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Captain Wedderburn's Courtship / Song of the Riddles

[ Roud 36 ; Child 46 ; G/D 4:842 ; Henry H681 ; Ballad Index C046 ; Bodleian Roud 36 ; trad.]

Gale Huntington: Sam Henry's Songs of the People Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs John Ord Bothy Songs and Ballads Stephen Sedley: The Seeds of Love

Willie Mathieson of Turriff, Aberdeenshire, sang The Laird o Roslin's daughter to Alan Lomax on 17 /uly 1951. This recording was included in 2011 on the Drag City anthology of Scottish recordings by Alan Lomax, Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree.

Ewan MacColl sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. As most of his songs on this series, it was included in 2009 on his double CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Editor Kenneth G. Goldstein wrote in the album's booklet:

Riddles and riddling songs have long been popular in the folklore of the world's peoples. It is probable that the riddle portion of this ballad existed independently in tradition some time before Captain Wedderburn's Courtship came into being. The meter and form of the ballad suggest a late composition (probably no earlier than the middle of the 17th century), while the riddles have been found in manuscripts dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.

The ballad itself was known to Child in only three versions. It was still popular in tradition in Scotland early in this century for Greig [The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection] collected nine versions in Aberdeen, though it may presently be extinct there. American texts of this ballad are rare, though the riddle portion of the ballad has been collected widely as a separate song entitled I Gave My Love a Cherry or The Riddle Song.

The version sung by MacColl was learned from Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs].

Séamus Ennis sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship on the anthology The Child Ballads Volume 1 (The Folksongs of Britain Volume 4; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Sarah Makem sang three verses of You and I in One Bed Lie (Captain Wedderburn's Courtship) to Diane Hamilton in 1962. This recording was included in 2011 on her Musical Traditions anthology As I Roved Out.

Willie Clancy sang this song as The Song of the Riddles in 1967 on his Topic album The Minstrel from Clare and on the 1998 Topic anthology Come Let Us Buy the Licence (The Voice of the People Series Volume 1).

Alec Foster from Belfast sang Stock and Wall to Hugh Shields on 13 October 1968. This recording was included in 1975 on the Leader anthology of Folk Ballads from Donegal and Derry collected by Hugh Shields.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 1969 on their second duo album, Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 2, but they lose the third set of riddles from MacColl's version. The record's sleeve notes comment:

Riddles have for a long time played a noteworthy part in ballad courtship even occurring as far away as Siberia, the woman promising her hand to the first suitor to solve her riddles. This is an anglicised collation of a number of Scottish versions the brunt of which comes from the collection of F.J. Child (No. 46). An old Scottish house consisted of one large room with the beds set in alcoves, the wife sleeping between her husband and the wall for protection; although conversely she could not escape.

Rose McCartin sang Stock or Wall to High Shields at her home in Annalong, Co Down, on 24 July 1970. This recording was included in 1985 on the An Goílín anthology Early Ballads in Ireland 1968-1985.

Frank Harte sang the related song He Rolled Her to the Wall in 1973 on his Topic LP Through Dublin City. He commented in his liner notes:

Similar in content to Rosemary Fair except that in this case instead of tasks which must be performed it is riddles which must be answered. It is a version of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship. This type of song has been sung all over Europe since medieval times, originally as Christian moralities, later as love songs.

Pat MacNamara of Kilshanny, near Ennistymon, sang Mr Woodburren's Courtship in 1975 to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie.. This recording was included in 2004 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from their collection, Around the Hills of Clare. They noted:

While the riddling form of song is extremely ancient, it has been suggested by B.H. Bronson among others, that the courtship narrative in this ballad is a comparative latecomer. He described it as having been “thoroughly overhauled in quite modern times”.

As well as in this present form, it has been found in numerous guises: as a nursery rhyme (Perrie, Merrie, Dixie, Dominie); a straightforward love song (I Gave My Love a Cherry); and in the South West United States as a cante-fable. A version from the Lower Labrador Coast entitled The Devil and the Blessed Virgin Mary introduced a religious aspect into the plot, but all other versions seem to have been secular.

