> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Golden Vanity
> Tony Rose > Songs > The Golden Vanitee
> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Merry Golden Tree
> Brass Monkey > Songs > The Old Virginia Lowlands

The Golden Vanity / The Sweet Kumadee / The Merry Willow Tree / The Old Virginia Lowlands

[ Roud 122 ; Master title: The Golden Vanity ; Child 286 ; G/D 1:37 ; Ballad Index C286 ; Old Songs GoldenVanity ; VWML SBG/3/1/307 , HAM/3/19/12 , RoudFS/S146425 ; Bodleian Roud 122 ; GlosTrad Roud 122 ; Wiltshire 808 ; Mudcat 11747 , 18315 ; The Gouden Vanity at A Puckle Muckle Sangs; trad.]

Sabine Baring-Gould, H. Fleetwood Sheppard: Songs of the West Lucy E. Broadwood, J.A. Fuller Maitland: English County Songs Katherine Campbell: Songs from North-East Scotland Jonanna C. Colcord: Songs of American Sailormen Edith Fowke: The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs Fred Hamer: Garners Gay Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs William Long: A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect John Morrish: The Folk Handbook John Jacob Niles: The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads Patrick O'Shaughnessy: More Folk Songs from Lincolnshire Roy Palmer: Everyman's Book of British Ballads Frank Purslow: The Constant Lovers James Reeves: The Everlasting Circle Jean Ritchie: Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians Steve Roud, Julia Bishop: The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Cecil Sharp: One Hundred English Folksongs Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl: The Singing Island Ralph Vaughan Williams, A.L. Lloyd: Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Mike Yates: Traveller's Joy

W. Bolton of Southport, Lancashire, sang The Golden Vanity in 1906 to Ann Gilchrist [ VWML RoudFS/S146425 ] . In some versions of this widespread and well-known ballad with many versions, the enemy is Turkish, Spanish or French. Fundamentally, it is a story of betrayal and rarely does it have a happy ending. Sometimes the boy drowns and his ghost returns to sink his own ship. Mr Bolton explained that the “black bear skin” was the cabin boy's covering at night; he wished to wear it as a disguise in the water. Version have been reported from Wiltshire and Cornwall, some cite the hero as being Sir Walter Raleigh.

The Carter Family of Virginia recorded Sinking in the Lonesome Sea in May 1935. This was included in 2015 on the 3 CD anthology of British songs in the USA, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.

Horton Baker of Chilhowie, Virginia, sang The Turkish Rebelee to Herbert Halpert in 1939. This recording was included in 1978 on the Blue Ridge Institute album in their Virginia Traditions series, Ballads from British Tradition.

Dodie Chalmers of Turriff, Aberdeenshire, sang The Golden Victory to Séamus Ennis on 16 July 1952. This BBC recording was included in 2012 on the anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Volume 23).

A.L. Lloyd sang The Golden Vanity in 1956 on Volume III of his and Ewan MacColl's anthology of Child ballads, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Lloyd also later included it in his Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Ewan MacColl sang the Scottish version The Sweet Kumadee and Peggy Seeger sang the American The Golden Vanity in 1957 on their Riverside album Matching Songs of the British Isles and America. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

The earliest known text of this still-favourite ballad is a broadside from the Pepysian collection dating back to the last hall of the 17th century. In that version, the villain-captain is played by Sir Walter Raleigh, but in later texts ballad singers have deleted all references to him. Details of the ballad vary greatly, and aside from the usual havoc wreaked by oral tradition on names and places, an unusual amount of variation exists in the emotional contexts of the ballad ending. In some versions, the cabin-boy hero is amply rewarded (as in MacColl's Scottish version) ; in others he is left to drown, or is pulled aboard too late and dies on deck. Some few texts even have the cabin-boy take his revenge by returning (in ghost form) and sinking the ship. The ballad was widely current in England, Scotland and America. The tune and one verse of MacColl's version were learned from his mother, with additional stanzas collated from various printed sources. Miss Seeger's American version was learned from the singing of her brother, the well-known folksinger Pete Seeger.

Ewan MacColl also sang The Sweet Kumadee (The Sweet Trinity) in 1964 both on his Folkways album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 2 and on his and A.L. Lloyd's Topic album English and Scottish Folk Ballads. The latter track was included in 2003 on his anthology The Definitive Collection. And the London Critics Group including MacColl sang Sweet Trinity in April 1968 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, Italy; The concert's recording was released in 1970 on their album on the Italian Albatros label, Living Folk.

John MacDonald, aged 10 at the time, and John Reid, both of Birnam, sang The Golden Vanity in 1955 recordings (SA1955.049.6 resp. SA1955.044.A1). These were included in 2011 on the Greentrax album Songs and Ballads from Perthshire Field Recordings of the 1950s (Scottish Tradition 24).

(SA1952.008)

Bill Cameron of St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly, sang The Golden Vanity to Peter Kennedy on 21 November 1956. This BBC recording was included on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk, sang The Golden Fenidier in ca 1959-60 to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. This recording was included in 2014 on his Musical Tradition anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth. Rod Stradling noted:

This is obviously a fairly complete version of The Golden Vanity, which was a far more popular song than I'd ever realised, with some 503 Roud entries—admittedly, more that half of these relate to books, and another quarter to broadside and other printed publications—still, 124 sound recordings isn't bad!

It may seem surprising that such a slim story should have such wide popular appeal, but it appears amongst both the Pepys and Roxburghe ballads, and has remained popular from the late-17th century right up to Mike Yates' 2001 collection from Duncan Williamson. Maybe the very singable refrain has helped—and the fact that we all learned it at primary school?

