> Martin Carthy > Songs > I Courted a Damsel

The Lover’s Lament / I Courted a Damsel

[ Roud 405 ; Master title: The Lover’s Lament ; Laws M3 ; Ballad Index LM03 ; VWML LEB/5/236/7 ; Bodleian Roud 405 ; GlosTrad Roud 405 ; Wiltshire 916 , 917 ; trad.]

Ollie Gilbert sang Once I Courted a Lady Beauty Bright to Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins at Timbo, Arkansas, in October 1959. This recording was included in 1997 on the Rounder anthology Ozark Frontier (Southern Journey Volume 7). Anna L. Chairetakis noted:

Ballads of this ‘locks and bolts’ class, in which a girl locked away from her lover by her parents, were known throughout Britain and Western Europe. One of the directions this has taken is to introduce, or make explicit, a motif of incest, as in a ballad type found in northern and central Spain (Carolina is one well-known example) in which a maiden who is confined by her father, wastes to death horribly, rather than give up her virginity.

Harry Brazil sang Once I Courted a Damsel in Gloucester in 1978 to Mike Yates. This recording was included in 2007 on the Brazil Family’s Musical Traditions anthology, Down By the Old Riverside. The album’s booklet commented:

Almost all of Roud’s 127 examples are from the USA, and only 10 English singers are listed. A soldier returns home from the wars, expecting to find his sweetheart awaiting him. They are reunited, marry, and live happily ever after. Well, that is what is supposed to happen, and in many songs it is exactly what does happen. But here the girl has died before the soldier’s return, which sends the soldier off to the eighteenth-century New Bedlam Hospital for the insane.

As with many songs lacking a stand-out line to provide a title, this one has a vast array of alternatives: Charming Beauty Bright is popular in the USA, while the 10 English citings have 7 different ones; Once I Courted a Damsel being the most frequently found. We have used this, since Harry seemed to have had no title for the piece.

Martin Carthy sang I Courted a Damsel on his and Dave Swarbrick’s 1992 album Skin and Bone. He commented in the record’s sleeve notes:

Percy Grainger recorded the melody for I Courted a Damsel from the great Joseph Taylor [on 11 April 1905 at Brigg, Lincolnshire], and the words are from various sources. I learned it from Bill Prince, who had it from a woman he calls a songfinder extraordinary, whose name is Michelle Soinne.

Jane and Amanda Threlfall sang Once I Courted a Damsel on their 2008 CD Sweet Nightingale. They noted:

Sometimes you may hear someone singing a familiar song in such a way that it strikes you as though you’re hearing it for the first time. It’s when the singer fully owns the song they’re singing, making it believable like it was almost a personal experience. Clive Pownceby, from the Bothy Club in Southport, caused that effect one night with this song.

Although having already heard Percy Grainger’s wax cylinder recordings of Joseph Taylor, whose repertoire included this song, it was Clive’s interpretation that created the urge to include it here.

Andy Turner sang Once I Courted a Damsel as the 9 January 2016 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Ollie Gilbert sings Once I Courted a Lady Beauty Bright

Onst I courted a lady beauty bright,
On her reflection placed my whole heart’s delight.
I courted her for love, and love I did omtain,
Why should any reason, a reason to complain?

I courted her not better than six months ago,
Then her parents came for to know.
They locked her up so closely, they kept her thus a year,
Never did I get one sight of my dear.

Once or twice a day to her window I would go,
To see if my love had forsaken me or no.
Every time I went, she’d make me this reply,
“I love the boy that loves me, I love him till I die.”

Then to the war I resolved for to go,
To see if I could forget my love or no.
But when I got there, the army shone so bright
The deepest of my thoughts were my whole heart’s delight.

Seven long years I served my king,
And after seven years, returned home again.
Her mama saw me coming , she wrang her hands and cried,
Saying, “My daughter loved you dearly, and for your sake she died.”

I stopped in a moment like a man had been slain.
The tears from my eyes fell like showers of rain.
“O where is my true love and how does she do?
If yonder be her grave, I wish you were there too.”

Harry Brazil sings Once I Courted a Damsel

Ten long years for a soldier I’ll remain
I thought it was my time to turn home again.

Oh, as I was a-turning home with my sweet glittering army bright
I never could forget that girl, she was always in my sight.

Now her father overheard me and unto me replied,
“Oh my daughter’s broken-hearted and for your sweet sake she died.”

Don’t tell me nor trouble me, it’s more than I can bear.
If my love’s in a silent grave and so soon I will be there.

With the rattling chains all round my legs and a straw bed where I lie
I’ll lay mourning for my own true-love until my dying day.

Martin Carthy sings I Courted a Damsel

I courted a damsel of the fairest beauty bright
And I did my best endeavour to gain my heart’s delight.
I courted her for love and for love of her I did attain I did attain,
My love she had no reason at all for to complain.

When that her father he came this for to know
That I courted his dear daughter his darling daughter so,
So quickly he give orders that I be pressed and sent to sea, and sent to sea,
To keep me from his daughter, my darling’s, company.

When that I’d served my seven long years at sea
So quickly I come homeward my darling dear to see.
As soon as I enquired her father thus to me replied to me replied.
“My daughter she did break her heart and for your sake she died.”

“Don’t tell me don’t tell me for it’s more than I can bear,
For if she’s in her silent grave I wish that I were there.
Then I would be free from bitter sorrow grief and woe, from grief and woe,
I know not where to wander now which way I may go.”

It was down in New Bedlam this young man was confined
For in weeping for his own true love did so distract his mind.
In rattling of his chains all on his bed of straw he lies, on straw he lies,
Lamenting for his own true love until the day he dies.


Martin Carthy’s version was transcribed by Garry Gillard.