“Hind Horn” in its popular form is a rather sweet ballad about the reunion of two long separated lovers. (All versions can be found here) Most versions start by introducing the hero, who has fallen in love with the king’s daughter.
In Scotland there was a baby born,
Lill lal etc…
And his name it was called young Hind Horn
With a fal lal etc…
He sent a letter to our king,
That he was in love with his daughter Jean.
None of these ballads mention the hero’s rank, or whether he is considered to be a good suitor for the princess, but he is able to talk to her and to give her gifts. In version A he gives her a silver wand with three live larks on it. She apparently likes him enough to give him a diamond ring with… magical “Dear John” powers?
‘When this ring grows pale and wan,
You may know by it my love is gone.’
Easier than sending a breakup letter in those days, I guess.
One day he looked the ring upon,
He saw the diamonds pale and wan.
Instead of just accepting that she is no longer interested and marrying someone else he decides to go back and see what’s up. When he comes to shore he learns from an old beggar that the princess is getting married. He asks the beggar to change clothes with him so that he can sneak into the wedding.
When he came to the King’s gate,
He sought for a drink for Hind Horn’s sake.
The princess comes down in person to give him a glass of wine and he takes the opportunity to show her the ring.
‘O got ye this by sea or land?
Or got ye it off a dead man’s hand?’
‘I got it not by sea, I got it by land.
And I got it, madam, out of your own hand.’
This is where we find out that her description of the ring’s power wasn’t entirely accurate. She still wants to marry him even though she believes that he has become a beggar.
‘I’ll cast off my gowns of brown,
And beg wi you frae town to town.
‘I’ll cast off my gowns of red,
And beg wi you to earn my bread.’
He then tells her that he is still rich and they run off together.
The bridegroom he had wedded the bride,
But young Hind Horn he took her to bed.
Child comments on the fact that the ring changing color doesn’t mean what the princess said it would mean, but he has no particular explanation for this discrepancy.
According to the letter of the ballads, should the ring given to Horn turn wan or blue, this would signify that she loved another man: but though accuracy would be very desirable in such a case, these words are rather loose, since she never faltered in her love, and submitted to marry another, so far as she submitted, only under constraint.
Probably just another victim of the folk process then.
The ballads bring up several questions for me. Who is Hind Horn and how does he get to talk to the princess in the first place? Why does he feel the need to disguise himself when going to the wedding? Did running off with the princess on her wedding day create an international incident?
Child’s notes hold some answers to these questions.
The popular ballads that Child collected were a shortened version of a much longer and more complicated story about an exiled prince.
The story of Horn, of which this ballad gives little more than the catastrophe, is related at full in
I. ‘King Horn,’ a gest in about 1550 short verses…
II. ‘Horn et Rymenhild,’ a romance in about 5250 heroic verses…
III. ‘Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild,’ from a manuscript of the 14th century, in not quite 100 twelve-line stanzas…
In the first version that Child describes, (you can read the original text here, and another version retold for children here) Horn is the prince of Suddenne. His father, King Murry, is killed by “Saracens,” who put Horn and his friends on a boat “without sail or rudder.” They drift safely to shore and are taken in by Alimar, the king of Westerness. who has them brought up by his steward.
The king’s daughter Rymenhild falls in love with Horn, but he refuses her offer of marriage because he thinks his station is too low to marry her. She gets him and his friends knighted, but then he insists on going to sea so that he can prove himself as a knight.
Upon this Rymenhild gave him a ring, set with stones of such virtue that he could never be slain if he looked on it and thought of his leman. The young knight had the good fortune to fall in immediately with a ship full of heathen hounds, and by the aid of his ring killed a hundred of the best of them.
He goes back to Rymenhild and finds that she is very upset over an ominous dream.
She had cast her net into the sea, and a great fish had broken it: she weened she should lose the fish that she would choose.
