Riddles Wisely Expounded [Child 1]

DESCRIPTION: A knight arrives to court three sisters. The youngest goes to bed with him. He promises to marry her if she can answer his riddles. She does, and he either marries her or is revealed as the Devil.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1680 (broadside, Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(193))
KEYWORDS: courting Devil riddle marriage family questions
FOUND IN: US(Ap,NE,SE,So) Britain(England(North,West,South),Scotland) Jamaica
REFERENCES (33 citations):
Child 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (5 texts)
Bronson 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (7 versions)
BronsonSinging 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (4 versions, #1, #3, #4, #5)
Lyle-Crawfurd1 45, "The Unco Knicht's Wooing" (1 text)
Broadwood/Maitland, pp. 6-7, "There Was a Lady in the West"; Broadwood/Maitland, p. 7, "The Three Sisters" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes)
Williams-Thames, p. 37, "The Knight" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 320)
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 429-430, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (scraps and notes only)
Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 45-50, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text plus two riddle fragments possibly associated with this, 1 tune); also pp. 299-315, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts plus two fragments, 5 tunes; the "A" text and the F fragment and tune are mixed with "Riddles Wisely Expounded")
Leach, pp. 47-51, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (3 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 13-15, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
McNeil-SFB2, pp. 116-118, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
Davis-Ballads 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text; 1 tune entitled "The Devil's Nine Questions" and lacking the plot; the text is almost all riddles) {Bronson's #5}
Davis-More 1, pp. 1-7, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text plus an excerpt from another, 1 tune)
BrownSchinhanIV 316, "Child RIddles" (1 text, 1 tune, lacking the plot but very close to the Davis-Ballads version)
Moore-Southwest 1, "Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text)
Wells, pp. 169-170, "The Devil's Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBB 9, "The Riddling Knight" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 4, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (2 texts)
PBB 10, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
Niles 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (3 texts, 3 tunes, but only the first, "The Devil's Questions," is Child 1)
Lomax-FSNA 86, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase, pp. 110-111, "The Devil's Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart, p. 25 ,"Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 717, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
Abrahams/Foss, pp. 86-87, "The Devil's Nine Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 80-81, "Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom" (1 tune, partial text)
Stokoe/Reay, pp. 56-57, "Lay the Bent to the Bonnie Broom" (1 text, 1 tune) {cf. Bronson's #1 and its comments on Bruce/Stokoe}
Jekyll 7, "The Three Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 18-19, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
Morgan-Medieval, pp. 23-24, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (1 text)
BBI, ZN2508, "There was a Lady of the North-Country"
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #343, "There Was a Knight" (1 text)

ST C001 (Full)
Roud #161
Bodleian, 4o Rawl. 566(193), "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded" or "The Maids Answer to the Knights Three Questions", F. Coles (London), 1674-1679; also Douce Ballads 2(168b), "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded" or "The Maids Answer to the Knights Questions"
cf. "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (riddles theme)
"Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom" (tune, per broadsides Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(193) and Douce Ballads 2(168b) -- though that may be just the "tune name" for this song)
Jennifer Gentle
There Was a Man Lived in the West
NOTES: This ballad is also, as "Sven Nordmand," found in Danish tradition.
"Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom", cited in Chappell/Wooldridge, should not be confused with the version of "The Twa Sisters" that uses those words as a refrain. - PJS
Chambers, p. 153, cites this as one of the two oldest verifiable popular ballads in the Child canon ("Robin Hood and the Monk" being the other). Both are found in manuscripts believed to date from c. 1450. There are of course earlier pieces which have been claimed as ballads ("Judas," "St. Stephen and Herod," "Robin and Gandelyn"), but Chambers thinks the description misapplied in those cases. And certainly each of the three has un-ballad-like characteristics. Given that "Robin Hood and the Monk" [Child 119] appears never to have been found except in that one manuscript, "Riddles" is thus arguably the oldest ballad to have survived into the modern era of collecting. Fitting, then, that it is Child #1.
The caution is that Chambers is lumping the dialog "Inter diabilus et Virgo" with this (see Chambers, p. 156). Given that that is mostly a riddle song, and our earliest riddle song is "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (sometimes lumped with "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship"), there is a real question of whether the two can be linked.
The article on this song by J. Barre Toelken makes the interesting observation that many of the riddles in this and other riddle songs permit of two answers, one clean (and hence safe for the woman) and one evil or sexually suggestive. Thus the woman must not only answer but give the safe answer.
Thompson, p. 43, says that the folk motif of the Devil's Riddles (his #812) is particularly common in Germany and the Baltic countries.
Bronson, pp. 97-98, makes another interesting point: Although the oldest recorded tune for this is that found in "Pills to Purge Melancholy," from the early eighteenth century, that melody "is patently related to 'The North-Country Lasse' (alias 'I would I were in my own country,' or 'The Oak and the Ash an the Bonny Ivy Tree')... ad that again is clearly a variant form of 'Goddesses' in Playford's English Dancing Master, 1650, and this again relates to the Elizabethan tunes set for virginals by both Ralph and Giles Farnaby under the titles 'Fayne woulde I wedde' and 'Quodling's Delight.'" Thus, although we cannot know when melody and text came together, both are clearly very old. - RBW
Jekyll's "The Three Sisters" is classified by Jekyll as an "Annancy" story. It is a cante fable following the Ashanti (West African) tradition: Three sisters all refuse to marry. Snake decides to try his luck, borrows fine clothes from a friend, and has an entourage carry him to the sisters' door -- which is barred with iron. He asks the eldest sister to unbar the door because "there is a stranger coming in." The youngest, who has supernatural powers, senses something wrong and sings that the door will remain barred. Snake then asks the middle sister and fails again when the youngest sister interferes. "An' the Snake turn to a Devil" and fails again with the youngest sister herself. The Devil sings "What is roguer than a woman kind" and the youngest sister answers "The Devil roguer than a woman kind." "Then the Devil fly from the step straight into hell an have chain round his waist until now." Among the Child texts this is closest to 1.C, which ends, "As sune as she the fiend did name, He flew awa in a blazing flame." Jekyll's tale seems affected by Revelation 20.1-3, quoting King James: "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into that bottomless pit, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season."
Broadwood writes of Jekyll's "The Three Sisters": "Although the story of the monster outwitted by the maiden he tries to carry off is an almost world-wide motif, and is found in Africa among other countries, this particular version has evidently been in contact with European (English or Scottish) sources. This is shown not only by the fact that the suitor proves to be the Devil, but by the question and answer... This riddle appears in three versions of the ballad of [Child 1]" (Lucy E. Broadwood, "English Airs and Motifs in Jamaica" in Walter Jekyll, Jamaican Song and Story (New York: Dover Publications, 1966 (Reprint of David Nutt, 1907)), #7, p. 286, "The Three Sisters"). - BS
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File: C001

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