And after the ball she’s run
They waited long her three brothers
But she never come home again

So up the hill and down the hill
Three weeping brothers roamed
They told their mother of Ellen Rowland
How she has vanished and gone

And it’s Oh my love and cries their mother
And ever alas cries she
For she has gone with the King of the Hill
No more by us she’ll be seen

So up and rose the first brother
And he was a proud young man
He swore an oath and a solemn oath
That Ellen he’d seek and find

And he’s run down to his father’s stable
He’s saddled the bonny grey
And as the sun looked over the hill
We watched him ride away

And up and rose the second brother
A proud young man was he
And he swore an oath and a solemn oath
That Ellen he’d find and free

And he’s run down to his father’s stable
He’s saddled the bonny brown
And as the sun stood up in the sky
We watched him ride from home

We stayed long and very long
With our gloves all in our hand
And sad were hearts all over the town
For he never come home again

Up and rose then Jack the fool
He’s the youngest of all the three
He’s saddled and bridled his mother’s horse
But he wept so bitterly

She spoke to him his mother’s horse
As they rode out of the way
She says Never you fear you Jack Rowland
But you listen what I do say

And remember the song the spider sings
When she comes to court the fly

For never a drop must you eat nor drink
As we go along our road
And all that help us on the way
You must leave them lying dead

So Jack Rowland has left his good long bow
And his arrows one by one
And he’s taken his father’s good long gun
That never was drawn in vain

And never a drop did they eat or drink
As on the way they rode
And all that helped them on the way
Jack Rowland has left them dead

The horse that Jack Rowland sat on
She was black as the dark midnight
And her eyes shone far as the evening star
That put the sun to flight

As Jack Rowland to the dark tower came
And he stood there without
Three times all around the place
The horse spun round about

And she cried Open door and open door
Open and let me ride
And e’er the third time she has spoke
See the door swing open wide

And he has spied some lovely tower
that was lined with the silver grey
All hung with mists and a heavy dew
That shone clear as any day

No ceiling could this young man spy
No windows were there to be seen
But all round his head it shone blood red
As the sun that sets at e’en

And he rode on and further on
As the tears came falling fast
For he thought he saw his sister Ellen
Wandering like any ghost

And she cried Woe be to you Jack Rowland
For your life’s not worth a pin
For had you a hundred thousand lives
You should not spare one of them

Oh pity on you Jack Rowland
Why stayed you not at home
When the King of the Hill you find
Then help you will find none

With that in come the King himself
All glorious to be seen
For he come riding the storm and the wind
With a club all in each hand And he cried

Rise rise Jack Rowland
Rise rise and run
Now I smell Jack Rowland’s blood
Jack Rowland’s day is done

Get up get up you Jack Rowland
If you would fight with me
And we will see how a frightened man
Will let his courage flee

And first he appeared as a raging bear
And then as a writhing snake
And then as a herd of angry bulls
That roared all in his face

Then he became a burning bush
With a flame that leapt so high
But he sang the song the spider sings
When he comes to court the fly

But up and rose Jack Rowland’s horse
So loud I heard her cry
Stand fast and fear you not she cries
No harm will come to thee

There she stood on the high hill top
And the stars blazed in her mane
And she has turned to a mighty flood
And she bore down on the flame

The King has changed to a little fish
To float all in the sea
And he fell as fast into the flood
As the dead branch from a tree

But she has changed to ropes and lines
And she hunted the ocean floor
But he has become a fishing smack
And he hauled all lines aboard

So she has changed all in the sky
To a gale that howled and roared
She filled his sails she beat his sides
And she drove him onto shore

So he’s become the deep dark night
And he dropped to the valley floor
But she rose up as the summer dawn
And she drove him on before

And she cried Rise rise Jack Rowland
And the sun will rise with thee
And as the dew falls from the leaves
We shall see what you shall see

And as the dew fell from the leaves
And the daylight drew all round
He saw his sister and his two brothers
Mother naked on the ground

And he’s taken them each all in his arms
And he’s kissed them cheek and chin
He’s wrapped them up in a cloak of gold
And they’ve gone riding home

Up and spoke the King himself
As he vanished in the sun
Oh I should have taken your horse he cries
And struck her blind and lame


Transcription by Wolfgang Hell: small changes by Garry Gillard, with a later correction by Dave Garbutt: many thanks!