Forgotten Wife, The (The Black Bull of Norroway; The Red Bull of Norroway; The Brown Bear of Norway)

DESCRIPTION: A woman tries to wake the lover who has forgotten her. She sings about her ordeals (following him, acting as servant, washing bloody shirts, climbing a glassy hill) or that they were married and had three babies. She names him and says "turn to me"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1812 (Campbell); mentioned in 1801 (J. Leyden, see notes)
KEYWORDS: love marriage request parting reunion travel shape-changing magic ordeal animal lover wife royalty
FOUND IN: US(SE) Ireland Britain(England(Lond),Scotland(Aber,Bord,West)) West Indies(Jamaica)
REFERENCES (16 citations):
JournalOfAmericanFolklore, Ada Wilson Trowbridge, "Negro Customs and Folk-Stories of Jamaica" Vol. 9, No. 35 (Oct-Dec 1896), pp. 284-285, "The Forgotten Wife" (1 text, 1 tune)
JournalOfAmericanFolklore, Isabel Gordon Carter, "Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge," Vol. XXXVIII, No. 149 (Jul-Sep 1925), #9 pp. 357-359 "Whiteberry Whittington" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Martha W Beckwith, "The English Ballad in Jamaica: a Note Upon the Origin of the Ballad Form" in _Publications of the Modern Language Association_ [PMLA], Vol. XXXIXI, No. 2 (Jun 1924 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 464, "Bull-of-All-the-Land" (1 fragment)
Martha Warren Beckwith and Helen Roberts, Jamaica Anansi Stories (New York: American Folklore Society, 1924 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")) #101, pp. 130-131, 280-281, "Bull-of-all-the-Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
Patrick Kennedy, Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts (London: Macmillan and Co, 1866 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), pp. 57-66, "The Brown Bear of Norway" (1 text)
Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book (London: Longmans Green and Co, 1889 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 380-384, "The Black Bull of Norroway" (1 text) [From Chambers]
Andrew Lang, The Lilac Fairy Book (London: Longmans Green and Co, 1910 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), pp. 118-131, "The Brown Bear of Norway" (1 text) [according to Lang, from "West Highland Tales"; actually from Kennedy with changes for punctuation and grammar]
Joseph Jacobs, More English Fairy Tales (London: David Nutt, 1894 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), pp. 20-25,222, "The Black Bull of Norroway" (1 text) [From Chambers, "much Anglisized in language, but otherwise unaltered"]
J.F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1862), Vol. 4, pp. 292-296, "An t urisgeal aig na righre, Righ na thuirabhinn agus righ nan Ailp" (1 text)
Robert Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland (Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1847) 3rd edition, pp. 244-247, "The Black Bull of Norroway"; pp. 248-250, "The Red Bull of Norroway" (2 texts)
Leland L Duncan, "Folk-Lore Gleanings from County Leitrim" in Folklore, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Jun 1893 (available online by JSTOR)), pp. 190-194, "The Glass Mountain" (1 text)
Mabel Peacock, "The Glass Mountain: A Note on Folk-Lore Gleanings from County Leitrim" in Folklore, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Sep 1893 (available online by JSTOR)), pp. 322-327 (1 text)
Stanley Robertson, "The Black Magic Bull," School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1982.079,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 15 August 2015 from
Stanley Robertson, "The Red Bull o Norway". School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1982.079,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 15 August 2015 from
Capt. John Campbell Duder Harvey Webb Macpherson, "A girl finds her fortune with a man enchanted as a black bull." School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1962.034,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 15 August 2015 from; "Fragment of rhyme from the story of the black bull. School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1962.033,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 15 August 2015 from
Norah & Wiliam Montgomerie, _The Well at the World's End: Folk Tales of Scotland_, 1956 (references are to the 1985 Canongate edition), "The Black Bull of Norroway" (1 text, said simply to be from the "Lowlands" but clearly anglicized; probably derived from one of the above sources)

NOTES [1801 words]: Re, earliest date: Jacobs writes, "A reference to the "Black Bull o' Norroway" occurs in Sidney's Arcadia, as also in the Complaynt of Scotland, 1548." For Arcadia I searched for "Norroway" and "Norway," with no hits, and "Orange," "bear," "bull," "greyhound," and "dog," with no relevant references (Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (London: George Rutledge and Sons, 1907 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")). The reference to the Complaynt of Scotland is to the lost story of the "Three-footed Dog of Norroway"; J. Leyden, the editor of the 1801 edition, writes of this romance, "I have never heard of the Three-footed Dog of Norway mentioned in a popular tale; but suspect the story to be similar to that of 'the Black Bull of Norway,' which is common in Scotland..." (pp. 235-236; also p. 270). (The Complaynt of Scotland, written in 1548 (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1801 (Digitized by Internet Archive))). Chambers -- in introducing the Black Bull -- quotes Leyden's poem, "The Cout of Keeldar," which mentions "The Black Bull of Norroway" (Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Edinburgh: Longman and Rees, 1803 ("Digitized by Microsoft")), vol. 2, second edition, p. 399). Since I can't support either of Jacobs's references I am staying with Leyden's as the earliest.
