Kempy Kay [Child 33]

DESCRIPTION: A hideous maiden is courted by a deformed suitor. The grotesqueness of each is described in Rabelaisian detail. They exchange disgusting gifts, and the match is made.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1827 (Kinloch)
KEYWORDS: courting humorous marriage gift
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Child 33, "Kempy Kay" (7 texts)
Bronson 33, "Kempy Kay" (2 versions)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 298-299, "Kempy Kay" (1 text)
Kinloch-TheBalladBook XI, pp. 40-44, "Kempy Kaye" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan7 1505, "Kempy Kay" (2 texts plus a single verse on p. 541)
Buchan-ABookOfScottishBallads 46, "Kempy Kay" (1 text)

Roud #32
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NOTES [202 words]: Child mentions, without favor, the idea that Kempy Kay is the Kay/Kei/Cei/Ceu of Arthurian legend. I would not go so far as to call the connection obvious or certain, but it makes some sense. Although Kei gets mostly favorable mention in the Welsh Mabinogion, he is "shrewd but cruel... and an advocate of courtly etiquette" (Lacy, p. 260). It has been suggested, based on the magical powers he shows in the Mabinogion and other Welsh myth, that he is a semi-rationalized god, perhaps of war (Monaghan, p. 269). "First mentioned in such early sources as Poem XXXI of the Black Book [of Carmarthen]... he is from the beginning characterized as a slightly churlish retainer" (Moorman/Moorman, p. 76). Later he became a full-blown boor, and an "eternal loser" (Geritsen & van Melle, p. 155). It feels to me a bit like all those tales of powerful but deformed people whose retainers buttered them up for fear of telling them the truth, which would fit with the ill-favored hero of this song. Furthermore, one French tale, Girart d'Amiens's Escanor, makes him a bashful lover (Lacy, p. 260). Kay was also boastful, which might tempt him to assume the title "Kemp(e) Cei," "Kei the champion," which he bears here. - RBW
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File: C033

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