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The Footboy

[ Roud 3580 ; Ballad Index FowM080 ; trad.]

Emerson Woodcock from Peterborough, Ontario, sang The Footboy to Edith Fowke in 1958. This recording was included in 1975 on the Leader album Far Canadian Fields which was the companion to Edith Fowke's Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs. She noted:

This ballad is puzzling: I have been unable to find it in any traditional collection in either Britain or North America, or in any broadside collection. It contains elements suggesting various known broadsides: the father who tries to prevent his daughter marrying a servant is common in the ballads of ‘Family Opposition to Lovers’, and the device of planting items on the lover so he can be accused of robbery occurs in such songs as William Riley (Laws M10), Henry Connors (Laws M5) and Mary Acklin (Laws M16). But in none of these is the lover hanged: at worst he is transported or imprisoned, although usually his sweetheart manages to free him.

The form and style of The Footboy seem closer to the popular ballads than to the broadsides. It uses a common ballad metre and a type of repetition more often found in older ballads. The fact that the lover is hanged also suggests that it dates from an earlier period than those in which he is transported, and the term ‘footboy’ for a young manservant has a medieval flavour: it was in common use at the time of Shakespeare but had largely disappeared by the nineteenth century.

Pete Coe sang The Footboy in 2017 on his CD The Man in the Red Van. He commented in his liner notes:

Back in the 70s I met Edith Fowke at Bill and Helen Leaders when they were selecting songs from her Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs for the LP Far Canadian Fields. She'd recorded this ballad from Emerson Woodcock, Peterborough, Ontario in 1958. It starts as a familiar family conflict but takes a unique turn for the worse. As far as Edith knew there are no other versions of this ballad which has haunted me ever since I first heard it.

Lyrics

Emerson Woodcock sings The Footboy

There lived a man in Devonshire,
A cruel-hearted man was he.
𝄆 He had one daughter, a beauty bright;
On her father's footboy she took delight. 𝄇

Oh, one day this couple were left alone,
And the truth to him she did make known.
𝄆 Said he, “Fair lady, put no trust in me;
I'm your father's footboy of a low degree.” 𝄇

So this old man in the ambush lay,
And he heard all that they had to say.
𝄆 This made the old man both curse and rage,
For he knew his daughter was of a tender age. 𝄇

So the very next morning at break of day,
Said he, “My lad, you can take your pay.”
𝄆 With ready wages he paid him down,
As the teardrop from his eye did fall. 𝄇

Well he had not got but a mile from town
When in a circle they did surround.
𝄆 They searched his pockets and found within
A gay gold watch and a diamond ring. 𝄇

So he was taken and lodged in jail,
No friends or relations to go his bail.
𝄆 Great calculations the old man made
On the executions that he had laid. 𝄇

As he stepped up on the gallows high,
“O father dear, do you want to see my true love die?
𝄆 O father, father, it's a dreadful sight
For to see my true love all dressed in white.” 𝄇

As she stepped out on the gallows stand
The old man did not surmise her plan,
𝄆 And with a dagger she pierced her heart.
“Now I welcome death, it to pain and smart.” 𝄇

As she lay in her bloody gore
Lamenting of her wound so sore,
𝄆 “O father, father, you're the worst of men!
You have brought your daughter to a scornful end. 𝄇

“So there's just one thing now that I do crave:
That's to bury us both in the one grave,
𝄆 For I love my footboy you know so true,
And to this wide world I bid adieu.” 𝄇

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: The Footboy (Canadian ballad).