Lamkin [Child 93]

DESCRIPTION: (Lamkin) rebuilt a lord's castle, but was never paid. As the lord sets out on a journey, he warns his wife to beware of Lamkin. The precautions are in vain; Lamkin (helped by a false nurse) steals in and kills the lord's child (and wife) (and is hanged)
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1775 (Percy collection)
KEYWORDS: death theft revenge children punishment homicide cannibalism
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord),England(Lond,South,West)) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland
REFERENCES (59 citations):
Child 93, "Lamkin" (25 texts)
Bronson 93, "Lamkin" (30 versions (some with variants)+3 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 93, "Lamkin" (6 versions: #2, #5a, #8, #12, #27, #29)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 234-239, "Lammikin" (1 text)
Lyle/McAlpine/McLucas-SongRepertoireOfAmeliaAndJaneHarris, p. 142, "(I wald be very sorry)" (1 fragment, a single verse that the editors think is this)
Riewerts-BalladRepertoireOfAnnaGordon-MrsBrownOfFalkland, pp. 256-258, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #40, p. 2, "Lamkin" (1 fragment)
Greig/Duncan2 187, "Lambkin" (3 texts)
Lyle-Andrew-CrawfurdsCollectionVolume1 9, "Lord Meanwell" (1 text)
Leather-FolkLoreOfHerefordshire, pp. 199-200, "Young Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #19}
Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, #29, "Long Lankin; or, Young Lambkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #121, "Lambkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 200-206, "Lamkin" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 1 tune; also extensive notes on version classification) {Bronson's #16}
Randolph 23, "False Lamkin" (1 text with variants, 1 tune) {Bronson's #25}
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 17, "Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 127, "Lamkin" (2 texts plus mention of 1 more, 1 tune) {Bronson's #15}
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 104-107, "Squire Relantman" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland2, pp. 297-316, "Lamkin" (7 texts plus 3 fragments, 4 tunes) {C=Bronson's #7)
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland, pp. 303-305, "Young Alanthia" (1 text, 1 tune)
Beck-FolkloreOfMaine,pp. 90-91, "Lamkin the Mason" (1 text, with no indication of source)
Davis-TraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 26, "Lamkin" (3 texts plus a fragment, 1 tune entitled "Lampkin") {Bronson's #10}
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 28, pp. 214-220, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 29, "Lamkin" (1 text plus assorted excerpts)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 29, "Lamkin" (4 excerpts, 4 tunes)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 42, "Lamkins" (1 text, apparently a fragment of Child #93 (containing only a threat of cannibalism) plus three "My Horses Ain't Hungry" stanzas)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 26, "Bow Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hubbard-BalladsAndSongsFromUtah, #10, "Lamferd" (1 text, 1 tune)
Henry-SongsSungInTheSouthernAppalachians, pp. 62-64, "Bolakin (Lamkin)" (1 text)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, p. 63, "Bolakin" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 16, "Lamkin" (1 text plus a fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #20}
Creighton-MaritimeFolkSongs, pp. 20-21, "Lamkin" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Peacock, pp. 806-807, "Bold Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 13, "Lamkin" (1 text, 4 tunes)
Lehr/Best-ComeAndIWillSingYou 35, "False Limkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 288-295, "Lamkin" (4 texts)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 116-119, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 6, "Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 199, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 78, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 102, "Bolamkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 27, "Lamkin" (5 texts, 5 tunes){Bronson's #11, #14, #12, #4, #9}
Sharp-OneHundredEnglishFolksongs 27, "False Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 22, "Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 64, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 38, "Lamkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs, pp. 60-61, "Long Lankin" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #28}
Copper-SongsAndSouthernBreezes, pp. 258-259, "False Lanky" (1 text, 1 tune)
Reeves-TheEverlastingCircle 80, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 64, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Buchan-ABookOfScottishBallads 16, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Whiting-TraditionalBritishBallads 19, "Lamkin" (1 text)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H735, p. 133, "Lambkin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 241-248, "Lammikin" (5 texts)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 63-64, "Bo Lamkin" (1 text)
Morgan-MedievalBallads-ChivalryRomanceAndEverydayLife, pp. 18-21, "Lamkin" (1 text)
JournalOfAmericanFolklore, John DeWitt Niles, "Lamkin: The Motivation of Horror," Vol. 90, No. 355 (January-March 1977), pp. 49-67, ("Lamkin") (1 text plus many excerpts and fragments plus a partial tune) {Bronson's #5A}
NorthCarolinaFolkloreJournal, W. Amos Abrams, "Frank Proffitt: A Legend A-Borning," Vol. XIV, No. 2 (Nov. 1966), p. 15, "Bo Lamkin" (1 text, a semi-legible photograph of Frank Proffitt's own manuscript)
ADDITIONAL: Bob Stewart, _Where Is Saint George? Pagan Imagery in English Folksong_, revised edition, Blandford, 1988, pp. 127-128, "Long Lankin" (1 text)

Roud #6
Jim Bennett, "Bold Lamkin" (on PeacockCDROM)
Ben Butcher, "Cruel Lincoln" (on FSB4, Voice03)
George Fosbury, "False Lamkin" (on FSBBAL1)
Mrs. Peter Mushrow, "Lamkin" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Frank Proffitt, "Bo Lamkin" (on Proffitt03)