Jean R

Jean Redpath sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 1975 on her eponymous album Jean Redpath. She noted:

This ballad has gone full circle. The older element of the story, the riddles, can be traced back at least as far as the Sloan Ms. of the early 15th century. Scholars agree that the rest of the story is late and literary. In America it has again been reduced to the basic riddling form at in the song I Gave My Love a Cherry. There is no English counterpart of this ballad as far as I know, but it is the basis for Bob Coltman's contemporary American song Captain Hanley and Sweet Mazie.

Staverton Bridge (Sam Richards, Tish Stubbs and Paul Wilson) sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 1975 on their eponymous Saydisc album Staverton Bridge.

Gordeanna McCulloch sang Captain Wedderburn in 1978 on her Topic album Sheath and Knife.

Roy Harris sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 1985 on his Fellside album Utter Simplicity.

Duncan Williamson sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship to John Howson in August 1991. This recording was incuded in 2014 on his posthumous Veteran anthology Put Another Log on the Fire.

Sheena Wellington sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship on the 1995 Greentrax anthology of songs from the Greig-Duncan Collection as performed at the Edinburgh International Festival, Folk Songs of North-East Scotland.

Maggie Murphy sang Stock or Wall (Captain Emmerson) on her 1996 Veteran CD of traditional folk songs and ballads from Tempo, Co Fermanagh, Linkin' O'er the Lea and on the 2014 Musical Traditions anthology of traditional songs from around Lough Erne's shore, I Pray You Pay Attention.

Joe Rae from Ayrshire sang The Laird o’ Roslyn's Doughter on his 2001 Musical Traditions anthology The Broom Blooms Bonny. Rod Stradling noted:

Like Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child 1) and The Elfin Knight (Child 2), The Laird o’ Roslyn’s Dochter concerns a would-be suitor who can only gain his love by performing certain tasks, in this case by answering riddles. Professor Child noted that such ideas were ancient and once widespread across eastern Europe and the Middle East. One such example, which he quotes, is the Persian story of Prince Calaf who is given the task of answering the following three riddles:

“What is to be found in every land, is dear to all the world, and cannot endure a fellow?” Calaf answers, “The sun.” “What mother swallows the children she has given birth to, as soon as they have attained their growth?” “The sea,” says Calaf, “for the rivers that flow into it all come from it.” “What is a tree that has all its leaves white on one side and black on the other?” “This tree,” Calaf answers, “is the year, which is made up of days and nights.”

The song I Gave My Love a Cherry also clearly belongs to this tradition, and is no doubt derived from the ballad. Joe learnt the ballad from Edward ‘Ned’ Robertson, a retired shephered who lived next door to Joe in Sorn and who would have been born sometime around 1885. The tune used by both Ned and Joe has been used to carry a number of songs and ballads over the years, the best known being the bothy song Drumdelgie.

Child mentions that the ballad was printed in an undated chapbook, Lord Roslin’s Daughter’s Garland, which runs to some eighteen verses. According to Joe, Ned’s original version was also extremely long and Joe is aware that he never managed to get the full story from Ned.

Katherine Campbell sang Captain Wedderburn in 2004 on her Springthyme CD The Songs of Amelia and Jane Harris.

Mawkin:Causley sang Keeper of the Game in 2009 on their Navigator CD The Awkward Recruit.

Bellowhead sang an abridged version of the song with the abridged title Captain Wedderburn in 2010 on their CD Hedonism. Their verses are quite similar to Tim Hart and Maddy Prior's but they skip the three verses with the first riddles too. Jon Boden sang it unaccompanied as the 27 February 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day where he commented:

I’m really proud of the Bellowhead version of this strange little riddle song. I wonder whether “worse than a woman’s voice” may be a mondegreen (woman’s scorn maybe?), but it makes me chuckle so I’ve left it. This one is learnt from Tim and Maddy’s lovely version.

Mick Flynn sang Captain Weatherbourne's Courtship in 2011 on the Ron Kavana and Friends album 40 Favourite Folk Songs.

