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Fair Annie / Rosanna

[ Roud 42 ; Child 62 ; G/D 6:1161 ; Henry H126 ; Ballad Index C062 ; Mudcat 7119 ; trad.]

The story of Fair Annie was told by Marie de France in the lai Le Freisne (The Lay of the Ash Tree) about 1200, and has migrated across Europe, “not appearing in the Scottish record until the second half of the 18th century,” according to a note in Bronson.

Frankie Armstrong sang Fair Annie in 1980 on the LP of songs from women, My Song Is My Own, which accompanied Kathy Henderson's book of the same name. The book's notes said:

1802, from the recitation of an old woman residing near Kirkhill in West Lothian. There are another ten versions included in Child's collection (no. 62) and the story and the reality it reflects certainly go a long way further back.

Unmarried relationships not only co-existed openly with marriage for many centuries, but the position of the unmarried wife was legally recognised in Scotland until the thirteenth century, with her sons entitled to succeed to their father's property and title. Not that this made the position of women, unmarried, married or concubine, any the stronger without support from each other. Sisterhood was an all-important bond in circumstances like these.

She also sang Fair Annie in 2008 on her CD Encouragement. where she noted:

This tale of a courageous woman placed in the dreadful situation of having to be come the servant of the Lord with wham she has lived and born many children has one of the most chilling openings of any domestic ballad.

It's narrow, narrow, make your bed
And learn to lie alone,
For I'm going over the seas, fair Annie,
A rich bride to bring home.

The story may seem far fetched, yet Katherine, the mistress of John of Gaunt, found herself in just the same situation. I have grown to love the woman and the beauty of the language more and more over the decades I have been singing this song.

Peter Bellamy sang Fair Annie as the title track of his privately issued cassette of 1983, Fair Annie, and this was also included in 1999 on his anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes. Peter Bellamy compiled the song from versions in Bronson's The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads.

Maggie Boyle sang Fair Annie in 1996 on Steve Tilston's and her Flying Fish CD All Under the Sun.

Martin Simpson sang Fair Annie in 2001 on his Topic CD The Bramble Briar. He noted:

Fair Annie was given to me on a cassette of a show that Peter [Bellamy] did at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. My friend Josh Michaell thought that I might like the song and, indeed, he was right. I looked for other versions, but found nothing so succinct, or with such a sting in the tail. I wonder to what extent Peter altered the lyrics.

He recorded a longer version in 2013 for his Topic CD Vagrant Stanzas, where he noted:

On the Topic recording The Bramble Briar I included a version of the ballad Fair Annie which I performed that year at the Beverley Folk Festival. The audience included Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, both of whom were very gratifyingly complimentary about the performance. Martin then pointed out the existence of a number of extra verses… as he does! He was quite right in suggesting that they illuminated the emotional content of the song, and I have sung them ever since, and am delighted to re-record the ballad here. I learned the song from Peter Bellamy, and had nor heard it from any other source so I was very pleased to hear Hedy West and Jock Manual sing an American and a Scots version on the unreleased Topic Matching Ballads recording.

Alva sang Fair Annie in 2002 on their Beautiful Jo album Love Burns in Me. They noted:

This ballad was collected in Scotland at the beginning of the 19th century. The story resembles the Lai de Freisne (Lay of the Ash) by Marie de France who wrote for an educated English audience in the 12th century. Marie was influenced by folk tales from Brittany, and both her story and this ballad may originate from such an ancient story of siblings parted and reunited.

Sylvia Barnes sang Fair Annie on her 2007 Greentrax album The Colour of Amber. She noted:

I first heard this ballad from the late Peter Bellamy. […] It has always been a favourite of mine, and one of the few in my repertoire which have a happy ending!

Debra Cowan sang Fair Annie in 2015 on John Roberts' and her CD Ballads Long & Short. She noted:

This version of Fair Annie comes from the late Peter Bellamy but it turns out that many others have recorded it as well. We were given a bit of background from our good friend Nigel Schofield (who knows everything about everything) that surprised us: the original version of the story is a Lai by Marie de France, probably written around 1194. She was known in the court of Henry II, where the Lai de Freisne, which mirrors the Fair Annie story, was recited. She may have even been Henry II's illegitimate half sister, exiled to France as a baby with her mother, in which case the original Lai has extreme irony. Who knew?

