Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight [Child 4]

DESCRIPTION: A knight woos a lady. He will marry her if she runs away with him. He leads her to the seashore and threatens to drown/kill her as he has killed others before. She makes him turn his back and kills him instead. She bribes her parrot to keep her secret
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1776 (Herd)
KEYWORDS: elopement homicide seduction bird lie
FOUND IN: Britain(England(All),Scotland) US(All) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont) Ireland Australia; analogues in Poland, Germany, France, Scandinavia, Netherlands
REFERENCES (96 citations):
Child 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (8 texts)
Bronson 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (144 versions plus 2 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (16 versions: #28, #30, #40, #56, #61, #67, #81, #83, #95, #98, #101, #106, #124, #127, #130, #135)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 206-210, "May Collean" (1 text)
Dixon-ScottishTraditionalVersionsOfAncientBallads XI, pp. 63-65, "The Water o' Wearie's Well" (1 text, plus an "Outlandish Knight" text on pp. 101-104 in the notes)
Dixon-AncientPoemsBalladsSongsOfThePeasantryOfEngland, Ballad #5, pp. 74-77,242-243, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text)
Bell-Combined-EarlyBallads-CustomsBalladsSongsPeasantryEngland, pp. 142-144, "The Water o' Wearie's Well"; pp. 281-284, "The Outlandish Knight" (2 texts)
Lyle/McAlpine/McLucas-SongRepertoireOfAmeliaAndJaneHarris, pp. 122-125, "Wearies Wells/Wearie's Wells" (2 texts)
Williams-FolkSongsOfTheUpperThames, pp. 159-161, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text) (also Williams-Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 504)
Cologne/Morrison-WiltshireFolkSongs, pp. 48-50, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kidson-TraditionalTunes, pp. 26-29,172, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 2 tunes)
OShaughnessy-MoreFolkSongsFromLincolnshire 11, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hamer-GarnersGay, pp. 50-51, "The Outlandish Knight (The Dappledy Grey)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #127, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #106, pp. 1-2, "May Colvin" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan2 225, "May Colvin" (2 texts)
Lyle-Andrew-CrawfurdsCollectionVolume1 34, "May Colyean" (1 text)
Stokoe/Reay-SongsAndBalladsOfNorthernEngland, pp. 130-131, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #29}
Broadwood/Maitland-EnglishCountySongs, pp. 164-165, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-EnglishCountrySongbook, #58, "The False-Hearted Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Browne-FolkSongsOfOldHampshire, pp. 81-83, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp.14-34, "The False-Hearted Knight" (8 texts plus a fragment, 6 tunes; the "B" text is probably mixed as it starts with first person verses from the false knight) {Bronson's #50, #22, #35, #81, #5, #13}
Korson-PennsylvaniaSongsAndLegends, pp. 30-32, "The Six Kings' Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #107}
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 190-192, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #130}
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 4-7, "The False-Hearted Knight"; pp. 109-111, "The Castle by the Sea"; pp. 129-131, "The Outlandish Knight" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #138 ,#57, #141}
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 82-123, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (14 text plus 5 fragments, 12 tunes; the "C" and "D" texts have scraps from "The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington" [Child 105], and the "J" fragment also appears to be mixed) {A=Bronson's #138, E=#141, F=#130, I=#60, N=#57}
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 5-16, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (8 texts plus variants)
Randolph 2, "Pretty Polly Ann" (4 texts plus a fragment, 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #121, C=#86, E=#131}
Randolph/Cohen-OzarkFolksongs-Abridged, pp. 16-18, "Pretty Polly Ann" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 2A) {Bronson's #121}
High-OldOldFolkSongs, pp. 10-11, "Willie Came Over the Ocean" (1 text)
Arnold-FolkSongsofAlabama, pp. 54-55, "Billy Came over the Main White Ocean" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #132}
Hubbard-BalladsAndSongsFromUtah, #1, "The King's Daugter Fair" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Bronner/Eskin-FolksongAlivePart1 8, "Lady Isabell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (4 texts plus a fragment, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #49, #89}
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 3, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts, 1 tune)
List-SingingAboutIt-FolkSongsInSouthernIndiana, pp. 266-269, "SIx Kings' Daughters" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 1, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knightl" (1 text plus a fragment and mention of 1 more, 1 tune) {Bronson's #92}
Peters-FolkSongsOutOfWisconsin, pp. 199-200, "Six Kings' Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Davis-TraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 3, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (17 texts plus 2 fragments, 7 tunes entitled 'Pretty Polly," "The Nine King's Daughters," "The Seven King's Daughters," "The False-Hearted Knight," "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight"; 9 more versions mentioned in Appendix A) { {Bronson's #103, #146, #23, #104, #2, #19, #24}
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 4, pp. 16-25, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts, including one reconstructed, 2 tunes)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (7 texts)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (6 excerpts, 6 tunes, although it is not absolutely clear from some of the texts are this song)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (2 fragments)
Smith-SouthCarolinaBallads, #I, pp. 97-100, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (2 texts)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #145, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #77}
Hudson-FolksongsOfMississippi 1, pp. 61-66, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (3 texts plus a fragment)
Hudson-FolkTunesFromMississippi 10, "The King's Seven Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune) {same informant and a very similar text to Bronson's #124, although the transcription is very different}; 11, "Pretty Polly" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #98}
Wolfe/Boswell-FolkSongsOfMiddleTennessee 1, pp. 1-4, "The King's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune) [supposedly from the same informant as Bronson's #14, but neither the text nor the tune is the same}
Scarborough-OnTheTrailOfNegroFolkSongs, pp. 43-45, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #120}
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 127-128, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 short text, apparently without a local title, consisting mostly of the ending with little of the initial seduction)
Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, pp. 2-9, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (4 texts plus 3 fragments, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #74, #44, #42, #43}
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 1, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #73}
Peacock, pp. 206-207, "The King's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario 40, "The Dapherd Grey" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 1, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mackenzie-BalladsAndSeaSongsFromNovaScotia 1, "Pretty Polly" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #61}
Manny/Wilson-SongsOfMiramichi 53, "The Gates of Ivory (Doors of Ivory)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-FolksongsOfNewBrunswick, pp. 72-76, "Doors of Ivory" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 53-59, ""Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 15-20, "May Collin and the Knight" (1 text)
Wyman/Brockway-LonesomeSongs-KentuckyMountains-Vol1, p. 82, "Six Kings Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #109}
McNeil-SouthernFolkBalladsVol2, pp. 143-145, "The Seventh Sister" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ritchie-FolkSongsOfTheSouthernAppalachians, pp. 2-3, "False Sir John" (1 text, 1 tune) {cf. Bronson's #102, which has two fewer verses and transcribes the tune rather differently}
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-1ed, pp. 34-36, "Pretty Polly" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #76}
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-2ed, pp. 6-10, "Pretty Polly" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 8, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight"; 10, "May Colvin" (2 texts)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 10, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (2 texts)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 41, "The Castle by the Sea" (1 text, 1 tune)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 12, "Lady Isobel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
Sharp-OneHundredEnglishFolksongs 11, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #28a}
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 4, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (3 texts, 2 tunes) {A=Bronson's#96}
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 3 "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (10 texts, 10 tunes) {Bronson's #110, #106, #9, #111, #116, #99, #118, #100, #135, #55}
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 4, "The Outlandish Knight (Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune, somewhat edited and expanded) {Bronson's #99}
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 9, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #28}
Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, pp. 60-61, "Pretty Polly" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #64}
VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs, pp. 80-81, "The Outlandish Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #39, though Bronson has a different title and no text}
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H163, pp. 413-414, "The King o' Spain's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morton-FolksongsSungInUlster 13, "The Parrot Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 8, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #44}
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 28 ,"Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
Buchan-ABookOfScottishBallads 42, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
Whiting-TraditionalBritishBallads 32, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 1, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (9 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #126}
Cox/Hercog/Halpert/Boswell-WVirginia-A, #IA-B, pp. 5-9, "The False Sir John," "Six Kings' Daughters (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #128, #127}
Bush-FSofCentralWestVirginiaVol2, pp. 90-93, "The False-Hearted Knight and the Pretty Carol Lynn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 6-7, "The Six King's Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 2, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 27-30, "May Colvin" (2 texts)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 188, "Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight" (1 text)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 23-26, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (2 texts)
Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex, ZN975, "Go fetch me some of your father's gold" (said to be combined from several Child ballads)
NorthCarolinaFolkloreJournal, W. Amos Abrams, "Uncle Pat Fry: Yadkin County Minstrel or The Blind Balladeer of East Bend," Vol. XVI, No. 3 (Nov 1968), pp. 157-159, "The Seventh King's Daughter" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; notes to #427, ("The Water o' Wearie's Well") (1 text)
Richard M. Dorson, _Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States_, University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. 390-393, "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leslie Shepard, _John Pitts, Ballad Printer of Seven Dials, London 1765-1844_, Private Library Association, 1969, p. 38, "The Outlandish Knight" (reprint of a Pitts broadside)

Roud #21
Jumbo Brightwell, "The False-Hearted Knight" (on Lomax41, LomaxCD1741)
Bill Cassidy, "Pretty Polly" (on IRTravellers01)
Kitty Cassidy, "Along the North Strand" (on IRCassidyFamily01)
Lena Bourne Fish, "Castle by the Sea" [excerpt] (on USWarnerColl01)
Mary Anne Haynes, "The Young Officer" (on Voice11)
Fred Jordan, "The Outlandish Knight (Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight)" (on FSB4, FSBBAL1) (on FJordan01, HiddenE)
Sam Larner, "The Outlandish Knight" (on SLarner01)
Corney McDaid, "False Lover John" (on IREarlyBallads)
Jean Ritchie, "False Sir John" (on JRitchie01) {Bronson's #102}

Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 244, "The Outlandish Knight" ("An outlandish knight came from the north lands"), J. Catnach (London), 1813-1838; also Firth c.21(15), Firth c.21(16), 2806 c.17(323), Firth c.26(230), Harding B 11(2886), Harding B 11(2887), Harding B 11(2889), Harding B 11(2890), Harding B 11(2891), "[The] Outlandish Knight"
cf. "Fair Eleanor (II)" (plot)
King of Spain's Daughter
Lady Ishbel and Her Parrot
King William's Son
The Courting of Aramalee
May Colvin
An Outlandish Rover
The Highway Robber
The Old Beau
The Seventh King's Daughter
Pretty Cold Rain
Sweet William
The Six Fair Maids
The Hinges of Ivory
The Prating Parrot
NOTES [697 words]: Many hypotheses have been offered as to the origin of this ballad (closely connected with the Franko-Dutch tale of Halwijn; Entwistle, p. xiii, mentions as parallels "Rico Franco," "Frere Renaud," "Ulinger," and "the original Dutch Halewijn"). The most widely known is Bugge's theory that this is a corrupt form of the tale of Judith, found in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books of the Bible.
