Saturday, May 12, 2012

English Folk Songs - Lord Bateman

by Jenna Dawlish

In this post, I continue my series looking at English Folk Songs. Today, is one of my favourite songs - Lord Bateman. This song is known as a Child ballad number 53 because it was collected by Francis Child. It is sometimes called "Lord Bateman and the Turkish Lady". Like many folk songs, this has a great story:

Lord Bateman tells the story of a nobleman of high degree who sails abroad and is captured and put in prison. There he stays for a long time, until he catches the eye of the daughter of his captor. She secretly visits him to talk to him and bring him food. They fall in love. Then one night, she steals her fathers keys and sets him free.

Lord Bateman must escape in his ship. They believe they will never meet again.

Years later, and Lord Bateman is back home in England. Unknown to him, the lady who set him free travels to England to find him because she can't forget him. She travels through the country asking where Lord Bateman is, and eventually finds his castle. They are re-united and discover that their love for each other has not gone and marry.

Legend says that this story is about Thomas a Becket's parents, though how true that is, is not certain. Generally it is thought this story is a fairy tale.

H.E. Marshall's book "Our Island Story" has a chapter devoted to this story. The couple are called Rohesia and Gilbert.

I have posted a couple of versions of the song below, but it has been sung many, many times. Just search in Spotify or YouTube and you will see how popular it is in the folk world.

Jenna Dawlish

Jenna Dawlish is the author of two Victorian novels. Love Engineered and Sprig of Thyme.


  1. The beauty of the ballads is how they've become altered over time. Thomas a Becket's mother, for example, is sometimes called Matilda, from Caen in France, and sometime Shoshia, also from France. Likely it became mixed with another song - Northumberland would mean the Percy family - and various versions became handed down - it wasn't printed until the 1700s, however long it might have been around. So many ballads travel all across Europe (there's plenty of information about this) and change subtly or greatly with time. What never changes is the essence of a ballad. In this case that's a young woman freeing a man from prison, falling in love, coming to find him, when they discover their mutual love (one version has him at the altar when she arrives, ready to marry another). It's the high romance that's of the essence here. By the way, there was legal friction involving thwe two versions you use here, as Moray borrowed heavily from Woods' arrangement.

  2. Ah! Great choice to post about. This one was new to me.



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