The meaning of this dream soon becomes clear. Horn’s friend Fikenild tells King Alimar about Horn’s relationship with the princess. He then convinces the king that Horn is planning to kill him and take his throne. Horn is banished, but tells the princess to wait seven years before marrying someone else.
Horn sails to Ireland and takes service with king Thurston.
At Christmas came into court a giant, with a message from pagans newly arrived. They proposed that one of them should fight three Christians:
‘If your three slay our one,
Let all this land be your own;
If one of ours oercomes your three,
All this land then ours shall be.’
Horn scorned to fight on such terms; he alone would undertake three of the hounds; and so he did. In the course of a hard fight it came out that that these were the very heathen that had slain King Murry. Horn then looked on his ring and thought on Rymenhild, then fell on his foes. Not a man of them escaped; but King Thurston lost many men in the fight, among them his too sons. Having now no heir, he offered Horn his daughter Reynild and the succession.
Well, she’s only a few letters removed from his One True Love…
Horn replied that he had not earned such a reward yet. He would serve the king further; and when he asked for his daughter, he hoped the king would not refuse her.
I wonder if this is diplomacy on his part or pragmatism. Is he really considering marrying this other princess, or is he holding out for the one who made him invincible in battle and is still waiting for him to come back? Speaking of which, does the power of the ring depend on them being in love?
So Horn stays with king Thurston for seven years without so much as a letter to Rymenhild, who is having a hard time.
A sorry time it was for her, and worst at the end, for King Modi of Reynis asked her in marriage, and her father consented. The wedding was to be in a few days. Rymenhild despatched messengers to every land…
One of the messengers does manage to find him, and Horn sends back a message that he will be there soon, but the messenger drowns on his way back.
Horn then made a clean breast to Thurston, and asked for help. This was generously accorded, and Horn set sail for Westerness.
I can just imagine that conversation:
“Hey, I know you want me to marry your daughter, but I’m actually engaged to this other princess, except that her dad hates me and thinks I’m going to kill him and take his kingdom and she’s supposed to marry someone else tomorrow. Anyway, can you lend me a boat so I can go and stop the wedding?”
“Sure! Why not?”
Anyway, he meets a pilgrim:
He met with a palmer, and asked his news. The palmer had come for a bridal; a wedding of maid Rymenhild, who wept and would not be married, because she had a husband, though he was out of the land. Horn changed clothes with the palmer…”
Was it common to engage in clothing swaps with random strangers you met on the road in those days?
The porter would not let him in; Horn kicked open the wicket, threw the porter over the bridge, made his way into the hall, and sat down in the beggars’ row.
Poor guy! He was just trying to do his job. I hope it wasn’t too high a bridge.
Rymenhild was weeping as if she were out of her wits, but after meat she rose to give all the knights and squires drink from a horn which she bare: such was the custom. Horn called to her:
‘Skink us with the first,
The beggars ben athirst.’
She laid down her horn and filled him a gallon bowl; but Horn would not drink of that. He said mysteriously, “Thou thinkest I am a beggar, but I am a fisher, come far from the East, to fish at thy feast. My net lies near at hand, and hath full seven year. I am come to see if it has taken any fish.
‘I am come to fish;
Drink to me from thy dish,
Drink to Horn from horn!’”
Wait… Is that pun the entire reason for his name?
Rymenhild looked at him, a chill creeping over her heart. What he meant by his fishing she did not see.
I’m a bit confused as well. Was “Hey, it’s me!” not dramatic enough? Apparently so, because he decides to continue the drama further. He drops the ring into the horn, when she finds it she sends for the “palmer.” Instead of revealing himself then, he tells her that Horn died on the way to Westerness. It’s only after she grabs a knife to kill herself (it is mentioned that she originally planned to kill her new husband as well) that he takes off his disguise. I guess he wanted to test her devotion, but seriously dude, the lady sent messengers to every land to find you and was openly crying at her own wedding. This is all after she tried to marry you when you were only a steward, greatly increased your station in life, gave you a ring that made you invincible in battle and then waited seven years for you to come back from exile. If anyone needs to prove their commitment at this point it’s you!
