Clerk's Twa Sons o Owsenford, The [Child 72]

DESCRIPTION: The clerk's two sons go to (Paris/Blomsbury/Billsbury/Berwick) to study. They lay with the mayor's two daughters. The mayor condemns them to hang. The clerk comes to buy their freedom but the mayor refuses. He tells his wife they're at a higher school.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1828 (Bronson); 1829 (Chambers) [see Notes]
KEYWORDS: adultery trial punishment execution lie family children
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord))
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Child 72, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o Owsenford" (4 texts)
Bronson 72, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o Owsenford" (2 versions)
ChambersBallads, pp. 306-311, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o' Owsenford" (1 text)
Leach, pp. 237-238, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o Owsenford" (1 text)
GreigDuncan8 1931, "Do Weel My Sons" (1 fragment)
PBB 53, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o Owsenford" (1 text)
DBuchan 31, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o Owsenford" (1 text)
Whitelaw-Ballads, pp. 231-233, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o' Owsenford" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Robert Chambers, The Scottish Ballads (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1829 ("Digitized by Microsoft")), pp. 306-311, "The Clerk's Twa Sons o' Owsenford" (1 text)
Peter Buchan, Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland (Edinburgh: W & D Laing, and J Stevenson, 1828 ("Digitized by Microsoft") Vol. I, pp 281-288, "The Clerks of Oxenford" (1 text)