Jean Ritchie sang The Merry Golden Tree on her 1960 Folkways album British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 1, which was reissued in 2003 on her Smithsonian Folkways album Ballads from her Appalachian Family Tradition. The song is also included with the title Lonesome Sea in her 1965 book Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians, p. 74. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted on the Folkways album:

The earliest known text to this favourite ballad is a broadside version from the Pepysian collection dating back to the last half of the 17th century. In that version, the villain-captain is Sir Walter Raleigh, but in later texts ballad singers have deleted all references to him. There seems to be no actual historical event, concerning Walter Raleigh or any other naval figure, to which this ballad is connected.

Details of the ballad vary greatly in the many versions collected since Child. Aside from the usual havoc wreaked by oral circulation on names and places, an unusual amount of variation exists in the emotional contents of the ballad's ending. In some versions, the cabin-boy hero is amply rewarded for his ship-wrecking activity, in others he is left to drown, or is pulled aboard too late and dies on deck. Some few texts end with the cabin-boy taking his revenge by returning in ghost form and sinking the ship.

Jean Ritchie's version, learned from her mother, corresponds to Coffin's story type A [Coffill, Tristram Potter. [1950] 1963,1977. The British Traditional Ballad in North America. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society; Austin: University of Texas Press], certainly the most common form for the ballad in American tradition.

Frank Proffitt of Watauga County, North Carlina, sang Lowland Low to Anne and Frank Warner in 1961. This recording was included in 2000 on the Appleseed anthology of field recordings by the Warners, Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still (The Warner Collection Volume I).

Paddy Bell sang The Golden Vanity, accompanied by Martin Carthy on guitar, in 1965 on her album Paddie Herself. The album's liner notes commented:

The cabin boy of The Golden Vanity ranks alongside John Henry as one of the indestructible folk heroes. This is a very early ballad, known originally as Sir Walter Raleigh Sailing in the Lowlands, and, as such it was collected by Samuel Pepys. Paddie ignores the Scottish version of the song which gives the boy a happy ending.

The Halliard sang Sailing for the Lowlands Low in 1967 on their Saga album It's the Irish in Me.

Gordon McIntyre sang The Golden Vanity on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). He noted:

In some versions of this widely-known ballad the enemy is Turkish or French or, as in this case, Spanish, but rarely does it end happily. This one, collected by A.G. Gilchrist from W. Bolton of Lancashire, who explained the ‘black bear skin’ was the cabin boy's covering at night and that he wished to wear it as a disguise from the enemy.

Rosemary Hardman sang The Golden Vanity on her 1969 Folk Heritage album Queen of Hearts, which was recorded live at the Bate Hall Hotel in Macclesfield on 29 December 1968. She noted:

Many versions of this sea song are to be found throughout the country. Some record a happy ending with the cabin boy being saved, but more often as here he meets an untimely doom, in some cases returning to haunt the ship. It is interesting to note that a 17th century broadside version of this song has as its subject Sir Walter Raleigh and can be found in the Child ballad collection along with two other variants including The Sweet Trinity. Motherwell records the song as The Turkish Galley. The tune used here is probably the best known of all, but the chorus has undergone a complete change from that set down in my original source of the song (Broadwood).

The Union Folk sang The Golden Vanity in 1969 on their Traditional Sound album A Basketful of Oysters.

Tony Rose recorded The Golden Vanitee in 1970 for his first album, Young Hunting. He sang a slightly shorter version live at Eagle Tavern, New York, in 1981, leaving out the last but one verse. This recording was included in 2008 on his posthumous CD Exe. Tony Rose noted on the original album:

This version of the Golden Vanitee, as taken from Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas, is a particularly detailed one, with perhaps an unexpected element of humour here and there.

Martin Simpson sang Golden Vanity in 1976 as the title track of his Trailer album, Golden Vanity.

Johnny Doughty sang The Golden Vanity at home in Brighton, Sussex, in Summer 1976 to Mike Yates. This recording was published a year later on his 1977 Topic album of traditional songs from the Sussex Coast, Round Rye Bay for More, and in 1996 on the Topic celebration anthology of English traditional music, Hidden English. Mike Yates noted on the original album:

Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
And it is called the Sweet Trinity,
And was taken by the false gallaly,
Sailing in the Lowlands.

So begins a blackletter broadside, “shewing how the famous ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Gally, and how it was again restored by the craft of a little sea-boy, who sunk the Gally,” that was printed during the period 1682-85 by Joshua Conyers, “at the Black-Raven, the 1st shop in Fetter-lane, next Holborn.”

The history books appear to have missed this particular episode in Raleigh's life—no doubt because it was a flight of Conyers', or some other unknown printer's, imagination; a simple attempt to increase sales by the addition of a romantic and well-known name to an otherwise commonplace tale. Whatever the origin, the ballad certainly caught the popular imagination with the result that more than a hundred sets have been collected throughout England, Scotland, America and Australia. Johnny's final couplet is, to my knowledge, unique to his version.

Ian Manuel sang The Sweet Kumadie on his 1977 Topic album of Scots traditional songs, The Dales of Caledonia.

The Packmen sang Golden Vanity on their 1978 Fellside album The Packmen's Blue Record.

Crows sang The Lonesome Sea in 1981 on their eponymous Dingles' album Crows.

Lizzie Higgins sang The Golden Victory on a bonus track of the digital download reissue of her 1985 Lismor album What a Voice.

Stan Hugill and Stormalong John sang The Golden Vanitee on their 1989 album A Salty Fore Topman.

Cyril Tawney sang The Merry Golden Tree in 1992 on his Neptune Tapes cassette Little Boy Billee. This track was also included in 2007 on his anthology The Song Goes On.

The Gaugers sang The Sweet Kumadee in 1994 on their City of Aberdeen Libraries cassette Awa wi the Rovin Sailor. In 1999 the album was also released as a Sleepytown CD.

Jez Lowe (vocals, guitar) and Linda Adams (concertina) recorded The Golden Vanity in 1994 for the Fellside CD A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. This track was also included in 2020 on his Fellside anthology The Jez Lowe Fellside Collection.

