Sheath and Knife [Child 16]
DESCRIPTION: The princess (Jeannie) is pregnant by her brother. Rather than reveal the truth, the two leave for the greenwood, where he shoots her and buries her "with their bairn at her feet." He returns home, but even the joys of royalty cannot console him.
EARLIEST DATE: 1796 (Scots Musical Museum)
KEYWORDS: homicide incest pregnancy burial mourning royalty
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Child 16, "Sheath and Knife" (6 texts)
Bronson 16, "Sheath and Knife" (2 versions)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 16, "Sheath and Knife" (1 version: #1)
DT 16, SHEATHKF* SHTHKNF2 SHTHKNF3
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #64, "Sheath and Knife" (1 text)
cf. "Leesome Brand" [Child 15] (lyrics about the "sheathe and knife)
cf. "The Bonnie Hind" [Child 50] (plot, lyrics)
NOTES [250 words]: On the scientific evidence that brothers and sisters raised apart are particularly likely to fall in love, and some further speculation as to why, see the notes to "Babylon, or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie [Child 14]."
Child in his notes to "Robin Hood's Death" [Child 120] suggests that the penultimate scene here once followed the same course as in that ballad -- that is, presumably, instead of the girl choosing a spot and asking her brother to shoot and bury her there, that she once shot the arrow herself to choose her grave site. This is perhaps possible -- in each case, she chooses where she is buried -- but I doubt it. The effect is the same, but the symbolism is different. In "Robin Hood's Death," the bow itself is called upon to choose the burial place -- a strong symbol of Robin's career with the bow. In "Sheathe and Knife," the girl chooses the exact spot -- and then the boy shoots a silver arrow as the last gift, or tribute, he can give her. The emphasis is very different.
Some versions soften the plot so that she merely dies in childbirth rather than him killing her. But this, I think, loses the point of the song.
The symbol of a knife so fine that no smith can replace it occurs in at least two ballads, "Sheathe and Knife" [Child 16] and "Leesome Brand" [Child 15], also in the Percy Folio version of "The Squire of Low Degree," lines 121-126; for this, see William Edward Mead, The Squyr of Lowe Degre: A Middle English Metrical Romance, Ginn & Company, 1904, p. 34. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.1
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 2021 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.