> Martin Carthy > Songs > Prince Heathen

Prince Heathen

[ Roud 3336 ; Child 104 ; G/D 7:1497 ; Ballad Index C104 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang Prince Heathen on his 1969 album with Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen. A second recording, released on The Carthy Chronicles in 2001, was taken from a previously unreleased 1974 radio session, from John Peel's "Top Gear" BBC radio show. Martin Carthy sang Prince Heathen in the Sunflower Folk Club, Belfast, on October 20, 1978; a recording of this concert was published in 2011 on the CD The January Man. He recorded Prince Heathen again in 1998 for his CD Signs of Life; this recording was included in 2003 on his anthology The Definitive Collection. The lyrics vary between the recordings in tiny details only.

Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

This is a rewrite of a song that appears in Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads and set to an imperfectly remembered tune usually sung to either The Broomfield Hill or The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter.

and in the Signs of Life sleeve notes:

It's always been a source of bewilderment to much of humanity as to why people behave in such a disgusting way to other people, and that's why there are songs like Prince Heathen. The day I came across that song was a day which shook my world, and, when I read what I still think is the stupidest last verse in songdom, I was raging. When I finally calmed down and was able to hear the siren voice in my head, which had been crooning, “Ditch it, for god's sake, ditch it”, I did just that, and was left with, what I still think after thirty years, is one of the very greatest songs in the entire canon. A pillow on which to rest your weary head it ain't, but an exposition and and affirmation of Firmness in the Truth it surely is. Push it to the brink and you'll reveal a hero. She is, and so is the man who swears never to bow the knee...

A.L. Lloyd sang Prince Heathen live at the Top Lock Folk Club, Runcorn, on November 5, 1972. This concert was published in 2010 on his Fellside CD An Evening with A.L. Lloyd.

Frankie Armstrong sang Prince Heathen in 1973 on her album Out of Love, Hope and Suffering. She commented in her liner notes:

A. L. Lloyd refurbished this ancient Child ballad. The chilling tension of the song stems from the juxtaposition between stark physical brutality and psychological complexity.

Sylvia Barnes sang Prince Heathen on her 2007 Greentrax CD The Colour of Amber. She commented in her liner notes:

The ballad originates from a fragment reworked by A.L. Lloyd. I learned it from a recording of Frankie Armstrong, a singer I have always greatly admired for her passion in interpretation. For a long time I could not perform it in public as the emotions it arouses were just too upsetting and I could never make it to the end! A moving story in which the resolute courage of the heroine shines through in the face of the brutal treatment she receives.

Rachel Newton sang Frankie Armstrong's version of Prince Heathen with The Furrow Collective too on their 2016 album, Wild Hog. They commented in their liner notes:

Rachel based this version of the ballad on the one in the book My Song Is My Own, compiled by Kathy Henderson with Frankie Armstrong and Sandra Kerr. In the book, the version is said to have been “refurbished by A.L. Lloyd who used a parallel Hungarian version to supplement the few surviving fragments of the British tradition.”

Nick Dow sang Prince Heathen on his 2018 album of unaccompanied traditional folk songs, Far and Wide. He noted:

My first and only meeting with Bert Lloyd took place at the now defunct Blackheath Folk Club. He was very supportive of my singing. I was 21 and finding my way. He sang Prince Heathen that night and blew me away. Until then I had only heard Martin Carthy's version. I never learned the ballad until fairly recently. Why, I don't know. Maybe the enormity of the subject matter made me think twice. Bert reconstructed the ballad from a British fragment and a Hungarian text (if I remember our conversation correctly).

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Prince Heathen

Lady sits in her garden fair, sewing a silken seam,
And by there come this Prince Heathen and he vowed her love he'd gain.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

She turned her around and aloud did cry, “Begone, I love not you!”
And then he vowed him, Prince Heathen, that she would weep full sore.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

So he's laid her all on the ground between himself and the wall,
And there he's stripped her of her will and her maidenhead and all.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

“Oh I slew your father in his bed and your mother by his side,
And your seven brothers one by one, I drowned them in the tide.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

“Oh I'll lay you in a vault of stone with thirty locks upon,
And meat nor drink you will never get till your baby it is born.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

So he's laid her in a vault of stone with thirty locks upon,
And he's taken the key in his right hand to the mountain he has gone.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

Prince Heathen he from the mountains came with his merry men all in a line,
And he sought out this fair young maid down in her vault of stone.

