> Waterson:Carthy > Songs > The Lion’s Den

The Bold Lieutenant / The Lion’s Den / The Fan / The Lady of Carlisle

[ Roud 396 ; Master title: The Bold Lieutenant ; Laws O25 ; G/D 5:1056 ; Henry H474 ; Ballad Index LO25 ; LadyCarlisle at Old Songs ; Bodleian Roud 396 ; trad.]

Mrs Maguire of Belfast sang The Lion’s Den in August 1955 to Sean O’Boyle (BBC recording 24842). This recording was included on the anthology Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Peggy Seeger sang The Lady of Carlisle on her 1957 Topic album Eleven American Ballads and Songs, reissued in 1996 on her Fellside CD Classic Peggy Seeger, Alan Lomax commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

(Lomax & Seeger, Our Singing Country). I recorded this Kentucky mountain version of the old English broadside ballad from deep-voiced, guitar-picking Basil May in Salyersville, Kentucky, in 1937. Old Basil, who took to drinking an infusion of Jamaica ginger during the Prohibition years and suffered from the complaint called ‘jakeleg’, did not know or care, that his favourite ballad dates back to a medieval French country tale, which Robert Browning adapted in his narrative poem, The Glove.

John Faulkner sang The Bold Lieutenant on the Critics Group’s 1966 Argo album, A Merry Progress to London.

Eddie Butcher, an Irish farmer from Magilligan, Co Derry, sang this song as The Fan on his 1976 Leader Records album, Shamrock Rose & Thistle and as The Lion’s Den on his 1976 Free Reed album, I Once Was a Daysman. The latter album’s liner notes commented:

This was another of the more than 700 songs Sam Henry collected in North Ulster and published week by week between 1924 and 1938 in The Northern Constitution of Coleraine, complete with brief notes and tonic sol-fa notation. The song seems to have been widespread in Ulster at one time and has also been well known in Scotland.

Cecil Sharp noted the earliest version of the story in a 17th century French autobiography, the events supposed to have actually happened at the court of François I. Sharp collected versions of the ballad in Somerset and in the Appalachians and it has also turned up widely along the north-eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada. Other titles for the song are The Fan and The Bold Lieutenant.

Pentangle sang this song as Lady of Carlisle in 1972 on their album Solomon’s Seal. Their singer Jacqui McShee also sang The Lady of Carlisle with Fairport Convention on their 2017 anniversary album 50:50@50.

Roy Harris sang The Lady of Carlisle on his 1977 Topic album By Sandbank Fields. His 1997 live recording of The Lion’s Den from the The White Lion folk club in Wherwell, Hampshire, was published in 1999 on his WildGoose CD Live at the Lion. He commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

Hearing the American ballad singer Dillard Chandler sparked my interest in this song. His version was too American for me to sing without parody, but Bert Lloyd gave me one from Suffolk. Actually it’s from Velvet Brightwell of Leiston, father of Jumbo Brightwell, a noted singer.

Doug Wallin sang The Carlisle Lady to Mike Yates on 23 May 1983 at his home in at Crane Branch, Madison County, Northern Carolina. This recording was included in 2002 on the Musical tradition anthology of songs, tunes and stories from Mike Yates’ Appalachian collections, Far in the Mountains Volumes 3. Mike Yates noted in the accompanying booklet:

Originally a blackletter broadside, in five parts, titled The Distressed Lady, or A Trial of True Love. Cecil Sharp collected four sets from Kentucky singers in 1917 (and three from singers in Somerset in 1908), and a number of versions have also turned up in Ireland and Scotland. Dillard Chandler, a first cousin of Doug’s mother Berzilla, recorded the song for John Cohen in 1965 (Rounder CD 0028) and the superlative performance by Basil May, from Kentucky, is available on Yazoo CD 2014. A later recording of Doug Wallin singing this ballad may be heard on Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40013. Interestingly, and understandably, many Appalachian singers have changed the title from The Carlisle Lady to The Carolina Lady.

Keith Kendrick sang The Lion’s Den with Barry Coope in 1988 on the BBC Radio Derby cassette The Derby Tup Presents and unaccompanied in 1997 on his CD Home Ground. He commented in the latter album sleeve notes:

“Frailty—thy name is woman!” Well not if the text of this song is anything to go by! Lifted from the Folksinger’s Bible, Folksongs of Britain and Ireland by Peter Kennedy.

