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Wiltshire Community History

Folk Song Information

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Book TitleAuthorDateNotes
Song TitleFair Eleanor and the brown girl
Roud No.4
Collected FromHarris, E. Miss
Collected ByWilliams, Alfred
Alternative TitleLord Thomas and fair Eleanor
Source PrimaryWSRO: 2598/36 Packet 2 - Gloucestershire: Williams, A: MS collection No Gl 132
Source SecondaryWilliams, A: Folk songs of the upper Thames, 1923, p 135 - 137
Song Lyrics
Verse 1

Come riddle me, mother,' Lord Thomas he said,
'Come riddle me all as one,
Whether I shall have fair Eleanor,
Or bring the brown girl home?'

Verse 2

'The brown girl she has got riches and land,
Fair Eleanor she has got none,
And this I think to my blessing,
Bring me the brown girl home.'

Verse 3

Lord Thomas he rode to fair Eleanor's bower,
And boldly the bell did ring;
There was none so willing as fair Eleanor
To let Lord Thomas in.

Verse 4

'What news? What news? Lord Thomas!' she said,
'What news hast thou brought to me?'
'I have come to invite thee to my wedding,
And that is bad news for thee.'

Verse 5

Come riddle me mother; come riddle me,
Come, riddle me all as one;
Whether better I go to Lord Thomas's wedding,
Or better I stay at home?'

Verse 6

'There are many of your friends, dear daughter,
And many of your foes;
And this I think to my blessing,
To Lord Thomas's wedding don't go.'

Verse 7

'If there be many of my friends, mother,
And many of my foes,
If it ends my life, or spares my breath,
To Lord Thomas's wedding I'll go.'

Verse 8

Then she dressed herself all in milk white,
Her merry men all in green,
And every town that she went through,
They took her to be some queen.

Verse 9

Then she rode till she came to Lord Thomas's bower,
And boldly the bell did ring;
There was none so willing as Lord Thomas,
To let fair Eleanor in.

Verse 10

He caught hold of her lily white hand,
And led her to the hall,
He set her above his own bride,
And above all the gay ladies all.

Verse 11

'Is this your fair bride, Lord Thomas?' she said,
'I'm sure she looks wondrous brown,
When thou could'st have had me. As fair a lady,
As ever trod foot to the ground.'

Verse 12

'Despise her not,' Lord Thomas he said,
'Despise her not unto me,
For better I love thy little finger,
Than I do her whole body.'

Verse 13

The brown girl had a little penknife,
That cut both keen and sharp,
And between fair Eleanor's long and short rib,
She plunged it into her heart.

Verse 14

'O what is the matter?' Lord Thomas he said,
'I think you look wondrous wan;
When once thou had'st as fresh a colour,
As ever the sun shone on.'

Verse 15

'O art thou blind, Lord Thomas?' she said,
'Or can'st thou not very well see?
The brown girl has pricked my tender heart,
And the blood trickles down my knee.'

Verse 16

Then off he cut his own bride's head,
And dashed it against the wall;
He leaned his sword upon the ground,
And on the point did fall.

Verse 17

'O dig me a grave,' Lord Thomas he cried,
'Both long, and wide, and deep;
And lay fair Eleanor at my right side,
And the brown girl at my feet.'

Verse 18

Lord Tomas was buried beneath the church wall,
Fair Eleanor in the Choir;
Out of fair Eleanor there grew a red rose,
And out of Lord Thomas a briar.

Verse 19

They grew and they grew to the Chancel top,
Till they could not grow any higher,
And there they knit in a true lover's knot,
For all the people to admire.
Print Song Lyrics
Note 1

Alfred Williams - 'This is generally known under the title 'Lord Thomas and fair Eleanor', though at Quenington, where I met with the ballad, it is called 'Fair Eleanor and the brown girl'. The piece dates from about 1700, and there is a Scotch version, longer and very different from this in Johnson's 'Scots Musical Museum, 1803'. The copy I obtained of Miss E Harris, who wrote it out for me on the recital of her grandmother, now very aged.'

Note 2

There are nineteen verses in the manuscript and twenty one in the printed version. Verse 1 in the printed version is the first verse on the third sheet of the manuscript which is:

Lord Thomas he was a bold forester,
A forester over the dell
Fair Eleanor was a fair young woman
Lord Thomas he loved her well.

Verse 6 in the printed version is a verse on the third sheet which is:

'A wedding, a wedding, Lord Thomas?' she said,
I think it is wonderful soon
I thought to have been thy bride my own self
And thou would'st have been the bridgegroom

There is an alternative start to Verse 1 in the manuscript, Verse 2 in the printed version:

Come riddle my riddle dear mother he said
And riddle it both as one etc

There is an alternative indicated to Verse 3 but it is not easy to see how it fits with the remainder of the verse:

Therefore do I bid thee with my whole heart [Miss Davis, Theale, Reading]

The original text for this line read:

Therefore I do bid thee with thy old horse

Miss Davis, Theale, Reading, is not referred to in any other of William's notes in the folk song file.

There is an alternative indicated to Verse 4 Line 2:

He knocked so loud on the ring

There is an isolated line which is difficult to place into context:

Betimes thy life, betimes thy death

There are possible amendments to Verse 16 Line 1

He took and chopped off

And to Verse 16 Lines 1 and 2:

Lord Thomas he had a sword at his side
As he was crossing the hall

There is a last verse indicated:

Lord Thomas he laid the sword unto his breast
The blade point was against his heart
There never three lovers no sooner did meet
No sooner did ever they part

Part of the manuscript is a third sheet which contains the printed newspaper version as a cutting and a number of fragmentary verses which are not used elsewhere in the manuscript text. The amendments to the newspaper text are not included in the printed version which followed. They include:

Verse 5 Line 4:

Or better I tarry at home?'

Verse 8 Lines 2 and 3:

Her waiting maids all in green,
And every borough that she went through,

Verse 11 Line 4:

As ever trod England's ground.'

In addition there are three manuscript sheets which differ in some respects from the fair copy manuscript.

Verse 1, line 2

Well better I have Fair Eleanor or bring the brown girl home

Verse 3, line 2

And boldly rung the bell

Verse 7 lines 1 and 2 are missing but the verse structure is implied in Verse 6

Verse 8, line 1

Then she dressed herself all in my milk white

Verse 11, line 3

When they could'st have had me and as fair a lady

Verse 13, line 1

The Brown she had a little penknife

Verse 14, line 2

What makes you look wonderful pale

Verse 15, lines 2 to 4

Or can't you very well see
Can'st thee not see my very heart blood
Run trickling down my knee

Verse 16, line 3

And off he cut his own head

These possible field notes [they are in pencil and similar in style to the script in the Notebook] do contain some obvious errors [did for dig in Verse 17] for example. However, they may give an insight into William's editing role from his field notes to his fine copy.

Transcribed and edited by Chris Wildridge, 2007.



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