Cruel Mother, The [Child 20]

DESCRIPTION: A woman is (preparing to be wed, but is) pregnant (by another man). When her child(ren) is/are born, she kills him/them. As she proceeds to the church to be wed, the child(ren) appear to her to condemn her for her act.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1776 (Herd)
KEYWORDS: homicide pregnancy adultery wedding childbirth burial children accusation supernatural ghost bastard
FOUND IN: Britain(England,Scotland(High,Aber,Bord)) Ireland US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (56 citations):
Child 20, "The Cruel Mother" (17 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #5}
Bronson 20, "The Cruel Mother" (56 versions plus 1 in addenda)
BronsonSinging 20, "The Cruel Mother" (12 versions: #1, #4, #5, #6, #15, #19.1, #20, #22, #24, #31, #45, #47)
HarrisLyleMcAlpineMcLucas, pp. 68-73, "The Rose o' Balindie/The Rose o' Malindie O" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #5}
Dixon VI, pp. 46-49, "The Cruel Mother"; VII, pp. 50-52, "The Minister's Dochter o' Newarke" (2 texts)
Williams-Thames, p. 295, "She Laid These Babes Across Her Lap" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Gl 129, "Cruel Mother")
RoudBishop #116, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune)
GreigDuncan2 193, "The Cruel Mother" (7 texts, 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #12, B=#3, C=#15}
GreigDuncan8 1910, "Doun by the Greenwood Sae Bonnie O" (1 fragment)
Greig #20, p. 2, ("Doun by the greenwood and by the green") (1 fragment)
Lyle-Crawfurd1 12, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
Lyle-Crawfurd2 131, "The Trajedie o Twa Bairns of Newark" (1 text)
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 80-93, "The Cruel Mother" (6 texts plus a fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
Flanders/Olney, pp. 66-67, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #21}
Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 230-238, "The Cruel Mother" (3 texts (all missing parts of the plot) plus 3 fragments probably of this; 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #21, B=#34}
Eddy 7, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #14}
Grimes, pp. 69-70, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
Randolph 8, "Down by the Greenwood Side" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #54}
Davis-Ballads 9, "The Cruel Mother" (4 texts plus a fragment, 4 tunes) Bronson's #35, #48, #43, #44}
Davis-More 12, pp. 81-83, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morris, #150, "The Cruel Mother" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #47}
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 167-169, "(The Cruel Mother)" (1 text, from Randolph; tune on p. 403) {Bronson's #54}
Moore-Southwest 11A, "Two Little Babes"; 11B, "The Cruel Mother" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 17-20, "The Cruel Mother" (2 texts plus 2 fragments and1 excerpt, 4 tunes) {Bronson's pp. #18, #45, #13, #20}
Creighton-NovaScotia 2, "Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #37}
Greenleaf/Mansfield 6, "Fair Flowers of Helio" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #28}
Peacock, pp. 804-805, "The Babes in the Greenwood" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Karpeles-Newfoundland 5, "The Cruel Mother" (5 texts, 7 tunes) {Bronson's #26}
Mackenzie 3, "The Greenwood Siding" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #19}
Manny/Wilson 56, "There Was a Girl Her Name Was Young (Down by the Greenwood Side-I-O) (The Cruel Mother)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach, pp. 103-106, "The Cruel Mother" (3 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 44-45, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
OBB 22, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 181, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text+1 fragment)
FSCatskills 68, "Down by the Greenwood Shady" (1 text, 1 tune)
ThompsonNewYork, pp. 447-448, "Dwon by the Greenwood Side" (1 text)
Korson-PennLegends, pp. 38-39, "There Was a Lady Lived in York" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #22}
PBB 27, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
SharpAp 10 "The Cruel Mother" (13 texts, 13 tunes){Bronson's #51, #55, #42, #44, #17, #32, #46, #40, #11, #10, #52, #30, #41}
Sharp-100E 13, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #31}
Wells, pp. 150-151, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #51}
Ord, pp. 459-460, "Hey Wi' the Rose and the Lindsay, O" (1 text)
Niles 20, "The Cruel Mother" (2 texts, 2 tunes); also possibly Niles 15, "The Maid and the Palmer" (1 text, which Niles identifies with Child 21, but the fragment is so short that it could equally be part of Child 20)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 9, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune -- a composite version) {Bronson's #42}
Hammond-Belfast, p. 54, "All Round the Loney-O" (1 text, 1 tune)
Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, p. 28, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #16}
Hodgart, p. 36, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
JHCox 5, "The Cruel Mother" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
Gainer, pp. 26-27, "Down by the Greenwood Sidee" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 222, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)
Behan, #74, "The River Sila" (1 text, 1 tune, "adapted" by Wolfe Stephens and probably significantly rewritten but with some similarity to other Irish versions)
BBI, ZN2495, "There was a Duke's Daughter Lived in York"
ADDITIONAL: Emily Lyle, _Fairies and Folk: Approaches to the Scottish Ballad Tradition_, Wissenschaflicher Verlag Trier, 2007, pp, 156-157, "[The Minister's Daughter of New York]" (1 text, from a letter from Peter Buchan to William Motherwell); pp. 170-172, [no title], (1 text, in a shorthand notation, again from Buchan to Motherwell)
MacEdward Leach and Henry Glassie, _A Guide for Collectiors of Oral Traditions and Folk Cultural Material in Pennsylvania_, Pennsylvania historical and Museum Commission, 1973, pp. 27-28, "There Was A Lady Lived In York" (1 text)
Katherine Briggs, _A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language_, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2), volume A.2, p. 397, "The Cruel Mother" (1 text)

