Bonny Barbara Allan [Child 84]

DESCRIPTION: A knight lies dying for love of Barbara Allan. His servant summons her, but she scorns him. As she returns home, she hears the death-bell, repents, and in turn dies. Buried close together, a briar grows from her grave, a rose from his; they entwine
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1740 (Tea-Table Miscellany; mentioned by Pepys in 1666)
KEYWORDS: love hardheartedness death flowers
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord,Hebr),England(All)) US(All) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont,West) Ireland
REFERENCES (104 citations):
Child 84, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #79}
Bronson 84, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (198 versions+2 in addenda)
BronsonSinging 84, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (20 versions: #2, #12, #14, #28, #30, #33, #38, #40, #44, #52, #60, #63, #78, #79, #83, #94, #137, #142, #156, #167)
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 195-200, "Barbara Allen" (3 texts plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #15, #188}
Thompson-Pioneer 2, "Barabara Allen" (1 text)
ThompsonNewYork, pp. 378-379, "Barbara Allen" (1 text plus an excerpt)
Percy/Wheatley III, pp. 128-130, "Barbara Allen's Cruelty"; pp. 133-135, "Sir John Grehme and Barbara Allen" (2 texts)
Belden, pp. 60-65, "Barbara Allen" (1 full text+3 fragments, 4 tunes, plus references to 11 other versions) {G=Bronson's #55, K=#159, M=#158, N=#181}
Randolph 21, "Barbara Allen" (11 texts plus 4 fragments, 6 tunes) {A=Bronson's #114, B=#135, E=#172, J=#163, M=#119, N=#162}
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 41-44, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 21M) {Bronson's #119}
AbrahamsRiddle, pp. 87-89, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Eddy 16, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (4 texts plus 2 fragments (the fragments might be any rose-and-briar song); 4 tunes) {Bronson's #191, #53, #22, #160}
Neely, pp. 137-139, "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
Grimes, p. 67, "Barb'ry Allen" (1 text)
Gardner/Chickering 8, "Barbara Allen" (1 text plus an excerpt and mention of 1 more; 1 tune) {Bronson's #187}
Flanders/Olney, pp. 197-200, "Mary Alling" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders-Ancient2, pp. 246-292, "Barbara Allen" (16 texts plus 9 fragments, 13 tunes -- some of the items rather oddly related, e.g. H1, H2, H3 are said to derive from the same informant but the melodies of H2 and H3 differ)
Linscott, pp. 163-164, "Barb'ry Ellen or Barbara Allen" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Davis-Ballads 24, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (28 texts plus 4 fragments, 12 tunes, all entitled "Barbara Allen"; 56? more versions mentioned in Appendix A) {Bronson's #89, #101, #102, #189, #169, #75, #182, [#s, unprinted], [#t, unprinted], #141, #171, #184}
Davis-More 25, pp. 182-198, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (7 texts plus a fragment, 8 tunes)
BrownII 27, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (9 texts plus 10 excerpts and citations of 12 more)
BrownSchinhanIV 27, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (3 texts plus 13 excerpts and mention of 1 more, 16 tunes)
Chappell-FSRA 13, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (1 short text)
ReedSmith, pp. 129-141, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (6 texts plus mention of 7 more, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #192, #73}
Joyner, pp. 21-22, "Bobree Allin"; pp.45-46, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Morris, #161, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (4 texts, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #66, #68, #132, #140}
Sulzer, p. 16, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hudson 15, pp. 95-107, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (6 texts plus 7 excerpts and mention of 3 more)
HudsonTunes 14, "Barb'ra Allen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #109}; 15, "Barbara Allen" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #100}
Moore-Southwest 24, "Barbara Allan" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-1ed, pp. 49-53, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #67, "Sweet William")