Why include texts from Jacobs and Lang, since they are just covers of Chambers and Kennedy? The Jacobs and Lang books were very popular so it is worth while keeping their publication dates in mind since the texts in the books may have made their way back into the oral tradition; even though Stanley Robertson's retellings were learned after the Second World War from "old grannies" among the Travellers, the old grannies themselves may have been influenced by printed versions. Jacobs's notes also included leads to the Duncan and Peacock versions, as well as his speculations on early printed texts.
This song has most often been collected when sung or recounted at the end of one of the set of stories named for some bull or bear of Norway (usually classified as international tale type ATU 425A, "The Animal as Bridegroom" [see Hans-Jorg Uther, The Types of International Folktales, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 2004, Part 1, pp. 248-250]). However, the oldest version listed above, from Campbell, is in a different story of a closely related type (Campbell, writing before the ATU classification was established, says his story is close to "Cupid and Psyche," which is ATU 425B, "Son of the Witch", Uther pp. 250-252.)
[Thompson classifies "Venus jealous of Cupid and Psyche's love as W181.6; "Animal husband" as C36ff.; "Bear abducts girl, makes her his wife" as B610.1.1, R13.1.6; "Bear in human form" as B651.7; "Bear keeps human wife captive in care" as R45.3.1; "Bull transformed to person" as D333.1; no doubt there are other relevant entries. And we shouldn't forget the "tasks" motif that occurs not only in "Cupid and Psyche" but also "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" and many other tales. - RBW]
Although Campbell translates his song from Gaelic, the English fits exactly -- line for line -- with the English-language versions of the song. I only have tunes for the Jamaican songs but in the only texts I have heard, Macpherson and Robertson recite or describe the song. The situation in the tale when the song is sung is that the singer has finally come to her husband or lover, who -- because some taboo has been broken -- does not recognize her. He only hears her song after avoiding a sleeping potion, foisted upon him by a witch, and his hearing the song leads to the spell being broken. All but the witch live happily ever after.
Setting Campbell's story aside, there are three main story lines.
"The Black Bull of Norroway," from Scotland, as told by Chambers: A princess is destined to marry, and falls in love with, a prince enchanted so that he is a bull by day and a man by night. The bull defeats the shape-changing spell without her help, but she breaks a taboo so that, though he remembers her, he can't find her. She suffers ordeals to find him -- acts as a servant, climbs a glass hill, washes the blood out of a shirt -- only to find him about to marry someone else. She uses magic gifts she has acquired along the way to be with him at night, but he has been given a sleeping potion so that he doesn't hear her song. When he finally avoids the sleeping potion, he hears the song, and recognizes or remembers her.
"The Red Bull of Norroway," from England [but Robertson has it in Scotland], as told by Chambers: A princess says she would marry the fearsome Red Bull of Norway. The bull comes to claim her, and does, after her father tries substituting others for his favorite daughter. The bull takes her to his castle but disappears before the wedding. She goes out in the world to find him. On the way she acquires three magic gifts to be used only in dire circumstances. When she reaches him, she finds him in thrall to the witch that first enchanted him. The princess uses the magic gifts she has acquired along the way to be with him at night, but he has been given a sleeping potion so that he doesn't hear her song. When he finally avoids the sleeping potion and hears the song in which she names him as the Red Bull, he accepts her and they are married.