It should be noted, however, that the only actual parallel between Judith and Lady Isabel is that both end with the bad guy being killed by the heroine. (Some of the European parallels are closer, but we're talking about the English ballad.) Among the substantial differences between the tales:
Judith was a beautiful widow (Judith 8:2-4, 7) who was tricking (Judith 8:32-34) the invading general Holofernes (who, we might note, is clearly fictional -- the whole book of Judith is patently unhistorical, as is shown by its reference in 1:1 to Nebuchadnezzar who ruled the Assyrians from Ninevah. Nebuchadnezzar was a Chaldean of Babylon, and his father had in fact destroyed Ninevah before Nebuchadnezzar took the throne). Unlike the tale of Judith, in "Lady Isabel" the man tricks the inexperienced girl.
Judith was trying to save her people; the girl in this song is just trying to save her skin.
Judith cut off Holofernes's head with his own sword (Judith 13:6-8). The girl in this song of course threw her betrayer off a cliff.
A comprehensive study of the origins of this piece is offered by Holger Olof Nygard in "Ballad Source Study: Child Ballad No. 4 as Exemplar" (first printed in the Journal of American Folklore, LXV, 1952; see Leach/Coffin, pp. 189- 203). Nygard concludes that none of the theories of origin is accurate, and I heartily agree. This piece stands on its own.
Underwood, p. 383, associates this song with Lendalfoot in Ayreshire, and claims that "mysterious shrill cries and strangely fading screams are still heard there." One has to suspect that this is one of those legends that arose after the song. - RBW
MacColl & Seeger cite a German broadside, c. 1550. - PJS
Of course, most of the alleged parallels to this piece (few of which are *truly* parallel) are in German and Scandinavian literature. As a matter of fact. a brief item in Sing Out!, Volume 29, #1, p. 10, suggests that the story runs the other way -- that is, that a German folktale derives from this song. In this tale, a man makes a deal with the devil that makes him (or his music) irresistible to women. The devil's price is that the fiend will get every twelfth soul the man catches. The man ravishes and kills eleven women, but when he attempts to take the twelfth, she or her brother (or her brother in disguise, or something) manages to kill the murderer instead. As the murderer dies, a voice is heard on the wind, "The twelfth soul is mine."
Note that the trick of asking a brief delay before the murder, and using the time to prevent it, also occurs in many versions of the Bluebeard legend.
Child's notes on this ballad are so long that I may have missed the discussion, but a parallel that strikes me as closer than most of these is with the tale of Custace (Constance), as told in Nicolas of Trivet's history (which formed the basis of Chaucer's "Man of Law's Tale"). She had a long list of adventures, in one of which she survived a potential attacker; "It may be, as Trivet suggested, that she was more clever than strong as she crept up behind the lustful servant and pushed him into the sea" (Corsa, pp. 131-132 ).
In a letter referring to the popularity of this piece, Child himself commented that he was "at work on the everlasting ballad of May Colvin, which from its universal distribution takes more time than any half dozen"; see Brown, p. 103. - RBW
See "The Twa Sisters" [Child 10] discussion of Jekyll-JamaicanSongAndStory's "King Daniel" and "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" [Child 81] discussion of "Matty Gru," for Caribbean examples of the parrot introduced as messenger in other Child ballads.
Also collected and sung by Kevin Mitchell, "False Lover John" (on Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, "Have a Drop Mair," Musical Tradition Records MTCD315-6 CD (2001)) - BS
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