> Martin Carthy > Songs > King Knapperty

Kempy Kay / King Knapperty

[ Roud 32 ; Child 33 ; G/D 7:1505 ; Ballad Index C033 ; MusTrad DB26 ; DT KEMPKAY2 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang King Knapperty on his 1976 album Crown of Horn. He noted:

It seems that fifty to a hundred years ago there was a tendency among some scholars and others to attribute the exotic in traditional song and balladry to a Scandinavian origin. Alternatively, as many songs as possible—and a few beside—had Arthurian origins postulated for them. (Britannia with her growing Empire doing homage at the shrine of this mighty long-dead warrior. Certainly the romantic imagination was caught by this ragamuffin warlord and his band of Romano-British cast-offs.) C.K. Sharpe, in his Ballad Book (1823), seems almost to suggest both origins for Kempy Kay: “This song my learned friends will perceive to be of Scandinavian origin and that the wooer’s name was probably suggested by Sir Kaye’s of the Round Table…” King Knapperty is basically the version from Peter Buchan’s MSS printed in Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads with interpolations from other sets, and is the story of the wedding of the queen of all sluts to the king of all slobs.

Jock Tamson’s Bairns sang this ballad as Kempy Kays in 1982 on their Topic album The Lasses Fashion. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic’s 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten. They noted:

This ludicrous old ballad tells the tale of the disgusting courtship of two hideous giants, Kempv Kaye and his ‘Fusome Fug’. It commences with an elephantine duet between a viola and a wheezy, clattering melodeon, and also features that other ancient Scottish traditional instrument, the trump (more usually referred to nowadays as the jaws harp).

Versions of this song crop up in C. K. Sharpe’s Ballad Book of 1823, and G. R. Kinloch’s Ballad Book of 1827. Our version contains some of the more unpleasant passages from both.

Brian Peters sang King Knapperty in 1987 on the BBC Manchester “Folk Like Us” charity cassette The Children in Need Album.


Martin Carthy sings King Knapperty

King Knapperty’s to the wooing gone
Over hills and mountains high
And he has met with an old old man
His father-in-law to be to be
His father-in-law to be

Good day good day cries King Knapperty
Good day good day cries he
I come your daughter’s love to win
If you think that she love me love me
If you think that she love me

So this old man’s gone back to his house
And he’s peeped into the door
And there he spied his own dear daughter
A-grovelling amongst the coal the coal
A-grovelling amongst the coal

Every nail all on her hand
It was like to an iron rake
And between her nostrils and her mouth
It was inches thick with dirt with dirt
It was inches thick with dirt

Get up get up you dirty slut
Go and wash your foul face clean
For your true love’ll be here this night
And your body must be seen be seen
And your body must be seen

She scampered out she scampered in
She scampered up and down
And the bits and bobs that hung from her tail
Would have mucked an acre of land of land
Would have mucked an acre of land

So they scraped her and they scrubbed her
With the side of a rusty pan
Till King Knapperty himself come in
Such a clever and a tall young man young man
Such a clever and a tall young man

His teeth they were like tethering stakes
His nose was three foot long
He’s put his hand all in his coat
And he pulled out a gay gold ring gold ring
He pulled out a gay gold ring

He’s taken her all in his arms
And he’s kissed her cheek and chin
And between his eyes was a yard and a half
And between his shoulders a span a span
And between his shoulders a span

She’s thanked him once she’s thanked him twice
She’s thanked him over again
And each of the eyes in her true love’s head
Was like to a rotting plum a plum
It was like to a rotting plum

And how they kissed and how they hugged
And how they kissed their fill
And the slaver that hung between their mouths
Would have tethered a two-year-old bull it would
Have tethered a two-year-old bull


Transcribed by Garry Gillard.