> Tim Hart & Maddy Prior > Songs > Queen Eleanor's Confession

Queen Eleanor's Confession

[ Roud 74 ; Child 156 ; G/D 2:208 ; Ballad Index C156 ; Bodleian Roud 74 ; Mudcat 41056 ; trad.]

Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a colourful character, but the accusations in this song are unlikely to be true. She was not a virgin when she came to Henry: she was the mother of a daughter by her first husband, the King of France. The “noble lady” would be Rosamund Clifford, a long time mistress of Henry.

The Exiles sang Queen Eleanor's Confession in 1967 on their Topic album The Hale and the Hanged. A.L. Lloyd noted:

The tale told by this ballad has been used over and again. Boccaccio included it in the Decameron, George Peele wrote a play based on it in 1593. Eleanor of Aquitaine was first married to Louis VII of France and then, after that marriage was dissolved, she became the wife of Henry II of England. She seems to have been saucy enough in her young years, but later settled to respectability, and the ballad is something of a libel. If it’s poor history, it’s a good yarn. The ballad began life in England, but survived best in Scotland. In the early years of the twentieth century, Gavin Greig got a version of it from his best informant, the indefatigable crofter’s daughter and farm housekeeper Bell Robertson, who had it from her mother. Two old tunes are known for it, but Gordon McCulloch prefers a new one, composed by Bobby Campbell. The words here are Bell Robertson’s.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sang Queen Eleanor's Confession in 1969 on their second duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 2. The record's sleeve notes comment:

This narrative ballad concerns the supposed last confession of Henry II's queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Being of a wilful and flirtatious nature she provided the chroniclers with much scandal during her life, but her legend survived her in a rather confused and expanded form and it is from legend rather than fact that this entertaining story was written.

The version is almost completely from Motherwell's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

Ewan and Kitty MacColl sang Queen Eleanor's Confession in 1982 on Blood & Roses Volume 3. He noted:

Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in 1152, shortly after her divorce from Louis VII of France. She was then about thirty years of age and some eleven or twelve years older than her English spouse. This ballad, and several other rather scandalous pieces published after her death, would indicate that she was not what one would call a ‘popular queen’.

The story of the ballad crops up in Peele's play of Edward I (1593), but there the queen's role is played by Eleanor of Castile, while Edward Longshanks plays Henry II. The Earl Marshall becomes Edward's brother, Edmund. The motif of a husband disguising himself (or sometimes concealing himself) in order to hear his wife's confession is a popular one and is found in the literature of many European countries.

Note: Over the years, Peggy and I have amused ourselves and our children on long car journeys by singing traditional ballads. Our nine-year-old daughter Kitty found this a particularly diverting piece and after hearing it two or three times would join in lustily whenever it was sung. In view of this it seemed only fair that she should be heard on the disc.

Ian Giles sang Queen Eleanor's Confession on the Mellstock Band's 1995 Saydisc CD, Songs of Thomas Hardy's Wessex.

Fay Hield learned Queen Eleanor's Confession from the singing of Tim Hart and Maddy Prior and sang it in her 2016 album Old Adam.

Alasdair Roberts sang Queen Eleanor's Confession in 2016 on the Furrow Collective's second album, Wild Hog. They noted:

Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II of England in 1152; this ballad narrates a particularly dramatic episode involving them both along with William Marshall, First Earl of Pembroke, although it is unlikely that anything of the sort actually happened. The tale has been used often over the years, turning up as an anonymous 13th century French fabliau entitled Du Chevalier qui fist sa femme confesse, in Boccaccio's Decameron of the 14th century and in George Peele's 1593 play The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First. Our version was learnt by Alasdair from a version by the Glasgow group The Exiles, on their 1967 Topic Records LP The Hale and the Hanged.

Lyrics

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior sing Queen Eleanor's Confession

Queen Eleanor was a sick woman and sick just like to die,
And she has sent for two friars of France to come to her speedily.

The King has called his nobles all, by one, by two, by three,
“Earl Marshal, I'll go shrive the Queen and thou shalt wend with me.”

“Oh no, oh no,” cried Earl Marshal, “such things can never be,
For if the Queen should get word of this then hanged I would be!”

i“I swear by the sun, I swear by the moon, and by the stars on high,
And by my sceptre and my crown, Earl Marshal shall not die!”

So the King's put on a grey friar's gown and the Earl's put on another
And they are gone to fair London town like friars both together.

And when they came before the Queen, they fell on bended knee,
“What matter, what matter, our gracious Queen, you've called so speedily?”

“Oh, if you are two friars of France, it's you I wish to see.
But if you are two English lords, then hanged you shall be!”

“Oh, we are not two English lords, but friars both are we,
And we sang the Song of Solomon as we came all o'er the sea.”

“Oh, the first vile sin I did commit I now will tell to thee:
I fell in love with the Earl Marshal as he brought me o'er the sea.”

“Oh, that was a vile sin,” said the King, “may God forgive it thee!”
“Amen, amen,” said the Earl Marshal, with a heavy heart spake he.

“Oh, the next vile sin I did commit I will to you unfold:
Earl Marshal had my virgin dower beneath this gown of gold.”

“Oh, that was a vile sin,” said the King, “may God forgive it thee!”
“Amen, amen,” said the Earl Marshal, for a frightened man was he.