Alasdair Roberts and Karine Polwart sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship on their 2011 Drag City single Captain Wedderburn's Courtship.

Alistair Ogilvy sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 2012 on his Greentrax CD Leaves Sae Green.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings Captain Wedderburn's Courtship

The Laird o' Roslin's dochter walked through the woods her leen
When by cam' Captain Wedderburn, a servant tae the King.
He said unto his servant man, “Were it no' against the law
I would tak' her tae my ain bed and lie her neist the wa'.”

“I'm walkin' here alane,” she said, ”among my faither's trees,
And you must let me walk alane, kind sir, now if you please;
The supper bells, they will be rung and I'll be missed awa',
So I canna lie in your bed, either at stock or wa'.”

He says, “My bonnie lassie, I pray lend me your hand,
And ye'll get drums and trumpets always at your command,
And fifty men tae guard you as long's this sword can draw,
And we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “Pray tell tae me your name.”
“My name is Captain Wedderburn, a servant tae the King.
Though your faither were here and a' his men, I would tak ye fae them a',
I wad tak ye tae my ain bed and lay ye neist the wa'.”

He jumped aff his milk-white steed and set the lady on,
And a' the way he walked on foot and held her by the hand.
He held her by the middle jimp for fear that she should fa'
Till he took her tae his ain bed tae lay her neist the wa'.

He took her tae a lodging-hoose, the landlady looked ben,
Says, “Mony's the bonnie lady in Edinburgh I've seen,
But such a pretty, weel-faured face in it I never saw.
Ye'll mak' her doon a down bed and lay her neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “before you do gain me
It's you must dress me dishes yet and that is dishes three.
Dishes three you'll dress tae me, though I should eat them a'
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.

“Ye'll get tae my supper a cherry without a stone,
And you will get to my supper a chicken without a bone,
And you will get to my supper a bird without a ga'
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.”

“When the cherry is in bloom, I'm sure it hath no stone,
And when the chicken is in the egg, I'm sure it hath no bone.
The dove he is a gentle bird and flies withoot a ga',
So we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “before you me perplex
You will tell me questions yet and that is questions six.
Questions six ye'll tell to me and that is three times twa
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.

“What's greener than the greenest grass? What's higher than the trees?
What's worse than woman's vice? What's deeper than the seas?
What was the first bird that crew? And what did first doon fa'?
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.”

“Evergreen's greener than the grass, heaven's higher than the trees.
The Devil is worse than woman's vice, Hell's deeper than the seas.
The cock was the first bird that crew, the dew it did first doon fa',
So we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “before I gie you ower
You will tell me fairlies and that is fairlies fower.
Fairlies fower ye'll tell to me and that is twa and twa
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.

“You will gie to me fruit that in December grew;
Ye'll get to me a mantle that waft was ne'er ca'd through,
A sparrow wi' a horn and a priest unborn this night to join us twa,
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.”

“My faither had plums that in December grew,
My mither had an Indian goon that weft was ne'er ca'd through,
A sparrow wi' a horn, that's easily found, there's ane on every claw,
An' twa upon the gab o't, and you shall hae them a'.

”The priest is standing at the door, just ready tae come in;
No one can say that he was born, no one unless he sin;
A wound cut in his mother's side and he oot' o't did fa.
So we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

Little did that fair maid think that morning when she raise
That it would be the very last o' a' her maiden days.
And in the parish whaur they live they was not a blither twa
And they baith lay in ae bed and she lay neist the wa'.

Sarah Makem sings You and I in One Bed Lie (Captain Wedderburn's Courtship)

“Ara, go, begone young man,” she says, “And do not bother me.
Before I lie one night with you, you must grant me wishes three;
Three wishes you must grant to me, supposing I lose the fall,
Before you and I in the one bed lie at either stock or wall.

“You must get for me me breakfast a bird without a bone,
You must get for me me dinner, a cherry without a stone,
You must get for me my supper, a bird without a gall,
Before you and I in the one bed lie at either stock or wall.”