Graham Moore sang Golden Vanity on his 1995 album Tom Paine's Bones.

Steeleye Span recorded The Golden Vanity in 1995 during their Time recording sessions. However, it did not appear on this album but was later released on the two Park Records samplers The Best of British Folk Rock and A Stroll Through the Park, and in 2015 on Catch Up—The Essential Steeleye Span.

Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick sang this song as The Old Virginia Lowlands in 1998 on Brass Monkey's third album Sound and Rumour. Martin Carthy noted:

The Old Virginia Lowlands is from one of Stan Hugill's books. It's a version of The Golden Vanity from Stan's family, and must be one of the few versions which is not just a historical curiosity, but a real live, feet-on-the-ground story of real betrayal of real people.

Sandra Kerr, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan sang Sir Walter Raleigh (The Golden Vanity) in 1999 oh their Fellside album Scalene.

Brian Peters & Gordon Tyrrall sang The Green Willow Tree in 2000 on their CD The Moving Moon. In 2008, Brian Peters sang The Golden Vanity on his CD Songs of Trial and Triumph. And in 2013 he and Jeff Davis sang The Green Willow Tree, a version collected by Cecil Sharp from Polly Patrick of Manchester, Clay Co., KY, on 24 August 1917, on their CD Sharp's Appalachian Harvest. Brian Peters noted on his second album:

There are dozens of versions of The Golden Vanity, with predictable variations in the names of the two ships (in the North American set I recorded with Gordon Tyrrall, for instance, the Turkish Revelry is attacker and Green Willow Tree the victim of unprovoked aggression). This one was collected in 1928 by James Madison Carpenter, whose search for ballads, shanties, mummers plays and what-have-you took him the length of Britain in his jalopy. In Cardiff docks he met a seaman, Richard Warner, who sang him this version of the ballad—I've not tampered with it, and particularly liked the line “Oh no you foolish youngster”, which may be unique to this version. I'm not sure what “dazzled out her lights” means, come to that.

Bill Whaley and Dave Fletcher sang an English version of The Golden Vanity and Martyn Wyndham-Read an Australian version on the Fellside album of English traditional songs and their Australian variants, Song Links.

Duncan Williamson sang The Golden Vanity on the 2002 Kyloe album of Mike Yates recordings of songs, stories and ballads from Scottish travellers, Travellers' Tales, Volume 2.

John Roberts sang The Golden Vanity in 2004 at the 25th Annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport. He also sang The Weeping Willow Tree on his 2007 album Sea Fever where he noted:

The Weeping Willow Tree was given to the Vermont collector Helen Hartness Flanders by Lena Bourne ‘Grammy’ Fish of E. Jaffrey, NH. Since this version of The Golden Vanity has a twist in the tail, folklorists have suggested that Mrs. Fish rewrote the ending. I learned it from my dear friend the late Margaret MacArthur of Marlboro, VT.

Emma Williamson sang The Golden Vanity in 2004 at “Folk on the Pier” which celebrated 200 years of Cromer's lifeboats. It was issued on their CD Someone Was Calling.

Bob Fox sang Golden Vanity in 2006 on his Topic CD The Blast.

Loudon Wainwright III sang Turkish Revelry in 2006 on Hal Willner's album of pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys, Rogue's Gallery.

The Askew Sisters sang The Old Virginia Lowlands in 2007 on their WildGoose CD All in a Garden Green. They commented in their liner notes:

This version of The Golden Vanity is originally from Stan Hugill's great book Shanties from the Seven Seas where it's called the Five Gallon Jar. We first heard it from the singing of Brass Monkey. It is rumoured to have been based on a ballad from the seventeenth century about the conduct of Sir Walter Raleigh, who was less popular in his time than modern legend portrays.

Sara Grey sang The Merry Willow Tree at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008. This recording was included in the following year on the festival anthology Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5). She also sang The Merry Willow Tree in 2013 on her Fellside CD Down in Old Dolores where she noted:

Also known as The Sweet Trinity, The Lowlands Low and The Golden Vanity. Recorded by John Quincy Wolf, Jr. and is in the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection, Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas. This is one of my favourite versions from the singing of Almeda Riddle of Timbo, AR.

A broadside of 1682-85, in which Sir Walter Raleigh plays the ungrateful captain, seems to have been the ultimate ancestor of the abundant traditional copies of this ballad found in the British Isles and America. Sir Walter has dropped out entirely; the ship's name now appears variously as Golden Tree, Golden China Tree, Golden Willow Tree, Golden Erilee. Most traditional versions persist with the melancholy ending in which the cabin boy is cheated of his earned reward, but many American singers sentimentalise the conclusion, bestowing the captain's daughter, wealth and other honours on the hero.

Benji Kirkpatrick sang The Green Willow Tree in 2008 on Faustus' eponymous Navigator CD, Faustus. They noted:

Compiled from many versions of the story from both sides of the Atlantic, known variously as The Golden Vanity, The Sweet Trinity etc. According to a ballad printed in the 1680s, the captain in the story was no less than Sir Walter Raleigh.

This video shows Faustus at Dent Folk Festival 2009:

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson sang The Golden Vanity in 2008 on their WildGoose CD of traditional songs from Devon and Cornwall from the collection of Sabine Baring-Gould, Dead Maid's Land. They noted:

The ballads offer a special opportunity for singers to develop and change the song in live performance, adding verses, modifying tunes while the kernel of the story remains. James Olver's version [ VWML SBG/3/1/307 , collected in 1889 in Launceston, Cornwall ] provided the departure point for this treatment of this ballad.

Katherine Campbell printed George F. Duncan's Ye Gowden Vanitie, as collected by James B. Duncan on 2 May 1908, in her 2008 book of songs from the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection, Songs from North-East Scotland, and sang it on the included CD.

