Gil Brenton [Child 5]

DESCRIPTION: A lord is preparing to wed. His bride seeks to conceal the fact that she is not a virgin, but the truth -- that she had once slept with a lord in a wood -- comes out. It is then revealed that the man she slept with was her husband-to-be.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1783/1799 (GordonBrown/Rieuwerts)
KEYWORDS: marriage seduction trick disguise
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Child 5, "Gil Brenton" (8 texts)
Bronson 5, "Gil Brenton" (3 versions)
BronsonSinging 5, "Gil Brenton" (3 versons: #1, #2, #3)
GordonBrown/Rieuwerts, pp. 186-193, "Gil Brenton/Chil Brenton" (2 parallel texts plus a photo of the badly-transcribed tune; also a reconstructed tune on p. 284)
Lyle-Crawfurd1 1, "Lord Bangwell's Adventure" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph 13, "The Little Page Boy" (1 fragmentary text, 1 tune, which Randolph places with "Child Waters" though it also has lines from the "Cospatrick" version of "Gil Brenton" and is so short it might go with something else)
Leach, pp. 59-63, "Gil Brenton" (1 text)
OBB 5, "Cospatrick" (1 text)
PBB 42, "Gil Brenton" (1 text)
DBuchan 1, "Gil Brenton" (1 text, 1 tune in appendix) {Bronson's #1}
DT, GILBRENT*

Roud #22
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Willie's Lady" [Child 6] (lyrics)
NOTES: Sir Walter Scott's version of this (Child's B) names the hero "Cospatrick," which Scott lists as the name of the Earl of Dunbar around the time of Edward I of England. The name was still used in Child's time for members of the Dunbar line.
The name, however, is older; there were at least two significant figures named Cospatrick (the spelling of Mitchison, p. 16, Oram, p. 58) or Gospatrick (so Barlow-Edward, p. 137, etc.; Barlow-Rufus, p. 295; Swanton, pp. 202-203) around the time of the Norman Conquest.
The first Cospatrick seems to have been an Anglo-Saxon thegn (thane); he was killed at the court of Edward the Confessor in 1064, although probably not at that king's command (Barlow-Edward, p. 235). According to StentonEtAl, p. 578, he was "the heir of the native earls of Bernicia" -- although Bernicia was never an earldom, but rather a kingdom that became part of Northumbria; apparently there was speculation that Edward's queen had arranged the murder to create opportunities for her brothers. But this seems unlikely, since her brother Tosti(g) was already Earl of Northumbria (and was overthrown soon after).
The other Cospatricks were northern Earls; it's not clear how many of them there were. According to Barlow-Edward, p. 235n., an Earl Utrecht of "Northumbria" was murdered in 1016, leaving several sons, Cospatrick being the third. Barlow doubts that this is the same as the preceding, although it is just chronologically possible. It seems more likely he was an ancestor. The same note mentions another Cospatrick who was with Tostig, the brother of the future King Harold II Godwinson, when Tostig visited Rome in 1061.
There was also a Cospatrick who was Lord of Allerdale and Dalston in the time of Edward the Confessor (Barlow-Edward, p. 137n.). Barlow speculates that this might have been the Cospatrick who was murdered at Edward's court.
Finally, in 1067-1068, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions a Jarl (Earl) Cospatrick who was active in the north of England (Swanton, pp. 202, 204). But, theoretically, the earl of Northumbria at this time was supposed to be Morcar (Morkere), who had been appointed late in the reign of Edward the Confessor. Douglas, p. 218, lists Gospatrick among those rebelling against William the Conqueror in 1069, but details seem uncertain.
Northumbria and Cumbria and Lothian were at this time rather debatable properties (England in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest had largely lost control of the north, because William the Conqueror didn't have enough Normans to colonize and control the north; Barlow-William, p. 297). Both Malcolm III King of Scots and the king of England had some claims to these territories (Douglas, pp. 225-226. The simplest explanation being that Malcolm was their direct overlord but held them as a vassal of the King of England. But Malcolm, who was always fighting the English, probably would not have seen it that way).
Mitchison, p. 16, says that a Cospatrick who was apparently a Saxon claimant to one or another northern English earldom in 1069, and whose son held Cumberland until William II of England conquered it in 1092. It was presumably this Cospatrick whose daughter Octreda married Duncan (II), the oldest son of Malcolm III of Scotland (Barlow-Rufus, p. 295; Oram, p. 58). When Malcolm died, he was succeeded by his brother Donald Ban. Duncan in 1094 invaded Scotland and took the throne, but was killed later that year; Octreda and her son William fled to England (Oram, p. 58), where William and descendants later put in an unsuccessful claim to the Scottish throne (the "FitzWilliam" claim).
If this Earl Cospatrick was the same as the preceding, he should perhaps be regarded as Earl of Cumbria rather than Northumberland. Or maybe he was Malcolm's earl, or maybe he ruled the area north of the Tweed. Douglas's suggestion is that Malcolm and Swein King of Denmark were looking to carve out a state in northern England which would be ruled by Edgar the Atheling, the man who (by ancestry) should have been King of England rather than William of Normandy. But why, then, would Gospatrick support a man who was taking this earldom? And how would Malcolm and Swein decide who was Edgar's overlord. Obviously it is all pretty vague.
It seems unlikely that any of this has a genuine connection to the ballad; I mention it mostly to demonstrate the point that there really were a lot of Cospatricks/Gospatricks. It is interesting to note, however, that Cospatrick is said in Child B brought his wife from over the sea. Might this be a sign of the Saxon earl marrying a Norman wife?
Of course, the "Cospatrick" text is Walter Scott's, and seems to be almost unknown in other forms of the ballad. Might this have been Scott's insertion to memorialize a famous local lord?
Again, several instances of the ballad mention violence by the groom against the bride on their wedding night; this sounds much like the Thousand and One Nights, but there is unlikely to be a direct connection.
Bronson-Song, p. 43, studying the text and tune of this, suggests that the tune collected from Mrs. Brown must have had an internal refrain, the text of which was not taken down. This apparently was a habit of the transcriber; he omitted the internal refrains of "Clerk Colvill," "Gil Brenton," and "Willie's Lady." - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.1
File: C005

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.