“Oh well, when the bird is in the shell I'll vow it has no bone,
And when the cherry is in its blossom I vow it has no stone,
The dove she is a gentle bird, she flies without a gall,
So it's you and I in the one bed lie and I'll lie next the wall.”

Tim Hart & Maddy Prior sing Captain Wedderburn's Courtship

The Laird o' Roslin's daughter walked through the woods alone
When by come Captain Wedderburn, a servant of the King.
He said unto his servant man, “Were it not against the law
I'd take her into my own bed and lie her next to the wall.”

Then he jumped off his milk-white steed and he set the lady on,
And all the way he walked on foot and he held her by the hand.
He held her by the middle of the waist for fear that she should fall
Till he took her to his own bed to lie her next to the wall.

“Oh,” said the pretty lady, “before you do gain me
It's you must dress me dishes yet and that is dishes three.
It's dishes three you must dress me, though I'll not eat at all
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh you must get for supper a cherry without a stone,
And you must get for supper a chicken without a bone,
And you must get for supper a bird without a gall
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“A cherry when it is in bloom, I'm sure it has no stone,
And the chicken when it's in the egg, I'm sure it has no bone.
The dove she is a gentle bird and she flies without a gall,
So we'll lie both in one bed and you'll lie next to the wall.”

“Oh,” said the pretty lady, “before you me perplex
It's you must answer questions yet and that is questions six.
Questions six you must tell me and that is three times twa
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, what is greener than the grass? What's higher than the trees?
Oh, what is worse than woman's vice? What's deeper than the seas?
What was the first bird that did crow? And what did first down fall?
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, death is greener than the grass and is higher than the trees.
The Devil is worse than a woman's vice, Hell is deeper than the seas.
The cock was the first bird that did crow and the dew did first down fall,
So we'll lie both in one bed and you'll lie next to the wall.”

Oh little did that fair maid think that morning when she rose
That this would be the very last of all her maiden days.
And in the parish where they live they're the happiest pair of all
And they both lie in one bed and she lies next to the wall.

Pat MacNamara sings Mr Woodburren's Courtship

Now an old man's fair daughter walked down a narrow lane,
She met with Mr Woodburren, the keeper of the game.
He said, “My pretty maiden, and weren't for the law
I'd have you now right in my bed while you lie next the wall.”

“Now then, go away young man”, she said, “Now, and do not trouble me,
Before I lie one night with you, you must get me dishes three:
Three dishes you must get for me; supposing I eat them all,
Before I lie one night with you, sure, at either stock or wall.”

“For my breakfast you must get for me a bird without a bone;
For my dinner you must get for me a cherry without a stone;
For my supper you must get for me, sure, a bird without a gall,
Before I lie one night with you at either stock or wall.”

“Oh then, when the bird is in its egg it really has no bone;
When a cherry is in its blossom, sure, it really has no stone;
The dove, she is a gentle bird and she flies without a gall,
Come you and I in one bed lie while you lie next the wall.”

“Ah then, go away young man”, she said, “Now, and do not trouble me,
Before I lie one night with you, you must answer me questions six:
Six questions you must answer me when I'll set forth them all,
Before I lie one night with you at either stock or wall.”

“What is rounder than a ring, what is higher than the tree?
What is worse than womankind, what is deeper than the sea?
What bird sings best, the heath bird's first, and where the dew first fall?
Before I lie one night with you at either stock or wall.”

“Now the globe is rounder than the ring, heaven is higher than the tree;
The divil is worse than womankind, hell is deeper than the sea;
The thrush sings best, the heath bird first, and there's where the dew first fall,
So come you and I, sure, in one bed lie, and you lie next the wall.”

“Oh then, go away young man”, she said, “And do not trouble me,
Before I lie one night with you, you must answer me questions three:
Three questions you must answer me when I set forth them all,
Before I lie one night with you now, at either stock or wall.”

“You must get for me some winter fruit that in December grew;
You must get for me a mantle that ne'er a weave went through;
A sparrow's horn, a priest unborn, to join us one and all,
Before I lie one night with you, sure, at either stock or wall.”

