Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bednall Green, The [Laws N27]
DESCRIPTION: Pretty Betsy, the blind beggar's daughter, seeks a husband. Many court her for her looks, but when she reveals that her father is a beggar, all but one change their minds. This one is surprised when her father proves able to give a large dowry
EARLIEST DATE: 1624
KEYWORDS: begging courting marriage dowry
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South),Scotland(Aber)) US(MA,MW,NE,SE) Canada(Newf) Ireland
REFERENCES (19 citations):
Laws N27, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bednall Green"
Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 171-185, "The Beggar's Daughter of Bednall-Green" (1 text plus variant stanzas from the folio manuscript)
Dixon-Peasantry, Ballad #3, pp. 60-71, "The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green" (1 text)
Bell-Combined, pp. 271-279, "The Blind Beggar of Bednall Green" (1 text)
Williams-Thames, pp. 255-256, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 434)
RoudBishop #60, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green" (1 text, 1 tune)
GreigDuncan5 1061, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Eddy 26, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bednall Green" (1 text)
Flanders/Olney, pp. 107-109, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greenleaf/Mansfield 32, "The Blind Beggar" (1 text)
Karpeles-Newfoundland 57, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green" (1 text, 4 tunes)
SharpAp 46, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach, pp. 694-695, "The Blind Beggar of Bednall (Bethnal) Green" (1 text)
OBB 163, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bednall-Green" (1 text)
FSCatskills 32, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnell Green" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 16-17, "The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green" (1 tune, partial text)
McBride 11, "The Blind Beggar's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune)
BBI, ZN1515, "It was a blind begger that long lost his sight"
DT, BLINDBEG* SIMONTFD
Paddy Reilly, "The Blind Beggar" (on IRTravellers01)
Bodleian, Harding B 3(62), "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green," W. and C. Dicey (London), 1736-1763; also Harding B 3(61), Harding B 3(63), Harding B 28(269), "The Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal-Green"; Harding B 11(322), Firth c.21(11), Harding B 11(1438), Johnson Ballads 1393, Firth c.21(13), Harding B 11(323), Harding B 11(321), Harding B 25(214)[parts illegible], "[The] Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnal Green"; Harding B 25(212), "The Blind Beggar"; Douce Ballads 3(4b), "The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green"; Vet. A3 b.43(3)[parts faded to illegibility], Harding B 5(18), "The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green"; Firth c.21(12), "Blind Beggar's Daughter of Bethnall Green"
cf. "Mary Ambree" (tune)
Mary Ambree (File: OBB165)
Of a stout Cripple that kept the high way/..Stout Cripple of Cornwall (BBI ZN2079)
The devil has left his puritanical dress/..Licentiousness of the Times (BBI ZN777)
NOTES: This is "The Child Ballad that Wasn't." Printed in Child's preliminary edition, he later withdrew the piece on the grounds that it was not popular (even though it has been found regularly in tradition).
Most traditional versions are short, but the earliest text, from Percy, is extremely long (67 four-line stanzas!). In the second part of this version it appears that the blind beggar is none other than Simon de Montfort, who nearly overthrew England's King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272).
When King John died in 1216, his son Henry was only seven years old. Henry, naturally, never amounted to much. By 1254, Parliament was rebelling against him. In 1258 the nobles drafted the "Provisions of Oxford," which put the king under the control of a group of barons. Even stronger measures were passed in 1259, leaving Henry in a position he considered intolerable.
Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and Henry's brother-in-law, was a leader of the rebels. Forced into exile in 1261, he returned to England in 1263 to start an organized rebellion. In 1264 his armies met those of the king. De Montfort won a smashing victory, despite inferior numbers, at the battle of Lewes. (The latter, incidentally, commemorated in The Song of Lewes, one of the "Harley Lyrics" found in British Museum Harley 2253; it's a bit surprising that Child did not include this in his canon, since it looks as popular as several of his other political pieces.)
Simon was now in control of England, and tried to strengthen his grip by a series of liberal reforms. But Henry's party had one great asset: the crown prince Edward (later
Edward I). Edward gathered another army, and defeated and killed Simon at Evesham in 1265.
The author of this ballad apparently believed that, instead of being killed, de Montfort went into hiding as a beggar (but also reports that Simon lost his eyes fighting in France).
The title "The Blind Beggar of Bednall Green" was used for a play by Henry Chettle and J. Day. This presumably was written by 1607, the best guess for the year Chettle died, according to p. 104 of Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, Editors, British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary, H. W. Wilson, 1952 (I use the fourth printing of 1965). The play was apparently published in 1659, and a modern edition by W. Bang came out in 1902, according to Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 105.
According to Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, 2002, p. 26, a pub named "The Blind Beggar," named for this song, long stood on London's Whitechapel Road. - RBW
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