> Tim Hart & Maddy Prior > Songs > Captain Wedderburn's Courtship
> Bellowhead > Songs > Captain Wedderburn

Captain Wedderburn's Courtship / Song of the Riddles

[ Roud 36 ; Child 46 ; G/D 4:842 ; Henry H681 ; Ballad Index C046 ; Bodleian Roud 36 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. As most of his songs on this series, it was included in 2009 on his double CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Editor Kenneth G. Goldstein wrote in the album's booklet:

Riddles and riddling songs have long been popular in the folklore of the world's peoples. It is probable that the riddle portion of this ballad existed independently in tradition some time before Captain Wedderburn's Courtship came into being. The meter and form of the ballad suggest a late composition (probably no earlier than the middle of the 17th century), while the riddles have been found in manuscripts dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.

The ballad itself was known to Child in only three versions. It was still popular in tradition in Scotland early in this century for Greig [The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection] collected nine versions in Aberdeen, though it may presently be extinct there. American texts of this ballad are rare, though the riddle portion of the ballad has been collected widely as a separate song entitled I Gave My Love a Cherry or The Riddle Song.

The version sung by MacColl was learned from Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs].

Séamus Ennis sang Captain Wedderburn's Courtship on the anthology The Child Ballads Volume 1 (The Folksongs of Britain Volume 4; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Willie Clancy sang this song as The Song of the Riddles in 1967 on his Topic album The Minstrel from Clare and on the 1998 Topic anthology Come Let Us Buy the Licence (The Voice of the People Series Volume 1).

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior recorded this song for their second duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 2, but they lose the third set of riddles from MacColl's version. The record's sleeve notes comment:

Riddles have for a long time played a noteworthy part in ballad courtship even occurring as far away as Siberia, the woman promising her hand to the first suitor to solve her riddles. This is an anglicised collation of a number of Scottish versions the brunt of which comes from the collection of F.J. Child (No. 46). An old Scottish house consisted of one large room with the beds set in alcoves, the wife sleeping between her husband and the wall for protection; although conversely she could not escape.

Frank Harte sang the related song He Rolled Her to the Wall in 1973 on his Topic LP Through Dublin City. He commented in his liner notes:

Similar in content to Rosemary Fair except that in this case instead of tasks which must be performed it is riddles which must be answered. It is a version of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship. This type of song has been sung all over Europe since medieval times, originally as Christian moralities, later as love songs.

Bellowhead sang an abridged version of the song with the abridged title Captain Wedderburn in 2010 on their CD Hedonism. Their verses are quite similar to Tim Hart and Maddy Prior's but they skip the three verses with the first riddles too. Jon Boden sang it unaccompanied as the February 27, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day where he commented:

I’m really proud of the Bellowhead version of this strange little riddle song. I wonder whether “worse than a woman’s voice” may be a mondegreen (woman’s scorn maybe?), but it makes me chuckle so I’ve left it. This one is learnt from Tim and Maddy’s lovely version.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings Captain Wedderburn's Courtship

The Laird o' Roslin's dochter walked through the woods her leen
When by cam' Captain Wedderburn, a servant tae the King.
He said unto his servant man, “Were it no' against the law
I would tak' her tae my ain bed and lie her neist the wa'.”

“I'm walkin' here alane,” she said, ”among my faither's trees,
And you must let me walk alane, kind sir, now if you please;
The supper bells, they will be rung and I'll be missed awa',
So I canna lie in your bed, either at stock or wa'.”

He says, “My bonnie lassie, I pray lend me your hand,
And ye'll get drums and trumpets always at your command,
And fifty men tae guard you as long's this sword can draw,
And we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “Pray tell tae me your name.”
“My name is Captain Wedderburn, a servant tae the King.
Though your faither were here and a' his men, I would tak ye fae them a',
I wad tak ye tae my ain bed and lay ye neist the wa'.”

He jumped aff his milk-white steed and set the lady on,
And a' the way he walked on foot and held her by the hand.
He held her by the middle jimp for fear that she should fa'
Till he took her tae his ain bed tae lay her neist the wa'.

He took her tae a lodging-hoose, the landlady looked ben,
Says, “Mony's the bonnie lady in Edinburgh I've seen,
But such a pretty, weel-faured face in it I never saw.
Ye'll mak' her doon a down bed and lay her neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “before you do gain me
It's you must dress me dishes yet and that is dishes three.
Dishes three you'll dress tae me, though I should eat them a'
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.

“Ye'll get tae my supper a cherry without a stone,
And you will get to my supper a chicken without a bone,
And you will get to my supper a bird without a ga'
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.”

“When the cherry is in bloom, I'm sure it hath no stone,
And when the chicken is in the egg, I'm sure it hath no bone.
The dove he is a gentle bird and flies withoot a ga',
So we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “before you me perplex
You will tell me questions yet and that is questions six.
Questions six ye'll tell to me and that is three times twa
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.