“Now then, my father had some winter fruit, sure, that in December grew;
My mother has a mantle that ne'er a weave went through;
A sparrow's horn is easy got, there's one in every claw;
And Benedict was a priest unborn; so you lie next the wall.”

So now, to conclude and to finish my song,
This couple they got married and happy they do long;
Because she being so clever, sure, she did his heart enthral,
He caught her in his arms And he rolled her from the wall.

Joe Rae sings The Laird o’ Roslyn's Doughter

The Laird o’ Roslyn’s dochter walked through the woods her lane,
And by came Captain Wedderburn, a servant tae the king.
Says he unto his serving men, “Were it not against the law,
I would tak her tae my ain bed and lay her neist the waa.”

“I’m walking here alane,” she says, “among my faither’s trees,
And it’s ye must let me walk alane, kind sir, now if ye please.
For the supper-bell it will be rung, and I’ll be missed awa.
So I winna lie in your bed, either at stock or waa.”

He says, “My pretty Lady, pray lend tae me your haun,
And ye shall hae drums and trumpets always at your command.
And fifty men tae gaird ye wi, right weel their swords can draw,
Sae we’s baith lie in yae bed and ye’s lie neist the waa.”

“Noo haud your tongue, young man,” she says, “O your fleechin noo gie ower,
Unless you’ll find me ferlies, and that is ferlies fower.
O ferlies fower ye maun find tae me and that is twa times twa,
Or I’ll nae lie in your bed, either at stock or waa.”

“For it’s ye must get tae me a fruit, that in December grew,
An it’s ye must get tae me a goun, that waft was ne’er caaed through.
A sparrow’s horn, a priest unborn, this nicht tae join us twa,
Or I’ll nae lie in your bed, either at stock or waa.”

“Weel, my faither he has winter fruit, that in December grew.
My mither she has an Indian goun, that waft was ne’er caaed through.
A sparrow’s horn is quickly found, there’s yin on ilka claw.
There’s yin upon the neb o’ him, perhaps there may be twa.”

“Well, the priest is standing at the door, just ready tae come in.
Nae man can say that he was born, tae lie it were a sin.
For a wild boar ripped his mither’s side, he oot o’ it did fa.
Sae we’s baith lie in yae bed, and ye’s lie neist the waa.”

O little kenned Grizzie Sinclair that morning when she raise,
That this would be the hindermaist o’ aa her maiden days.
But noo there’s nae within the realm, I think a blither twa,
And they baith lie in yae bed, and she lies neist the waa.”

Bellowhead sing Captain Wedderburn's Courtship

The Earl of Rosslyn's daughter walked through the woods alone
When by came Captain Wedderburn, a servant of the King.
He said unto his servant man, “Were it not against the law
I'd take her into my own bed and lie her next to the wall.”

So he jumped off his milk-white steed and he set the lady on,
And all the way he walked on foot and he held her by the hand.
He held her by the middle of the waist for fear that she should fall
Before they'd lie in one bed and she'd lie next to the wall.

“But,” said the pretty lady, “before you me perplex
It's you must answer questions yet and that is questions six.
It's questions six you must tell me and that is three times twa
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, what is greener than the grass, what is higher than the trees?
What is worse than a woman's voice, what is deeper than the seas?
What was the first bird that did crow and what did first down fall?
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, envy's greener than the grass and is higher than the trees,
The Devil is worse than a woman's voice, Hell is deeper than the seas.
The cock was the first bird that did crow and the dew did first down fall,
So we'll both lie in one bed and you'll lie next to the wall.”

Oh little did that lady think that morning when she rose
That this would be the very last of all her maiden days.
And in the cottage where they live they're the happiest pair of all
And they both lie in one bed and she lies next to the wall.

Acknowledgements and Notes

The spelling of Roslin/Rosslyn: According to Wikipedia, Rosslyn Chapel and Roslin Castle are located at the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. So both spellings seem to be valid.

Thanks to Sylvia Sotomayor for correcting Tim Hart and Maddy Prior's lyrics.