Ed de Moel

Child Ballads - Narrative

The Cruel Mother

  1. Herd's Manuscripts, i, 132, II, 191. Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, 1776, II, 237. Version A
    1. 'Fine Flowers in the Valley,' Johnson's Museum, p. 331.
    2. Scott's Minstrelsy, in, 259 (1803).
    Version B
  2. 'The Cruel Mother,' Motherwell's Minstrelsy, p. 161. Version C
    1. Kinloch Manuscripts, v, 103.
    2. 'The Cruel Mother,' Kinloch, Ancient Scottish Ballads, p. 46.
    Version D
  3. 'The Cruel Mother.'
    1. Motherwell's Manuscript, p. 390.
    2. Motherwell's Note-Book, p. 33.
    Version E
  4. 'The Cruel Mother.'
    1. Buchan's Manuscripts, II, 98.
    2. Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland, II, 222.
    Version F
  5. Notes and Queries, 1st S., VIII, 358. Version G
  6. 'The Cruel Mother,' Motherwell's Manuscript, p. 402. Version H
  7. 'The Minister's Daughter of New York.'
    1. Buchan's Manuscripts, II, 111.
    2. Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland, II, 217.
    3. 'Hey wi the rose and the lindie O,' Christie, Traditional Ballad Airs, I, 106.
    Version I
    1. 'The Rose o Malindie O,' Harris Manuscript, f. 10.
    2. Fragment communicated by Dr. T. Davidson.
    Version J
  8. Motherwell's Manuscript, p. 186. Version K
  9. 'Fine Flowers in the Valley,' Smith's Scottish Minstrel, iv, 33. Version L
  10. From Miss M. Reburn, as learned in County Meath, Ireland, one stanza. Version M

Two fragments of this ballad, A, B, were printed in the last quarter of the eighteenth century; C-L were committed to writing after 1800; and, of these, E, H, J, K are now printed for the first time.

A-H differ only slightly, but several of these versions are very imperfect. A young woman, who passes for a leal maiden, gives birth to two babes [A, B, one, H, three], puts them to death with a penknife, B-F, and buries them, or, H, ties them hand and feet and buries them alive. She afterwards sees two pretty boys, and exclaims that if they were hers she would treat them most tenderly. They make answer that when they were hers they were very differently treated, rehearse what she had done, and inform or threaten her that hell shall be her portion, C, D, B, F, H. In I the children are buried alive, as in H, in J a strangled, in J b and L killed with the penknife, but the story is the same down to the termination, where, instead of simple hell-fire, there are various seven-year penances, properly belonging to the ballad of 'The Maid and the Palmer,' which follows this.

All the English ballads are in two-line stanzas.[foot-note]

Until 1870 no corresponding ballad had been found in Denmark, though none was more likely to occur in Danish. That year Kristensen, in the course of his very remarkable ballad-quest in Jutland, recovered two versions which approach surprisingly near to Scottish tradition, and especially to B: Jydske Folkeviser, I, 329, No 121 A, B, 'Barnemordersken.' Two other Danish versions have been obtained since then, but have not been published. A and B are much the same, and a close translation of A will not take much more space than would be required for a sufficient abstract.

Little Kirsten took with her the bower-women five,
And with them she went to the wood belive.

She spread her cloak down on the earth,
And on it to two little twins gave birth.

She laid them under a turf so green,
Nor suffered for them a sorrow unseen.

She laid them under so broad a stone,
Suffered sorrow nor harm for what she had done.

Eight years it was, and the children twain
Would fain go home to their mother again.

They went and before Our Lord they stood:
'Might we go home, to our mother, we would.'

'Ye may go to your mother, if ye will,
But ye may not contrive any ill.'

They knocked at the door, they made no din:
'Rise up, our mother, and let us in.'

By life and by death hath she cursed and sworn,
That never a child in the world had she borne.

'Stop, stop, dear mother, and swear not so fast,
We shall recount to you what has passed.

'You took with you the bower-women five,
And with them went to the wood belive.

'You spread your cloak down on the earth,
And on it to two little twins gave birth.

'You laid us under a turf so green,
Nor suffered for us a sorrow unseen.

'You laid us under so broad a stone,
Suffered sorrow nor harm for what you had done.'

'Nay my dear bairns, but stay with me;
And four barrels of gold shall be your fee.'

'You may give us four, or five, if you choose,
But not for all that, heaven will we lose.

'You may give us eight, you may give us nine,
But not for all these, heaven will we tine.

'Our seat is made ready in heavenly light,
But for you a seat in hell is dight.'

A ballad is spread all over Germany which is probably a variation of 'The Cruel Mother,' though, the resemblance is rather in the general character than in the details. A, 'Hollisches Recht,' Wunderhorn, II, 202, ed. of 1808, II, 205, ed. 1857. Mittler, No 489, p. 383, seems to be this regulated and filled out. B, Erlach, 'Die Rabenmutter,' iv, 148; repeated, with the addition of one stanza, by Zuccalmaglio, p. 203, No 97. C, 'Die Kindsmörderinn,' Meinert, p. 164, from the Kuhlandchen; turned into current German, Erk's Liederhort, p. 144, No 41o. D, Simrock, p. 87, No 37a from the Aargau. E, 'Das falsche Mutterherz,' Erk u. Irmer, Heft 5, No 7, and 'Die Kindesmörderin,' Erk's Liederhort, p. 140, No 41, Brandenburg. F, Liederhort, p. 142, No 41a Silesia. G, Liederhort, p. 143, 41b, from the Rhein, very near to B. H, Hoffmann u. Richter, No 31, p. 54, and I, No 32, p. 57, Silesia. J, Ditfurth, Frankische V. 1., n, 12, No 13. K, 'Die Rabenmutter,' Peter, Volksthümliches aus Osterreichisch-Schlesien, I, 210, No 21. L, 'Der Teufel u. die Müllerstochter,' Prohle, Weltliche u. geistliche V. 1., p. 15, No 9, Hanoverian Harz. Repetitions and compounded copies are not noticed.

The story is nearly this in all. A herdsman, passing through a wood, hears the cry of a child, but cannot make out whence the sound comes. The child announces that it is hidden in a hollow tree, and asks to be taken to the house where its mother is to be married that day. There arrived, the child proclaims before all the company that the bride is its mother. The bride, or some one of the party, calls attention to the fact that she is still wearing her maiden-wreath. Nevertheless, says the child, she has had three children: one she drowned, one she buried in a dung-heap [the sand], and one she hid in a hollow tree. The bride wishes that the devil may come for her if this is true, and, upon the word, Satan appears and takes her off; in B, G, J, with words like these:

'Komm her, komm her, meine schonste Braut,
Dein Sessel ist dir in der Holle gebaut.' J 9.

A Wendish version, 'Der Hollentanz,' in Haupt and Schmaler, I, 290, No 292, differs from the German ballads only in this, that the bride has already borne nine children, and is going with the tenth.

A combination of B, C, D, F is translated by Grundtvig, Engelske og skotske Folkeviser, No 43, p. 279, and I, from the eighth stanza on, p. 282. C is translated by Wolff, Halle der Völker, I, 11, and Hauschatz, p. 223; Allingham's version (nearly B a) by Knortz, L. u. R. Alt-Englands, p. 178, No 48.

This page most recently updated on 15-Oct-2011, 09:22:30.
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