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Clerk Saunders

[ Roud 3855 ; Child 69 ; Ballad Index C069 ; trad.]

Roy Bailey found this grisly ballad of jealousy in Stephen Sedley's The Seeds of Love (London: Essex Music, 1967). He sang it on his 1971 eponymous album on the Trailer label, Roy Bailey.

June Tabor sang Clerk Saunders unaccompanied in 1977 on her Topic album Ashes and Diamonds.

Rod Paterson sang Clarke Saunders in 1980 on Jock Tamson's Bairns' eponymous Temple album Jock Tamson's Bairns.

Tony Rose sang Clerk Saunders unaccompanied in 1982 on his Dingle's album Poor Fellows. He noted:

One of the classic “big” ballads based of family honour or jealousy. I've collated the text from several sources. Of all songs, the ballads are the most challenging, and therefore the most rewarding to sing.

Janet Russell and Christine Kydd sang Clerk Saunders on their 1994 Greentrax CD Dancin' Chantin'.

Eliza Carthy sang Clark Saunders on her 1996 Topic CD Heat Light & Sound. She noted:

This beautiful song tells its own story, and also contains some good advice on how to talk yourself out of a hole; the only problem arising if you don't get a chance to because both you and the evidence are fast asleep. The Child Collection has all of the different versions.

Terry Yarnell sang Clerk Saunders in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers CD A Bonny Bunch.

Alison McMorland sang Clerk Saunders in 2003 on her and Geordie McIntyre's Tradition Bearers CD Ballad Tree. Geordie noted:

In most of the tragic ballads the heroine chooses suicide however in this case she chooses rigorous mourning. Alison draws on Child's A & D texts. It is set to the handsome tune in Motherwell's Appendix (No 16)—see Bronson. She was inspired to create her way of it from the fine singing of Rod Paterson.

Malinky recorded Clerk Saunders in January 2005 at Gilmore Place Studios, Edinburgh, for their demo EP of their then new line-up, The Gilmore Sessions. This was included in 2019 on the bonus CD of their 20th anniversary album Handsel. They officially recorded it in 2005 on their Greentrax CD The Unseen Hours where they noted:

Clerk Saunders fell victim to brotherly jealousy, a common ballad motif. This tale ends in abject tragedy when one of the brothers takes his sword to Clerk Saunders and his lover is left grief stricken. Fiona [Hunter] learned this from the singing of Alison McMorland. The ballad was also in the repertoire of Mrs Arrott of ‘Aberbrothick’ (Steve [Byrne]'s home town of Arbroath); she is still a relatively unknown informant who contributed many ballads to the late 18th century collector Robert Jamieson.

Martin Simpson sang Clerk Saunders on his 2005 Topic CD Kind Letters. He noted:

There are four of the so-called. Child Ballads here, that is ballads recorded and numbered by the American scholar, Francis James Child in his work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a great deal in the process of teaching. Being someone who tends to plough through life on feeling and instinct, it is instructive to be asked to examine one’s work and explain it. While living in California I had a student, Rose McLeod, who would simply bring me songs and ask me to interpret them for her. Rose brought me a recording of Polly Bolton singing Clerk Sanders. I was very familiar with June Tabor’s version of the song and was delighted to work on this different and beautiful form of the ballad. The song never left me alone over ten years and I would play it and sing scraps of the story. Eventually I used Roy Bailey’s performance, which is based on the text of the song collection Marrowbones and called June Tabor to remind me of the verses she had sung to conclude her text. This is yet another of the great ballads where class difference is the excuse for brutal violence, although it is not always clear in the lyric. Ironically, in some versions, May Margaret explains, whilst cursing her brothers, that the late Clerk was in fact the heir to an Earldom.

Emily Smith sang Clerk Saunders in 2014 on her EP A Winter's Night on her CD Echoes.

Lyrics

June Tabor sings Clerk Saunders Tony Rose sings Clerk Saunders

Oh it was a sad and a rainy night
And the rain did rain from town to town;
Clerk Saunders and his lady gay
Were a-walking through the fields so brown.

So sad and rainy was the night
As e'er did rain from town to town;
Clerk Saunders and his gay lady
Were walking in the fields so brown.

“Oh a bed, a bed,” Clerk Saunders cried,
“A bed, a bed for you and me.”
“Oh never a bed,” says the gay lady,
“Until it we'd to married be.

“Oh a bed, a bed,” Clerk Saunders cried,
“A bed, a bed for you and me.”
“There's never a one,” said the gay lady,
“Until it we'both to married be.

For it's I have seven brothers bold
And unto you they bear no good will,
And if they catch you in my bower
Oh they'd value not your blood to spill.”

