Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie [Child 14]

DESCRIPTION: An outlaw accosts (three) sisters, demanding that one of them marry him on pain of death. As all refuse, he kills all but the youngest. She accidentally learns that he is their brother. The outlaw usually then kills himself in remorse.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1770s (Herd, according to Opie/Opie-TheSingingGame; the source for 1803 (Scots Magazine)))
KEYWORDS: brother sister outlaw crime incest
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland,England) US(Ap,NE,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (26 citations):
Child 14, "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (6 texts)
Bronson 14, "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (8 versions plus 2 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 14, "Babylon" (4 versions: #1, #3, #7, #7.1)
Buchan/Moreira-TheGlenbuchatBallads, pp. 112-115, "Arrat, an Marrat, an Fair Mazrie" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan2 199, "The Bonnie Banks o' Airdrie" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine p. 72, "Babylon" (1 fragment)
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 61-63, "The Burly, Burly Banks of Barbry-O" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #5}
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 213-222, "Babylon" (4 texts, 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #8, C=#5}
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 9, pp. 68-71, "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (1 text)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 8, "Babylon; or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (1 text)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 20-21, "Fine Flowers in the Valley" (1 text, 1 tune, with the plot of this song although the chorus probably comes from Child 20)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 57, "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (1 text)
Fowke/Johnston-FolkSongsOfCanada, pp. 18-19, "The Bonny Banks of Virgie O" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3, but the texts differ noticeably}
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 4, "The Bonnie Banks of the Virgie, O" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Peacock, pp. 809-811, "The Bonny Banks of Ardrie-O" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 3, "Bonny Banks of Virgie-O" (1 text, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #3}
Wells-TheBalladTree, pp. 104-105, "The Bonny Banks of Virgie O" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3, slightly recast}
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 88-90, "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (2 texts)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 11, "Babylon; or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 71, "Three Young Ladies" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3, but with different information about the collector and informant}
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 6, "Babylon" (1 text, 1 tune)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 295-296, "Baby Lon, or the Bonnie Banks o' Fordie" (1 text)
Opie/Opie-TheSingingGame 60, "Three Sisters" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Gummere-OldEnglishBallads, pp. 188-189+344, "Babylon; or The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (1 text)
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 58-59, "Babylon; or, the Bonnie Banks o Fordie" (1 text)

Roud #27
Joshua Osborne, "The Bonny Banks of Ardrie-O" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Ken Peacock, "Bonnie Banks of the Virgie-O" (on NFKPeacock)

cf. "The Bonnie Hind" [Child 50] (plot)
Bonny Farday
The Rocky Banks of the Buffalo
Baby Lon
NOTES [2093 words]: If one one interested in reproductive biology, there is an amazing amount of information hinted at in this song....
Jolly, p. 94, has an interesting observation regarding incest: she quotes Jared Diamond to the effect that "people seem to choose mates who are almost, but not quite, like themselves. In fact, people like people who look a bit like their parents, right down to earlobe size."
Similarly, Jones, p. 67 (on the basis of "T-shirt experiments," in which women smelled the used clothing of men) notes "a preference by women for partners who smell rather, but not too much, like their own fathers." On p. 191, Jones notes that "sheep have a drive to copulate with someone who looks like their mother [I must admit I'd love to know how *that* experiment was performed!], and to a lesser extent the same is true for men."
But it should be recalled that parents share 50% of their genes with their children, and siblings also share 50% of their genes. Assuming (as is likely) that sexual preference is conditioned genetically rather than by environment (the latter being more or less the Freudian assumption), one's siblings would be the most desirable sexual partners, one's parents being less desirable simply because they are too old.
So why isn't there more incest? Apparently that's hard-wired, too. People have a built-in "aversion" to falling in love with people they grow up with. Presumably this is a semi-instinctive incest taboo: The deep-down emotional assumption seems that these people are siblings or parents or offspring (so Edward Westermarck; cited by Ridley-Red, p. 283, and Ridley-Agile, pp. 171-173). Indirect supporting evidence comes from a 2003 study by Lieberman, Tooby, and Cosmides that "the longer an individual had coresided with an opposite-sex sibling while growing up, the more likely they were to condemn incest" (Gray/Garcia, p. 135)
But Ridley cites another study (Ridley-Red, p. 281), "two siblings reared apart are surprisingly likely to fall in love with each other if they meet at the right age" (cf. Ridley-Agile, p. 173). The reference is to M. Greenberg and R. Littlewood, "Post-adoption incest and phenotypic matching: Experience, personal meanings, and biosocial implications," in the British Journal of Medical Psychology, 68:29-44, 1995. A 2000 study provided at least partially supports this: "sexually disposed adult siblings had often been apart from each other during their early childhood years, suggesting that they did not develop the aversion that would otherwise have kept them apart" (Gray/Garcia, p. 135).