Piers Cawley learned Fair Annie from the singing of Peter Bellamy. He sang it on his 2020 download album Isolation Sessions #3 where he noted:

Oh lord, Peter Bellamy; it is one of my lasting regrets that I didn't take the opportunities I had to see him do his thing. I didn't realise how bloody good he was until it was too late. One of his unparalleled talents was as an editor of songs. When I decided to learn this, I did my usual thing of looking for other versions and extra verses and checking to see if there were any that could expand the story, or cast some light on the characters in the song. I found a bunch of verses, and every single one of them seemed completely surplus to requirements, they either repeated each other without being in any way interesting, or they're out and out spoilers for the ending. It's a hell of an ending.

Emily Portman and Rob Harbron sang Rosanna on their 2022 album Time Was Away. They noted:

A song of sisterhood, sung in 1946 by Mrs Salley A  Hubbard of Salt Lake City to her son, English professor and Utah folklorist Lester A. Hubbard. This ballad (better known as Fair Annie) appears in the Journal of American Folklore, Volume 64 in 1951, which reports how Salley’s father learnt it whilst visiting Leeds, UK, as a Mormon missionary. A good story travels far. Emily gathered additional verses from various versions in Bronson’s The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads.

Lyrics

Frankie Armstrong sings Fair Annie

“It's narrow, narrow, make your bed
And learn to lie alone,
For I'm going over the sea, fair Annie,
A fine bride to bring home.

“With her I'll get both gold and gear,
With you I ne'er got none,
I took you as a waif woman,
I'll leave you as the same.

“But who will bake my bridal bread,
Who'll brew my bridal ale,
And who will welcome my brisk bride,
That I bring o'er the dale?”

“It's I will bake your bridal bread,
And I'll brew your bridal ale,
And I will welcome your brisk bride,
That you bring o'er the dale.”

“But she that welcomes my brisk bride
Must go like a maiden fair,
And she must lace her middle so neat
And braid her yellow hair.”

“But how can I go maiden-like
When maiden I am none?
For I have borne seven sons by thee
And am with child again.”

She's taken her young son in her arms,
Another in her hand,
And she is up to the highest tower,
To see him come to land.

“Come up, come up, my eldest son,
And look o'er yon sea strand,
And see your father's new-come bride,
Before she come to land.”

“Come down, come down, my mother dear,
Come from the castle wall,
I fear if long that you stand there
You'll let yourself down fall.”

And she got down and further down,
Her love's fine ship to see,
And the top mast and the main mast
They shone like silver free.

And she's gone down and further down
The bride's ship to behold,
And the top mast and the main mast
They shone like burning gold.

She took her seven sons in her hand,
And O she did not fail,
She met Lord Thomas and his bride
As they come o'er the dale.

“You're welcome to your house, Lord Thomas,
You're welcome to your land,
You're welcome with your fair lady
That you lead by the hand.

“You're welcome to your halls, lady,
You're welcome to your bowers.
You're welcome to your home, lady,
For all that's here is yours.“

“I thank thee Annie, I thank thee Annie,
So dearly I thank thee,
You're the likest to my sister, Annie,
That ever I did see.

“There came a knight from over the sea
And stole my sister away,
O shame on him and his company
And the land where'er he stay.”

And aye she served the long tables
With white bread and with wine,
And aye she drank the wan water
To hold her colour fine.

And aye she served the long tables
With white bread and with brown,
And aye she turned her round about
So fast the tears fell down.

When bells were rung and mass was sung
And all were bound for bed,
Lord Thomas and his new-come bride
To their chamber they were led.

She took her harp all in her hands
To harp these two to sleep,
And as she harped and as she sang
Full sorely she did weep.

“If my seven sons were seven young rats
Running on the castle wall,
And I were a grey cat myself,
I soon should worry them all.

“If my seven sons were seven young hares
Running on yon lily lea,
And I were a greyhound myself
Soon worried they should be.”

“My gown is on,“ said the new-come bride,
“My shoes are on my feet,
And I will to fair Annie's chamber
And see what makes her greet.

