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The Turkish Lady

[ Roud 8124 ; Master title: The Turkish Lady ; Laws O26 ; Ballad Index LO26 ; Bodleian Roud 8124 ; trad.]

The Turkish Lady is a song from the repertoire of Norfolk singer Harry Cox. Peter Kennedy recorded him singing this song at home in Catfield, Norfolk, in October 1953. In 2000, this recording was included on Harry Cox’s CD What Will Become of England?. A later recording by Charles Parker and Ewan MacColl from the mid-1960s was included on his 2 CD Topic Records anthology, The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud noted:

Only collected a few times in England, but several times in Canada, The Turkish Lady is often presumed to be a cut-down version of the very common Young Beichan or Lord Bateman (Roud 40; Child 53), which also has a hero who gets captured by infidels and is set free by a lady. In fact, however, Young Beichan cannot be shown to be earlier than The Turkish Lady, as the latter was certainly known in 1768, when it was transcribed into the journal of the whaling ship Two Brothers (see Gale Huntington, Songs the Whalemen Sang (1964)).

Peter Bellamy learned The Turkish Lady from the singing of Harry Cox and sang it in 1969 on his second LP, Fair England’s Shore. Peter Bellamy noted:

Around the middle of the seventeenth century the pirates of the Barbary coast were much in the news, and bristling encounters between British and Arab ships were not uncommon. Many English seamen were captured and lay in chains in the prisons of North Africa, and their plight inspired a number of songs, tragic, adventurous, romantic. The songmakers didn’t distinguish between Moors and Turks, so in the ballads the Ottomans often get blamed for the misdeeds of Arabs, as in Lord Bateman, a close relative to the present piece. The Turkish Lady was first printed in a garland date 1782, and fifty years later it appeared, copied verbatim, on a broadside by Catnach. The present version, from Harry Cox, is slightly condensed but in the main follows the broadside word for word, a remarkable evidence of the constancy of some folk song texts and the regulating effect of print upon them. The tune will be recognised as a close variant of the old wedding ceremonial song Come Write Me Down, Ye Powers Above.


Peter Bellamy sings The Turkish Lady

You virgins all I pray draw near
For a pretty story you shall hear:
It is of some Turkish young lady brave
𝄆 Who fell in love with an English slave. 𝄇

There was a ship out of London she came.
As she was sailing on the main,
By a Turkish pirate took were they
𝄆 And they were made all slaves to be. 𝄇

They bound us down in irons strong,
And then they whipped and they lashed us all day long.
And no tongue may tell that I am sure
𝄆 What we poor slaves had to endure. 𝄇

And one of them seaman that were there,
An English man both fresh and fair,
Well, it happened for his lot to be
𝄆 A slave all to some rich lady. 𝄇

And she dressed herself up in rich array
Then she went for to view her slaves one day.
And hearing the moan this young man made,
𝄆 She went to him and thus she said.

“Oh, I pray what countryman are you?”
“I am an English man ’tis true.”
“Well I wish you had been a Turk,” said she,
𝄆 “I would ease you of your slavery.” 𝄇

“And if that you had been a Turk,
Then I would ease you of all your slavery work.
And I myself might have been your wife
𝄆 For I do love you as I love my life.” 𝄇

“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” said he,
“For a slave I am and a slave I will be.
I wouldd sooner die all at the stake
𝄆 Before I would my God forsake.” 𝄇

So this lady up all to her chamber she went,
There she spent that night in discontent.
For Cupied with his piercing dart
𝄆 Had deeply wounded the lady’s heart. 𝄇

And she rose up so early the very next day,
And with her slave she sailed away.
To whips and chains they bid adieu
𝄆 And this will show what love will do. 𝄇