> Steeleye Span > Songs > The Boy and the Mantle

The Boy and the Mantle

[ Roud 3961 ; Child 29 ; Ballad Index C029 ; trad.]

The Oxford Book of Ballads

Steeleye Span sang the Child ballad The Boy and the Mantle (Three Tests of Chastity) in 2019 on their 50th anniversary album, Est'd 1969. They noted:

An Arthurian tale where, whilst in Carlisle (he wasn’t always in Cornwall!), a boy happens along with the means to test the court as to whether they are faithful to their spouses or not. The three tests are for the ladies to don the “Mantle Veritas” with embarrassing results if they’re not constant and true, and the men to try to cut into a boar's head or to drink from a magic horn successfully.

Sometimes the latter two tests were to determine whether a man was a cuckold or not, but Maddy and I decided that all the tests would be for fidelity.

The chorus and the main instrumental theme were written by us and developed in rehearsal but the verse melody is traditional. We were fortunate to have the addition of the eminent harpsichordist Sophie Yates, which puts us beautifully in a ‘court-like’ place even though there weren’t any harpsichords at that time! (Mind you, there weren’t any electric guitars either!)

Lyrics

Steeleye Span sing The Boy and the Mantle

On the third of May to Carlisle did come
A courteous child with much wisdom.
A kirtle and mantle the boy had on,
With rings and broaches full richly adorned.

Out of his pouch he pulled two nut shells,
A pretty mantle therein did dwell.
“King Arthur, let thy wife wear this
And it will prove whether she be chaste.”

Forth came dame Guinevere the mantle to try,
For she was gay and fond of novelty.
She slipped it on but she was afeared
That it might show more than she cared.

First it was gold, then it turned green,
Then it was blue and it ill her became,
Then it turned black of the very worst hue.
Said King Arthur, “I think that thou’s not true!”

She threw down the mantle in a fit of pique
And ran to her chamber with flushed cheeks.
She cursed the weaver that the cloth had wrought
And vengeance on him that had it bought.

Then many a wife did the mantle wear
But on their backs it did crinkle and tear.
Kay’s wife, she wore it with certainty,
But it showed her buttocks bare for all to see!

She threw down the mantle in a fit of pique
And ran to her chamber with flushed cheeks
She cursed the weaver that the cloth had wrought
And vengeance on him that had it bought.

Craddock called his lady, bade her come in,
“You with no trouble this mantle could win.”
She bore the mantle, upon her back,
But at her great toe it did crinkle and crack.

“Oh, bow down mantle and shame not me,
I sinned but once, I tell you certainly.
I kissed my husband under a tree,
I kissed my husband, before he married me.”

When she had shriven, and her sins told
The mantle clothed her in glittering gold
Then every knight in the court did behold
The chastest lady in all the world.

The boy then stood, looking over the door
And there he espied a ferocious boar.
He drew his wooden knife and fast he ran,
He cut off the boar’s head and quit him like a man.

He brought in the boar's head and held it brave
Saying no seducer's knife could it carve.
Some sharpened their knives quickly on a whetstone
Some threw them away and said they had none.

The king and the boy stood looking upon
For all of their knives had turned blunt again.
Craddock had a knife made of iron and steel,
He cut up the boar’s head wondrous well.

The boy had a horn of the good red gold
And to the court spoke he loud and bold:
“No seducer can drink from this horn
But he will spill it behind or before.”

Some spilt on their shoulder and some on their knee
For they were seducers for all to see.
One missed his mouth and one poured in his eye
For no seducer could drink it right.

Craddock won the horn and the boar’s head too
Which showed him faithful and chaste and true.
His lady the mantle, which made her heart glad,
To all such ladies, God send good speed.

Beware of mantle and the knife and horn,
The truth out will so be forewarned.
That you may live to rue the day
If the boy and the mantle come your way.