Twa Sisters, The [Child 10]

DESCRIPTION: A knight woos two (three) sisters, choosing the younger. The older drowns the younger. Her body is recovered and made into an instrument by a passing miller/musician. As the knight prepares to wed the older sister, the instrument sings out the truth.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1656 (broadside)
KEYWORDS: courting homicide music minstrel sister drowning
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber),England(All)) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Newf) West Indies(Jamaica)
REFERENCES (81 citations):
Child 10, "The Twa Sisters" (25 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #79, #12, #14}
Bronson 10, "The Twa Sisters" (97 versions plus 6 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 10, "The Two Sisters" (14 versions: #7, #13.2, #28, #35, #42, #49, #50, #53, #55, #61, #67, #79, #81, #83)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 265-267, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
Bell-Combined-EarlyBallads-CustomsBalladsSongsPeasantryEngland, pp. 206-210, "The Cruel Sister" (1 text)
Lyle/McAlpine/McLucas-SongRepertoireOfAmeliaAndJaneHarris, p. 171, "Benonie" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #14}
Riewerts-BalladRepertoireOfAnnaGordon-MrsBrownOfFalkland, pp. 200-205. "The twa Sisters/The Cruel Sister" (2 parallel texts plus a photo of the badly-transcribed tune; also two reconstructed tunes on p. 290)
Greig/Duncan2 213, "Binorie" (19 texts, 17 tunes) {B=Bronsons's #4, E=#21, G=#16?, H=#6, I=#13, J=#5?, K=#8?, L=#11, M=#9, N=#10, P=#17, Q=#18, O=#19}
Lyle-Andrew-CrawfurdsCollectionVolume2 106, "The Bows o London"; Lyle-Andrew-CrawfurdsCollectionVolume2 137, "The Bows of London" (2 texts)
Buchan/Moreira-TheGlenbuchatBallads, pp. 29-31, "Hey a Rose Malindey" (1 text)
Stokoe/Reay-SongsAndBalladsOfNorthernEngland, pp. 8-9, "Binnorie; or, The Cruel Sister" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
Broadwood/Maitland-EnglishCountySongs, pp. 118-119, "The Barkshire Tragedy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 40-46, "The Two Sisters" (5 texts plus 2 fragments, one from the same informant as one of the texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #68}
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 16-24, "The Twa Sisters" (6 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #38, #46, #30}
Randolph 4, "The Miller's Daughters" (8 texts, 5 tunes) {A=Bronson's #66, C=#32, E=#70, F=#94, G=#51}
Randolph/Cohen-OzarkFolksongs-Abridged, pp. 18-21, "The Miller's Daughters" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 4C) {Bronson's #32}
Ritchie-FolkSongsOfTheSouthernAppalachians, p. 57, "Bow Your Bend to Me" (1 text, 1 tune)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 6A, "The Twin Sisters"; 6B, "Two Sisters" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes)
Bronner/Eskin-FolksongAlivePart1 15, "Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Grimes-StoriesFromTheAnneGrimesCollection, p. 48, "The Jealous Sister" (1 text)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 2, "The Two Sisters" (2 texts, 2 tunes, but the "B" text is "Peter and I Went Down the Lane") {A=Bronson's #22}
Gray-SongsAndBalladsOfTheMaineLumberjacks, pp. 75-77, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text, plus an excerpt from Child's "B" text to pad out the story)
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 209-210, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Ballard/Brown/Barry-NewGreenMountainSongster, pp. 3-4, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #54}
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 150-170, "The Twa Sisters" (5 English texts plus a fragment; also two variants of a Polish text plus tune and translation; 4 tunes for the English versions) {A=Bronson's #96, B=#54}
Thompson-BodyBootsAndBritches-NewYorkStateFolktales, pp. 393-394, "(The Twa Sisters)" (1 text, probably an excerpt)
Davis-TraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 5, "The Twa Sisters" (9 texts plus 2 fragments, 6 tunes entitled "The Old Lord of the North Country, or The Three Sisters," "The Old Woman of the North Countrie," "The Two Sisters, or Sister Kate, or The Miller annd the Mayor's Daughter," "The Two Sisters"; 2 more versions mentioned in Appendix A) {Bronson's #25, #71, #40, #55, #27, #39}
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 6, pp. 35-50, "The Twa Sisters" (10 texts, 7 tunes)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 4, "The Two Sisters" (3 texts plus 2 fragments)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 4, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text plus 4 excerpts, 5 tunes)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #147, "The Twa Sisters" (3 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #87, #88}
Richardson/Spaeth-AmericanMountainSongs, p. 27, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 3, "The Two Sisters" (1 short text)
Jones-MinstrelOfTheAppalachians-Bascom-Lamar-Lunsford, p. 201, "Old Man in the North Country (The Two Sisters)" (1 text, 1 tune) {same source as Bronson's #23, but the transcription is different}
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol1, pp. 29-30, "Bow and Balance" (1 text, 1 tune)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, pp. 82-83, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hudson-FolksongsOfMississippi 3, p. 68, "The Two Sisters" (1 text)
Hudson-FolkTunesFromMississippi 25, "The Two Sisters" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #76}
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 164-165, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text, locally titled "The Two Sisters")
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 4, "The Twa Sisters" (1 short text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #78}
Stout-FolkloreFromIowa 1, pp. 1-2, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 6, "The Two Sisters" (4 texts plus a fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #44}
Carey-MarylandFolkLegendsAndFolkSongs, pp. 93-94, "Balance Unto Me"; p. 95, "Bow Down" (2 texts)
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 3, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
