Bonny Bee Hom [Child 92]
DESCRIPTION: The lady sits lamenting her absent love. She vows to wait seven years. Meanwhile, her love has received a talisman which will tell him if his love is dead or untrue. (After a year), the talisman turns dark. He sails for home, but his love is already dead
EARLIEST DATE: 1800 (Riewerts-BalladRepertoireOfAnnaGordon-MrsBrownOfFalkland)
KEYWORDS: death separation magic
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Child 92, "Bonny Bee Hom" (2 texts)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 287-288, "Bonny Bee Hom" (1 text)
Riewerts-BalladRepertoireOfAnnaGordon-MrsBrownOfFalkland, pp. 229-230, "Bonny Bee Ho'm" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 74, "Bonny Bee Ho'm" (1 text)
cf. "The Lowlands of Holland"
NOTES [547 words]: "Bonny Bee Hom" is often linked with "The Lowlands of Holland" ("The Lily of Arkansas"), a link dating back to Child. The matter has been much studied, without clear conclusion. The tendency has been to assume that "Bonny Bee Hom" is the older, just because it is the Child Ballad, but the fact that "Lowlands of Holland" is so much more common may be a counter-argument. Fowler, p. 323, suggests that "Bonny Bee Hom" is Anna Gordon Brown's rewrite of "Lowlands." It might be noted, however, that "Bonny Bee Hom" involves a magic device (the stone that tells the lover whether his sweetheart is true), a theme not found in "The Lowlands of Holland."
The idea of a token which reveals infidelity (a "fidelity-token") is widely known. We find a magic ring with this ability, e.g., in the romance of "Floris and Blancheflour" (CHEL1, p. 308). which is the full story from which the ballad of "Blancheflour and Jellyflorice" [Child 300] was extracted. "Hind Horn" [Child 17] is built around a similar device, although it also serves as a "recognition token.". "The Boy and the Mantle" [Child 29] also features such a thing, although it is used more as an apple of discord than as a lovers' device. In the Mabinogion, Math son of Mathonwy uses his wand to determine whether his niece is a virgin (Mabinogion/Gantz, p. 106). This is quite similar to what is described as the very first Breton Lai, Robert Biket's Lai du Cor which probably dates from the twelfth century, in which the magic object is a drinking horn which will spill on a drinker with an unfaithful wife; Arthur, naturally, is drenched by it (Brengli, pp. 355-356).Yvain, in Chretien's French romance of the same name has a ring "which will keep him safe as long as he remembers the giver" (Moorman, p. 47). Examples could easily be multiplied. Leach-TheBalladBook, p. xli, lists several and cites sources for others. "Ornament as chastity index" is Thompson motif H433.
There were also "life-tokens" that revealed other things such as the state of health of one or another person, e.g. Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. xl-xli, mentions a Georgian tale of a life-token in the form of cup of water that turned red when the person died and a Russian tale in which a sample of a person's blood turns black when he is in danger. (Note that George MacDonald was still using this idea in the nineteenth century in The Princess and Curdie.)
Emeralds in particular were said to ensure fidelity (Pickering, p. 97; Joes-Larousse, p. 163) -- and to lose their color if a lover was unfaithful.
This idea was so widespread that it was actually used by monarchs -- around 1525, the English sent an emerald ring from the young Mary Tudor, heir to the English throne, to the Emperor Charles V, who was officially engaged to her but still shopping for other brides (Prescott, p. 32). It didn't work -- Charles married a Portugese princess, although Mary Tudor would in time marry a younger Habsburg (who quickly ignored her).
It probably goes without saying that emeralds don't lose their color that easily. Chances are that someone found a green gem of some other sort (green quartz, perhaps? I haven't found a clear suggestion on that). It was mistaken for an emerald, then denatured perhaps in sunlight -- and so gave rise to the legend. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.2
- Brengle: Richard L. Brengle, Arthur King of Britain: History, Chronicle, Romance & Criticism, Prentice-Hall, 1964
- CHEL1: Sir A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller, Editors, The Cambridge History of English Literature, Volume I: From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance, 1907 (I use the 1967 Cambridge edition)
- Fowler: David C. Fowler, A Literary History of the Popular Ballad, Duke University Press, 1968
- Jones-Larousse: Alison Jones, Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore, Larousse, 1995 (I use the 1996 paperback edition)
- Leach: MacEdward Leach, editor, Amis and Amiloun, Early English Text Society/Oxford University Press, 1937
- Mabinogion/Gantz: The Mabionogion, translated [from Welsh] by Jeffrey Gantz, Penguin, 1976
- Moorman: Charles Moorman, A Knyght There Was: The Evolution of the Knight in Literature, University of Kentucky Press, 1967
- Pickering: David Pickering, The Cassell Dictionary of Folklore, Cassell, 1999
- Prescott: H. F. M. Prescott, Mary Tudor: The Spanish Tudor, revised edition, 1952 (I use the 2003 Phoenix paperback)
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