Owens-2ed, pp. 23-26, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Hubbard, #9, "Barbara Allen" (3 texts, 1 tune)
Fuson, pp. 47-48, "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
Cambiaire, pp. 66-68, "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
MHenry-Appalachians, p. 248, "Barbara Ellen" (1 fragment)
Boswell/Wolfe 5, pp. 11-13, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rosenbaum, p. 72, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 83-96, collectively titled "Bonny Barbara Allen"; individual versions are "The Ballet of Barbara Allan," "Barbry Ellen," "Barbara Allen," (no title), "Barbare Allen," (no title), "Barbara Ellen," "Barbara Ellen," "Barbarie Allen" (9 texts; 5 tunes on pp. 386-388) {Bronson's #183, #107, #180, #168, #118}
Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 59-60, (no title; the song uses the name "Bob-ree Allin") (1 text)
Bronner-Eskin1 2, "Barbara Alling" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brewster 15, "Barbara Allen" (12 texts plus a fragment and mention of 1 more, 1 tune) {Bronson's #150}
Stout 4, pp. 8-10, "Barbary Allen" (1 text plus a fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #196, the tune being a version of "For He's a Jolly GOod Fellow"}
Creighton/Senior, pp. 49-58, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (6 texts plus 1 fragment, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #85, #36, #37, #38}
Creighton-Maritime, pp. 13-14, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greenleaf/Mansfield 12, "Barbree Ellen" (1 text)
Peacock, pp. 649-661, "Barbara Allen" (4 texts, 6 tunes)
Mackenzie 9, "Barbara Allan" (1 text); "Barbara Ellan" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
Fowke-Ontario 22, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach, pp. 277-280, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (3 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 115-116, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (1 text)
Wyman-Brockway I, p. 1, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #151}
Carey-MarylandFolkLegends, pp. 97-98, "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 88, "Barbara Allen" (3 texts, 1 tune)
OBB 158, "Barbara Allen's Cruelty" (1 text)
Warner 40, "Barbara Allen"; 187, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts, 2 tunes; the first tune is in 5/4 and seems to be the only American instance of this metre, commonly found in British tunes in Bronson's "A" group)
PBB 59, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (1 text)
McNeil-SFB1, pp. 102-105, "Barb'ry Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Whitelaw-Song, p. 412, "Barbara Allan" (1 text)
SharpAp 24 "Barbara Allen" (7 texts plus 6 fragments, 16 tunes){Bronson's #88, #116, #136, #76, #176, #152, #178, #184, #106, #121, #110, #48, #49, #78, #111, #137}
Sharp-100E 7, "Barbara Ellen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Wells, pp. 113-114, "Barbry Ellen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Niles 36, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 19, "Barbara Ellen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #49}
Sandburg, p. 57, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #35}
Scott-BoA, pp. 7-8, "Bawbee Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Copper-SoBreeze, pp. 278-279, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 89, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune, probably composite as no source it listed)
Ritchie-SingFam, pp. 169-171," [Barbry Ellen]" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #142}
Ritchie-Southern, p. 73, "Barbry Ellen" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #142}
Greig #165, p. 1, "Barbara Allan"; Greig #166, p. 1, "Bawbie Allan"; Greig #173, p. 2, "Barbara Allan" (3 texts plus 1 fragment)
GreigDuncan6 1193, "Barbara Allan" (7 texts, 5 tunes) {a=Bronson's #43, b=#127, c=#128, d=#44, e=#42}
Ord, pp. 476-477, "Barbara Allan" (1 text)
Williams-Thames, pp. 204-207, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 388; Wiltshire-WSRO Ox 205); Wiltshire-WSRO Gl 155, "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
Reeves-Circle 5, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts)
Kidson-Tunes, pp. 36-40, "Barbara Allen" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