“What ails, what ails thee, fair Annie,
That you make such a moan?
Have your wine barrels cast their girds
Or is your white bread gone?

“O who was your father, Annie,
And who was your mother?
And had you any sisters, Annie,
And had you any brother?”

“King Easter is my father dear,
The queen my mother was,
John Armstrong from the western lands,
My eldest brother is.”

“If King Easter is your father dear,
Then also is he mine,
And it shall not be for lack of gold
That you your love shall tyne.

“For I have seven ships of my own
A-loaded to the brim,
And I will give them all to you
And four to your eldest son,
And thanks to all the powers in heaven
That I go a maiden home.”

Peter Bellamy sings Fair Annie

“Comb back your hair, Fair Annie,” he said,
“Comb it back into your crown.
For you must live a maiden's life
When I bring my new bride home.”

“Oh, how can I look maiden-like
When maiden I am none?
For six fair sons have I had by you
And a seventh coming on?”

“Oh, you will bake my bread,” he said,
“And you will keep my home.
And you will welcome my lady gay
When I bring my bridal home.”

And on the door he's hung a silken towel,
Pinned by a silver pin,
That Fair Annie she might wipe her eyes
As she went out and in.

Now, six months gone and nine comin' on
She thought the time o'er-long.
So she's taken a spyglass all in her hand
And up to the tower she has run.

She has look-ed east, she has look-ed west,
She has looked all under the sun,
And who should she see but Lord Thomas
All a-bringin' of his bridal home.

So she has called for her seven sons
By one, by two, by three,
And she has said to her eldest son,
“Oh, come tell me what you see.”

So he's look-ed east, he has look-ed west,
He has looked all under the sun.
And who should he see but his father dear,
He was bringin' of his new bride home.

So it's, “Shall I dress in green?” she said,
“Or shall I dress in black?
Or shall I go down to the ragin' main
And send my soul to wrack?”

“Oh, you need not dress in green,” he said,
“Nor you need not dress in black.
But throw you wide the great hall door
And welcome my father back.”

So it's, “Welcome home, Lord Thomas,” she said,
“And you're welcome unto me.
And welcome, welcome, your merry men all
That you've brought across the sea.”

And she's servèd them with the best of the wine,
Yes, she's servèd them all 'round.
But she's drunk water from the well
For to keep her spirits down.

And she's wait-ed upon them all the livelong day,
And she thought the time o'er long.
Then she's taken her flute all in her hand
And up to her bower she has run.

She has fluted east, she has fluted west,
She has fluted loud and shrill.
She wished that her sons were seven greyhounds
And her a wolf on the hill.

Then, “Come downstairs,” the new bride said,
“Oh, come down the stairs to me.
And tell me the name of your father dear,
And I'll tell mine to thee.”

“Well, King Douglas it was my father's name
And Queen Chatten was my mother;
And Sweet Mary, she was my sister dear
And Prince Henry was my brother.”

“If King Douglas it is your father's name
And Queen Chatten is your mother,
Then I'm sure that I'm your sister dear
As Prince Henry, he is your brother.”

“And I have seven ships out on the sea
They are loaded to the brim.
And six of them will I give to you
And one more to carry me home.
Yes, six of them will I give to you
When we've had Lord Thomas burned!”

Martin Simpson sings Fair Annie

“Comb back your hair, Fair Annie,” he cries,
“Comb it back into your crown.
For you must live a maiden's life
When I bring my new bride home.”

“But how can I look maiden-like
When maiden I am none?
For it's six bonny boys have I had by you
And a seventh coming on?”

“Now you will bake my bread,” he says,
“And you will keep my rooms.
And you will welcome my lady gay
When I bring my new bride home.”

And on the door he's hung a silken towel,
Pinned with a silver pin,
That Fair Annie she might wipe her eyes
As she goes out and in.

And six months gone and nine comin' on
She has thought the time o'er-long.
And she's taken her spyglass all into her hand
And up the high tower she has run.

And she has look-ed east, she has look-ed west,
She's looked all under the sun,
And what should she see but Lord Thomas's ship
And he's bringing of his new bride home.

“And should I dress in green?” she says,
“Or should I dress in black?
Or should I go down to the ragin' main
And send my soul to wrack?”