Lori Watson and Rule of Three sang Golden Vanity in 2009 on her CD Pleasure's Coin.

Finest Kind sang Lowland Low on their 2010 album For Honour & for Gain. They noted:

A gallant cabin boy's betrayal by his captain provides the story for this grand old ballad, Child 286. In each version, the ship has a different name—Golden Vanity, Merry Willow Tree, Sweet Trinity—breadcrumbs for the folklorist to follow. Why the ship was fighting a “Turkish” enemy in the Lowland sea (off Holland, presumably) is anybody's guess. Perhaps their nationality was originally “Spanish”. Or maybe they were Barbary pirates on their way to Iceland. Or maybe—well, it doesn't matter: the true bad guy was back on the hero's ship.

Shelley [Posen] learned his version from the great Ottawa Valley singer, Loy Gavan.

Tim Laycock sang The Bold Granadee on his 2010 CD of folk songs and tunes from Dorset, Sea Strands, followed by the tune Jack's Alive. He noted:

Robert and Henry Hammond collected Bold Granadee from Charles Greening of Nettlecombe, West Dorset in May 1906 [ VWML HAM/3/19/12 ] . The song is of course the Golden Vanity, but I love the succinct and pithy lyrics of Mr Greening's version of the story. It seemed unfair to kill off Jack so early in the CD, so Jack's Alive comes from the manuscript tune book of Benjamin Rose (1796-1877), farmer, alehouse keeper and musician of Belchalwell in the Blackmore Vale area of Dorset.

The Outside Track sang The Turkish Revery in 2010 on their CD Curious Things Given Wings. They noted:

We added this pirate song to “arrrh” repertoire after Norah [Rendell] learned it from guitarist and singer, Dáithí Sproule, who found it in his mother's Burl Ives LP.

Alasdair Roberts recorded The Golden Vanity, from the singing of Duncan Williamson, for his 2010 CD Too Long in This Condition. This video shows him in 2017 at the Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow, Scotland, accompanied by Stevie Jones on bass:

Sarah Morgan sang The Golden Willow Tree in 2012 on her Forest Tracks CD with Jeff Gillett, The Flowers and the Wine. Some years later, in 2018, Jeff Gillett sang The Golden Willow Tree Mischief Afoot's eponymous WildGoose album Mischief Afoot. He noted:

An American version of The Golden Vanity which I learned during the all-too brief time that I was working with Sarah Morgan. I describe it, as she did, as a delightful little song about Turk-bashing: but it's all right, because the Turks in question were obviously all evil people, given to sinful occupations like playing cards. Doug Bailey suggests that the name of the Turkish ship (somewhat improbably, the Reveillé) might be a corruption of ‘razee’, which is a two deck ship cut down to make a very powerful one deck ship, very popular with the Turkish navy and pirate vessels.

Sam Kelly sang The Golden Vanity in 2015 on his CD The Lost Boys.

The Macmath Collective sang The Golden Vanitee on their 2015 CD Macmath: The Silent Page.

Andy Turner learned The Golden Vanity from Everyman's Book of British Ballads, edited by Roy Palmer. He sang Johnny Doughty's version of this song as the 25 July 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lankum sang The Turkish Reveille on their 2017 CD Between the Earth and Sky.

Matt Quinn learned The Golden Vanity from the singing of Johnny Doughty and recorded it for his 2017 CD The Brighton Line. He commented:

Mike Yates recorded this song in 1976 in Johnny's home. Versions of this song appear all over the world, sometimes called The Old Virginia Lowlands or The Sweet Trinity.

Iona Fyfe sang The Golden Vanity on her 2019 EP Dark Turn of Mind. She noted:

The Golden Vanity is an oikotypical ballad which has been collected in Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, England, Ireland, Canada and the Appalachians. The ballad dates back to 1685 when it was published in the Pepysian Collection at Magdalene College, Cambridge under the title The Ballad of Sir Walter Rauleigh His Lamentation or Sir Walter Raleigh Sailing In The Lowlands (1635). In later texts, no reference to Sir Walter Raleigh can be found. Tristram Potter Coffin states: “In America, Sir Walter Raleigh is no longer connected with the song, the ships have Golden Vanity and Turkish Revelee names which names which may vary with historical circumstances, and a more positive ending.”

The captain declares the ship is in peril and has come under threat by another vessel, usually French, Turkish or Spanish. The ship's cabin boy offers to sink the foreign vessel, in return for rewards such as gold and the Captain's daughter's hand in marriage. The cabin boy successfully swims and sinks the enemy by boring holes in the ships side, then returns to The Golden Vanity. In some variants, the boy is rewarded and in others he is shot and drowned or taken aboard the ship too late and dies on deck. In select texts, he drowns and returns as a ghost to exact revenge and sinks the ship.

The Golden Vanity, otherwise known as The Sweet Trinity or Golden Willow Tree, features in Volume 5 [of] Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The ballad has long been procured in the North East of Scotland and features in Volume 1 of the celebrated Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection. Reverend James Duncan and Gavin Greig collected Ye Gouden Vanitie from a manuscript written and sent by George F. Duncan on 2 May 1908 and is comprised of verses with an “eek-eedle-ee and the Lowlands low” refrain. George states: “I have a notion I have heard mother sing it. It is not entirely the same as any printed copy I have seen. I should have said that the music had come through Christie's hands.” Version C is titled The Lowlands So Low and was collected from John Calder. “Bell Robertson traces the ballad back through her mother to the early years of the last century.” Versions found in the Greig-Duncan are all in the Doric vernacular. William Christie states in Volume 1 of his Traditional Ballad Airs that the air “was noted from the singing of a native in Buchan. It was long well known and may still be known to some in the three northern Counties of Scotland.”