There does seem to be anecdotal evidence for this; newspaper reports say that Britain in 2008 started to work on laws to make sure adopted children knew about any relatives they had. This was in response to a case of two twins separated in infancy; they met when they grew up, fell in love, and were married before anyone realized they were siblings. Similarly, Jones, p. 133, talks about various laws being considered to deal with the case where the child of sperm donation encounters a half-sibling -- which, in this era when tens of thousands of children are born this way, is likely to be increasingly common in future. But the particular cases cited may be just isolated incidents, not a rule.
And incest stories are not unusual in folklore -- "Incest unwittingly committed" is Thompson motif N365. Note for instance the many brother/sister matings in the pagan Greek religion, and in other early multi-deity faiths. Or the Finnish story of Kullervo, which J. R. R. Tolkien first translated directly and then turned into the story of Túrin. Or consider the story that King Arthur had a child by his sister (something with no historical basis; as the notes to "King Arthur and King Cornwall" [Child 30] show). And the folktale of "Donkeyskin" (Perrault's French title) or "Thousandfurs/All Fur" (Grimm #65) is motivated by a father's lust for his daughter, although the English version "Catskin" omits this element. This seems to be a subject with deep roots in human psychology.
I have not seen Greenberg and Littlewood to know if Ridley is describing it correctly, let alone to know if the conclusions are justified. But it may be less surprising than it sounds. Evolutionary success consists in conserving one's genes. This means that the evolutionary ideal is to marry someone related at about the first or second cousin level -- close enough to share a lot of genes, not so close as to have a particularly high risk of reinforcing dangerous recessives.
(There does seem to be one side footnote to this, mentioned by Jolly, p. 95, and by Judson, pp. 52-53. They note that there are many variants in the genes of the MHC, or major histocompatibility index -- and that people apparently can tell, by smell, who shares their MHC genes; women don't want to be involved with men who are too close in MHC. But, of course, brother and sister need not share MHC genes -- given the size and complexity of the gene group, they very likely will not -- it's just that the odds are higher than among strangers.)
It is interesting to note that surveys have shown that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but ugliness is not -- that is, almost everyone agrees that certain people are ugly, but not everyone agrees on who is attractive. It is further interesting to note that -- insofar as this has been studied -- we seem to find attractive people who appear to share our own genetic traits. (I can't remember where I read this. The bit about beauty and ugliness came from a very poor newspaper summary of research done at a local college.)
Obviously a sibling is the closest relative we can find within our generation. If siblings are raised separately, they will not feel Westermark's raised-together taboo, so the shares-my-genes attraction will produce a tendency to fall in love. At least, that seems the logical implication of the data. And hence songs such as this and "Sheathe and Knife" and "Lizie Wan."
For this to happen, the siblings, it appears, would have to be separated by the age of three; otherwise, the aversion kicks in. But Ridley adds that the aversion seems to be stronger in females. If the brother is older (as seems to be the case, e.g., in "Lizie Wan," and probably in this song), he might have left the household before the girl reached the "aversion threshold."
In that context, it's worth remembering that sons of noble families were often sent away from their homes to be raised and trained in arms. In England, noble siblings were rarely raised together in the Middle Ages. So -- assuming all this hypothesizing is correct -- incestuous love affairs would be much more common among the nobility than the common folk. Indeed, there was a rumor that Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, the fifth son of George III who later became King of Hanover, fathered a child on his sister Sophia; see Sinclair-Stevenson, pp. 123, 128. Sinclair-Stevenson thinks it impossible that Cumberland was actually the father, but it hardly matters if he was; the point is that he could have been. (A *really* dirty part of my mind notes that George III -- like his descendant Nicolas II of Russia -- long forced his daughters of marriageable age to stay at home with him. But George's daughters, at least, managed affairs -- see Sinclair-Stevenson, p. 124).