Roud #3902
NOTES: Bronson notes that both his tunes have texts mixed with "The Wife of Usher's Well." Since, however, both those texts appear to be composite, there is no proof that the two songs are related except that both involve sending children away for education (standard practice among the English nobility in the Middle Ages, even if "education" at the time meant training in weapons). - RBW
Chambers is the source for Whitelaw-Ballads.
Chambers (1829), footnote p. 306: "This singularly wild and beautiful old ballad is chiefly taken from the recitation of the editor's grandmother; (who learned it when a girl, nearly seventy years ago....); some additional stanzas and a few various readings, being adapted from a less perfect, and far less poetical copy, published in Mt Buchan's 'Ancient and Modern Ballads,' and from a fragment in the Border Minstrelsy, entitles 'The Wife of Usher's Well,' but which is evidently the same narrative."
Child 72A, writes Child, is from a manuscript of the text as sung by Chambers's grandmother, but "as sung [contrary to Chambers's statement], had a sequel of six stanzas, which is found separately [Child 79B] and seems to belong with another ballad, 'The Wife of Usher's Well.'" So we can take Chambers/Whitlaw-Ballads apart to see how it was constructed, how the Buchan and Scott texts are incorporated, and whether they belong to this ballad at all.
In the following analysis of Chambers, Kinloch A is Child 72A from Chambers' grandmother, Buchan is Child 72C, Scott is Child 79A, "The Wife of Usher's Well," and Kinloch B is Child 79B which is either from Chambers' grandmother (per Child) or an adaptation of Scott (per Chambers).
Chambers ll.1-8: The clerk's two sons are sent to Parish for higher education and, within a year, they are sleeping with the mayor's daughters. [Kinloch A ll.1-8 to Parish; Buchan ll.1-4,17-20 to Billsbury]
Chambers ll.9-12: The clerks learn, the ladies sing, and there's "mirth" in the ladies' chamber. [Buchan ll.21-24]
Chambers ll.13-20: The mayor hears that his daughters are sleeping with the clerk's sons and declares that he will hang them. [Kinloch A ll.9-16; Buchan ll.25-32.]
Chambers ll.21-26: Word comes [no messenger is mentioned: see Buchan ll.33-68] to the clerk that his sons are in prison; his wife instructs the clerk... [Kinloch A ll.17-22]
Chambers ll.27-30: ...to take gold and ransom at least one of the brothers. [Kinloch A ll.23-26; Buchan ll.77-80]
Chambers ll.31-32: The clerk sets out that night [viz., the nightingale is singing]... [Buchan ll.89-90]
Chambers ll.33-34: ...and arrives at Parish.
Chambers ll.35-38: The clerk rides around the prison and sees his sons at a window. [Buchan ll.93-96]
Ckambers ll.39-42: The clerk asks his sons whether they are being bound for thievery or some other offense. [Kinloch A ll.27-30]
Chambers ll.43-46: The sons say they are not being bound for thievery but for love. [Kinloch A ll.31-34; Buchan ll.101-104]
Chambers ll.47-50: The sons ask to be ransomed and the clerk says he will ransom them. [Buchan ll.105-108]
Chambers ll.51-54: The clerk meets the mayor and offers a ransom for his sons. [Kinloch A 35-38; Buchan ll.109-110, 115-116]
Chambers ll.55-56: or, the clerk asks whether his sons might be freed without ransom. [Kinloch A ll.39-40; Buchan ll.117-118 asks for Christ's sake]
Chambers ll.57-58: The mayor doesn't accept ransom. [Kinloch A ll.41-42; Buchan ll.119-120]
Chambers ll.59-60: The mayor won't free the clerk's sons without ransom. [Kinloch A ll.43-44]
Chambers ll.61-64: When the mayor says the clerk's sons will hang the next morning the mayor's daughters speak to the mayor. [Kinloch A ll.45-48; Buchan ll.121-124]
Chambers ll.65-66: The daughters cry. [Buchan ll.125-126]
Chambers ll.67-68: The daughters offer ransom. [Kinloch A ll.48-50; Buchan ll.127-128]
------------------ [Kinloch A ll.51-58: The mayor rejects the daughters' request and says the clerk's sons will hang the next morning.]
Chambers ll.69-98: The mayor whips his daughters and both he and the clerk would have them return to their bowers. Each son proposes marriage to a daughter and is accepted, while the mayor looks on. Unaffected [?], the mayor prepares to hang the clerk's sons, but has them remove their black hats so no one will know that clerks are being hanged. [Buchan ll. 131-158] [To execute a clerk was for long illegal because of the benefit of clergy - RBW]
------------------ [Kinloch A ll.59-62: The clerk's sons are hanged and the mayor tells the clerk to go home.]
Chambers ll.99-100: The clerks die in the morning and the mayor's daughters die at noon. [Buchan ll.159-160]
Chambers ll.101-102: The clerk goes home.
Chambers ll.103-118: The clerks wife, waiting for his return, asks the clerk about her sons. He says they are in a deeper place and higher school and won't return until Yule. She goes to bed, declaring she won't rise, eat or drink. [Kinloch A ll.63-78; this is the end of Kinloch A]
Chambers ll.119-122: At Yule (Christmas) the sons return wearing hats of bark. [Kinloch B ll.1-4; Scott 17-20, at Martinmas (28 Nov)]
Chambers ll.123-126: The bark of their hats is not earthly, but is from Paradise. [Scott ll.21-24]
Chambers ll.127-130: The clerk's wife would have fires lit and water brought for a feast since her sons are "well." [Kinloch B ll.5-8; Scott ll.25-28]
Chambers ll.131-134: The clerk's wife tells everyone to eat and drink because her sons have returned forever.
Chambers ll.135-146: The mother makes her sons' bed and covers them with her mantle. The cock crows and the older son tells the younger that they must leave. [Kinloch B ll.9-16; Scott ll.29-36]
Chambers ll.143-146: The older brother warns that, if they delay, the grave worms will complain and they will be missed. [Scott ll.41-44]
Chambers ll.147-154: The younger brother would stay a while, else their mother will go mad. They hang up their mother's mantle and, while it hangs, they'll remain covered. [Kinloch B ll.17-24; this is the end of Kinloch B]
Chambers's description -- "chiefly taken from the recitation of the editor's grandmother... some additional stanzas, and a few various readings, being adapted from a... copy, published in Mr Buchan's 'Ancient and Modern Ballads,' [Child 72C] and from a fragment in the Border Minstrelsy, entitled, 'The Wife of Usher's Well,; [Child 79A] but which is evidently the same narrative" [footnote, p. 306] is borne out by the analysis.
Chambers's assumption that Scott was "evidently the same narrative" was reasonable in light of Scott's own comment about his text: "a fragment never before published" and the disappearance of "The Wife of Usher's Well" in Scotland. However -- among our meager set of texts for "The Clerk's Twa Sons o' Owsenford" -- there is no text other than Scott derivatives that have the dead sons returning. Buchan ll.161-166, for example, has the clerk and his wife die and go to heaven with their sons and the mayor's daughters while the mayor goes to hell.
On the other hand, it's not entirely out of the question that there was a text that would justify Chambers's assumption. There are foreshadowings of such a return in some versions. In GreigDuncan8 their mother warns the sons - before they set out - to do well or they won't see her at Yule. Child 72B [Robertson] and 72C [Buchan] have the message that comes to the clerk and his wife include a fear that they will not see their sons at Yule. Finally, when the clerk returns home after his sons are hanged he says - Chambers, Kinloch A, and Child 72D [Motherwell] - that they won't return till Yule.
Finally, as a side note, only Buchan has the messenger sequence - a messenger is sought, found, instructed to run swim and jump the wall, follows those instructions, and delivers the message - so common in the tradition. Is this a Buchan addition? - BS
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File: C072

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