Horn sprang from the hall,
And let his sclavin fall,
and went to summon his knights. Rymenhild sent after him the faithful Athulf, who all the while had been watching for Horn in the tower. They slew all that were in the castle, except King Alimar and Horn’s old comrades.
Sheesh, what did everyone in the castle ever do to him? I bet some people were glad that they weren’t invited to that wedding!
Horn spared even Fikenild, taking an oath of fidenity from him and the rest.
Yeah, so kill everyone who happens to be in the castle when your true love is getting married, but spare THE GUY WHO GOT YOU EXILED IN THE FIRST PLACE BY INTENTIONALLY SPREADING LIES ABOUT YOU. I know he’s a childhood friend, but there are some seriously messed up priorities here.
Then he made himself known to Alimar, denied what he had been charged with,
Uh huh. Committing a massacre at his daughter’s wedding clearly proves your innocence.
…and would not marry Rymenhild even now, not till he had won back Suddenne.
I’m starting to think Horn has commitment issues. This is the woman who made him invincible in battle. I don’t think marrying her first would slow him down, but then we couldn’t have the dramatic final act.
Horn takes back his father’s kingdom without much trouble, meanwhile Fikenild, the one guy he actually should have killed, betrays him again, kidnaps Rymenhild and forces her to marry him.
Horn disguises himself and his knights as musicians to get into the castle and then proceeds to kill Fikenild and his men. Horn marries Rymenhild (Don’t rush into it or anything. Are you sure you don’t want to wait another seven years?) and marries Reynild (the extra princess, if you’re keeping track) to his loyal friend Athulf.
The French romance contains very nearly the same story, extended, by expansions of various sorts, to about six times the length of King Horn.
It would be out of place to notice other variations than those which relate to the story preserved in the ballads.
In this version Horn wants to clear his name through trial by combat, but the king insists that he swear a loyalty oath instead. Horn refuses to do this because he is the son of a king.
The king says, then he may quit his land and go – to Norway, if he will. Horn begs Rimild to maintain her love for him seven years. If he does not come then, he will send her word to act therefore at her pleasure.
That would be one hell of a breakup letter. “Thank you for waiting seven years for my return, but I’ve decided this really isn’t going to work out. It’s not you, it’s me.”
Rimild responds be giving him a ring that is even more powerful than the one in the previous ballad.
… wearing which faithfully he need not fear death by water nor fire, battle nor tourney.
Ok, where did she get that? Is it a metaphor for the power of true love, or does she just happen to have a spare ring of invincibility lying around?
Horn uses the ring to avenge his father before getting word that Rimild is being forced to marry someone else, “through a friend, who had long been seeking him.” He changes clothes with a palmer and sneaks into the wedding like he does in the previous ballad. Again he goes through the ritual with the ring in the wine horn (and the pun), claims not to know anything about Horn, and then communicates who he is through a complicated metaphor:
For himself, he had been reared in that land, and by service come into possession of a hawk, which, before taming it, he had put in a cage: that was nigh seven years since: he had come to see what it amounted to. If it should prove to be as good as when he left it, he would carry it away with him; but if its feathers were ruffled and broken, he would have nothing to do with it. At this, Rimild broke into a laugh, and cried, “Horn, ‘t is you, and your hawk has been safely kept!”
He then tests her by pretending to be poor. She says she doesn’t care.
“Little do you know me,” was her reply. “I can bear what you bear, and there is no king in the East for whom I would quit you.”
‘Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild portrays Rimnild’s father as much more violent and abusive towards his daughter then in the previous ballad. He responds to the false information by beating his daughter “until she bleeds” and he tells Horn that he will be “drawn with horses and hanged” if he is still in the country the next morning.
Rimnild gives him a ring and tells him that if the stone on the ring turns pale it will mean that she isn’t in love with him anymore, and if it turns red it will means she’s lost her virginity.