Bodleian, Harding B 25(1048), "The Lambkin," J. Pitts (London), 1819-1844
cf. "Batson" [Laws I10] (plot)
NOTES [1008 words]: John Jacob Niles claims that this song was once sung in the Louisville schools. One can only wish he had offered supporting evidence.
Anne G. Gilchrist examines the development of this ballad in "Lambkin: A Study in Evolution" (first printed in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, I, 1932; see now Leach/Coffin, pp. 204-224).
Gilchrist finds two basic forms of the ballad. In one, primarily Scottish, Lamkin is a mason defrauded of his pay by the lord whose castle he built. In the other, Northumbrian and English, Lamkin is simply a ruffian or a border raider (Reed, p. 152, in making the same point, quotes the verse that says that Lankin "lies in the moss," implying that he is a mosstrooper) seeking loot or perhaps the hand of the lord's daughter.
Gilchrist believes the Scottish form to be older, and believes that the other arose when the first stanza (in which the lord's fraud is described) was lost. She argues that the name "Lambkin" is diminutive of the Flemist name Lambert, and speculates that it may have been based on a (hypothesized) incident at Balwearie in Fife -- a site mentioned in some versions of the ballad, and located near a Flemish colony.
Friedman, p. 465, supports Glchrist's idea that the name Lamkin is Flemish -- but he clarifies that this is not because of the initial element "Lam(b)-" but the terminal element "-kin," which he finds to be a standard Flemish diminutive. He offers several examples. I will confess that I do not find this compelling; the "-kin" suffix is originally Dutch but shows up frequently in English: bodkin (a small knife), catkin. manikin (a little man, not a mannequin); we meet "Harpkin" in Child's appendix to "The Fause Knight Upon the Road" [Child 3]; even in modern times, Beatrix Potter offered us "Squirrel Nutkin."
Some versions mention Lamkin catching the infant's blood in a bowl. This has caused all sorts of speculation about ritual, or perhaps about some sort of trick to further punish the child (because, according to the Bible, the blood is the life). Obviously some such explanation is possible -- but I think we have to allow the possibility that he's just a nut, or trying to avoid leaving a trail.
James Reed, in his article "Border Ballads" (which in large part parallels his book also cited here) included in Cowan, discusses this ballad on pp. 24-25, and considers it most unusual among border ballads because it features a class conflict (between the lord and Lamkin). It's an interesting point -- but the question then arises whether the song is really a border ballad. The mere fact that it has been widely collected along the border between England and Scotland does not make it one. Niles, p. 49, reminds us that the earliest known version, Child's K, was sent to Percy in 1775, and is from Kent.
All in all, there is a lot we haven't figured out about this ballad!
Niles, p. 50, suggests that major elements of the song have seemingly been lost by all versions of the song. One of the most important is Lamkin's motivation. Niles, pp. 51-53, points out that the statement that Lamkin built Lord Wearie's castle but went unpaid is characteristic only of Child's A, which is from Anna Brown Gordon -- and Anna Brown Gordon is known to have reworked some of her material heavily (Riewerts-BalladRepertoireOfAnnaGordon-MrsBrownOfFalkland,). Could she have introduced this motif?
Others have been open to the possibility of the motivation being lost. One, suggested by Phillips Barry based on an obscure phrase in a Maine version, was that Lamkin was a leper -- and, since folklore said that an infant's blood could cure leprosy, Lamkin was out primarily to cure himself (Niles, p. 56). Blood as a leprosy cure is well-attested (it's Thompson motif F955.1, and cf. S268), but Niles is probably right to reject it simply because the hints -- other than catching the baby's blood in a (silver) bowl are found only in obscure phrase in a recent and otherwise rather defective version.
Leach came up with a suggestion that the lady killed by Lamkin is his former wife or lover, who has run away with a demon lover (Niles, p. 56). This is based on the name "Lord Wearie," and perhaps on hints in some versions that Lamkin was sexually attracted to the lady, but Niles considers this far-fetched, and so do I -- Leach's idea is based on older versions of the song than Barry's, but it is also based on even more obscure features of the text.
Ninon Leader's suggestion is that blood was required in the mortar to make a building truly stand firm (Niles, p. 57). This is of course another common folklore motif. This hints that a human sacrifice was required for Lamkin to build the castle -- and that the lord either didn't supply the victim or that the lord did not make repayment when Lamkin sacrificed someone (wife? child?). This might even be the reason why the explanation was suppressed.
Although Niles agrees with the supernatural element, neither I nor Niles thinks this truly fits the surviving part of the ballad. So Niles, pp. 59-60, offers the alternate explanation that it is Lamkin, not the lord, who is the demon ("Devil builds building" is Thompson G303.9.1.13), and takes the wife as his price for building the castle. Niles speculates that this explains the name "Lamkin" (i.e. "little lamb"), to make him seem innocuous. As an analogy to this, Niles, p. 61, offers a Scandinavian folktale called "Hin Finn," and argues that the story has Celtic roots, which would allow for a link to a Scottish folksong.
I have to say that I'm not impressed with the genealogical connection. On the other hand, that silver bowl of blood really does sound like it belongs to some ritual or other. Could Lamkin have been using it to curse the lord?
Of course, the other possibility was that it was just a story made up by the great-to-the-tenth-grandfather of a modern horror film director, and he made up a bunch of gothic stuff because he liked awful things. - RBW
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads is one of Child's sources for composite text D. - BS
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