> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor
> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor

Lord Thomas and Fair Annet / Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor

[ Roud 4 ; Child 73 ; G/D 2:212 ; Ballad Index C073 ; Bodleian Roud 4 ; Wiltshire 103 ; trad.]

Jessie Murray of Buckie, Banffshire sang Lord Thomas and Fair Ellen to Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson in the beginning of the 1950s. Her recordings were included on the anthologies The Child Ballads 1 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 4; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968), The Muckle Sangs (Scottish Tradition 5; 1975), 1951 Edinburgh People's Festival Ceilidh (2005) and Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree (2011).

Jim Copper sang The Bold Forester (Lord Thomas) in a recording made by Seamus Ennis for the BBC on April 24, 1952 (BBC 17989). Bob Copper recorded Lord Thomas for his 1977 album, of countryside songs from South England, Sweet Rose in June. Mike Yates commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Although most of the songs on this record date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at least two are of considerable antiquity. Lord Thomas (Child 73) was first printed in England c. 1663—though foreshadowing it, as a French lyric song, De la vile issoit pensant is known to date from at least the 12th century. The central theme of the ballad is that of Eleanor’s appearance at the wedding in rich clothes—a factor that distinguishes it from the similar ballad Fair Margaret and Sweet William (Child 74).

A.L. Lloyd sang Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor in 1956 on Volume IV of his and Ewan MacColl's anthology of Child ballads, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. This track was also included in 2011 on Lloyd's Fellside reissue Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun. Lloyd also printed this ballad in 1959 in his and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Queen Caroline Hughes sang four verses of Fair Ellen to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1963 or 1966. This recording was included in 2015 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog. She also sang Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender to Peter Kennedy in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset. on April 19, 1968. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology I'm a Romany Ray (The Voice of the People Volume  22). Rod Stradling commented in the Musical Tradition's booklet:

Although quite an old ballad, Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender has remained popular with ballad singers over the years. This may be partly to do with the story, with its dramatic ending, and partly because it was frequently printed on broadsides. The earliest known text can be dated from between 1663 to 1685, and there are several eighteenth century broadsides. In Norway and Denmark the ballad is known by the title Sir Peter and Liten Kerstin which, again, was frequently printed on eighteenth century broadsides.

Roud lists 754 entries, with the great majority from the USA—but England has around 90 and Scotland 40. Of the 80 sound recordings, the great majority are also American, but Bob Copper and Charlie Wills recorded it in England, as did Willie Edward and Jessie Murray in Scotland.

Hedy West sang The Brown Girl in 1963 on her eponymous Vanguard album Hedy West.

Peter Bellamy learned Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor from the repertoire of the Copper Family. He sang it live at the Cockermouth Folk Club in January 1991. This concert was published on his cassette Songs an' Rummy Conjurin' Tricks.

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger sang Lord Thomas and Fair Annie in 1956 on their Tradition album Classic Scots Ballads. He also sang it as The Brown Girl (Lord Thomas and Fair Annet) on his 1961 Folkways album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 1—Child Ballads. He commented in the first album's notes:

Child thought the Scottish version of this ballad included in Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry was “one of the most beautiful of our ballads, and indeed of all ballads.” The validity of Child's evaluation is borne out by the continued popularity of this ballad both in Britain and America. There are two forms of this ballad, the first telling how the preferred girl is slain by her rival, and the other relating that she dies of grief on the night of the wedding. The latter form seems to hail from Northeast Scotland. I learned the ballad in fragmentary form from my mother and collated her version with stanzas from Gavin Greig's Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs.

Mike Birch sang Lord Thomas live at the Thetford Folk Club, Green Dragon. It was included in ca. 1970 on the club's privately issued album The Mole Catcher.

Cas Wallin sang Fair Ellanor and Lord Thomas at his home in Sodom Laurel, Madison County, North Carolina, to Mike Yates on August 27, 198o, and His nephew Doug Wallin sang Fair Eleanor and Lord Thomas at his home at Crane Branch, Madison County, North Carolina, on May 24, 1983. Both recordings were included in 2002 on the Musical Tradition anthology of songs, tunes and stories from Mike Yates' Appalachian collections, Far in the Mountains Volume 3.