“Oh, don't you see two yonder little boys a-playing at the ball:
Oh, that one is Earl Marshal's son and I like him the best of all.

“Oh, don't you see yon other little boy a-playing at the ball:
Oh, that one is King Henry's son and I like him the worst of all.

“His head is like a black boar's head, his feet are like a bear.”
“What matter, what matter,“ cried the King, ”he's my son and my only heir!”

And the King pulled off his grey friar's smock and stood in his scarlet so red,
Queen Eleanor turned in her bed and cried that she was betrayed.

And the King looked o'er his left shoulder and a grim look looked he,
“Oh, Earl Marshal, but for my oath, then hanged you would be!”

Ewan and Kitty MacColl sing Queen Eleanor's Confession

The Queen fell sick and very, very sick, she was sick and like to dee,
And she sent for twa friars oot o' France to come to her speedily.

The King has sent for the Earl Marshall, and an angry man was he:
“The Queen has sent for twa friars oot o' France to shrive her presently.

“It's ye'll put on the Greyfriar's goon, and I'll put on another;
And we will gang and shrive the queen, twa holy friars thegither.”

“O, God forbid, said the Earl Marshall, “sic and orra ploy should be;
Gin I beguile Queen Eleanor I dout that she would hang me.”

King Henry swore by the sun and the moon, he swore by the Trinity
He swore by his sceptre, he swore by his sword, Earl Marshall he shouldna dee.

When they cam' before the Queen, they louted low til their knee;
“What matter, what matter, our gracious Queen that you've sent for us speedily?”

“O, I am sick and very, very sick, I am sick and like to dee;
O, pray to God for my poor soul, some comfort gi'e to me.”

“Confess, confess!” the King he cried, “Confess your sins to me.”
“Confess, confess!” said the Earl Marshall, “And you shall pardoned be.”

“The first vile sin I ever did commit, I'll tell to you the deed;
I played the whore wi' the Earl Marshall when he got my maidenheid.

“O, wasna that a sin and a muckle great sin? I hope it will pardoned be.”
“Amen, Amen!“ said the Earl Marshall, and a very feart hairt had he.

“The neisten sin that e'er I did to you I will discover:
I poisoned fair Lady Rosamund a' in fair Woodstock bower.

“O, wasna that a sin and a muckle great sin? And I hope it will pardoned be.”
“Amen, Amen!” said the Earl Marshall, and a very feart hairt had he.

“The neisten sin that e'er I did, the truth I'll tell to thee;
I carried a box seiven years in my breist to poison King Henry.

“O, wasna that a sin and a muckle great sin? And I hope it will pardoned be.”
“Amen, Amen!” said the Earl Marshall, And a very feart hairt had he.

“O, see ye no' yon twa bonnie boys as they play at the ba'?
The auldest is the Earl Marshall's son and I lo'e him best o' a',
And the youngest is King Henry's son and I dinna lo'e him at a'.

“He's heidit like an orra bull, He's backit like a bear.”
“Amen!” cries the King in his ain voice, “And I lo'e him a' the mair.

“O, wae betide ye, Earl Marshall, And an ill deith may ye dee;
If I hadna sworn by my sceptre and my croon High hangit ye should be.”

Fay Hield sings Queen Eleanor's Confession

Queen Eleanor was a sick woman, sick just like to die,
And she has called for two friars of France to come to her speedily.

The King called down his nobles all, an angry man was he,
“Earl Marshal, I'll go shrive the Queen and you will come with me.”

“A boon, a boon,” said Earl Marshal and fell on bended knee,
“For if the Queen shall hear of this then hanged I shall be!”

“I swear by the sun, I swear by the moon, and by the stars so high,
That by my sceptre and my crown, Earl Marshal shall not die!”

The King pulled on his grey friar's gown, Earl Marshal donned another,
And they're away to fair London town like friars both together.

And when they came to London town, came down through Whitehall,
The bells did ring and the choirs sing and the torches did light them all.

And when they came before the Queen, they fell on bended knee,
“What matter, what matter, our gracious Queen, you sent so speedily?”

“Oh, if you are two friars of France, it's you I wish to see.
But if you are two English lords, you'll hang on the gallows tree!”

“Oh, the very first sin I did commit, I will now tell to thee:
I fell in love with the Earl Marshal as he brought me o'er the sea.”

“Oh, that was a vile sin,” said the King, “but pardoned it may be.”
“Amen, amen,” said the Earl Marshal, with a heavy heart spoke he.

“Oh, the very next sin I did commit, I will to you unfold:
Earl Marshal had my maidenhead beneath this gown of gold.”

“Oh, that was a vile sin,” said the King, “may God forgive it thee!”
“Amen, amen,” said the Earl Marshal, and a frightened man was he.

“Oh, don't you see two those two little boys a-playing at the ball:
The eldest is Earl Marshal's son and I like him the best of all.

“Oh, don't you see that other little boy a-playing at the ball:
Oh, that one is King Henry's son and I like him the worst of all.

“His head is like a black boar's head, his feet are like a bear.”
“What matter, what matter,“ cried the King, ”he's my son and my only heir!”

And the King pulled off his grey friar's gown, stood in his scarlet red,
Queen Eleanor turned herself in bed and cried she was betrayed.

The King looked over his left shoulder, a grim look looked he,
“If I hadn't sworn by my sceptre and gown you'd hang in the gallows tree!”