The ballad is found in the Missouri State Max Hunter Folksong Collection Archive. The ballad features in John Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads as well as Gavin Greig's Folk-Song of the North-East—which reinforce the notion that the ballad was ever-present in the ballad heartland of Aberdeenshire as well as in several countries. Several versions of the ballad feature on Tobar an Dualchais—Kist of Riches online archive from contributors such as John Strachan (SA1952.026), Willie Mathieson (SA1952.008) and Lizzie Higgins (SA1970.022) and Jeannie Roberton (SA1957.44) The ballad was collected by Alan Bruford in Fetlar, Shetland in 1970 from Catherine Mary Anderson (SA1970.245).

Lowlands Low was printed as a broadside for the Poet's Box in Glasgow in 1877, with an earlier Bodleian Broadside printed in London between 1849 and 1862. It also features in Ford's Vagabond Songs of Scotland. Duncan Williamson recorded The Golden Vanity on Travellers' Tales, Volume 2, Songs, Stories and Ballads from Scottish Travellers in 2002. Ewan MacColl recorded The Sweet Kumadee on his 1964 Folkways release The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Volume 2.

Jean Ritchie recorded the ballad on her 1961 Folkways album, British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains, Volume 1. Jean's version, which she learned the from her mother, corresponds with Story Type A found in Tristram Potter Coffin's The British Traditional Ballad in North America. The refrain “As she sailed upon the low, and lonesome low, She sailed upon the lonesome sea” seems to be typical of variants of the ballads recorded and collected in the Ozarks and Appalachian mountains and references The Merry Golden Tree, Weeping Willow Tree, or Green Willow Tree as the ship.

The version featured on my Dark Turn of Mind EP is an amalgamation of verses from the text featured as Version A in Cecil Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians and from Version B of Child's Popular Ballads. Coffin states: “The Sweet Trinity in this country (America) does not really follow any of the Child versions textually, although there is on the whole a closer resemblance to Child B and C than to Child A.” The Golden Vanity is one of many classical ballads which ably showcases the global universalism of ballads.

This video shows Jodie Beaton singing The Gouden Vanity at A Puckle Muckle Sangs in February 2020:

Shirley Collins sang The Merry Golden Tree in 2020 on her Domino album Heart's Ease.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings The Sweet Kumadee

There was a ship sailed from the North country,
And the name of the ship was The Sweet Kumadee.
She was built o' the pine and the bay oak tree,
And she sailed on the lowlands, lowlands,
And she sailed on the lowlands low.

We hadna been sailing a league but barely three,
When the lookout man he sighted a French gaudie,
And he said: “We'll a' be sent to the bottom o' the sea
As we sail on the lowlands low.”

Then oot and spak' our cabin-boy and oot spak' he,
Saying: “Captain, o captain, what will ye gi'e to me,
If I swim along the side o' the French gaudie,
And sink her in the lowlands, lowlands,
And sink her in the lowlands, low?”

“It's I will gi'e ye gold and I will gi'e ye fee,
And my eldest dochter, your bride for to be,
If ye'll swim along the side o' the French gaudie,
And sink her in the lowlands, lowlands,
And sink her in the lowlands low.”

“Ye'll row me into an auld bull's skin,
Ye'll tak' me to the side and there ye'll throw me in,
Wi' my instruments about me to the gaudie, I will swim,
And I'll sink her in the lowlands, lowlands,
I'll sink her in the lowlands low.”

The boy bent his back and away swam he,
He swam till he cam' to the French gaudie.
Wi' his instruments about him, he started to mak' free,
To sink her in the lowlands, lowlands,
To sink her in the lowlands low.

Some were at the cairds and some were at the dice,
Four and twenty holes he has pierced in her side,
Until the salt water it flashed before their eyes,
And they sank in the lowlands, lowlands,
They sank in the lowlands low.

“O captain, o captain, be as good as your word,
You'll throw me a rope and ye'll pu' me on board;
The gaudie she lies at the bottom of the road,
She's lying in the lowlands, lowlands,
She's lying in the lowlands low.”

“I winna throw a rope or pu' ye on board,
Ye can swim till ye sink, just as true as my word,
Ye can swim till ye sink to the bottom of the road,
Ye can sink in the lowlands, lowlands,
Ye can sink in the lowlands low.”

“Ye'll throw me a rope and ye'll pu' me frae the sea,
Or I'll swim to the side o' your Sweet Kumadee,
And I'll send her to the bottom like the French gaudie,
That's lying on the lowlands, lowlands,
She's lying on the lowlands low.”

He's thrown to him a rope and they've pu'd him frae the sea,
And he's gi'en to him the gowd and he's gi'en to him the fee;
And his eldest dochter his bride for to be,
As they sailed on the lowlands, lowlands,
As they sailed on the lowlands, low.

Sam Larner sings The Golden Fenidier

There once sailed a ship from the North ‘Merikee,
The name she went by was The Golden Fenidier,
She was then overtaken by a Turkish pirate ship,
And he sank her in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
And he sank her in the lowlands low.

Now the first one on deck was the little cabin boy,
Saying, “Captain, what'll you give me if the ship I do destroy?”
“I will give to you my silver and my daughter for your bride,
If you sink her in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,”
And he sank her in the lowlands low.

He then jumped overboard with an auger in his hand,
He swam right around that Turkish pirate ship,
And he bore a hole through and he let the water in,
And he sank her in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands
And he sank her in the lowlands low.

He then swam back to his own Fenidier,
Saying, “Captain, pick me up, I am drifting in despair.”
Saying, “Captain, pick me up, I am drifting in despair.
I am drifting in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands
I am drifting in the lowlands low.”

He then swam round the starboard part the ship,
Saying, “Shipmates, pick me up, I am sinking in despair.”
Saying, “Shipmates, pick me up, I am sinking in despair.
I am sinking in the low…”

Spoken: That's how that go.
Look how that go.

