> Folk > Songs > The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin / The Wee Cooper o' Fife

The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin / The Wee Cooper o' Fife

[ Roud 117 ; Child 277 ; G/D 7:1282 ; Ballad Index C277 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang The Cooper o' Fife in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Volume II. This song and 28 other from this series were reissued in 2009 on his Topic double CD set Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album notes:

Child summarises the story of this humorous ballad as follows:

Robin has married a wife of too high kin to bake or brew, wash or wring. He strips off a wether's skin and lay it on her back, or prins (pins) her in it. He dares not beat her, for her proud kin, but he may beat the wether's skin, and does. This makes an ill wife good.

The ballad was probably derived from the traditional tale of The Wife Lapped in Morrel's Skin, dating from the 16th century or earlier.

Long a favourite in both Britain and America, the ballad has been the subject of interesting speculations concerning its various refrains, as well as the native American additions to the text (Janson, Hoosier Folklore Bulletin). Mac Coll's version, learned from his parents, most clearly matches the Child “C” text, originally from Alexander Whitelaw's The Book of Scottish Song (1844), and this is the form in which the ballad is best known in Scotland today.

Robin Hall sang The Wee Cooper of Fife in 1960 on his Collector album Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Wee Cooper of Fyfe in 1963 on their Transatlantic album This Is the Ian Campbell Folk Group.

Hedy West sang Little Old Man Lived Out West in 1964 on her Vanguard album Hedy West Volume 2. A year later, she recorded this song as The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin on her Topic album Old Times & Hard Times. This track was also included in 2011 on her Fellside CD re-issue Ballads & Songs from the Appalachians.

Cath and Phil Tyler sang Wether's Skin on their 2008 CD Dumb Supper.

This video shows Threelegsoman singing The Wee Cooper o' Fife:

Lyrics

There was a wee cooper who lived in Fife,
    Nickity, nackity, noo, noo, noo
And he has gotten a gentle wife.
    Hey Willie Wallacky, how John Dougall,
    Alane, quo Rushety, roue, roue, roue.

She wadna bake, nor she wadna brew,
For the spoiling o her comely hue.

She wadna card, nor she wadna spin,
For the shaming o her gentle kin.

She wadna wash, nor she wadna wring,
For the spoiling o her gouden ring.

The cooper's awa to his woo-pack
And has laid a sheep-skin on his wife's back.

'It's I'll no thrash ye, for your proud kin,
But I will thrash my ain sheep-skin.'

'Of, I will bake, and I will brew,
And never mair think on my comely hue.

'Oh, I will card, and I will spin,
And never mair think on my gentle kin.

'Oh, I will wash, and I will wring,
And never mair think on my gouden ring.'

A' ye wha hae gotten a gentle wife
Send ye for the wee cooper o Fife.