For I have seven brothers bold
Unto you they bear no good will,
And if they catch you in my bower
They would value not your blood to spill.”

“Oh, I'll take the sword out from my scabbard
And slowly, slowly lift up the pin,
That you might swear and save your oath
That you never let Clerk Sandy in.

“Love, then take the napkin in your hand,
Hold it up before your eye,
That you might swear and save your oath
That you saw not Sandy here this night.

Then take me up all in your arms
And carry me unto your bed,
That you might swear and save your oath:
Clerk Sandy never i' your bower did tread.”

And you'll take me up in your two arms,
Carry me unto your bed,
That you might swear and save your oath:
That your bower Sandy ne'er did tread.”

So he's taken the sword out from his scabbard
And slowly, slowly lifted the pin,
That she might swear and save her oath
That she never let Clerk Sandy in.

So she's taken the napkin in her hand,
Just held it up before her eye,
That she might swear and save her oath
That she saw not Sandy there that night.

Then she's taken him up in her two arms
And carried him unto her bed,
That she might swear and save her oath
Clerk Sandy never i' her bower did tread.

And she's taken him up in her two arms,
She's carried him unto her bed,
That she might swear and save her oath
That her bower Sandy ne'er did tread.

And then it's in and came her brothers bold
And all their torches burning bright,
Says they, “We have but the one sister
And see, she's lying with a knight.”

Then in and came those brothers bold
And all their torches burning bright,
Said they, “We have but one sister
And do see, she's lying with some knight.”

And then it's up and spoke the first o' them,
“I know they have been lovers dear.”
And up and spoke the next o' them,
“Oh they've been in love for many's the year.”

Then up and spoke the foremost man,
“I know they have been lovers dear.”
And up and spoke the second man,
“They've been in love for many's the year.”

And then it's up and spoke the third o' them,
“'T would be a shame these two to twain.”
And up and spoke the fourth o' them,
“Oh it's a sin to kill a sleeping man.”

And up and spoke the third of them,
“It is great sin these two to twain.”
And up and spoke the fourth of them,
“It is a sin to kill a sleeping man.”

And then it's up and spoke the fifth o' them,
“I swear they'll never be harmed by me.”
And up and spoke the sixth o' them,
“Oh we'll take our leave and we'll go our way.”

And up and spoke the fifth of them,
“I vow they'll ne'er be twained by me.”
And up and spoke the sixth of them,
“We'll take our leave and go our way.”

And then it's up and spoke the seventh brother,
Saying, “Though there be no man but me,
I bear the brand all in my hand,
Shall surely make Clerk Sandy die!”

But up and spoke the seventh man,
“I vow an ill death he may die!
For I wear the sharp sword at my side
That soon shall make Clerk Sandy die.”

And then he's taken out his nut brown sword
And drawn it three times through the straw,
And through and through Clerk Saunders' body,
Oh he's got that rusty rapier go!

And he's drawn out that nut brown sword,
He's drawn it three times through the straw
And in Clerk Saundy's body fair:
That tempered steel went through and through.

And they have lain all night in each other's arms
Until the day began to dawn,
And kindly to him she did say,
“Oh it's time, my love, that you were away.

They've lain there in each other's arms
Until the dawning of the day;
Then kindly to him she did say,
“Oh it's time, my love, you were away.

Oh you are the sleepiest young man
That ever my two eyes did see,
For you've lain all night all in my arms
And I'm sure it is a shame to be.”

Oh you are the sleepiest young man,” she said,
“That ever my two eyes did see.
You've lain this night within my arms,
I am sure it is a shame to be.”

And then she's drawn the blankets to the foot
And turned the sheets unto the wall,
And there she's seen his bloody wounds
And his two grey eyes all pale and cold.

Then she's turned the blanket to the foot
And there she's seen his bloody wounds.
“Oh cursed be my brothers bold!
I vow an ill death they may die.”

And it's, “Cursed be my bloody brothers!
Aye an an ill death may he die!
For you dared not fight him in the field
But you slew him as he lay with me.

And it's in and came her father dear,
Said, “Daughter, let your mourning be.
We'll take Clerk Saunders to his grave,
Then come back and comfort thee.”

“Oh comfort well your seven sons,
Or no man e'er shall comfort me.
For since you've slain my own true love
Oh wedded I shall never be.

And it's I will do for my love's sake
What many a lady will not do,
Seven long years shall come and go
Before I wear stocking or I wear shoe.

And I will do for my love's sake
What many a lady would not do,
For seven long years shall come and go
Ere I wear stocking or I wear shoe.

And there's never a shirt goes on my back
And never a comb goes in my hair,
Never a fire nor a candle light
Shine in my bower anymore.”

