King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth [Child 273]

DESCRIPTION: The King goes out a-riding and meets the Tanner. The Tanner gives abrupt answers to the King's questions. The King tries to exchange horses; again the Tanner wants no part of the deal. Finally the King gives the Tanner a gift/pension
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1765 (Percy) (entered in the Stationer's Register in 1589)
KEYWORDS: royalty contest disguise trick gift money horse
1154-1189 - Reign of King Henry II
1399-1413 - Reign of King Henry IV
1461-1470 AND 1471-1483 - Reign of King Edward IV
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord)) Ireland Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (14 citations):
Child 273, "King Edward IV and a Tanner of Tamworth" (4 texts -- though three of them are appendices)
Bronson 273, "King Edward IV and a Tanner of Tamworth" (3 versions)
BronsonSinging 273, "King Edward IV and a Tanner of Tamworth" (1 version: #1)
Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 92-100, "King Edward IV. And Tanner of Tamworth"; III, pp. 178-188, "The King and Miller of Mansfield" (2 texts)
Leach, pp. 649-653, "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" (1 text)
PBB 73, "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" (1 text)
BBI, ZN1472, "In summer time when leaves grow green"
cf. Dixon-Peasantry, Ballad #12, pp. 109-112,243, "King James I and the Tinkler" (1 text)
cf. Bell-Combined, pp. 292-295, "King James I. and the Tinkler" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Geordie Robertson, The King and the Tinker . School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1954.091, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, accessed 8 September 2012.
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, pp. 437-438, "The King and the Tanner" (1 summarized text)
RELATED Romances --
King Edward and the Hermit:
George Shuffelton, editor, _Codex Ashmole 61: A Compilation of Popular Middle English Verse_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2008, pp. 401-413, "King Edward and the Hermit" (1 text, of 521 lines, incomplete where the manuscript breaks off)