“What's greener than the greenest grass? What's higher than the trees?
What's worse than woman's vice? What's deeper than the seas?
What was the first bird that crew? And what did first doon fa'?
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.”

“Evergreen's greener than the grass, heaven's higher than the trees.
The Devil is worse than woman's vice, Hell's deeper than the seas.
The cock was the first bird that crew, the dew it did first doon fa',
So we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

“Oh,” says the bonnie lassie, “before I gie you ower
You will tell me fairlies and that is fairlies fower.
Fairlies fower ye'll tell to me and that is twa and twa
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.

“You will gie to me fruit that in December grew;
Ye'll get to me a mantle that waft was ne'er ca'd through,
A sparrow wi' a horn and a priest unborn this night to join us twa,
Before I lie in your bed either at stock or wa'.”

“My faither had plums that in December grew,
My mither had an Indian goon that weft was ne'er ca'd through,
A sparrow wi' a horn, that's easily found, there's ane on every claw,
An' twa upon the gab o't, and you shall hae them a'.

”The priest is standing at the door, just ready tae come in;
No one can say that he was born, no one unless he sin;
A wound cut in his mother's side and he oot' o't did fa.
So we'll baith lie in ae bed and you'll lie neist the wa'.”

Little did that fair maid think that morning when she raise
That it would be the very last o' a' her maiden days.
And in the parish whaur they live they was not a blither twa
And they baith lay in ae bed and she lay neist the wa'.

Tim Hart & Maddy Prior sing Captain Wedderburn's Courtship

The Laird o' Roslin's daughter walked through the woods alone
When by come Captain Wedderburn, a servant of the King.
He said unto his servant man, “Were it not against the law
I'd take her into my own bed and lie her next to the wall.”

Then he jumped off his milk-white steed and he set the lady on,
And all the way he walked on foot and he held her by the hand.
He held her by the middle of the waist for fear that she should fall
Till he took her to his own bed to lie her next to the wall.

“Oh,” said the pretty lady, “before you do gain me
It's you must dress me dishes yet and that is dishes three.
It's dishes three you must dress me, though I'll not eat at all
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh you must get for supper a cherry without a stone,
And you must get for supper a chicken without a bone,
And you must get for supper a bird without a gall
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“A cherry when it is in bloom, I'm sure it has no stone,
And the chicken when it's in the egg, I'm sure it has no bone.
The dove she is a gentle bird and she flies without a gall,
So we'll lie both in one bed and you'll lie next to the wall.”

“Oh,” said the pretty lady, “before you me perplex
It's you must answer questions yet and that is questions six.
Questions six you must tell me and that is three times twa
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, what is greener than the grass? What's higher than the trees?
Oh, what is worse than woman's vice? What's deeper than the seas?
What was the first bird that did crow? And what did first down fall?
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, death is greener than the grass and is higher than the trees.
The Devil is worse than a woman's vice, Hell is deeper than the seas.
The cock was the first bird that did crow and the dew did first down fall,
So we'll lie both in one bed and you'll lie next to the wall.”

Oh little did that fair maid think that morning when she rose
That this would be the very last of all her maiden days.
And in the parish where they live they're the happiest pair of all
And they both lie in one bed and she lies next to the wall.

Bellowhead sing Captain Wedderburn's Courtship

The Earl of Rosslyn's daughter walked through the woods alone
When by came Captain Wedderburn, a servant of the King.
He said unto his servant man, “Were it not against the law
I'd take her into my own bed and lie her next to the wall.”

So he jumped off his milk-white steed and he set the lady on,
And all the way he walked on foot and he held her by the hand.
He held her by the middle of the waist for fear that she should fall
Before they'd lie in one bed and she'd lie next to the wall.

“But,” said the pretty lady, “before you me perplex
It's you must answer questions yet and that is questions six.
It's questions six you must tell me and that is three times twa
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, what is greener than the grass, what is higher than the trees?
What is worse than a woman's voice, what is deeper than the seas?
What was the first bird that did crow and what did first down fall?
Before I'll lie in your bed at either stock or wall.”

“Oh, envy's greener than the grass and is higher than the trees,
The Devil is worse than a woman's voice, Hell is deeper than the seas.
The cock was the first bird that did crow and the dew did first down fall,
So we'll both lie in one bed and you'll lie next to the wall.”

Oh little did that lady think that morning when she rose
That this would be the very last of all her maiden days.
And in the cottage where they live they're the happiest pair of all
And they both lie in one bed and she lies next to the wall.

Acknowledgements and Notes

The spelling of Roslin/Rosslyn: According to Wikipedia, Rosslyn Chapel and Roslin Castle are located at the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. So both spellings seem to be valid.

Thanks to Sylvia Sotomayor for correcting Tim Hart and Maddy Prior's lyrics.