Horn, for his part, bids her every day look into a spring in her arbor: should she see his shadow, then he is about to marry another; till then his thought will not have changed.
Horn doesn’t change his mind despite another princess being in love with him, but after seven year he looks at the ring and sees that “its hue was changed.” This time the beggar he meets turns out to be an old friend, he changes clothes with his friend and forces his way into the castle.
This time there is no mention of a mass slaughter, instead he “[comes] onto the field with a hundred knights. A tournament follows… the royal bridegroom is unhorsed, but spared; treachery is punished and forced to confession.”
In a Scandinavian ballad called ‘Unge Hr. Tor og Jomfru Tore,’ the main characters’ names are Tor and Sølffuermord. There is no mention of Tor being exiled. He simply goes away and tells Sølffuermord to wait eight years for his return. When eight years pass and he doesn’t come back, her father decides to marry her to a rich count. Tor comes back the day of the wedding and is told by Sølffuermord’s brother that she “is even now drinking her bridal, but with tears.”
This time instead of pretending to be a beggar he takes his harp and chess board and starts playing outside the hall. The bride recognizes his playing, at which point he comes in and challenges her to a game of chess. They take turns winning and use the chess game to banter about the current situation in rhyme.
‘Full hard is gold to win,
And so is a trothless queen.’
‘Many were glad their faith to hold,
Were their lot to be controlled.’
They run away together on Tor’s ship. Sølffuermord’s mother, who is a “professor of the black art,” creates a storm that makes everyone but Sølffuermord seasick on the deck. Sølffuermord steers the ship to Norway where they celebrate their wedding.
In another ballad, ‘Herr Lovmand og Herr Thor’ the hero comes back late because he is sick. The heroine has refused to go to bed for nine days after the wedding and her brothers “begin to use force.” However, she convinces them to let her go to the look-out first where she sees his ships approaching. The ballad ends peacefully with the original groom agreeing to marry the hero’s sister instead.
Child mentions that there are many variations of this ballad in Sweden. In some of them the hero and heroine run off together, in some the hero kills his rival and in some the rival agrees to a peaceful solution.
He goes over some other ballads that have similar tropes. There are several ballads about a duke who goes away for many years, has trouble getting back due to various misfortunes, and then makes friends with a lion who is somehow able to get him home just in time to stop his wife’s wedding.
Some other ballads of this type involve deals with the devil. The devil is always forced to break the deal at the last minute, sometimes because of the hero’s actions and sometimes due to the interference of the hero’s lion friend.
Several ballads have the husband leaving to join the crusades and being taken prisoner. He gets back home with the help either of Saladin (who has magic powers), “a devil, acting under the orders of St. Thomas,” or divine powers that respond to his prayers.
He always has a roundabout way of revealing himself, some ways more polite than others. In one version:
He is invited to the wedding supper, and towards the close of it proposes to play cards to see who shall have the bride. The guests are surprised.
I’m sure they are!
His wife, however, is always happy to see him.
The lady, upon lifting the cover, saw the ring, knew her husband, and, upsetting the table in her ecstasy, threw herself into Torello’s arms.
The hero is usually portrayed as a devoted husband who is prevented by cruel fate from getting back to his wife, though in one ballad his behavior is so obnoxious and hypocritical that Child comments on it in a footnote.
Numerous as are the instances of these long absences, the woman is rarely, if ever, represented as in the least to blame. The behavior of the man, on the other hand, is in some cases trying. Thus, the Conde Dirlos tells his young wife to wait for him for seven years, and if he does not come in eighth to marry the ninth. He accomplishes the object of his expedition in three years, but stays fifteen, never writes, -he had taken an unnecessary oath not to do that before he started, – and forbids anybody else to write, on pain of death. Such is his humor; but he is very much provoked at being reported dead.
So that is my summary of Hind Horn and the thirty pages of notes that Child wrote for this ballad. It has had quite a journey from epic, bloody tale to the ballad equivalent of a romantic comedy.