Colin Thompson sang Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor in 1980 on his Fellside album Three Knights.

Jim Eldon sang The Three Lovers on his 1984 album I Wish There Was No Prisons.

Tim Eriksen sang Brown Girl in 2001 on his eponymous CD Tim Eriksen. He commented:

From the Warners' unreleased 1960 recording of Frank Proffitt which I got from Peter Kennedy. Proffitt's singing and writing are beautiful, understated and full of insight.

Martin Carthy sang Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor on his and Dave Swarbrick's 2006 album Straws in the Wind. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Lord Thomas is a twerp whose mother thinks that the sun shines out of his saddle sores. Does a lot of riding does our Thomas, what with all the to-ing and fro-ing between his place, his mother's place, the penniless but very lofty and fragrant (where O where have we heard that word before?) Fair Eleanor in her gaff and his imminent wedding. Seems that Thomas and Eleanor think of the Brown Girl as nothing more than some nouveau riche arriviste unworthy of his attentions—except (as far as he is concerned) for that damnably interesting “rich” part following on from the loathed “nouveau” and preceding the equally contemptible “arriviste” bit. Eleanor's mother, however, is possessed of at least half a brain and is far from blind to this disaster waiting to happen, but even her focused warnings fail to stem her daughter's drive to impale herself on her own spite. The one truly lamented casualty here is the Brown Girl, whose love is thrown back in her face but whose riposte is swift, silent and final. Costs her her own life though. A.L. Lloyd is right when he says that some of the Scots oral versions have small illuminating extras, so while ditching the last two “Rose and Briar” verses which seem to me our of place, I've taken a couple of others from those Scots sets in order to underline the fragrant Eleanor's real malice aforethought. It's from Somerset and Cecil Sharp.

Malinky sang a very long version of Sweet Willie and Fair Annie with 32 verses on their 2008 album Flower & Iron. They commented in the liner notes:

Mary Arrott (née Bafour) was a doctor's wife in Arbroath in the late 18th century, and the sister of a local poet. As ‘Mrs Arrott of Aberbrothick’, the old name for Arbroath, she was a contributor to the ballad collector Robert Jamieson's Popular Ballads and Songs, published in 1806, and later featured in the Child collection.

It was a real delight for Steve [Byrne] to discover this singer's repertoire so close to home and he's had great fun researching her. Given that Mary learned this from an elderly maid-servant when she was a child, it makes her version around 250 years old; the song is thought to date as least as far back as the mid-17th century.

James Findlay sang Lord Thomas and Fair Ellenor in 2009 on his first CD, As I Carelessly Did Stray.

Martin Simpson sang Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender in 2009 on his Topic CD True Stories.

Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender comes from a recording of Mike Seeger. I've been singing it on and off for 40 years. When I decided to re-do it, I mentioned it to Martin Carthy who, as ever, knew some lesser known verses which make the story yet more clear and more unbearable. It is originally a Scots ballad, Lord Thomas and Fair Annet, and the first printed English version appeared in the late 17th century.

Lyrics

Peter Bellamy sings Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor Martin Carthy sings Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor

Lord Thomas, he was a bold forester
And the keeper of our lord's deer.
Fair Eleanor, she was a lady gay,
𝄆 Lord Thomas he loved her so dear. 𝄇

Lord Thomas, he was a bold forester
And chasener of the King's deer.
Fair Eleanor, she was a fair woman,
Lord Thomas he loved her dear.

“So come riddle to me, dear mother,” he said,
“Come riddle it all as one,
Whether I should marry with Fair Eleanor
𝄆 Or bring the brown girl home.” 𝄇

“Oh riddle, oh riddle, dear mother,” he cries,
“Oh riddle it both as one,
Whether I'll marry fair Ellen or not
And leave the brown girl alone.”

“Well, the brown girl she has riches and land,
Fair Eleanor she has none.
And so I charge you do my bidding
𝄆 And bring the brown girl home.” 𝄇

“Oh, the brown girl she's got houses and land,
Fair Eleanor she's got none.
Therefore I charge thee to my blessing
To bring the brown girl home.”