Roud #9
A. L. Lloyd, "The Cruel Mother" (ESFB1, ESFB2)
Lizzie Higgins, "The Cruel Mother" (on Voice03)
John James, "The Green Woods of Bonnie-O" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Thomas Moran, "The Cruel Mother" (on FSB4)
Duncan Burke, Cecilia Costello, Thomas Moran [composite] "The Cruel Mother" (on FSBBAL1) {cf. Bronson's #19.1 in addenda}
Joshua Osborne, "The Babes in the Greenwood" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Lucy Stewart, "Down by the Greenwood Sidie O" (on LStewart1)

Fine Flowers in the Valley
Three Little Babies
The Lady of York
Greenwood Siding
The Minister of New York's Daughter
Hey My Rose
NOTES [610 words]: Although this has not been linked with any historical incident, there are a number of cases in history which are at least vaguely similar. One which struck me was the case of Will Darrell, reportedly from 1575 (as told in Underwood, pp. 123-124).
Darnell, having gotten one of his sundry mistresses pregnant, brought in a midwife (blindfolding her to conceal the place) to help the mother, then killed the child. The midwife left a deathbed testament, but Darnell was acquitted at trial. Later, when riding a horse, he saw the ghost of the dead baby; his horse bolted and he was killed.
You can believe as much of that as you like; I don't believe much. But it shows that stories like this were circulating. And it is good psychology. Comer, p. 241, reports that regret often follows a murder -- sufficient regret to result in suicide. It appears that five percent of those who commit murder attempt suicide soon after -- but that figure rises to 20% of those who have murdered a child.
The motif of a mother pretending to still be a virgin is also well known. Briggs, Volume A1, pp. 452-454, has a story called "The Princess with the White Petticoat" in which just about every girl in a court proves to be a secret mother.
Some versions, including Child's Q and Creighton's from Nova Scotia, have a secondary folklore motif: The unremovable stain (in this case, of blood on the knife). This is most famous for Shakespeare's application to Lady MacBeth (Macbeth V.i, a part of the play which is more Shakespeare than Holinshed), but it is common in folklore: Compare Asbjornson and Moe's "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," I seem to recall also a story of three drops of blood arranging for their own revenge, though I can't recall the source. We also see it in Child's D text of "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie" [Child 14].
Dixon's version (Child's F, taken from Buchan) ends with the mother's suicide, something rare in other versions. The form appears to have been influenced by "The Twa Sisters." I wonder a little if there has not been some rewriting involved. - RBW
Also collected and sung by David Hammond, "All Round the Loney-O" (on David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland," Tradition TCD1052 CD (1997) reissue of Tradition LP TLP 1028 (1959)) The Hammond versions have the common form for this ballad of rhyming couplet interspersed with "All round the Loney-O" and "Down by the greenwood side-O." According to Sean O Boyle's notes to the album the version "has been localized by Belfast singers, who identify the Loney with a street called The Pound Loney. The Castle Pound in old Belfast stood here by a boundary river among the trees of the Falls (Hedge) Road; thus giving all features of the song a local habitation." The version survives stripped of all supernatural references as both the (suicidal?) mother and murdered baby "sleep" in the river.
GreigDuncan8 is so fragmentary and broken(?) that it can go a number of places. There are two distinct parts of the text: "Down by the greenwood and by the green, Down by the greenwood sae bonnie O" [almost from Child 20 and "Lady Anne" as a chorus] and "Four-and-twenty bairnies playing at the ba'" [Child 155A and C, and "Still Growing" GreigDuncan6 1222D]. The notes to GreigDuncan8 refer to Child 20 and "Still Growing." Since I have to pick one, I'll take Child 20 because of its sometime "Down by the green wood sae bonnie" and "She spied twa [not twenty-four] boys playing at the ba" [Child 20D]. Since the GreigDuncan8 fragment has lost the story of the boys it doesn't matter that the twenty-four players don't make sense in the context of Child 20. - BS
BibliographyLast updated in version 4.2
File: C020

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 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.