They pulled him o'er the side and they laid him on the deck there,
And he gasped, and he died in despair.
And they wrapped him in a hammock that was just about his size,
And they laid him in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands
And they lowered him in the lowlands low.

Spoken: Now look about there, look.

Tony Rose sings The Golden Vanitee

And there once was a captain who was boasting on the quay:
“Oh I have a ship and a gallant ship is she.
Of all the ships I know she is the best for me
And she's sailing in the lowlands low.”

Chorus (after each verse, repeating its last line):
In the lowlands, lowlands,
She's sailing in the lowlands low

“Well I had her built in the North Country
And I had her christened the Golden Vanitee.
I armed her and I manned her and I sent her off to sea
And she's sailing in the lowlands low.”

Oh well then up stepped a sailor who has just returned from sea:
“Oh I was aboard of the Golden Vanitee
When we was held in chase by a Spanish piratee
And we sank 'em in the lowlands low.”

Oh well, we had aboard us a little cabin boy
Who said, “What will you give me if the galley I destroy?”
“I'll give to you my daughter, she is my pride and joy,
If you sink them in the lowlands low.”

So the boy bared his breast and he plunged into the tide.
He swam until he came to the rascal pirate's side;
He climbed on board, he went below, by none was he espied,
And he sank 'em in the lowlands low.”

Oh well he bore her with his auger, he bore her once or twice,
And some was playing cards and some was playing dice.
But when he let the water in, it dazzled at their eyes
And he sank 'em in the lowlands low.”

Oh yes, some was playing cards and some was playing dice,
And some was in their hammocks a-sportin' with their wives.
But when he let the water in, it pulled out all their lives,
And he sank them in the lowlands low.

So then the cabin boy he swam unto the larboard side
Saying, “Captain, take me up for I am drowning in the tide.”
“I'll shoot you and I'll kill you if you claim my child as bride,
And I'll sink you in the lowlands low.”

So then the cabin boy he swam unto the starboard side
Saying, “Messmates, take me up for I am drifting with the tide.”
They took him up so quickly but when on deck, he died,
And they buried him in the lowlands low.

Oh yes, they took him up so quickly but when on deck, he died,
And they sewed him in his hammock that was so strong and wide.
They said a short prayer over him and dropped him in the tide
And they sailed from the lowlands low.

Well here's a curse onto the Captain wherever he may be
For taking that poor cabin boy so far away to sea;
For taking that poor cabin boy so far away to sea
And to leave him in the lowlands low.

Johnny Doughty sings The Golden Vanity

A fair ship is mine called the Golden Vanity
And she sails just now by the north country.
But I fear that she'll be taken by a Spanish gallalee
As we sailed by the lowlands low.

Chorus (after each verse, repeating its last line):
By the lowlands low,
As we sailed by the lowlands low.

“What will you give to me?” asked the little cabin boy,
“If I venture to that Spanish ship, the ship that doth annoy?
I will wreck the gallalee, you may peace of mind enjoy
As we sail by the lowlands low.”

The Captain said, “Now with you my lad I'll share
All my treasure and my wealth, you shall have my daughter fair,
If this Spanish ship you nobly sink and ease me of my care
As we sail by the lowlands low.”

Then boldly the lad did he leap into the sea
And an auger very sharp and thin he carried carefully.
And he swam the mighty billows 'til he reached the gallalee
Where she sank by the lowlands low.

Then back to the ship the little hero hied
And he begged the crew to haul him up upon the larboard side.
“You can sink for me, you little dog!” the ungrateful Captain cried
As we sail by the lowlands low.

Was there ever half a tale so sad
As this tale of the sea
Where we sailed by the lowlands low?

Jez Lowe sings The Golden Vanity

It's I've got a ship in the north country,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And I fear she may be took by the Spanish enemy,
As she sails in the Lowland sea,
As she sails in the Lowland low.

And up then stepped a little cabin boy,
Down in the Lowlands low,
Saying: “What will you give me if I do them destroy
And sink them in the Lowland sea
And sink them in the Lowlands low?”

“Oh, I'll give you silver and likewise gold,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And my only daughter for to be your bride,
If you'll sink them in the Lowland sea,
If you'll sink them in the Lowlands low.”

“Oh wrap me up in my black bear skin,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And heave me overboard for to sink or to swim,
And I'll sink them in the Lowland sea
I'll sink them in the Lowlands low.”

Now some were playing cards and others playing dice,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And the boy he had an auger, bored two holes at once,
And he sunk them in the Lowland sea,
And he sunk them in the Lowlands low.”

He leaned upon his breast and he swam back again,
Down in the Lowlands low,
Saying “Master, take me up, for I'm sure I will be slain,
And I've sunk them in the Lowland sea,
And I've sunk them in the Lowlands low.”

“Oh, I'll not take you up,” the master he cried,
Down in the Lowlands low,
“But I'll shoot you and I'll kill you and send you with the tide,
And I'll drown you in the Lowland sea,
And I'll drown you in the Lowlands low.”

He leaned upon his breast and swam round the larboard side,
Down in the Lowlands low,
“Oh messmates, take me up for I fear I will been slain,
And I've sunk her in the Lowland sea,
And I've sunk her in the Lowlands low.”

His messmates took him up, and on the deck he died,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And they wrapped him up in an old cow's hide,
And they sunk him in the Lowland sea,
And sunk him in the Lowlands low.

Steeleye Span sing The Golden Vanity

I know a ship in the north country
Down in the Lowlands low,
And I fear she may be took by the Spanish enemy,
Down in the Lowland sea

Up on the deck stepped a little cabin boy,
Down in the Lowlands low,
Saying: “What will you give me if I do them destroy
And sink them in the Lowland sea?”

“Oh, I'll give you silver and I will give you gold,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And my only daughter for to be your bride,
If you sink them in the Lowland sea,
Sink them in the Lowlands low.”

