Johnie Cock [Child 114]

DESCRIPTION: Johnie, despite his mother's advice, goes out to hunt the king's deer. He brings the deer down, but is betrayed by a passer-by. Seven foresters attack him; he kills all but one (and wounds that one), but is himself mortally wounded
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1780 (Percy)
KEYWORDS: hunting fight death
FOUND IN: Britain(England(North),Scotland(Aber,Bord,High)) US(MA,SE,So) Ireland Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (26 citations):
Child 114, "Johnie Cock" (13 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Bronson 114, "Johnie Cock" (16 versions)
BronsonSinging 114, "Johnie Cock" (4 versions: #1, #3a, #4, #9)
ChambersBallads, pp. 161-166, "Johnie of Braidislee" (1 text)
Dixon XVI, pp. 77-81, "Johnnie o' Cocklesmuir" (1 text)
HarrisLyleMcAlpineMcLucas, pp. 72-77, "Johnnie Brod" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Bell-Combined, pp. 124-128, "Johnnie o' Cocklesmuir" (1 text, with the peculiar trait of having a happy ending)
Greig #33, p. 1, "Johnnie o' Braidiesley" (1 text)
GreigDuncan2 250, "Johnnie o' Braidisleys" (16 texts, 8 tunes) {A=Bronson's #9, B=#7, C=#8, D=#10, E (tune)=#11, F=#15, G=#6}
Ord, pp. 467-469, "Johnnie o' Cocklesmuir" (1 text)
Davis-Ballads 29, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)
Moore-Southwest 32, "James o' Broodies" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 65-67, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)
Leach, pp. 324-332, "Johnie Cock" (4 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 127-129, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 233, "Johnie Cock" (2 texts)
Whitelaw-Ballads, pp. 405-407, "Johnie of Breadislee";p. 407, "Johnie of Braidisbank" (2 texts)
OBB 136, "Johnnie of Cockerslee" (1 text)
PBB 174, "Johny Cock" (1 text)
Niles 41, "Johnie Cock" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gummere, pp. 123-126+328, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)
Hodgart, p. 108, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)
TBB 28, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)
Morgan-Medieval, pp. 207-210, "Johnnie Cock" (1 text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 83-86, "Johnie Cock" (1 text)

Roud #69
John Strachan, "Johnie Cock" (on FSB5) {Bronson's #12}
Johnnie o' Braidesley
Fair John and the Seven Foresters
Jock o' Brawdiesley
Johnnie o' Cocklesmuir
Johnnie Naughton
NOTES [662 words]: The motif of one man fighting and defeating seven adversaries is almost a commonplace (see "Earl Brand," Child #7, and "Erlinton," Child #8, as examples). But this one has an interesting parallel to the French Song of Roland (especially in Motherwell's long text, Child's F):
Like Roland, Johnie sets out freely, despite cautions; like Roland, he is defeated and mortally wounded but defeats his attackers, whose few survivors flee; like Roland, he sends a message of his need only when it is too late; like Roland, he is given great honor after his death.
I do not mean to imply literary dependence; I doubt there is any. The actual plots are extremely different. But there is that same feeling: Just as Roland, even when he does something really stupid, is so heroic about it that his enemies cannot touch him (Roland's actual cause of death was blowing his horn so hard that he bursts several blood vessels), so too Johnny -- the poatcher -- goes out against his mother's warning and fights off a vastly superior enemy, leaving all dead, wounded, or in flight. But he dies because he has fought too hard.
The flip side is, Johnny -- assuming he hunted in a royal forest, which is the obvious assumption here -- violates no fewer than three major provisions of the forest laws. (For this information, I am working from Charles R. Young, The Royal Forests of Medieval England, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979):
1. He hunted the "dun deer." Forest law protected the red deer, fallow deer, roe deer, and boar (Young, p. 4).
2. He carried a bow in the forest, The use of bow and arrows was banned in the forest (Young, p. 28).
3. He hunted with dogs. Dogs were allowed in the forest only if they were "lawed" -- that is, had their foretoes clipped, which made it impossible for them to hunt deer (Young, p. 41).
Although Young does not cite an instance exactly parallel to this song, it is generally believable; according to Young, p. 81, "The routine work of protecting the forest and dealing with violators fell to these foresters, and the job could be dangerous when the violator of the forest law was an illegal hunter armed with bow and arrows for taking venison. Foresters were sometimes killed or wounded under these circumstances while attempting to make arrests."
What is more, after 1293 foresters were entitled to use deadly force against those put up armed resistance too them, and were not required to answer to royal justices for homicide (Young, p. 106). Thus the action of this song was legal, assuming Johnie resisted -- as it appears he did. On the other hand, it also sounds as if the foresters were not going to give him a chance to submit to arrest. And, with no witnesses, how could he protect himself except by fighting?
This might also explain the old man who betrays Johnny. One of the problems with the forest law was that a man who discovered a dead deer was often treated as its killer and punished. As Young points out on p. 107, this generated a "climate of fear." If the witness did not turn in Johnny, then he himself might become the victim. A difficult situation at best.
The number of foresters in this song seems high (Young, p. 84, notes that even in the large forest of Sherwood the local bailiwicks had at most "a riding forester, two foot foresters, and some boys"), but as Young notes on p. 83, "Some foresters found it profitable to burden their bailiwicks with an unnecessary number of subordinates who paid for the privilege and then attempted to collect additional money from their victims." Thus it may be that there is significant fault on both sides of this conflict: On the one hand, a poacher; on the other, a bunch of bounty hunters.
Chid himself, while musing on where to put this ballad in his collection, observed that this is "One of the prettiest of all ballads"; see Mary Ellen Brown, Child's Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, University of Illinois Press, 2011, p. 120. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
File: C114

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