So he's rode till he's come to Fair Eleanor's bower
Loudly the bell he did ring.
There was none so ready as Fair Eleanor herself
𝄆 For to rise and bid him in. 𝄇

Lord Thomas, he went to fair Eleanor's tower
And he knocked so loud on the ring.
There was none so ready as Ellen herself
To let Lord Thomas in.

“And what news, what news, Lord Thomas,” she said,
“What news have you brought to me?”
“I have come to invite you to my wedding
𝄆 And that's sad news for thee.” 𝄇

“What news, what news, Lord Thomas,” she cries,
“What news do you bring unto me?”
“Oh, I've come to invite you to my wedding
Beneath the sycamore tree.”

“Oh God forbid, Lord Thomas,” she cries,
“That any such thing should be done.
For I thought to have been the bride myself
And you to have been the groom.”

“Come riddle to me, dear mother,” she said,
“Come riddle it all as one,
Whether I should go to Lord Thomas's wedding
𝄆 Or bide with thee at home.” 𝄇

“Oh riddle, oh riddle, dear mother,” she cries,
“Oh riddle it both as one,
Whether I go to Lord Thomas's wedding
Or better I stay at home.”

“Well, many are your friends,” she said,
“But thousands are your foes.
And so I charge you do my bidding
𝄆 And bide with me at home.” 𝄇

“There's a hundred of your friends, dear child,
A hundred of your foes.
Therefore I beg you with all my blessing
To Lord Thomas's wedding don't go.”

But she has dressed herself in the shining white,
Her merry men all in green.
And every town that they rode through,
𝄆 They took her to be some queen. 𝄇

But she dressed herself in best attire,
And her merry men all in green.
And every town that she went through,
They took her to be some queen.

And she's rode till she's come to Lord Thomas's hall
Loudly the bell she did ring.
There was none so ready as Lord Thomas himself
𝄆 For to rise and bid her in. 𝄇

And he's taken her by the lily-white hand,
He's led her through the hall,
He sat her down at his right side
𝄆 Above the ladies all. 𝄇

Lord Thomas, he took her all by the hand,
And he led her all through the hall,
And he sat her down in the noblest chair,
Among the ladies all.

“Is this your bride, Lord Thomas,” she cries,
“I'm sure she looks wonderful brown.
When you used to have the fairest young lady
That ever the sun shone on.”

“Despise her not,” Lord Thomas, he cries,
“Despise her not unto me.
For more do I love your little finger
Than all of her whole body.”

And he'd a rose all in his hand,
And he's given it kisses three,
And reaching across the brown girl herself,
He laid it on Eleanor's knee.

Now the brown girl she had a little pen knife,
It was ground both keen and sharp,
And between the long ribs and the small
𝄆 She's pierced Fair Eleanor's heart. 𝄇

Oh, the brown girl, she had a little pen-knife,
And it was both long and sharp,
And between the long ribs and the short,
She pierced fair Eleanor's heart.

“What ails you, lady?” Lord Thomas said,
“For you look most wondrous wan,
And you used to have the fairest colour
𝄆 That e'er the sun shone on.” 𝄇

“Oh, what is the matter?” Lord Thomas he cries,
“Oh cannot you very well see?
And can you not see my own heart's blood
Come trickling down my knee?”

“Oh are you blind, Lord Thomas?” she said,
“So blind that you cannot see?
For I fear, I fear my own heart's blood
𝄆 Run trickling to my knee?” 𝄇

With his sword he cut off the brown girl's head
And he dashed it against the wall.
Then he set the hilt upon the ground
𝄆 And upon the point he did fall. 𝄇

Lord Thomas's sword is hung by his side
As he walked up and down the hall.
And he took off the brown girl's head from her shoulders
And flung it against the wall.

“Now come dig my grave,” Lord Thomas said,
”Dig it long, wide, and deep,
And place Fair Eleanor in my arms
𝄆 And the brown girl at my feet. 𝄇

Oh, he put the handle to the ground
And the sword unto his heart.
No sooner did these three lovers meet,
No sooner did three lovers part.

Oh he put the handle to the ground
And on it he did fall.
And there was an end of these three lovers
Through spite and malice and gall.

Acknowledgements

Lyrics taken from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, ed. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959:70, and adapted to the actual singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.