> Steeleye Span > Songs > King Henry
> Martin Carthy > Songs > King Henry

King Henry

[ Roud 3967 ; Child 32 ; Ballad Index C032 ; trad.]

Steeleye Span recorded this grisly ballad in 1972 for their first album of their long-time line-up, Below the Salt. The sleeve notes commented cryptically:

The shrill cry of an owl echoed to a woodland hut telling “The Daughter of King Under-Waves” of the approaching knight. She moved her misshapen form (cursed on her by a wicked step-mother) through the doorway. At every step the ground was shaken, at every turn there blew a storm, the very sky darkened as she passed. But would tonight be the knight.

They recorded it a second time for their CD Present to accompany the December 2002 Steeleye Span reunion tour. A live version of this song recorded in 1986 was released on the album Steeleye Span in Concert, and another live version on their The 35th Anniversary World Tour 2004 DVD:

Former Steeleye Span member Martin Carthy sang King Henry on his 1974 album Sweet Wivelsfield; this was reissued on The Carthy Chronicles. Carthy sang it live in a John Peel BBC Radio session recorded on 22 May 1972 and broadcast on 30 May; this performance was included as bonus track on the 2005 CD reissue of his album Shearwater.

Martin Carthy commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

King Henry is a heavily anglicised Scottish way of telling the Beauty and the Beast story, the only difference being that the sexes are reversed. It is a song that I very much wanted to do for a very long time and tried several tunes, none of which seemed to work satisfactorily The American tune Bonaparte's Retreat seemed in the end to carry the song best so with respectful nods towards Mike Seeger, Doc Watson and many others, I swiped it.

and the Carthy Chronicles's booklet noted:

Beauty and the Beast reversed, this ballad originated in the Gawain strand of the Arthurian legend. The King Henry in the ballad probable never existed, since the point of the tale is that chivalry has its own rewards.

The phrase “skin and bone” from this song may have supplied the title for Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick's 1992 CD Skin and Bone.

Emily Portman of The Furrow Collective sang King Henry on their 2014 album At Our Next Meeting. She commented in their sleeve notes:

A tale of bewitchment and metamorphosis with a moral to men that appearances can be deceptive and they shall reap great rewards if they give women what they want! I came across King Henry in Bronson's The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads and, feeling like the first person to unearth such a gem in hundreds of years, I set about collating my own text, adapting the melody from Mrs Brown of Aberdeenshire. I later discovered everyone had a go at King Henry in the '70s, but if we were put off because folk songs had been sung before, they would still be lying in dusty archives.

This video shows The Furrow Collective at The Glad Cafe in Glasgow on February 22, 2014:

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings King Henry Steeleye Span sing King Henry

Let never the man a-wooing ride
E'er forget things three
A routh of gold, a heart of love
Full of charity

Let never a man a-wooing wend
That lacketh things three
A store of gold, an open heart
and full of charity;

For it happened to King Henry
As a-hunting he did ride
Ta'en his hawk his good greyhound
Running loud down by his side

And this was seen of King Henry
Though he lay quite alone,
For he's taken him to a haunted hall
Seven miles from the town.

He's chased the roe deer him before
He's chased the buck all down to his den
And the fattest deer in all the flock
Young King Henry he has slain

He's chased the deer now him before
And the doe down by the den
Till the fattest buck in all the flock
King Henry he has slain.

King Henry he ate of the venison
The dogs ate of the blood
They lay down they fell asleep
Asleep as they were dead

His huntsman followed him to the hall
To make them burly cheer,
When loud the wind was heard to sound
And an earthquake rocked the floor.

It fell about the midnight hour
The hour when all men lay asleep
Such chill winds blew around the house
The very trees they did weep

And darkness covered all the hall
Where they sat at their meat.
The grey dogs, yowling, left their food
And crept to Henry's feet.

Great shakings shook the house about
Shakings split the door
The foulest woman that e'er there was
Came a-stamping on the floor

And louder howled the rising wind
And burst the fastened door,
And in there came a grisly ghost
Stamping on the floor.

Her head hit the roof of the hunting lodge
Her waist her waist you could hardly span
If a fouler woman lived
She was not known to God or man

Her head hit the roof-tree of the house,
Her middle you could not span,
Each frightened huntsman fled the hall
And left the king alone,

Her teeth were like the tether stakes,
Her nose like club or mell,
And nothing less she seemed to be
Than a fiend that comes from hell.

“Oh meat meat ye king an't be
Meat give thou to me!”
“What meat's there i' the house, Lady,
That you're not welcome to.“

“Some meat, some meet you King Henry,
Some meat you give to me!
Go kill your horse you King Henry
And bring him here to me!”

So she has ta'en his good brown steed
And oh but oh his heart was sore.
She's ate it up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

He's gone and slain his berry-brown steed
Though it made his heart full sore,
For she's eaten up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

“Oh more meat ye king an't be
More meat give thou to me!“
“What meat's there i' the house, Lady,
That you're not welcome to.”

So she has ta'en his gay goshawk,
And oh but oh his heart was sore.
She's ate it up all skin and bone,
Left nothing but feathers bare.

“Oh more meat ye king an't be,
More meat give thou me!”
“What meat's there i' the house, Lady,
That you're not welcome to.”

“More meat, more meet you King Henry,
More meat you give to me!
Go kill your greyhounds King Henry
And bring them here to me!”

So she has ta'en his good greyhound
And oh but oh his heart was sore.
She's ate it up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

And when he's slain his good greyhounds,
It made his heart full sore,
For she's eaten up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

“More meat, more meet you King Henry,
More meat you give to me!
Go fell your goshawks King Henry,
And bring them here to me!”

And when he's slain his gay goshawks,
It made his heart full sore,
For she's eaten them up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but feathers bare.