An even stronger instance of brother-sister incest occurs in the Bible, no less. Very few female members of the Davidide royal family are mentioned in the Bible, and those that are are usually passed over quickly -- except one. 2 Samuel, chapter 13 (one of the chapters that seems to have been written by an immediate witness -- some suspect the priest Abiathar), details the rape of David's daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon; the next several chapters are devoted to the dreadful after-effects of that rape.
The Inca royal family was famous for brother-sister marriages -- although this may be somewhat exaggerated. The Incas did not have written records (Mason, p. 111), so their history was preserved in oral tradition -- and that tradition was then transcribed by the Spanish, and in conflicting form (Mason, pp. 113-115). Several early Emperors supposedly married their sisters, but the first fully historic emperor, Yahuar Huacac, did not do so (Mason, p. 117). It was not until Topa Inca Yupanqui that we have a fully documented case of brother-sister marriage (Mason, p. 129), and he did not die until 1493. Mason says that he established the rule for later emperors -- but there were only three more, according to the list on p. 111 of Mason: Huyana Capac (1493-1525), Huascar (1525-1532), and Atahuallpa (1532-1533). Thus there was probably enough outbreeding in the Inca line to avoid immediate collapse -- especially since the chosen monarch was often not the old emperor's eldest son.
The Habsburg family was also known for its incest -- ironic, for an oh-so-Catholic dynasty; they seemed to welcome marriages within the prohibited degrees. To be sure, these were partly marriages of policy. Elliot, p. 272, shows a genealogy of the monarchs of Spain and Portugal. Portugal's Sebastian I (died 1578) was the son of John of Portugal and Juana of Spain. John was the son of John III and Catherine; Juana was the daughter of Charles V and Isabella. John III was the son of Emmanuel of Portugal and Maria daughter of Ferdinant and Isabella of Spain. Catherine was the daughter of Philip I of Habsburg and Juana daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Charles V was also the daughter of Philip I and Juana, and Isabella his wife was also the daughter of Emmanuel and Maria.
If that's too complicated to figure out, we can summarize like this: a normal person, not inbred, has eight great-grandparents. Sebastian was so inbred that he had only four: Emmanuel was his father's father's father and his mother's mother's father; Philip I was his father's mother's father and his mother's mother's father; Maria was his father's father's mother and his mother's mother's mother, and Juana was his father's mother's mother and his mother's father's mother.
What's more, because Maria and Juana were sisters, instead of the usual 16 great-great-grandparents, Sebastian had only six great-great-grandparents!
This situation would recur a century and a half later with the last Habsburg King of Spain, Carlos II, known as "the Bewitched" because he was so mentally and physically handicapped. He wasn't bewitched; he was inbred. Like Sebastian, he had only four great-grandparents, because his father Philip IV (himself an inbred descendent of Charles V) had married his niece Mariana of Austria (Elliott, p. 357, or see the genealogy on p. 136 of Elliott). The Wikipedia entry on Carlos says that he was more homozygous than the offspring of a brother/sister mating. (That is, there was so much inbreeding in his ancestry that he had more duplicates of particular genes than the children of a brother/sister match.) With Carlos the Bewitched, the Spanish Habsburgs died out, because they had inbred themselves to death.
The ultimate example of incestuous royal families, though, is surely the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt from the time of Alexander the Great until the Roman conquest. Ptolemy II, late in life, would marry his sister Arsinoë II, and Ptolemy IV took up with his sister Arsinoë III.
And then there are the children of Ptolemy V. The older son, Ptolemy VI Philometer (which means "loving his mother"!), married his sister Cleopatra II; they had a daughter Cleopatra III. The second son of Ptolemy V was Ptolemy VIII Physcon, who in his turn married Cleopatra II and then, while she was still alive, her daughter Cleopatra III. Their children were Ptolemy IX Lathyrus, Cleopatra IV, and Ptolemy X Alexander. Ptolemy Alexander would later marry Cleopatra Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy Lathyrus and Cleopatra IV. (This did have genetic effects, to be sure. The later Ptolemies were mostly immensely, grotesquely fat and diseased. On the other hand, Cleopatra VII -- "the" Cleopatra, of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony fame, whose mother and grandmother were non-Ptolemies -- was certainly accomplished and probably quite beautiful.)
Later, Cleopatra VII would marry a couple of her brothers, but that was political. In the cases of Arsinoë II and Cleopatra III, their royal brothers and uncles married for love, or at least lust. Thus, historically, royal incest seems not to have been all that uncommon. Probably more common than the above would imply, given how strongly it would be hushed up! - RBW
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