Martin Carthy sang The Lion’s Den in 1999 on Waterson:Carthy’s third album Broken Ground. He commented in the album sleeve notes:

On the second Aldermaston march I met a bloke who taught me two songs. The first was a thing called Tee Roo which is The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife, and the other was The Lady of Carlisle which I have loved since then but fancied singing an English version if I could find one. The Lion’s Den is it, and it comes from a Somerset singer called Charles Neville who met and sang several songs for Cecil Sharp a few years before the first world war. He sang it in five four time and in the major key but with his posthumous permission (hoho) I sing it in free time and in the minor key. Apart from anything else it contains an interesting, not to mention downright mysterious (in an older sense of that word) notion of what constitutes Royalty, and it sure as hell ain’t defined in blood terms.

Sandra and Nancy Kerr sang The Lion’s Den on the 2004 anthology Evolving Tradition Volume 4.

Alcie Gerrard sang The Bold Lieutenant on the 2017 Appalachian ballad tradition anthology Big Bend Killing.

Lucy Farrell sang The Lady of Carlisle in a 2021 video about Carlisle Castle in Cumbria. This is part of a video series Songs of England which explores traditional songs and their connections to historic places. It was commissioned by English Heritage and the Nest Collective.


Jacqui McShee sings The Lady of Carlisle

Down in Carlisle there lived a lady
And she was a beauty fine and gay;
She was determined to stay a lady,
No man on earth could her betray.

Unless it was a man of honour,
A man of honour and high degree;
And there approached two loving soldiers,
This fair young lady for to see.

One being a brave lieutenant,
A brave lieutenant and a man of war,
The other being a bold sea captain,
Captain of the ship that had come from afar.

And then up spoke that brave young lady,
Saying, “I can be but one man’s bride.
But if you’ll come back tomorrow morning
On this case we will decide.”

She ordered her a span of horses,
A span of horses at her command;
And down the road these three together,
They rode ’til they come to the lion’s den.

And there they stopped and there they halted,
Those two soldiers stood gazing round;
And for the space of half an hour
That young lady lay speechless on the ground.

And when she did recover
Threw her fan in the lions’ den,
Saying, “Which of you to gain a lady
Will return my fan again.”

And then up spoke the brave lieutenant,
He raised his voice both loud and clear,
He said, “You know I am a dear lover of women,
I will not risk my life for love.”

And then up spoke the bold sea captain,
He raised his voice both loud and high,
He said, “You know I am a dear lover of women,
I will return your fan or die.”

In the lions’ den he boldly entered,
The lions being bold wild and fierce;
He walked unharmed and in a moment
He did return her fan again.

And when she saw her lover coming,
Seeing no harm to him was done,
She laid her head all upon his bosom,
Saying, “Here is the prize that you have won.”

Waterson:Carthy sing The Lion’s Den

Down in St James’s there lived a lady
And she was a beauty fine and gay,
She was determined to live a lady,
No man on earth could marry she.

Unless it be a man of honour,
A man of honour and high degree;
And there there come two loving brothers,
This fair young lady for to see.

And the first of them had a captain’s commission,
Belonging to our colonel’s corps,
And the other he was a bold lieutenant
On board of the Tiger man of war.

She ordered coachmen for to get ready,
All to the tower for to drive them
And there she’d spent one single hour
The lions and the tigers for to see.

Lions and tigers made such a warning,
All in the den she threw her fan,
Saying, “Which of you to gain a lady
Will go return my fan again.”

And then up spoke the faint-hearted captain,
“Lady, your offer I can’t approve.
All in that den that great den of danger
I never will venture my life for none.”

And then up spoke the poor lieutenant,
His voice did ring so loud and clear,
“All in that den that great den of danger
My life I will venture for you my dear.”

So in that den he straightly entered,
Lions and tigers both fierce and grim;
But he’d never seen any hint of danger
But he looked so fierce at them again.

And there they saw that his blood was royal
Down at his feet they all did lie.
And when he stood and the fan he gathered
And so he brought him safe away.


Many thanks to Steve Willis for corrections.