Bewick and Graham [Child 211]

DESCRIPTION: Two prideful old men, each claiming his son is the better man, demand their sons, who are sworn blood-brothers, fight a fight to the death. When Graham sees that Bewick is dying, he falls on his own sword so that both die
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1803 (Scott)
KEYWORDS: pride youth death family suicide father
FOUND IN: Britain(England(North))
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Child 211, "Bewick and Graham" (1 text)
Bronson 211, "Bewick and Graham" (1 version)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 211, "Bewick and Graham" (1 version)
Stokoe/Reay-SongsAndBalladsOfNorthernEngland, pp. 100-102, "The Bewick and the Graeme" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 560-566, "Bewick and Graham" (1 text)
Gummere-OldEnglishBallads, pp. 176-184+343-344, "Bewick and Graham" (1 text)
Morgan-MedievalBallads-ChivalryRomanceAndEverydayLife, pp. 83-89, "Bewick and Graham" (1 text)
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 121-128, "Bewick and Grahame" (1 text)

Roud #849
NOTES [872 words]: The theme of blood brothers ending up in a quarrel is old -- see, for instance, Chaucer's Knight's Tale. That has interesting parallels to this piece. Palamon and Arcite's quarrel, unlike that between Bewick and Graham, is genuine -- both are fighting to win the same woman, Emily (against her desire). That does not parallel this song (As Reed, p. 91, comments of the explanation of the quarrel in "Bewick and Graham," "Not the best stanzas in the ballad as literature, but surely astonishing, indeed unique, in invoking literacy, or lack of it, as pretext for a family feud."). Chaucer's Palamon and Arcite do have an extended fight, as in this song, but that's a commonplace. But the Knight's Tale parallels "Bewick" in that the winner of the battle is the first to die. Palamon, in the Tale, is wounded "by chance" (as is Bewick), so Theseus (who is overseeing the combat) declares Arcite the winner. But before Arcite can claim Emily, he is thrown from his horse and mortally wounded. So the winner dies, and the loser claims Emily. Again, it's not a full parallel, since Palamon survives, but the one who receives the first serious wound, and would have been eliminated, instead is the one who lives longer.
For a romance in which blood brothers are willing to do almost anything for each other, see "Amis and Amiloun" ("Amys and Amylion"), in which one is willing to sacrifice his children to save the other.
Ballad scholars might be interested in observing that the standard critical edition of "Amis and Amiloun" was edited by MacEdward Leach.
"The story of the friendship between Amis and Amiloun was one of the most popular of the Middle Ages. The earliest known version is a Latin text of the end of the eleventh century, but the story also survives in Anglo-Norman, continental French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Welsh, Dutch, German and Norse" (Fellows, p. xiv). Leach's edition of "Amis," pp. ix-xiv, lists 34 different analogues of the story from about Europe, seven of them, including the Middle English romance under discussed above, being part of the "romantic group [which] presents the extraordinary friendship of Amis and Amiloun, true knights of romance, and the testing of that friendship to the point of child sacrifice." Since all other members of this group appear to be Latin or French, it is likely that a French version underlies the English. The other 27 versions constitute the "hagiographic group," in which the two blood brothers are so virtuous that miracles happen around them and they end as martyrs. This version exists in many Latin versions but also in many, many vernaculars.
According to Foster, p. 1, "The premise of [Amis and Amiloun] is the deep and abiding friendship of Amis and Amiloun first manifested in their mutual pledge of 'trewthe,' total loyalty and fidelity. Such pledges were apparently common, and elaborate descriptions of them ornament many romances." (Foster's "trewthe" is usually spelled "trouthe," and it's more than just "truth" or honesty; it is also fidelity, self-honesty, and being true to one's own nature and place; it is the key to another Chaucer romance, the Franklin's Tale.)
Although "Amis and Amiloun" does not resemble "Bewick and Graham" in plot, it has some of the same aspects of moral dilemma. In the romance (among other complex adventures which pose serious ethical dilemmas), Amiloun develops leprosy, and it is revealed that he can only be healed if Amis kills his children and uses their blood to anoint Amiloun (Foster, pp. 6-7). To ask Amis to do so is a violation of the blood brotherhood (just as it is a violation for Bewick and Graham to fight), but Amis does the deed (just as Graham commits suicide). The dilemma, in both cases, is that the two blood brothers are forced to violate their blood brotherhood but also to keep it. In "Amis and Amiloun," we see a deus ex machina rescue (the children, despite being killed, are found alive); there is none such in "Bewick and Graham."
Wells, while calling "Amis" "rather melodramatic" (p. 159), on pp. 157-158 lists four manuscript copies -- making it one of the most popular of all Middle English romances; it is suggested that it is from the late thirteenth century. Leach's version has 2508 lines, which matches Foster's text and Wells's count; Fellows prints a text of 2496 lines (i.e. one fewer 12-line stanza).
Child suspected that there was an older "Bewick" ballad that preceded his printed texts from the early eighteenth century. I think he might be right, but I wonder if the older work, instead of a ballad, was a metrical romance, perhaps one with some sort of happier (or at least more fitting) resolution which was eliminated when the romance was cut down to the length of a (long, long) ballad. As a wild guess, one of the parents might have been testing one of the sons: "Will you obey me even to the point of killing your best friend?" Once it is shown that the son will, the test is canceled or the contestants allowed to survive. This has many parallels, including the Biblical story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), the Middle English romance "Sir Amadace" (see the description in Leach, p. li), and in part even "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." - RBW
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File: C211

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