“Oh drink drink ye king an't be
Drink give thou to me!”
“What drink's there i' the house, Lady,
That you're not welcome to.”

“Some drink, some drink now King Henry,
Some drink you give to me!
Oh you sew up your horse's hide,
And bring in a drink to me.”

So he's sewn up his horse's hide
And wine and good wine he has put in.
She drank it up she drank it down,
There was no drop left in.

And he's sewn up the bloody hide,
And a pipe of wine put in,
And she's drank it up all in one draught,
Left never a drop therein.

“A bed a bed ye king an't be
A bed for you and me!
I do vow and I do swear
Tonight to lie down with thee!”

“A bed, a bed now King Henry,
A bed you'll make for me!
Oh you must pull the heather green
And make it soft for me!”

And pulled has he the heather green
And made for her a bed,
And taken has he his gay mantle
And o'er it has spread.

“Oh take your boots off o King Henry
And let all your clothes fall!
For you and I will in one bed lie
And I'll lie next to the wall!”

“Take off your clothes now King Henry
And lie down by my side!
Now swear, now swear you King Henry,
To take me for your bride!”

“Oh God forbid,” says King Henry,
“That ever the like betide,
That ever a fiend that comes from hell
Should stretch down by my side!”

The night was gone the day was come
The sun shone through the hall
The fairest woman that e'er there was
Lay twixt him and the wall

When the night was gone and the day was come
And the sun shone through the hall,
The fairest lady that ever was seen
Lay between him and the wall.

“Oh what is this?” cries young King Henry
“How long will this last with me?“
And there up spoke the fair young lady,
“Even till the day you dead be.

“For I've met many's the gentleman
Who gave to me all my fill,
Ne'er met I such a gentleman
Who gave to me all my will.

“For I've met many's the gentleman, sir
Who gave to me all my fill,
Ne'er met I such a gentleman
Who gave to me all my will.”

“I've met with many a gentle knight
That gave me such a fill,
But never before with a courteous knight
That gave me all my will.”

Tom Reid penned a few more verses to round up the song. Thank you! :

“Now King Henry, you courteous knight,
Your horse's hide you'll bring.”
And o'er it she has raised her hand
And lively he did spring.

“And likewise bring your hounds their skins
And your hawks their feathers bare.”
And soon the hounds they leapt about
And the hawks flew in the air.

Then Henry he has mounted up,
Put his lady on before.
And straightway to the church they rode
To keep the oath he swore.

And they rode on into the town
From out the wild woods green.
And the people clammered all around
To see their strange new queen.

Emily Portman sings King Henry  

Let never a man a-wooing wend
That lacks these virtues three:
A routh of gold, an open heart,
A cup of charity.

King Henry's taken him to his hall
For to make burly cheer,
When loud the wind was heard to sound
An earthquake rocked the floor.

And darkness covered all the hall
Where they sat at their meat.
The greyhounds, yowling, left their food
And crept to Henry's feet.

And louder howled the rising wind,
Burst the fastened door.
In there came a grisly ghost,
Stood stamping on the floor.

Her hair was hanging at her heels,
Streaming with the rain.
She said, “It has been seven long years
Since I felt fires flame.”

Her teeth were like the tether stakes,
Hideous was her form.
He's thrown to her his mantle,
Saying, “Lady, come into the warm.”

“Some meat, some meat, King Henry,
Some meat you give to me!”
“Oh, what meat's in this house, Lady,
That I can give to thee?”
“Oh, you can kill your good greyhounds
And bring them here to me!”

Oh, when he slew his good greyhounds
How his heart was sore.
She ate them up, both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

“More meat, more meat, King Henry,
More meat you give to me!”
“Oh, what meat's in this house, Lady,
That I can give to thee?”
“Oh, you can kill your gay goshawk
And bring it here to me!”

Oh, when he slew his gay goshawk
How his heart was sore.
She ate it up, both skin and bone,
Left nothing but feathers there.

“More meat, more meat, King Henry,
More meat you give to me!”
“Oh, what meat's in this house, Lady,
That I can give to thee?”
“Oh, you can kill your berry-brown steed
And bring it here to me!”

Oh, when he slew his berry-brown steed
How his heart was sore.
She ate it up, both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

“Now a drink, a drink, King Henry,
A drink you give to me!”
“Oh, what drink's in this house, Lady,
That I can give to thee?”
“Oh, sew you up your horse's hide
And bring a drink to me!”

So he sewed up the bloody hide,
A wine he has put in.
She drank it up all in one sip,
Ne'er a drop left in the skin.

“Now a bed, a bed, King Henry,
Now make for me a bed!
Pull from the heather so green
And over with your mantle spread.”

So he has pulled of the heather green,
Made for her a bed,
He's taken his mantle gold,
And over he has spread.

“Now take off your clothes, King Henry,
And lie down by my side!”
“That I forbid,” King Henry said,
“That ever the like betide!
That ever a fiend from out of hell
Should lie down by my side!”

But as he spoke a bloody tear
Trickled from her eye,
Softer grew King Henry's heart
And down he went with her side.

When night was gone and day was come
And the sun shone through the hall,
The fairest lady that ever was seen
Lay between him and the wall.

“Oh well is me,” says Henry,
How long will this vision last?”
And up and spoke the lady fair,
“Till all your days are past.”

“For I was witched to a ghastly shape
By my step-mother's skill
Till I should meet with a corteous knight
That gave me all I will.”

“And I've met many's the gentle man
That's given me such fill,
But never before with such a man
Who's given me all I will.”

Let never a man a-wooing wend
That lacks these virtues three:
A routh of gold, an open heart,
A cup of charity.

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcription of Martin Carthy's version by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Patrick Montague for corrections.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: King Henry (Child #32).