OShaughnessy-Yellowbelly1 3, "Barbara Helen" (1 text, 1 tune)
RoudBishop #40, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Musick-Larkin 6, "Barbry Allen" (1 text)
Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 820-822, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
TBB 12, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (1 text)
SHenry H236, pp. 375-376, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Munnelly/Deasy-Lenihan 9, "Barb'ry Ellen" (1 text, 1 tune)
OCroinin-Cronin 30, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts, 1 tune)
MacSeegTrav 11, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Gilbert, pp. 25-26, "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
HarvClass-EP1, pp. 68-69, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (1 text)
Abrahams/Foss, p. 143, "(Barbara Allen)" (1 tune, partial text)
LPound-ABS, 3, pp. 7-9, "Barbery Allen"; p. 10, "Barbara Allen" (2 texts)
JHCox 16, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (9 texts plus mention of 3 more; 2 tunes) {Bronson's #138, #91}
Newell, #19, "Barbara Allen" (notes only)
Darling-NAS, pp. 50-54, "Barbara Allen"; "Barbro Allen" (2 texts)
Morgan-Medieval, pp. 30-33, "Bonny Barbara Allen" (2 texts)
PSeeger-AFB, p. 79, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside, p. 104, "Barbara Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 179 "Barbara Allen" (1 text)
BBI, ZN1459, "In Scarlet Town where I was bound"
ADDITIONAL: James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume III, #221, p. 230, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #40}
John Ashton, _A Century of Ballads_, Elliot Stock, London, 1887; reprinted 1968 by Singing Tree Press, pp. 173-175, "Barbara Allen's Cruelty" (1 text)
Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), pp. 212-213, "(Barbara Allen)" (1 text)
Leslie Shepard, _The Broadside Ballad_, Legacy Books, 1962, 1978, p. 148, "The True Ballad of Barbara Allen's Cruelty" (reproduction of a broadside page)
Ed Cray, "''Barbara Allen': Cheap Print and Reprint" article published 1967 in _Folklore Internation: Essays in Traditional Literature, Belief and Custom in Honor of Wayland Hand_; republished on pp. 159-168 of Norm Cohen, editor, _All This for a Song_, Southern Folklife Collection, 2009
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #368, "Bonny Barbara Allan" (1 text)

Roud #54
Bob Atcher, "Barbara Allen [pts. 1 & 2]" (Columbia 20481, c. 1948; rec. 1947)
Alex Barr, "Barbara Allen" (AFS 4228 A/4228 B, 1939; in AMMEM/Cowell)
Andy Cash, "Barbary Ellen" (on IRTravellers01)
James B. Cornett, "Barbara Allen" (on MMOK, MMOKCD)
Elizabeth Cronin, "Barbara Allen" (on IRECronin01) {Bronson's #30?}
Vernon Dalhart, "Barbara Allen" Brunswick 117/Vocalion 5140, 1927; Supertone S-2002, 1930 {Bronson's #131}) (Okeh 45090 [as Tobe Little], 1927) (Columbia 15126-D [as Al Craver], 1927) (Grey Gull 4239 [as Jeff Calhoun], 1928) (Champion 15246/Black Patti 8028, 1927; Supertone 9228, 1928) (Challenge 268, 1927)
Rosie Day, "Barbara Ellen" (on JThomas01)
Patsy Flynn, "Barbara Allen" (on IRHardySons)
Newton Gaines, "Barbara Allen" (Victor V-40253 [as Jim New?], 1930) {cf. Bronson's #71}
Molly Galbraith, "Barbara Allen" (on Saskatch01)
G. Marston Haddock, "Barbara Allen" (Musicraft 262, c. 1944)
Seena Helms, "Barbara Allen" (on HandMeDown2)
(Queen) Hule Hines, "Barbara Allen" (AFS 2714 B2, 1939)
Rebecca King Jones, "Barbara Allen" [excerpt] (on USWarnerColl01)
Bradley Kincaid, "Barbara Allen" (Supertone 9211, 1928); (Melotone 12349/Conqueror 7982, 1932; Vocalion 02685, 1934; rec. 1930)
Sam Larner, "Barbara Allen" (on SLarner01)
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, "Barbara Allen" (on ENMacCollSeeger02)
Sarah Makem, "Barbara Allen" (on Voice17)
Jessie Murray, Fred Jordan, Charlie Wills, Ma[r]y Bennell, Thomas Moran, Phil Tanner [composite] "Barbara Allen" (on FSB4, FSBBAL1)
William Nash, "Barbary Ellen" (on PeacockCDROM)
New Lost City Ramblers, "Barbara Allen" (on NLCR10)
Bill Nicholson w. Zane Shrader, "Barbara Allen" (AFS; on LC14) {Bronson's #70}
Mose "Clear Rock" Platt, "Barbara Allen" (AFS 201 A, 1933; on LC54)
Granny Porter w. Wade Ward, "Barbry Allen" (on Persis1)
Mr. Rew, "Barbara Allen" (on FieldTrip1)
Jean Ritchie, "Barbry Ellen" (on JRitchie01) {cf. Bronson's #142}
Pete Seeger, "Barbara Allen" (on PeteSeeger16) (on PeteSeeger40)
