On Patrick's Day in the Morning
DESCRIPTION: The singer, 20, meets a spinster, 70. He says he's wealthy. She proposes, having money of her own. On the way to a dentist to fix her only tooth they stop for a drink, jump into the river, "and I lost her forever, On Patrick's day in the morning"
EARLIEST DATE: 1970 (Morton-Ulster)
KEYWORDS: courting marriage drink humorous oldmaid youth age river
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Morton-Ulster 5, "On Patrick's Day in the Morning" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: May-December romances in which the man is the older (and usually incapable of performance) are common in folklore; see, e.g., the various cross-references under "Maids When You're Young Never Wed an Old Man". Old maid songs are also common. There aren't many where the old woman finds a young man, though.
Of course, he may have just been kidding her along. Or -- perhaps more likely -- going for her money. This phenomenon is relatively well-attested; an English example comes from the reign of Edward IV: "Sir John Woodville [the brother of Edward's wife Elizabeth Woodville] was given a marriage that even in that opportunistic age created a scandal: still in his teens, he wedded the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, a lady venerable enough to be his grandmother, but very rich" (Kendall, p. 61).
Ross-Edward, pp. 92-93, explains that this took place soon after King Edward married Elizabeth Woodville (itself a marriage which shocked Europe, since her social status was so far below his -- and he had married her secretly). She came from a rather poor family, and the best way to increase their wealth was aristocratic marriages. Most of Elizabeth's brothers and sisters were married to eligible heirs. The case of John Woodville was the most extreme probably because he was the first of the men to be wed -- he married Katherine Neville only about half a year after Elizabeth's marriage to Edward IV was announced. It would seem Duchess Katherine was the first heiress available.
The details of this marriage are a little vague; Jenkins, p. 31, says that Woodville was twenty and the Dowager Duchess between seventy and eighty. Wilkinson, p. 291 says that the groom was twenty and calls the bride "the octogenarisn duchess of Norfollk." Ross-Wars, p. 60, says that she was "well into her sixties" and was "compelled to accept in matrimony one of the queen's brothers, John Woodville, who was still in his teens."
It appears the confusion arises in the original source, a Latin miscellany sometimes attributed to William Worcester and known as the Annales Rerum Anglicarum. Dockray, p. 48, translates the passage as follows: "In the month of January  Catherine, Duchess of Norfolk, a slip of a girl of about eighty years old, was married to John Woodville, the queen's brother, aged twenty years; a diabolical marriage." The Annales, however, is very loose with numbers; it seems clear that the author did not know the actual age of Katherine Neville. All that can be said with certainty is that her father, Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, died in 1425, and that she was the daughter of his second wife Joan Beaufort; it is believed that her oldest brother Richard, Earl of Salisbury, was born around 1400, and her younger sister Cecily Neville was born 1415 (Wagner, pp. 172, 180). Thus she was probably born between 1400 and 1410, meaning she was somewhere between 54 and 65.
Still, there is no doubt that she was too old to bear children; Hicks, p. 129, says that Katherine Neville's first husband had died in 1432, more than thirty years before she married John Woodville; even their son and heir was dead by then. She had apparently been married twice since. Hence there can be little doubt that John Woodville was in it for the money. According to Jenkins, p. 53, Woodville eventually was executed for his behavior (by the Earl of Warwick, the nephew of the Dowager Duchess).
Thus, ironically, the Dowager Duchess outlived her strapping young husband. By more than half a decade, in fact; in the late 1470s, she was negotiating to marry her granddaughter Anne Mowbray (the heir to the Norfolk dukedom) to Richard of York, the younger son of Edward IV (Jenkins, p. 113). Which implies that the Dowager Duchess was still of sound mind. (Which makes me wonder if she might not have been a little younger than everyone thinks -- indeed, Dockray, p. 42, says only that she was "at least 65"; Ross-Edward, p. 93, also says that she was "at least sixty-five." Castor, p. 197, says that she was in her late sixties and had already been three times married while he was just out of his teens. There can be no question, however, that she was old enough to be her husband's grandmother.)
There may have been an instance of this in the Roman Empire, too, because a legal memorandum by the Emperor Diocletian in 295 C.E. condemned men marrying their grandmothers (Potter, pp. 83-84).
For additional cases of a younger man being involved with an older woman, see the examples cited in "A-Growing (He's Young But He's Daily A-Growing)" [Laws O35]. In that song, however, the age gap is much smaller than in this. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Castor: Helen Castor, Blood & Roses: The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century, Faber & Faber, 2004
- Dockray: Keith Dockray, Edward IV: A Source Book, Sutton, 1999
- Hicks: Michael Hicks, Edward V: The Prince in the Tower, Tempus, 2003
- Jenkins: Elizabeth Jenkins, The Princes in the Tower, Coward McCann, & Geoghan, 1978
- Kendall: Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third (Norton, 1955, 1956)
- Potter: David Potter, Constantine the Emperor, Oxford University Press, 2012
- Ross-Edward: Charles Ross, Edward IV, 1974 (I use the 1997 paperback edition in the Yale English Monarch series with a new introduction by R. A. Griffiths)
- Ross-Wars: Charles Ross, The Wars of the Roses, 1976 (I use the 1977 Thames and Hudson paperback edition)
- Wagner: John A. Wagner, Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses, ABC-Clio, 2001
- Wilkinson: B. Wilkinson, The Later Middle Ages in England, 1216-1484, Longmans, 1969 (I use the 1980 paperback edition)
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