Roud #248
Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 1153B[some lines illegible], "King James and the Tinker ("And now to be brief, let's pass over the rest ), C. Sheppard (London), 1796; also Douce Ballads 3(136a)[almost entirely illegible], Douce Ballads 3(126b), "King James and the Tinker"
NOTES: Child's intro to 273 breaks this out with a footnote of sources. Bronson 273.1, at least, is this. Child seems not to have wanted to create a set of "the king meets x" like "Robin Hood meets x." Maidment's version is slightly different but clearly the same song (James Maidment, Scotish Ballads and Songs (Edinburgh,1859 ("Digitized by Google")) pp.92-97, "The King and the Tinkler" (1 text)).
This song was certainly sung [see the Geordie Robertson version]. At least, in Robert Anderson's "The Clay Daubin" are the lines "Cried Davie, 'Shek hains, and nae mair on't/I's sing ye a bit of a sang'/He lilted 'The King and the Tinker,'/And Wally struck up 'Robin Hood,'/Dick Mingins tried 'Hooly and Fairly,'/And Martha 'The Babe o' the Wood;'" (Sidney Gilfin, editor, The Songs and Ballads of Cumberland (London,1866 ("Digitized by Google"). 359), and "The Farmer's Son" is set to "King James and the Tinker" (The Myrtle and the Vine (London,1803 ("Digitized by Google") Vol. II, pp. 110-111). Joyce even has something that might be considered a parody, beginning "I bridled my nag and away I did ride/Till I came to an alehouse hard by a town side,/There I saw three gentlemen throwing at dice/And they took me to be some noble knight" (PW Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (Dublin, 1909 ("Digitized by MIcrosoft") #60, pp. 32-33, "I Bridled My Nag" (1 text, 1 tune)). - BS
The king mentioned in this ballad varies. Child's primary text simply calls the king "Edward." Of the three texts in the appendices, the first gives no name. The second goes under the title "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth," but again the King is simply called "Edward." The third text (from the Percy folio, but not the version printed in the Reliques) is "King Henry II and the Miller of Mansefield," but again no name is given in the text itself. The records of 1564 also mention a printing of "The story of Kynge Henry IIIJth and the Tanner of Tamowthe." The Dixon/Bell version speaks of "King Jamie."
Chambers, p. 153, notes that there is a large class of "King and Subject narratives," most of which Child ignores. Chambers adds that this particular piece is "a late and much abridged version of The King and the Barker."
The theme has been generally titled "The King and the Subject," and goes back to medieval times -- there are versions in Richard Calle's manuscript (Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.4.35), written before 1500; in the manuscript of "Robin Hood and the Monk" (Cambridge University Library MS. Ff.5.48), also from before 1500; and others. I strongly suspect it began as a romance, not a ballad.
I also suspect that the various versions given by Child and others are not a single entity -- they are not derived from a single original. Rather, the plot circulated (perhaps in a romance) and everyone applied it to particular circumstances and kings. Technically, this probably means that we should split the versions -- except that that is really more work than it is worth.
Out of all this, can we determine the original king? Henry II seems to be the earliest cited, and James (number uncertain but perhaps as late as James VI and I) the last.
Of the most common candidates, Henry II was engaged in constant wars with France. Henry IV was an usurper who had to deal with periodic rebellions. And Edward IV lived during the Wars of the Roses. None of them had the petty cash to give the sorts of rewards mentioned here. Henry IV, in particular, had no money at all.
What I suspect to be the earliest mention of the song lists no name at all. According to Holt, p. 140, one Robert Langham heard an entertainment in July 1575 when Queen Elizabeth visited the Earl of Leicester's palace of Kenilworth; among the pieces perforrned was "The King and the Tanner." We can't prove that that is this song, but it seems likely.
No matter which king we choose, there is no historical record of an event such as this. There is at least some verisimilitude in assigning the piece to Edward IV.
Edward was a hunter (most English kings were), but could be easily distracted by those he came across. The story is that he met his wife Elizabeth Woodville this way; she had been left a landless widow by the Wars of the Roses, and she deliberately stationed herself along his route to beg him for help (Lofts, p. 81).
Sadly for the legend, Ross, pp. 85-86, declares that "No one knows when Edward first met and became enamored of Elizabeth [Woodville or Wydeville, his future Queen]." The sources are assembled by Dockray, pp. 40-49, and most have little to say except that the two were secretly married, with almost no witnesses except her family, in May 1464. Kendall, p. 60, suspects that he had first seen her in passing in 1461 -- almost as if he had met his wife in the way described in this ballad. Edward actually kept the marriage secret for four months, possibly because he knew it was so far beneath his dignity to marry a woman who was English rather than a foreign princess, a widow, a mother, a Lancastrian (her former husband had died fighting against Edward in 1461), several years older than her husband, and the daughter of a mere knight (Lander, pp. 104-105; Dockray, pp. 40-41, who notes that all these things made her an "unsuitable" consort).
Ross, p. 87, remarks that "Edward's motives for this remarkable misalliance remain a matter for awestruck speculation," and notes that it "ultimately contributed largely to the downfall of the Yorkist dynasty." For all the speculation about the reasons, it is clear that, ultimately, it was a love match (or, at least, a lust match). Edward may have thought he had reasons other than physical, but there seems little doubt that it caused his contemporaries to think him impulsive (in the time of Richard III, there would be charges that he had been bewitched).
In addition, Edward was a friendly, cheerful man who could easily be involved in games such as this. He was also a forgiving man, less likely than many kings to punish someone he met merely for being surly. Ross, p. 52, refers to his "natural generosity" -- even in his treatment of known traitors. Ross, p. 10, also quotes Dominic Mancini regarding his character: "Edward was of a gentle nature and cheerful aspect." Ross, p. 122, notes how Edward even ignored evidence of treason; when the Earl of Warwick began conspiring against him, "His easy-going nature, persistent optimism, and confidence in his personal harm prevented him from taking a hard and suspicious line."
Edward was also the sort of figure about whom legends easily arose. Even by Plantagenet standards, he was unusually handsome; Ross, p. 10, tells us that "His good looks were universally acclaimed by his contemporaries.... Even his sharpest contemporary critic, Philippe de Commynes, who met him twice, repeatedly praises his fine appearance: 'He was a very handsome prince, and tall... I do not remember ever having seem a more handsome prince.'"
On the other hand, if we assume this is truly about Edward IV, we probably have to abandon Tamworth as a setting. Ross, p. 271, notes that "The more distant parts of his realm saw him but rarely," and adds that his visits to the north of England were "infrequent." He was there before he became King, but after that, it was mostly in times of crisis -- at the Battle of Towton, or during the Earl of Warwick's rebellion. He went as far north as Nottingham in 1475 and again in 1476, and visited Pontrefract and York in 1478, but Tamworth, near modern Birmingham, seems to have been too far west to earn a visit in times of peace. - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.1
File: C273

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 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.