Lucy Stewart, "Barbary Allen" (on LStewart1)
Art Thieme, "The Cowboys' Barbara Allen" (on Thieme01) (on Thieme06 [as "Cowboy's Barbara Allen"])
The Vagabonds, "Barbara Allen" (Bluebird B-5300/Montgomery Ward M-4442, 1934; rec. 1933)

Bodleian, Harding B 3(49), "Barbara Allen's Cruelty" or "The Young Man's Tragedy," J. Davenport (London), 1800-1802; also Douce Ballads 3(3a), "Barbara Allen's Cruelty" or "The Young Man's Tragedy"; Harding B 25(115), Harding B 11(730), Johnson Ballads 266, Firth c.21(22), Firth c.21(23), Harding B 16(14a), 2806 c.17(19), Harding B 11(1011), Firth c.21(21), Harding B 11(729), "Barbara Allen"; Harding B 11(2121), "The Life, Death, and Love, of Barbara Allen"
Murray, Mu23-y1:138, "Barbara Allen" and "Barbara Allen the Cruel," Poet's Box (St. Andrew's), 19C [two distinct texts, with critical introduction]

cf. "The Shantyman's Life (I)" (tune)
cf. "Brother Green" (tune)
cf. "Leslie Allen" (tune)
cf. "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" (floating verses)
cf. "Make Me a Garment" (lyrics)
Barbara Ellen
Barbary Allen
NOTES: Ed Cray makes the interesting note that, in a study he did with Charles Seeger, he found four basic versions of the text of this song (which can be initially sorted by their first lines), and Seeger found four basic tune families. But the text groupings and tune groupings do not overlap.
Bronson, too, finds four tune families -- doing the work twice, in fact, once based on what was surely the first computerized comparison of ballad tunes -- see The Ballad as Song, pp. 234-236, where he describes "one class is mainly English, consistently major and heptatonic, and divided about equally between authentic and plagal ranges.... Another class is mainly Scottish, with a darker modal cast, from Dorian to AEolian... It favors common time.... A third class, which includes many American variants, is habitually in that pentatoic scale which lacks the fourth and seventh degrees.... Its members are mostly plagal tunes, frequently in 3/4 or 3/2 time.... The first class is composed almost entirely of American variants of a tune that goes back at least to the seventeenth century.... Its usual form nowadays is only the second half of the ancient double-strain tune; and the final makes a rather dubious tonic without the missing half to rationalize it.
In The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, Bronson offers Group A of 39 tunes, B of 11, C of 87, and D of 54, plus a handful of odds and ends. Not all of Bronson's texts can be proved to be Barbara Allen (e.g. #1 could come from several ballads), but spot checks of Bronson seem to support at least partly Cray's thesis. While many versions could not be identified based solely on first lines, I found the following:
Of the 39 texts in Bronson's "A" group, 12 have the opening "In Scarlet Town (Reading Town, London Town, Scotland) where I was born," 7 start with "All in the merry month of May (June)," and 3 open with "So early, early in the Spring."
Of the texts in the "B" group, 4 begin "It was about the Martinmas time," two are "Merry month of May," and one is "Scarlet Town."
In the huge "C" group, 34 versions were "Merry month," 20 were "Scarlet Town," 2 were "Martinmas," and 4 were "So early."
In the "D" group, 27 were "Merry Month," 9 were "Scarlet Town," and 2 were "So early."
Based on this, we might speculate that:
1. The original text was "All in the merry month of May" (70 instances) and that the tune was, if anything, Bronson's "C" group. This group is described as pentatonic, though the timing varies.
2. "Scarlet Town" goes with the "A" group, and might be next in age, since the first line is second to "Merry month" in popularity (42 instances). Bronson considers this tune to be primarily English, and perhaps somewhat related to the "C" tune.
3. "Martinmas" is originally (and still primarily) associated with the "B" group. Bronson lists this group as primarily Scottish.
4. "So Early," might seem, by elimination, to go with the "D" group. But this group is entirely American, and the tune (according to Bronson) is related to "Boyne Water," so this seems unlikely. Perhaps "D" has no special text associated with it.
But this is all very tentative (and based on only a few minutes' work on my part); if studies of classical texts teach us anything, it's that variants are to be weighed and not counted!
