Child 8: Erlinton

Lyrics here.

Child says in the notes that he almost included this as a version of Earl Brand and only listed it as a separate ballad because of the happy ending.

In version A, Erlinton locks his daughter up in a “bigly” bower and tells her six sisters and seven brothers to watch her and not to let her out at night.  (On a side note, I had heard the word “bigly” used at the Renaissance Faire in the context of a silly and suggestive play, but I didn’t know it was a real word.)

She hadna been i that bigly bower

Na not a night but barely ane,

Till there was Willie, her ain true love,

Chappd at the door, cryin ‘Peace within!’

Willie asks her to let him in.  She says that she can’t, but that she will meet him at the “green-wood” in the morning.

In the morning she goes to the green-wood with two of her sisters.  Willie kisses both sisters and sends them home.  No word on the motivations of the sisters.  Either they were in on it from the beginning, or they were so charmed by Willie’s magic kisses that they did everything he said.

When they ride into the woods, fifteen knights come after them.  They demand that Willie “yield to me thy lady bright.”  When I first read this, I assumed that the knights were sent by her father, but on second thought, no association is mentioned, and I think they are meant to be common outlaws.  If this is the case, it makes their request quite a bit more menacing.

Anyway, Willie fights and kills fourteen of the knights and leaves the oldest to “carry the tidings hame.”  Then he and the lady kiss and Willie declares that they will “walk the green-wood free.”

Version B is similar to version A except for a few minor differences.  I notice that there are a lot of unused siblings in these ballads.  In both versions the heroine’s brothers are told to guard her and then never mentioned again.   In version A, six sisters are introduced, but only two of them go into the woods with her.

Version C is about Robin Hood, and is “supposed to have been written about 1650.”

Instead of the heroine being locked up in the beginning, she has apparently run away for reasons that are never mentioned.  Robin Hood sees her in the woods and starts making out with her.  He asks her to be his “true love” and she responds that her brothers wouldn’t like him.  He spends five verses convincing her that he’s tough enough to deal with her brothers and can take care of her in the forest.

Then her two brothers arrive and ask why she ran away:

‘With us, false maiden, come away,

And leave that outlawe bolde,

Why fledst thou thy home this day,

And left thy father olde?’

She never answers this question, and most of the rest of the ballad consists of Robin Hood fighting the brothers and killing the older one (very graphically) while the girl pleads with them to stop fighting.

Similar to Earl Brand, the girl asks Robin Hood to spare the younger one, distracting Robin enough for her brother to get in a blow.

‘Away, for I would scorn to owe,

My life to thee, false maide!’

The youngest cried and aimed a blow

That lit on Robin’s head.

Unlike in Earl Brand, the blow isn’t fatal.  The heroine stands between Robin and her brother until Robin can get up and fight again.  Robin honors her request not to kill the younger brother.  He fights until the brother is exhausted and then Robin and the girl both ride off together pledging love to each other.

What I notice about these ballads is that the heroes are basically medieval supermen.  They can win against impossible odds.  The same was true of Earl Brand, though apparently saying his name was his kryptonite.

In version C, I would be interested in knowing why the heroine decided to run away in the first place.  Probably to get away from her overly controlling brothers.

I was unable to find any recordings of this ballad.  The Child Ballad Database claims that Hester NicEilidh recorded version C, but my Google search turned up no results.

The Jolly Soldier, sung in the video below by Paul Brady, is listed on The Child Ballad Database as a version of Earl Brand.  It doesn’t resemble any of the versions that Child collected, and the story has elements of both Earl Brand and Erlinton.  Like Earl Brand, it is a song about a girl running off with a man that her father disapproves of to the point that he tries to kill both of them.  Like Erlinton, it has a “happy ending,” though instead of simply riding off together, the couple go back with the girl’s father and he makes them his heirs in exchange for sparing his life.  Also unlike Earl Brand, the girl shows no sentimental feelings for her father, going so far as to reject his first offer when he is begging for his life.


I finally got around to recording this one myself.  Since I couldn’t find a tune for it anywhere, I put it to the tune of William Taylor.

This entry was posted in defined by story, music, traditional and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Child 8: Erlinton

  1. fionag11 says:

    You have to love a happy ending for a change – roaming the greenwood free.

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