False Foudrage (Child 89)

False Foudrage excited me the first time I read through it in the English and Scottish Popular Ballads: a dark and thrilling tale of lust, jealousy, murder, revenge, codewords and surrogate parenthood, with a satisfying conclusion. Child prints two substantial texts and one fragment, and the first thing to do was to decide on the cast of characters. All three versions start off with three kings vying for the hand of a lady, but where Child 89 B & C have either King Eastmuir or King Westmuir killing their successful rival out of jealousy, 89 A sees the three kings settle things amicably only for King Honor to fall victim to a baronial uprising in which the villain “Footrage” is merely chosen by lot (expressed in classic ballad lingo as “casting kaivels”) to do the dirty deed. I decided to combine both themes by retaining the Foudrage character but making him King Eastmuir’s hired assassin. After that things just fell into place with the usual cherry-picking from Child’s A and B versions: verses 1-5 are from B, with Foudrage substituted for the Eastmuir King and one or two concessions to more modern phraseology; the rest (excepting v22) is from A, with four verses omitted and another three pruned by amalgamating successive pairs. For v22 I went back to B – I couldn’t resist the idea that the villain has no idea of the identity or motive of his nemesis, right up to the point of death.

Unusually for one of the rarer ballads, three tunes survive from tradition. Child printed one from the Harris MS, noted down from an elderly nurse in Perthshire towards the end of the 18th century. This however, is the tune famously expropriated by Andy Irvine (mistakenly, some say, as a result of turning over two pages at once) for Willie O’ Winsbury, and later pressed into service by Richard Thompson for Farewell, Farewell. Not only does this tune belong in the “hackneyed” category (in my book, at least), but it’s also rather too gentle a creature to carry the grand guignol of the Foudrage ballad. Without being aware at the time of the two alternative tunes given by Bronson (which, with hindsight, don’t particularly appeal to me anyway), I decided on a whim to set my verses to the tune of Lord Gregory, (aka Child 76, The Lass of Roch Royal), which I knew from the singing of Joe Kerins, that wonderful, now sadly departed, resident of Harry Boardman’s 1980s folk club at The Unicorn in central Manchester. I would guess he learned it either from Joe Heaney or Elizabeth Cronin, although Ewan MacColl recorded a very similar version. Either way I had the tune in my head, but – possibly intimidated by the strength of Joe’s rendition - had never fancied singing the ballad. So, there I was, thinking about a tune for Foudrage, into my head pops Lord Gregory, and the rest is history.

1.The Eastmuir king and the Westmuir king
And the king of Honorie
They’ve courted of a fair young maid
All from the North country
2. King Eastmuir’s courted her for gold
King Westmuir for her fee
But the King of Honor’s won her heart
His bride all for to be
3. King Eastmuir swore a dreadful oth
All on their wedding day
And he has sent for False Foudrage
The king all for to slay
4. And at the dead hour of the night
When all were fast abed
False Foudrage so soft crept in
Stood at King Honor’s head
5. And his lady, she awakened
All from a drowsy dream
She saw her bride-bed swim with blood
And her good lord lay slain
6. Oh spare my life, False Foudrage
Until I lighter be
Spare me that I may bear the child
That King Honor’s left with me
7. Well if it be a lass, he said
Well nursed shall she be
But if it be a little boy
Then hanged he will be
8. I’ll not spare him for his tender age
Nor yet for his noble kin
But on the day that he is born
He’ll mount the gallows pin
9. Four and twenty valiant knights
Were set the queen for to guard
And four stood at her bower door
To keep both watch and ward
10. But when her time drew near its end
She’s given them beer and wine
And she has made them all as drunk
As any wildwood swine
11. And she’s slipped out of the window
She’s wandered out and in
And in the very swine sty
The queen brought forth a son
12. Now they have cast lots in the town
For who should go to the queen
And the lot it fell on Wise William
And he’s sent his wife for him
13. A favour, Wise William’s wife
This favour grant to me
Change your lass for my little boy
That King Honor left with me
14. And you will learn my gay goshawk
Well how to breast a steed
And I will learn your turtle-dove
As well to write and read
15. And you will learn my gay goshawk
To wield the bow and brand
And I will learn your turtle-dove
To lay gold all with her hand
16. And when we meet at the market place
We must no more avow
Than, madam, how does my goshawk?
Lady, how does my dove?

17. When days were gone and years come on
Wise William he thought long
And he has ta’en King Honor’s son
And they’ve a hunting gone

18. Do you see yon high, high castle
With walls and towers so fair
Well if every man had back his own
Of it you’d be the heir
19. For if you should slay False Foudrage
You’d set the wrong to right
For he has slain your father
E’er you ever saw the light
20. And if you should slay Flase Foudrage
There’s no man would you blame
For he keeps your mother prisoner
And she dare not let you home

21. So he’s set his bow all to his back
He’s climbed the castle wall
And there he’s met with False Foudrage
A-walking in the hall

22. Oh what ails you, my bonny boy
What ails you at me
For I did never do you wrong
Your face I ne’er did see
23. Oh hold your tongue, False Foudrage
For I know you and who you be
And he has pierced him through the heart
And set his mother free
24. And he has given to Wise William
The best part of his land
And he has wed his turtle-done
With the ring from off his hand

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