version from Motherwell’s MS., in which the curious line, “But a fig for all your land,” occurs. uses the same expression, “A fig for Peter” (2 Henry VI, Act ii, Sc. 3).
Five verses of this ballad are given in Notes and Queries (Series 5, volume vii, p. 387), “as heard sung years ago by a West Country fisherman.” As the late Mr. Hammond noted down more than one version in Dorset, the song has evidently taken root in the West of England, where all my versions were collected.
No. 16. The Green Wedding
The words of this ballad were sung to me to a very poor tune. I have, therefore, taken the liberty of mating them to a fine air which was sung to me to some very boisterous, unprintable words, called “The Boatsman and the Tailor.” The occasional substitution of a minor for the major third in a Mixolydian tune is quite a common habit with English folksingers, and several examples of this may be seen in this volume (see Nos.46, 47, and 53 [second version]); but for the major interval to follow the minor almost immediately is both curious and unusual. Miss Gilchrist has pointed out the close connection between “The Green Wedding” and the Scottish ballad “Katherine Janfarie,” or “Jaffray,” upon which Scott founded his ballad of “Lochinvar” in Marmion (see Child’s English and Scottish Ballads; Motherwell’s Minstrelsy; Sidgwick’s Popular Ballads of the Olden Time; and Scott’s Minstrelsty, 1st and 3rd editions).
In the Scottish ballad, Katherine is wooed first by the Laird of Lauderdale, who wins her consent, and secondly by Lord Lochinvar “out frae the English border,” who, however, omitted to avow his love to Katherine “till on her wedding e’en.” The rivals meet at the “wedding house” and, in the fight that ensues, Katherine is carried off by her Scottish lover.
Whether our ballad is a corrupt and incomplete version of the Scottish one, it is difficult to say. Although the two have several lines in common, there is something in the plot of “The Green Wedding” which, despite its obscurity, seems to indicate a motive which is absent from “Katherine Janfarie.” The scheme of our story seems to turn upon the dressing in green of both hero and heroine at the wedding feast, but the purpose of their device is not dear. This, however, presented no difficulty to my singer, who, when I asked him why the hero dressed in green, said, “Because, you see, he had told his true-love to dress in green also;” and when I further inquired why he told her to do this, he said, “Because, of course, he was going to put on a green dress himself” — and there was clearly nothing more to be said!
It is just possible, as Miss Gilchrist observes, that the reference to the green dress may be a reminiscence of “Robin Hood and Allan-a-Dale;” or perhaps it has been suggested by the following stanza which occurs in “Katherine Janfarie:”
He’s ta’en her by the milk-white hand,
And by the grass-green sleeve;
He’s mounted her hie behind himsell,
At her kinsmen speir’d na leave.
No. 17. The Briery Bush
The lines printed in the text are as the singer of this version sang them, with the exception of the last stanza, which I have borrowed from a variant collected elsewhere. For other versions with tunes, see English County Songs (p. 112); and the Journal of the Folk-Song Society (volume v, pp. 328-235), with a long and exhaustive note.
Under the heading of “The Maid freed from the Gallows,” Child (English and Scottish Ballads, No. 95) gives several versions and shows that the ballad is very generally known throughout Northern and Southern Europe — nearly fifty versions have been collected in Finland. In the foreign forms of the ballad, the victim usually falls into the hands of corsairs or pirates, who demand ransom, but none of the English versions account in any way for the situation.
Child also quotes another English variant communicated by Dr. Birkbeck Hill in 1890, “as learned forty years before from a schoolfellow who came from the North of Somerset.”