Captain Wedderburn's Courtship [Child 46]

DESCRIPTION: (Captain Wedderburn) sees a fair lady, and wishes to sleep with her. She takes an instant dislike to him, and will consent only if he can answer her riddles. He answers them, and the two are wed.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1783 (New British Songster)
KEYWORDS: courting riddle marriage contest
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,NW,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland Australia
REFERENCES (32 citations):
Child 46, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
Bronson 46, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (26 versions)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 46, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (4 versions: #7, #13, #14, #24)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 294-297, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text)
Lyle/McAlpine/McLucas-SongRepertoireOfAmeliaAndJaneHarris, pp/ 62-68, "Captain Wedderburn" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 93-99, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (2 texts plus 2 fragments, one of which might be "Riddles Wisely Expounded" or something else, 2 tunes; all the texts are rather damaged and even the full ones consist mostly of the riddles); p. 451 (1 tune) {B.II=Bronson's #12, C=#9; the tune on p. 451 is #17}
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 43-46, "A Strange Proposal" (1 text)
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, 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" (Child 1) and the "I" and II" texts and tunes are "I Gave My Love a Cherry")
Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, pp. 21-25, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #19, #20, #21}
Creighton-MaritimeFolkSongs, p. 6, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 48, "Mr. Woodburn's Courtship" (2 texts, 2 tunes; the "B" text is short and in the first person; it shows signs of deliberate modification) {Bronson's #24, #15}
Peters-FolkSongsOutOfWisconsin, p. 151, "Three Dishes and Six Questions" (1 text, 1 tune, consisting only of questions without any plot, but probably this rather than one of the other riddle songs because each verse ends "you'll lie next to the wall")
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 158-162, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 3, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 6, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Creighton-SongsAndBalladsFromNovaScotia 3, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #22}
Mackenzie-BalladsAndSeaSongsFromNovaScotia 4, "Six Questions" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #13}
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 137, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (2 texts, but the second is "I Gave My Love a Cherry")
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 13B, "The Six Questions" (1 text, 1 tune)
Korson-PennsylvaniaSongsAndLegends, pp. 35-36, "A Gentle Young Lady" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #25}
Cazden/Haufrecht/Studer-FolkSongsOfTheCatskills 124, "The Rich Merchant's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ord-BothySongsAndBallads, pp. 416-420, "The Laird o' Roslin's Daugher, or, Captain Wed
Greig/Duncan4 842, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (11 texts, 6 tunes)derburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
Buchan-ABookOfScottishBallads 48, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text)
Whiting-TraditionalBritishBallads 1, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H681, p. 490, "The Keeper of the Game" (1 text, 1 tune)
Graham-Joe-Holmes-SongsMusicTraditionsOfAnUlsterman 11, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune, short enough that it might be another riddle song but probably this)
Munnelly/Deasy-TheMountCallanGarland-Tom-Lenihan 44, "Mister Woodburren" (1 text, 1 tune)
Meredith/Covell/Brown-FolkSongsOfAustraliaVol2, pp. 152-153, "The Chicken and the Bone" (1 text, 1 tune)
Abrahams/Foss-AngloAmericanFolksongStyle, pp. 53-55, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #17}
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishSong, pp. 70-72, "Captain Wedderburn" (1 text)

Roud #36
Willy Clancy, "The Song of the the Riddles" (on Voice01)
Logan English, "Bold Robington's Courtship" (on LEnglish01)
Seamus Ennis, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (on FSB4)
Warde Ford, "Many Questions/Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (AFS 4196B, 1938; in AMMEM/Cowell) {Bronson's #26}
Pat MacNamara, "Mr Woodburren's Courtship" (on IRClare01)
Thomas Moran, "Captain Woodburn (Wedderburn's Courtship)" (on FSBBAL1)