Chorus:
Lowlands low,
Lowland sea

“Oh wrap me up in my black bear skin,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And throw me overboard for to sink or to swim,
Down in the Lowland sea.”

Now some were playing cards and others playing dice,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And the boy he had an auger and he bored two holes at once,
And he sunk them in the Lowland sea.

He leaned upon his breast and he swam back again,
Down in the Lowlands low,
Saying “Master, take me up, for I fear I will be slain,
And I sunk them in the Lowlands low,
I sunk them in the Lowland sea.”

Chorus

“Oh, I'll not take you up,” the master he cried,
Down in the Lowlands low,
“But I'll shoot you and I'll kill you and I'll send you with the tide,
And I'll drown you in the Lowland sea”

He leaned upon his breast and he swam to the larboard side,
Down in the Lowlands low,
Saying: “Messmates, take me up for I fear I have been slain,
And I sunk them in the Lowland sea”

They took him up, and on the deck he died,
Down in the Lowlands low,
And they wrapped him up in an old cow's hide,
And they sunk him in the Lowland sea,
They sunk him in the Lowlands low.

Chorus

Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick sing The Old Virginia Lowlands

Once there was a skipper, he was boasting on the quay,
Saying: “I have a ship, and a gallant ship is she,
Oh I have a ship, and a gallant ship is she.
Of all the ships that I do know she's far the best to me.”

In the old Virginia Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

“Oh I had her built in the north country
And I had her christened the Golden Vanity,
Oh I had her christened the Golden Vanity,
I armed her and I manned her and I sent her off to sea.”

In the old Virginia Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

Then up spoke a sailor who had just returned from sea:
Oh I served on board of the Golden Vanity,
Oh I served on board of the Golden Vanity,
When she was held in chase by a Spanish piratee.”

In the old Virginia Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

“And we had on board of us a little cabin boy,
Who said: “ What will you give me if the galleon I destroy
Oh what will you give me if the galleon I destroy?”
“Oh you will get my daughter, she is my pride and joy.”

If you sink them in the Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

So the boy bared his breast and he plunged into the tide,
And he swam and he swam to the rascal pirate's side,
He swam and he swam to the rascal pirate's side,
And he climbed on deck and he went below and none did him espy.

And he sank them in the Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

He bore with his auger, he bore once and twice,
And some were playing cards and some were playing dice,
The water it flowed in and it dazzled their eyes,
The water it flowed in and it pulled out all their lives.

And he sank them in the Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

Well he swam and he swam all to the starboard side,
Saying: “Captain take me up, I am drifting with the tide,
Oh Captain take me up,” but so loud the Captain cried:
“I will shoot you, I will kill you, you shall not have your bride.”

I will sink you in the Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

The shipmates took him up and on the deck he died,
They sewed him in his hammock which was so strong and wide,
They sewed him in his hammock it was so strong and wide,
They prayed for him, they sang for him, they sunk him in the tide.

In the old Virginia Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

My curse be on you, Captain, wherever you may be,
My curse be on the captain of the Golden Vanity,
In waking and in sleeping, until your dying day,
For you gave your oath to him and you did him betray.

In the old Virginia Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

In the old Virginia Lowlands
Lowlands low
In the old Virginia Lowlands low

John Roberts sings The Weeping Willow Tree

A sailing ship was fashioned to sail the southern seas
    Down in the Lowlands low,
She was handsome, she was tall, and as trim as trim could be
The name of the ship was the Weeping Willow Tree
    This ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

Her crew were hearty seamen, as brave as brave could be
    Lads from the Lowlands low,
Her decks were broad and wide, and as white as white could be
And on her sail was printed a weeping willow tree
    In this ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

This worthy ship was chosen to sail the Spanish Main
    Far from the Lowlands low,
Our captain he was shrewd, he was also proud and vain
And he hoped by his shrewd dealings a fortune for to gain
    In this ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

As our ship was sailing all on the southern seas
    Far from the Lowlands low,
We met a Spanish ship called the Royal Castilee
And they jeered at the crew of the Weeping Willow Tree
    This ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

The captain called his cabin boy, as he had done before,
    A lad from the Lowlands low,
He said, Boy, you can swim, and your stroke is swift and sure
That sassy Spanish ship, she'll never reach the shore
    You'll sink her in the ocean low, low, low,
    You'll sink her in the ocean low.

In your hand you'll take an augur, and swim to her side
    For we're from the Lowlands low,
And there you'll bore a hole, and you'll bore it deep and wide
For five hundred pounds in gold and to be first mate besides
    You'll sink her in the ocean low, low, low,
    You'll sink her in the ocean low.

So that was the end of the Royal Castilee
    She sank in the ocean low,
Her lofty sails so high and her haughty air so free
They were buried in the depths of the raging southern sea
    We sunk her in the ocean low, low, low,
    We sunk her in the ocean low.

The cabin boy exclaimed, Sir, I now demand my fee
    You knave from the Lowlands low,
Five hundred pounds in gold you now must give to me
And I also am first mate of the Weeping Willow Tree
    This ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

You'll get no gold from me, boy, for causing this wreck
    You thief from the Lowlands low,
And he took the cabin boy by the nap of the neck
And he threw him overboard from the Weeping Willow's deck
    He threw him in the ocean low, low, low,
    He threw him in the ocean low.

Ah, but he still carried the augur as he had done before
    The lad from the Lowlands low,
His heart was full of vengeance and his stroke was swift and sure
Instead of boring one hole, he bored twenty-four
    In that ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

This ship was two hundred leagues from the shore
    Far from the Lowlands low,
The captain and his crew they never reached the shore
And the wilds seemed to say, Fare thee well for evermore
    To that ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

But one brave hearty seaman escaped the raging sea
    'Twas the lad from the Lowlands low,
He was picked up by a ship, so it has been told to me
And he told to us the tale of the Weeping Willow Tree
    That ship built in the Lowlands, Lowlands low,
    Born to ride the waves, hi, ho.