There'll ne'er a shirt go on my back
And ne'er a comb go in my hair,
And never a coal nor a candle light
Shall shine into my bower no more.”

Eliza Carthy sings Clark Saunders Malinky sing Clerk Saunders

Clark Saunders and May Margaret
Were walking in yon gravelled green,
And sad and heavy was the love
I felt it pass this two between.

Clerk Saunders and May Margaret
Were walking on yon gravelled green,
Sad and heavy was the love
I wot it fell this twa between.

“A bed, a bed,” Clark Saunders said,
“A bed, a bed for you and I.”
“Oh no, oh no,” the lady said,
“Until the day that we married be.”

“A bed, a bed,” Clerk Saunders said,
“A bed, a bed for you and me.”
“Oh no, oh no,” the lady cried,
“Until the day we mairrit be.”

“For in would come my five brothers
And all their torches burning bright,
They'd say we have but one sister
And see her lying with you this night.”

“For in will come my seven brithers,
And a ' their torches burnin bright.
They'll say we hae but yin sister,
And here she’s lying wi you this night.”

“But you take a kerchief in your hands
And tie up both your eyes, you may,
So you may say your oath to save
You ne'er saw me since yesterday.”

“And take the sword from out my scabbard,
You can use it to lift the pin.
So you may say your oath to save
You never let your Sandy in.”

“You'll tak the sword frae my scabbard,
And loowly loowly lift the gin,
And ye maun swear a solemn oath
Ye’ll never let Clerk Saunders in.”

“And take me up all in your arms,
You can carry me to the bed.
So you may say your oath to save
On your bower floor I never tread.”

“You'll tak me in your airms twa,
And carry me ben untae yer bed,
And ye maun swear a solemn oath,
Across your bower I ne'er did tread.”

But in an' come her five brothers
And all their torches in their hands.
They said, “We have but one sister
And see her lying with a man.”

They werenae lang untae the room,
They werenae lang untae the bed,
When in there cam her seven brithers
And a their torches were burnin red.

Out 'n spoke the first o' them,
“I know they have been lovers dear.”
And out'n spoke the next o' them,
“They've been in love this many's a year.”

Oot then spak the first brither,
“It's lang since ere this love began,”
Oot then spak the second brither,
“It’s a sin tae kill a sleepin man.”

And out 'n spoke the third o' them,
“It would be great sin this two to twain.”
And out 'n spoke the fourth o' them,
“It's a sin to kill a sleeping man.”

Oot then spak the third brither,
“We'd better gang and let them be.”
Oot then spak the neist o' them,
“You'll no be killed this nicht for me!”

But up 'n spoke the fifth of them,
“Although there were not one but me,
Before I leave this room this night
I'll bear the brand and I'll make him die!”

Oot then spak the fifth brither,
Aye and an angry man was he,
“I bear the sword in my right hand
That will gar Clerk Saunders dee!”

And so out he's taken a bright long sword,
He has striked it through the straw
And through and through Clark Saunders' body,
You know he has made cold iron go!

He's taen oot his lang lang sword
That he had strappit through the strae,
And through and through Clerk Saunders body
I wot he has garred iron gae.

And they lay still and she slept sound
Until the day began to dawn,
And kindly to him she did say,
“It's time, true love, that you were gone.”

“Awake awake, Clerk Saunders,” she says
“Awake awake for sin and shame,
For the day is light, the sun shines bright,
And I'm afraid we will be taen.”

Aye she waukened this dead man,
Aye she rocked him to and fro,
Aye she waukened this dead man
But of his death she did not know.

“I'll do as much for ye Clerk Saunders,
Whatever ladies wouldnae thole,
Till seven years has passed and gane
There's nae a shoe gaes on my sole.

“There'll ne'er be a sark upon my back,
There'll ne'er be a kaim straik through my hair,
There'll ne'er be coal or candle light,
Shine in my bower nae mare.”

“This night”, she said, “the sleepiest man
That ever my two eyes did see,
Has lain by me and sweat the sheets,
And you know that's a shame to see.”

For she thought it had been a loathsome sweat
That had come to this two between,
She's turned the blankets back a ways
And then she saw the bloody wound.

“Last night I dreamed a dream,” she said,
“And such dreams cannot be good,
I dreamed my bower was full of swine
And my true love's clothes all dipped in blood.”

“And I have dreamed another dream,
And such dreams are never good,
That I was combing my yellow hair
And trailing it in wells of blood.”

“Well hold your tongue, my daughter dear,
Hold and let all your mourning be,
For I'll carry the dead corpse to the clay
And I'll come back and comfort thee.”

“But you comfort well your five sons,
For comforted I never will be.
They might have slain him all in the field
And not where he has lain with me.”

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Eliza Carthy by Kira White.