Bodleian, Harding B 25(1143), "Lord Roslin's Daughter's Courtship," Stephenson (Gateshead), 1821-1850
cf. "I Gave My Love a Cherry"
The Devil and the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Six Dishes
It's I Must Have
NOTES [894 words]: Many versions of this song tell a rather confused story, with the following plot outline:
1. Captain Wedderburn sees the Laird o' Roslin's daughter and says, more or less, "Gotta have her"
2. He asks her to marry him; she says, "No; it's time for supper."
3. Immediately upon turning him down, she gets on his horse, goes to his lodging-house, and prepares to go to bed with him.
4. Pause: The lady says, "Before I do this, you have to answer my questions." She proceeds with the riddle game.
5. Captain Wedderburn answers the riddles, and they are married.
It will be evident that steps 4 and 5, as they are found in these texts, should precede step 3.
It's also worth noting that the lady's riddles seem to be older than the song itself (the riddles are found in "I Gave My Love a Cherry," which as "I Have a Yong Suster" dates to 1430 or earlier).
My suggestion was that steps 4 and 5 were a later addition to the song. Alternately, the song has become disordered. Don Duncan counter-proposes that the song is a rape ballad -- she is forced on the horse, and to the lodging-house, and the riddles are her last attempt at a defense. The happy ending is a later touch-up.
Fowler, p. 22, has another suggestion " the captain's plan for seduction is skillfully transformed by the girl's riddles into a marriage proposal. By the time we reach the song's last riddle, the 'priest unborn' is standing outside the door, and indeed for poor Captain Wedderburn the handwriting is already on the wall next to which the ingenious girl ha insisted she will not lie." The problem with this proposal (apart from the fact that I don't see any hint of it in the texts that I know!) is that there is no reason for the woman to do such a thing. She is a lord's daughter -- too good for a mere Captain.
None of this can be proved, and none of the suggestions is altogether convincing. But it is not unlikely that the song has changed its form somewhere along the line.
Because scholars so often confound this with "I Gave My Love a Cherry," one should see that song also for the complete list of songs sometimes associated with this ballad.
Another curiosity concerns the name "Wedderburn." This is an old Scottish name (from an early date, the author of the 1549 Complaynt of Scotland was listed as "Vedderburn" -- Complaynt, p. cx) -- but the OxfordCompanion, in its thousand large pages of biographies, lists only one Wedderburn, that being Alexander Wedderburn (1733-1805).
Cook, sketches him on pages 183-184: he "had a quick mind and was known as one of the most intelligent, formidable debaters in Parliament.... At the same time, he was one of the nastiest, most unscrupulous, most ambitious politicians of the time.... He grew up in Edinburgh and began his career in the Scottish law. Handling a case in court at age twenty-four, he became so abusive of the court president... that an apology was demanded by the entire bench. Instead, Wedderburn withdrew from the Scots bar and decamped for London.... Lord North decided politically that it would be better if Wedderburn... were inside the government rather than in opposition. For his part, Wedderburn was not inhibited by principles and could readily lend his debating talents to any side of any question. He was appointed solicitor general."
That was in 1771. In 1778, he became attorney-general. Eventually, tempted by Pitt, he joined the government as Lord Chancellor, finally retiring with an earldom in 1801. He wasn't very nice, either -- Weintraub, p. 35, tells of him questioning Benjamin Franklin for an hour and a half -- and keeping the 68-year-old Franklin standing the whole time. Weintraub, p. 126, also mentions that he nearly fought a duel over a simple remark about politics.
Unscrupulous enough for this song, obviously, but he was never a captain, and since "Captain Wedderburn" was circulating by 1783, he can't have been the original subject, right?
Well, sure, but there is one other thing. To what earldom did George III appoint him in 1801? The earldom of -- Rosslyn. (So, at least, the Oxford Companion, which in general I have found to be reliable; Weintraub, p. 345, says he became "1st Earl Loughborough in 1801").
There were other Wedderburns, of course; Complaynt, p. cxi, although it discounts the claim that a "Wedderburn" wrote the Complaynt (since the book is credited to "Vedderburn" by a secondary source), still has this to say about the Wedderburns:
"the family took their name from the lands and barony of Wedderburn in Berwickshire, and the Wedderburns of Blackness and of Gosford both figure in the Baronage of Scotland. A member of the family settled in Dundee in the reign of James III, where the Wedderburns had multiplied into a numerous connection in the middle of the sixteenth century" (although Dundee is much more distant from Roslin than either Blackness or Gosford, both of which, like Roslin, are near Edinburgh). Several Wedderburns were involved in the Reformation (Complaynt, pp. cxi-cxii). I don't see any particular connection of any of them with the sea, though.
A few versions of this ballad, perhaps under the influence of songs such as "Riddles Wisely Expounded [Child 1]," would have us believe that the Captain was the Devil in disguise (Buchan/Harris, p. 70), but this is clearly not original. Captain Wedderburn was a jerk, but he was a human jerk.- RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 5.2
File: C046

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