Peacock, pp. 179-180, "The Bonny Busk of London" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 74-78, "The Twa Sisters" (3 texts)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 11-13, "The Two Sisters" (1 text)
McNeil-SouthernFolkBalladsVol2, pp. 150-156, "The Two Sisters"; "The Two Sisters (Wind and Rain) (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 23, "Binnorie" (1 text)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 98, "The Two Sisters That Loved One Man" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hubbard-BalladsAndSongsFromUtah, #2, "The Two Sisters" (1 text)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 7, "The Twa Sisters" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
Gummere-OldEnglishBallads, pp. 171-173+343, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 5 "The Two Sisters" (14 texts, 14 tunes) {Bronson's #91, #55, #27, #39, #74, #73, #50, #34, #45, #63, #59, #47, #65, #41}
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 6, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune -- a composite text) {Bronson's #45}
Wells-TheBalladTree, pp. 149-150, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 90, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #67}
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 32, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
Buchan-ABookOfScottishBallads 3, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune in appendix) {Bronson's #79}
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 3, "The Twa Sisters" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #43}
Cox/Hercog/Halpert/Boswell-WVirginia-A, #2A-B, pp. 10-13, "There Was an Old Farmer," "All Bow Down" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #69}
Bush-FSofCentralWestVirginiaVol5, pp. 86-88, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Thomas-DevilsDitties, pp. 70-73, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #48}
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 10-12, "The Sister's Murder" (1 text, 1 tune)
Boette-SingaHipsyDoodle, pp. 32-33, "The Lord of the North Country" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 164-165, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ord-BothySongsAndBallads, pp. 430-432, "The Bonnie Mill-Dams o' Binnorie"; pp. 459-460, "Hey the Rose and the Lindsay, O" (2 texts, 1 tune)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 3, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text plus two variant verses, 1 tune)
Whiting-TraditionalBritishBallads 9, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 54-56, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)
Abrahams/Foss-AngloAmericanFolksongStyle, pp. 20-24, "The Two Sisters"; "The Two Sisters (The Wind and Rain)" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Pound-AmericanBalladsAndSongs, 4, pp. 11-12, "The Two Sisters"; pp. 12-13, "The Old Man in the North Countree" (2 texts)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 260-261, "The Cruel Sister" (1 text)
Jekyll-JamaicanSongAndStory 3, "King Daniel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 56-59, "The Two Sisters"; "Rollin' a-Rollin'"; "Wind and Rain" (3 texts)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 224, "The Two Sisters" (1 text)
GirlScouts-SingTogether, p. 44, "The Farmer's Daughter" (1 text, 1 tune, omitting the murder)
SongsOfAllTime, pp. 20-21, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Emily Lyle, _Fairies and Folk: Approaches to the Scottish Ballad Tradition_, Wissenschaflicher Verlag Trier, 2007, p. 220, [no title] (1 tune, previously unpublished, for Child's "Q" text)
Tristram P. Coffin and Hennig Cohen, _Folklore in America: Tales, Songs, Superstitions, Proverbs, Riddles, Games, Folk Drama and Folk Festivals_, Doubleday, 1966, pp. 49-50, "The Two Sisters" (1 text, 1 tune)
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #427, "The Twa Sisters" (1 text)

Roud #8
Horton Barker, "The Two Sisters" (AAFS 33); "Bow and Balance" (on Barker01) {Bronson's #67}
Anita Best and Pamela Morgan, "The Two Sisters" (on NFABestPMorgan01)
Loman D. Cansler, "The Two Sisters" (on Cansler1)
Lula Curry, "The Squire's Daughter" (on JThomas01)
Charlotte Decker, "The Bonny Busk of London" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Bradley Kincaid, "The Two Sisters" (Supertone 9212, 1928)
Eunice Yeatts MacAlexander, "The Cruel Sister" (on FarMtns1)
Jean Ritchie, "The Two Sisters" (AFS; on LC57); "There Lived an Old Lord" (on JRitchie02)
Kilby Snow, "Wind and Rain" (on KSnow1)
Lucy Stewart, "The Swan Swims So Bonnie O" (on LStewart1)
John Strachan, "The Twa Sisters" (on FSB4)
John Strachan, Dorothy Fourbister, Ethel Findlater [composite] "The Twa Sisters" (on FSBBAL1) {cf. Bronson's #16.2 in addenda}

cf. "An Sgeir-Mhara (The Sea-Tangle, The Jealous Woman)" (plot)
cf. "Trois Graines de Peppernell" (plot)
The Bows of London
The Cruel Sister
Rolling a-Rolling
The Wind and Rain
The Swan Swims Bonnie
The Old Lord by the Northern Sea
Bowie, Bowerie
The Little Drownded Girl
Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom
Old Man from the North Countree
The Youngest Daughter
The Mull Dams o' Binorrie
NOTES [874 words]: The refrains sung with this ballad vary tremendously, but virtually all versions have a refrain of some sort. - PJS
And generally a lyrically attractive one ("the swan swims bonnie," etc.), as has been pointed out by several scholars. I wonder if there isn't something about this ballad that encourages variation; Jean Ritchie reports that, even though they presumably learned the song from the same source, her family had twelve distinct versions. - RBW
The Kilby Snow recording is an unusual one; it contains every element of, "The Twa Sisters" except the sisters; the murderer in this case is the girl's lover. Snow reconstructed the song from early childhood memories of his grandfather (a Cherokee) singing it, though, so it may have diverged at that point. - PJS
Compare the first verse lines of Child 10.H to Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 479, "There were three sisters in a hall" (earliest date in Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes is c.1630)
Child 10.H: "There were three sisters lived in a hall, ... And there came a lord to court them all...."
