This ballad is also known as The Brown Girl and Ellinor is spelled many different ways (Eleanor, Elinor, etc.) She is also named Annet in a version by Percy.
This ballad is Child Ballad #73 (Lord Thomas and Fair Annet).
The story dates back at least to the time of Charles II and the ballad probably dates back further. It is still popular in England, Ireland and Scotland. There are similar stories in Norse and other European ballads. It is also found in the Appalachians.
See also Bartleby's versions quoted from The Oxford Book of Ballads (1910): Lord Thomas and Fair Annet (54) and from English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray (The Harvard Classics, 1909–14): Lord Thomas and Fair Annet (8)
1. Lord Thomas was a bold forester;
And the lodge-keeper of the king's deer.
Fair Ellinor was as a gay lady;
Lord Thomas he loved her dear.
2. Now riddle me, dear mother, said he,
And riddle it all in one,
Whether I shall marry the brown girl,
or bring fair Ellinor home.
3. The brown girl she has houses and land
Fair Ellinor she has none;
Wherefore I charge you upon my blessing,
To bring the brown girl home.
4. So way he flew to fair Ellinor's bow'r,
And tingled so loud at the ring
No one was so ready as fair Ellinor
To let Thomas in.
5. What new, what news, what news? she cried,
What news hast thou brought unto me?
I am come to bid thee to my wedding,
Beneath the sycamore tree.
6. O God forbid that any such thing
Should ever pass by my side;
I thought that thou wouldst have been my bridegroom
And I should have been the bride.
7. Come riddle my mother, come riddle, she said,
Come riddle it unto me,
Whether I to Lord Thomas's wedding shall go,
Or whether I stay with thee.
8. It's hundred are your friends, daughter,
And thousands are your foes;
Therefore I beg thee with all my blessing
To Lord Thomas's wedding don't go.
9. It's thousands are my friends mother;
And hundreds are my foes;
So betide my life, and betide my death,
To Lord Thomas's wedding I'll go.
10. Fair Ellinor dress'd in her rich array,
Her merry men all in green;
And ev'ry town that she rode through
They took her for some queen.
11. She rode till she came to Thomas's house;
She tingled so loud at the ring,
There was none so ready as Lord Thomas himself
To let fair Ellinor in.
12. He took her by the lilywhite hand
And led her through the hall,
And sat her down in the noblest chair,
Amongst the ladies all.
13. Is this your bride, Lord Thomas, she said
Methinks she looks wonderfully brown;
When you could have had the fairest lady
That ever trod English ground.
14. Despise her not, Lord Thomas then said,
Despise her not unto me;
For more do I love thy little finger
Than all her whole body.
15. The brown girl had a little penknife
Which was both long and sharp;
'Twist the small ribs and the short she pricked
Fair Ellinor to the heart.
16. Oh! what is the matter, Fair Ellen, he said
Methinks you look wondrous wan;
You used to have a fair a colour
As ever the sun shone on.
17. Oh! are you blind, Lord Thomas? she said,
Oh! can you not very well see?
Oh! can you not see my own heart's blood
Come tinkling down my knee?
18. Lord Thomas he had a sword by his side,
As he walked through the hall;
He took off the brown girl's head from her shoulders
And flung it against the wall.
19. He put the sword to the ground,
The sword unto his heart
No sooner did three lovers meet
No sooner did they part.
"Make me a grave both long and wide,
And lay fair Ellinor by my side -
and the brown girl at my feet."
20. Lord Thomas was buried in the church
Fair Ellinor in the choir;
And from her bosom there grew a rose
And out of Lord Thomas the briar.
21. They grew till they reached the church tip top,
When the could grow no higher;
And then they entwined like a true lover's knot,
For all true lovers to admire.
Notes from Cecil J. Sharp, One Hundred English Folksongs (1916):
This, of course, is a very common ballad. The words are on ballad-sheets and in most of the well-known collections, and are fully analyzed in Child's English and Scottish Ballads. For versions with tunes, see the Journal of the Folk-song Society (volume ii, pp. 105-108); English County Songs (p. 42); Sandys's Christmas Carols; Traditional Tunes (p. 40); Ritson's Scottish Songs (Part iv, p. 228).; etc.
The singer assured me that the three lines between the 19th and 20th stanzas were always spoken and never sung. This is the only instance of the kind that I have come across (see English Folk Song: Some Conclusions, p. 6).
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