"The Brown Bear of Norway," from Ireland, as told by Kennedy: A princess says she would marry the fabulous Brown Bear of Norway. Nightly, she is transported to his hall. They marry and he explains that his shape changing is caused by a witch who is avenging his desertion of her daughter; the spell can be broken if the princess stays married to him for five years, in spite of fearful trials. They live together four years and have three babies, each of which is stolen magically. She is convinced -- by the witch in the guise of an old wise woman -- that the cure for her troubles is to burn his bear clothing. When she does that he leaves her and, by spell, forgets her after giving her half of his wedding ring as a token. She follows him, finding her babies and, when she reaches him, finds him in thrall to the witch and her daughter. The princess uses magic gifts she has acquired along the way to be with him at night, but he has been given a sleeping potion so that he doesn't hear her song. When he finally avoids the sleeping potion and hears the song, he does not recall her or that he was the Brown Bear until the halves of his wedding ring are united.
There are elements that cross from one story line to the other. For example, in Chambers's English "Red Bull," the princess says she would marry the fearsome Red Bull of Norroway. As in the Brown Bear version, simply calling him by name is the first step in breaking his spell and joining the couple. The main story line that does *not* have the creature called by name to marry is the Black Bull. That is reflected in the songs: all but the Black Bull songs call to the sleeper by name or creature.
The Duncan and Peacock versions refer to the bull as "the bonny bull of oranges" and "the bare bull of Orange"; Duncan is from County Leitrim (near the Protestant "Orange" north), and Peacock suspects that her text comes originally from Ireland. Kennedy has the other Irish text, and that is the Brown Bear. Duncan and Peacock are closer to Kennedy than to either of the Chambers tales, and Peacock's "bare bull" seems to try to include Kennedy's "bear". The most significant difference in song and tale is that, in these three stories, the couple are married and have three children. (Only Kennedy has the broken ring motif.)
Of the Jamaica versions, Trowbridge is the closer to the Kennedy and Campbell stories; the most significant points are that the couple have three children and the singer names the sleeper in the song. There are other elements that point the other way; for example, burning the creature's clothes is a feature of Beckwith-Roberts and Kennedy. Trowbridge's story lacks shape-changing altogether.
Isabel Gordon Carter's story has no metamorphosis at all, though the witch and song remains. Whittington, loved by a king's daughter, loves one of the king's hired girls. He sets a contest between them to see who can wash out a bloody shirt ["Black Bull"]. The hired girl succeeds, they are married and have three children ["Brown Bear"]. The king's daughter then tells Whittington that she herself washed out the bloody shirt and, honor bound, he leaves his wife and children to go off with her. The hired girl sets out to find him, trading each child for a gift that will help her gain back her husband ["Red Bull"].
The end is the standard for all three versions: the king's daughter trades a night with Whittington for one of the gifts, but drugs him before he goes so that nothing happens and he doesn't even hear his wife's song. On the third night he avoids the drug and his wife tells how he has been deceived and how she had struggled to reach him. The song is typical: "I've clumb the glassy hills and waded the bloody seas, My three little babes I've give for thee, Turn over to me, Whitberry Whittington." "So he went back to the king's daughter and says, 'You jest lied me and I'm goin' back with my wife, kill the old witches and git my children.'"
I have omitted the following from the discussion because they do not mention the song:
Jeremiah Curtin, Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1890 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), pp. 50-63, "The Three Daughters of King O'Hara." The creature is a white dog, called by name ("the best white dog in the world"), and the couple have three babies. So far this fits the other Irish story patterns. However, instead of singing the sleeper a song she leaves him a letter on the third night.
Mary Hallock Foote, The Last Assembly Ball and The Fate of a Voice (Boston: Houghton Miflin and Co, 1889 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), pp. 75-79, tells part of an Irish story about the "Roan Bull of Orange." Once again, the bull is invoked by name by the princess. Foote's interest in telling the story is to show how the king tried to avoid having his favorite daughter married to the bull, and how the daughter defeated her father's plan: "she took the Bull by the horns, as it were, and off she went." She carries the story no further, but it seems likely to have followed the Brown Bear Irish pattern.
Betsy Whyte, "A girl finds her fortune with a prince enchanted as a bull". School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1981.062,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 15 August 2015 from The story is the Black Bull, but the teller cannot recall how the princess wins the prince in the end, and so, never mentions the song. - BS
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