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 479 is a riddle beginning "There were three sisters in a hall, There came a knight amongst them all ...." - BS
This item is also found as Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #702, p. 275, but this appears to be simply a greeting rhyme unrelated to the various rather murderous ballads (notably Child 10 and 11) using these lines.
Child of course finds many analogies to this ballad. Joseph Jacobs, collector, English Fairy Tales, originally published 1890; revised edition 1898 (I use the 1967 Dover paperback reprint), on p. 236 stresses particularly Grimm #28, "The Singing Bone," in which a murdered man's bone tells the tale of his murder. The similarity to this song is obvious -- but it applies only to this one motif (Thompson E632, "Reincarnation as musical instrument"; E632.1, "Speaking bones of murdered person reveal murder," which Thompson lists as being found in cultures as far-separated as Japan, India, and the Ibo of Nigeria); the conditions leading up to the murder are quite different. The tale of "The Singing Bone" is Aarne-Thompson catalo tale-type #780.
Furthermore, the idea of bones-used-as-stringed-instrument also shows up in the Kalevala, e.g., Vainamoinen uses the bones of a pike to build a kantele, and strings another kantele with the hair of a singing girl. When he leaves the world, the kantele remembers him. This occurs not only in the final Kalevala but in Lonnrot's much shorter first edition; see the summary in Juha Y. Pentikainen, Kalevala Mythology, expanded edition, 1987, translated and edited by Ritva Poom, Indiana University Press, 1989, pp. 55-58 (the incidents are in poems 22, 29, and 32 of the "Old Kalevala"; in the revised Kalevala, the making of the kantele from the pie is in poem 40, and the rest de-emphasized. Interestingly, in poem 41, no one but Vanamoinen can play his kantele, which reminds me faintly of the versions of this ballad in which the fiddle can play only the one song).
The GirlScouts-SingTogether version is hilarious if you know the real plot: There is no fight over a man; one sister just pushes the other into the river, apparently in a minor fight, and the miller pulls her out. - RBW
Jekyll-JamaicanSongAndStory's "King Daniel" is classified by Jekyll as an "Annancy" story. It is a cante fable following the Ashanti (West African) tradition: King Daniel is courting Miss Wenchy. Miss Lumpy is jealous and throws Miss Wenchy in a pond where Miss Wenchy drowns. A parrot sees the murder. Miss Lumpy tries to bribe "pretty Polly" with a gold cage with a silver door. The parrot rejects the offer and reports the murder to King Daniel and takes him to the pond where Miss Wenchy's body is found. King Daniel executes Miss Lumpy. The only parts of the story that are sung is the parrot's rejection and report of the crime: "No, no, I don't want it, for the same you serve another one you will serve me the same" and "I brought, I brought a news to the young King Daniel; Miss Lumpy kill Miss Wenchy loss, on becount of Young King Daniel."
Broadwood, looking at the sung text and the parrot as messenger connects this story to Child 4 and Child 68 because of the part played in those ballads by the parrot as messenger (Lucy E. Broadwood, "English Airs and Motifs in Jamaica" in Walter Jekyll, Jamaican Song and Story (New York: Dover Publications, 1966 (Reprint of David Nutt, 1907)), #3, p. 286, "King Daniel"). The parrot's rationale -- you will serve me the same -- is the same as found in Child 68. However, looking at the messenger as the critical part of the story ignores the plot of story itself and another Caribbean [Crucian] example of Child 81 in which a parrot is introduced in place of the porter as a tale carrier (see note there re "Matty Gru"). In "King Daniel" the parrot as messenger replaces the fiddle made of the victim's bones and hair as messenger. My point is that the form of the messenger and the nature of the bribe is a sure indicator that the cante fable tradition has been affected by the Child parrot-as-messenger motif but the plot itself shows how the story should be classified within the Child tradition. - BS
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