Phillips Barry speculates that this is based on the lives of Barbara Villiers and King Charles II. This is characteristic of Barry: Clever but completely unconvincing. - RBW
The name "Barbara," cognate with "barbarian," means "foreigner" [technically, someone who doesn't speak Greek - RBW]; Martin Carthy has conjectured that the original story involved a Gypsy or North African woman, and that racial prejudice explains why William slights her, and why she is so cold to him as a result. - PJS
If we're going for the way-far-out, Underwood, pp. 343-344, has a tale which sounds amazingly like this one: Edmund Graeme (a name not far from that sometimes used for Barbara's swain) fell in love with an unnamed girl. They were engaged, but she betrayed his trust. He died for love. She repented within moments of his death. She asked to be buried (alive, in Underwood's version) with him. His story is that her ghost haunts the site.
Of course, all this would be much better for documentation. And dates; it might well be more recent than Barbara's story.
There is an element that is certainly older, though, because it occurs in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Daniel. The earliest ("Old Greek," or LXX) translation of Daniel has a paraphrase of chapter 5 of the Hebrew book, which opens with a summary. King "Baltasar" (Belshazzar) is having a feast, and "in high spirits from the wine and boasting I his cups, praises all the cast and carved gods of the nations, but did not praise the Most High God." How similar to Our Hero drinking "a toast to the ladies all" but omitting Barbara Allen. In this case, there cannot be literary influence -- the Old Greek rendering was probably made in the first century B.C.E., but was quickly set aside for a version closer to the Hebrew; only two Greek copies of this version survive, plus one in Syriac, and one of those was only discovered in Egypt in the twentieth century -- and it badly damaged. It cannot be the source, but it shows how easily an idea like this can re-emerge!
There is one element in the song which does have a strong foreign element: The rose-and-briar ending. This, of course, is not unique to this song, though it's most strongly associated with Barbara and her love. But the rose-and-briar-and-lover's-knot theme has been found as far away as Hungary (Romania?); Karpeles, p. 228, prints a Transylvanian version, "Kadar Kata," "Katie Kadar," with a loose English translation. In that version, the mother has drowned the girl, and the boy drowns himself where he finds her ghost. In that version, he is the rose, she the briar -- and the mother tears them out of the ground. The rose then curses his mother. (Could this be the origin of some sort of legend of the undead?)
The story also has roots in Ireland. For a version of the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows, see Colum, pp. 73-83; also the much shorter summary in Ellis, pp. 80-81. Deirdre, it was foretold at her birth, would grow up to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland, but also to cause great grief to the one who married her and to his nation. Although Conor cared for the child, promising to wed her himself (and hence prevent any sorrow for anyone who mattered), she was not interested in an old man (more to the point, perhaps, she may have felt the normal aversion children feel for those they grow up with; for background, see the notes to "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie [Child 14]"). She instead fell in love with Naisi, and though strenuous efforts were made to keep them apart, he was killed and she killed herself. They slept side by side, and a tree grew from each, and the trees intertwined.
The intertwining of branches is also found in the romance of Tristan and Iseult; there, the intertwining plants are a rose and a grapevine. This motif occurs in Eilhart von Oberge's Tristrant, which is believed to date from the last third of the twelfth century (Lupack, pp. 376-378). The Icelandic text "Tristrams Kvaethi," which has ballad characteristics and may well be from before 1500, has two trees grow from their graves (Lupack, p. 381; this is significant, given the scarcity of trees in Iceland)
The earliest version of the idea known to me is the story of Baucis and Philemon, found in Book VIII of Ovid's Metamphoses. Baucis and Philemon are visited by Jupiter and Mercury, and are found to be the only hospitable people in Phrygia. They are rewarded in life, and after death they are turned into two trees which intertwine.
Cambiaire claims there is a Spanish romance parallel to "Barbara Allen." Unfortunately he does not name it. Still, it seems clear that the rose-and-briar-intertwining theme is widespread at least across Europe. Cultural cross-fertilization, independent invention, or does this go back all the way to Indo-European? Perhaps there is a dissertation in there somewhere. - RBW
Broadside Murray Mu23-y1:138, "Barbara Allan the Cruel," ends as a parody in which Barbara "gets another spark" after Johnny dies and, when she eventually dies," she is buried beside him "For she wished to be his bride in death, Though in life she couldn't abide 'un."
Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 388 adds two verses to the Williams-Thames text on pp. 204-205: the rose and briar spring from the bodies and tie in a true lover's knot at the chancel top. - BS
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