Brian Peters sings The Golden Vanity

Now there was a bonny ship in the North country,
The name that she went under was the Golden Vanity.
I fear she will be taken by the Turkish privateer
As she sails along the lowlands low,
As she sails along the lowlands low.

Chorus (after each verse):
In the lowlands, in the lowlands,
As she sails along the lowlands low

Now the first that come on deck was the little cabin boy,
“Captain, what'll you give to me if I do them destroy?”
“I'll give you gold and silver, my daughter for your bride
If you'll sink them in the Lowlands low,
If you'll sink them in the Lowlands low.”

So the captain held the keel light, and overboard he goes,
He swam ‘til he came to the Turkish privateer.
He's let the water in and he's dazzled out her lights
And he sank her in the lowands low,
And he sank her in the lowands low.

So it's back to the ship so quickly he swam,
“Captain, captain, pick me up my work I've bravely done.
Captain, pick me up, for I'm sinking in the sea,
I'm sinking in the lowlands low,
And I'm sinking in the lowlands low.”

“Pick you up, pick you up?” The captain said he,
“Oh no, you foolish youngster, that will never be.
For I'm going to send you after the Turkish Ivory
And I'll sink you in the lowlands low,
And I'll sink you in the lowlands low.”

So he swam around the ship all to the starboard side,
“Shipmates, shipmate, pick me up, I'm sinking in the tide,
Shipmates, pick me up, for I'm sinking in the sea,
I'm sinking in the lowlands low,
And I'm sinking in the lowlands low.

So his shipmates picked him up, and on the deck he died,
They sewed him in his hammock, which was both long and wide.
They sewed him in his hammock and they threw him o'er the side
And they sank him in the lowlands low,
And they sank him in the lowlands low.

Faustus sing The Green Willow Tree

There was a ship that sailed on the north country,
She went by the name of the Green Willow Tree.
I'm afraid she'll be taken by the enemy
As she sails on the lowlands low.

She hadn't sailed far out upon the lowlands sea
When the lookout cried, “Here comes the enemy!”
And the name of the ship was the Golden Silveree,
And they sailed on the lowlands low.

Then up to the captain steps the cabin boy.
“What will you give me if her I could destroy?”
“You can have my only daughter for your wedded joy
If you sink her in the lowlands low.”

He says to the captain, “An auger give to me,
And for your daughter's hand I will sink the enemy.”
Then he swam through the billows to the Golden Silveree
For to sink her in the lowlands low,
Sink her in the lowlands low.

He pulled out the auger, then he swam down to bore.
He made nine holes in the bottom of the floor.
The crew hadn't a notion of what they had in store,
But they sailed on the lowlands low.

Well some were playing cards and some were playing dice,
Some were stood around and giving good advice
When in came the juice and it rose up past their eyes,
And they sank into the lowlands low,
And they sank into the lowlands low.

“Oh captain, oh captain, take me back on board.
I've done as I vowed, now I claim my reward.
Be unto me just as good as your word,
For I've sunk her in the lowlands low.”

Well up speaks the captain, “My word I will not keep.
For though you are brave your life to me is cheap.
You cannot have my daughter—instead forever sleep:
For I'll sink you in the lowlands low,
I'll sink you in the lowlands low.”

They gagged him, they bound him, they took him to the side,
And then they wrapped him up in an old cow's hide,
They threw him overboard to go down with the tide.
And they sank him in the lowlands low,
And they sank him in the lowlands low,
Lowlands low, lowlands low, lowlands low.

Iona Fyfe sings The Golden Vanity

There was a gallant ship, and a gallant ship was she
And the name of the ship was the Golden Vanity
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

She hadn't sailed a league, a league but only three,
When she was overtaken by a Spanish gallee
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

Up spoke the captain, and up spoke he
Oh who'll sink for me that Spanish gallee
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

Up and spoke, a little cabin boy
Sayin' what will you give me, if I will them destroy
I'll sink her in the low, the lowlands low
I'll sink her in the lowlands low

I will give you gold, and I'll give you a fee
I will give to you my daughter aye and married you shall be
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

He bent to his breast and away swum he,
He swum and sunk the ship of the Spanish gallee
Some were playing cards and some were playing dice
And the boy he had an auger and he bore three holes at twice
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

He bent to his breast, and back swum he
Right back to the ship of the Golden Vanity
Now throw me up a rope, and take me on my board
For I have been aye true, aye an true unto my word
I sunk her in the low, the lowlands low
I sunk her in the lowlands low

I'll not take you up, the captain he replied,
But I'll shoot you, and I'll drown you and I'll send you with the tide
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

He turned upon his back, and down went he,
Down, down, down to the bottom of the sea
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low
Sailin' on the low, the lowlands low
She sailed upon the lowlands low

Jodie Beaton sings The Gouden Vanity

There wis a gallant ship and a gallant ship wis she
    Eek-eedle-ee and the Lowlands low
And she was caed the Gouden Vanity
    As we sailed in the Lowlands Low

She hadna sailed a league, a league but only three
Fan she fell in wi a French gallee

Then up spak the captain and up spak he
Oh fa'll sink for me yon French gallee

Then up spak the cabin boy and up spak he
Fit will ye gie tae me gin I sink the French gallee

Then up spak the captain and up spak he
I'll gie ye lands and hooses in the North countrie

Then roll me up in a black bull's skin
And throw me ower-board so I can sink or swim

Then a-doon and a-doon and a-doon sank he
And he swam up tae the French gallee

Now some were playing cairds and some were playing dice
Fan he wis borin holes in the gallee's side

Then aroon and aroon and aroon went she
And she went doon tae the bottom o the sea

Throw me a rope and haul me up on board
And prove untae me as good as your word

So they threw him doon a rope and hauled him up onboard
And proved untae him far better than their word