“And how d'you do and do you weep, lady tell me true?”
“I'm never weeping, heathen dog, but dying here for you.”

“Oh meat nor drink you'll never get nor out of prison come,
Oh meat nor drink you will never get till your baby it is born.”

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

Her time came on and further on in labour there she lay,
She laboured up she laboured down but lighter she could not be.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

So he's laid her all on the green and his merry men stood around,
And how they laughed and how they mocked as she brought forth a son.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

“A drink, a drink,” the young girl cries, “all from Prince Heathen's hand.”
“Oh never a drop,” Prince Heathen cries, “till ye give up your son.”

“Then lend to me a silken shawl or a blanket or a sheet
That I may wrap this little baby that lies in me arms asleep.”

“Oh I'll lend you an old horse blanket to wrap him head and feet.”
And there she took it in her hand, so bitter she did weep.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

“Could you not give any better thing than a horse blanket or a sheet
To wrap and swaddle your own young son that lies in my arms asleep?”

He's borne her up so very soft, borne her up so slow,
He's laid her down in a soft green bed, so dearly he loved her now.

“O lady will you weep for me, lady tell me true.”
“Oh never yet, you heathen dog, I never shall for you.”

Frankie Armstrong sings Prince Heathen

Young Margaret sat in a tower high
And she's as pale as a milk white swan
When she saw a shadow on the plain
Come betwixt her and the sun.

“Oh, mother, is it a thundercloud
Or a flight of ravens in the air—
Or a black army with a silver flag
And a ragged man amongst them there?”

“Oh, daughter, go run in your little yard
And bid adieu to your flowers so gay,
For yonder comes Prince Heathen's men
And I fear they're coming to take you away.”

In there come Prince Heathen then, saying
“Good day mother-in-law to you,
And where will l find that sweet little bride
With her hands as soft as morning dew?”

Young Margaret locked her bower door
But his men soon made the hinges spring,
And in there come Prince Heathen then
And give to her a gay gold ring.

Back at him the ring she flung,
She cries, “Of you I have no fear.
I'll call you wolf-hound seven times
Rather then call you husband dear.”

He swore then, by her yellow hair,
He'd make her weep and call him dear.
He's taken her in his two dark arms,
And laid her on the cold stone floor.

And when he set her free again,
Her maidenhead from her he's ta'en:
“Ha ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for you.”

He's cast her down in a cabin of stone
Where forty locks did hang thereto.
“Ha ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for you.”

“Come, give my lady of the salt, salt meat,
And bitter vinegar for her brew,
“Ha ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for you.”

Prince Heathen down from the mountains came
Where he'd been hunting with his armoured men.
He came unto this fair young maid
All in the prison where she is laid.

“A drink, a drink, Prince Heathen,” she said,
“Even if it's from the muddy well pool.”
“Never a drink! Will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for thee.”

He's taken her by her yellow hair,
And tied it to his horse's tail.
He's dragged her through the bushes and briars
That grow so thick all on the plain.

“Ride slower, slower, Prince Heathen,” she says,
“Already the blood has filled me shoe.”
“Ha ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for you.”

He shortened stirrups and on he flew,
And with her body he's harrowed the road.
Her silken skirt in tatters tore,
Her silken blouse was spattered with blood.

“Ride slower, slower, Prince Heathen,” she says,
“For the road it sorely hurts my knee.”
“Ha ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for thee.”

He shortened stirrups and on he flew.
He's dragged her through the briar and thorns.
Young Margaret gave a pitiful cry,
And there she's had her little babe born.

“Oh how can I wrap me sweet little babe
Seeing as I've nothing to roll him in?”
He give to her his saddle blanket,
“That'll roll him from cheek to chin.”

As she took the blanket from his hand,
Tears down her cheeks they trickling run.
“Ha ha, bonny maid, will you weep now?”
“You heathenish dog, nor yet for you.”

“I'm weeping for me own little son;
Your blanket's too rough to roll him in,
Ever and alas, the day I rue
That ever I met such rogues as you!”

He says, “Go wash my baby in the milk,
And dress my lady in the silk;
When hearts are breaking, hands must bow,
And well I love my lady now.”

She says, “When violets bloom on the window-pane
And roses grow on the kitchen floor,
It's then that I'll return again
And be your bride forevermore.”

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed by Garry Gillard. The transcription was originally of the Prince Heathen performance, but in a few places he changed it to follow Martin Carthy's later preferences, in Signs of Life, where they make the sense clearer.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Prince Heathen.