“You need not dress in green,” says her eldest son,
“Nor need you dress in black.
But throw you wide the great hall doors
And welcome my father back.”

She has servèd them with the best of the wine,
She has servèd them all 'round.
But she drank water all from the well
For to keep her spirits down.

And she has served the long tables,
With the white bread and the brown,
But as she turned her round about,
So fast the tears fell down.

And he has turned him right and round about
And he's laughing amongst his men,
Saying, “Like you best the old lady
Or the new bride just come home?”

And she has servèd them all the livelong day,
And she thought the time o'er long.
So she's taken her flute all into her hand
And up to her bower she has run.

And she has fluted east, she has fluted west,
She's blown both loud and shrill.
She says, “I wished that my sons were seven greyhounds
And I was a wolf on the hill.”

“And I wished that my sons were seven young rats
Running on yon castle wall,
And I myself was an old grey cat,
How soon I would worry them all!”

“And I wished that my sons were seven young hares
Running on yon lilly lee,
And I myself was an good greyhound,
How worried then they would be!”

“Come downstairs,” the young bride says,
“Come down the stairs to me.
And pray tell me the name of your father dear,
And I'll tell mine to thee.”

“Well, King Douglas it was my father's name
And Queen Chatten was my mother;
Sweet Mary, she was my sister dear
As Prince Henry was our brother.”

“Well, if King Douglas it is your father's name
And Queen Chatten is your mother,
Then I'm sure that I am your sister dear
As Prince Henry, he is our brother.”

“And I have seven ships all out upon the sea
They are loaded to the brim.
And you shall have the six of them
And the seventh for to carry me home.
You shall have the six of them
When we've had Lord Thomas burned!”

(repeat first verse)

Debra Cowan sings Fair Annie

“Comb back your hair, Fair Annie,” he said,
“Comb it back into your crown.
For you must live a maiden's life
When I bring my new bride home.”

“Oh, how can I look maiden-like
When maiden I am none?
For six fair sons have I had by you
And a seventh coming on.”

“Oh, you will bake my bread,” he said,
“And you will keep my home.
And you will welcome my lady gay
When I bring my new bride home.”

And by the door there's a silken towel,
Hung with a silver pin,
So that Fair Annie she might wipe her eyes
As she goes out and in.

Now, six months gone and nine coming on
And she thought the time o'er long
And she's taken a spyglass all in her hand
And up to her tower she has run.

She has lookèd east, she has lookèd west
She has looked all under the sun
And who should she see but Lord Thomas
A-bringin' of his new bride home.

And she has called her seven sons
By one, by two, by three
And she has said to her eldest son
“Come tell me what you see.”

And he's lookèd east, he has lookèd west
He has looked all under the sun
And who should he see but his father dear
A-bringin' of his bridal home.

“Oh, shall I dress in green?” she said
Or shall I dress in black?
Or shall I go down to the raging main
And send my soul for to wrack?”

“No, you need not dress in green,” he said
“And you need not dress in black
But you'll throw open the great hall doors
And you'll welcome my father back.”

And it's, “Welcome, welcome, Lord Thomas,” she said,
And you're welcome unto me.
And welcome, welcome, your merry men all
That you've brought from across the sea.”

And she's servèd them the best of the wine
And she's servèd them all 'round
But she's drunk water down from the well
For to keep her spirits down.

Now six months gone, and time coming on
And she thought the time o'er long
And she's taken her flute all in her hand
And up to her bower she has run.

She has fluted east, she has fluted west
She has fluted loud and shrill
And she wished that her sons were seven greyhounds
And she a fox on the hill.

Then it's, “Come down the stairs,” the new bride said,
Come down the stairs to me.
And tell me the name of your father dear
And I'll tell mine to thee.”

“Well, King Douglas it is my father's name
And Queen Chatron is my mother;
And Sweet Mary, she's my sister dear
And Prince Henry is my brother.”

“If King Douglas it is your father's name
And Queen Chatron is your mother
Then I am sure I'm your sister dear
As Prince Henry is our brother.”

“And I have seven ships at sea
They are loaded to the brim.
And six of them I shall give to you
When we've had Lord Thomas hung
And six of them I shall give to you
And one for to carry me home.”