Earl Brand

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

There are here put in juxtaposition three versions in ballad-form of the same story, though fragmentary in the two latter cases, not only because each is good, but to show the possibilities of variation in a popular story. There is yet another ballad, Erlinton, printed by Sir Walter Scott in the Minstrelsy, embodying an almost identical tale. Earl Brand preserves most of the features of a very ancient story with more exactitude than any other traditional ballad. But in this case, as in too many others, we must turn to a Scandinavian ballad for the complete form of the story. A Danish ballad, Ribold and Guldborg, gives the fine tale thus:--

Ribold, a king's son, in love with Guldborg, offers to carry her away 'to a land where death and sorrow come not, where all the birds are cuckoos, where all the grass is leeks, where all the streams run with wine.' Guldborg is willing, but doubts whether she can escape the strict watch kept over her by her family and by her betrothed lover. Ribold disguises her in his armour and a cloak, and they ride away. On the moor they meet an earl, who asks, 'Whither away?' Ribold answers that he is taking his youngest sister from a cloister. This does not deceive the earl, nor does a bribe close his mouth; and Guldborg's father, learning that she is away with Ribold, rides with his sons in pursuit. Ribold bids Guldborg hold his horse, and prepares to fight; he tells her that, whatever may chance, she must not call on him by name. Ribold slays her father and some of her kin and six of her brothers; only her youngest brother is left: Guldborg cries, 'Ribold, spare him,' that he may carry tidings to her mother. Immediately Ribold receives a mortal wound. He ceases fighting, sheathes his sword, and says to her, 'Wilt thou go home to thy mother again, or wilt thou follow so sad a swain?' And she says she will follow him. In silence they ride on. 'Why art not thou merry as before?' asks Guldborg. And Ribold answers, 'Thy brother's sword has been in my heart.' They reach his house: he calls for one to take his horse, another to fetch a priest; for his brother shall have Guldborg. But she refuses. That night dies Ribold, and Guldborg slays herself and dies in his arms.

A second and even more dramatic ballad, Hildebrand and Hilde, tells a similar story.

A comparison of the above tale with Earl Brand will show a close agreement in most of the incidents. The chief loss in the English ballad is the request of Ribold, that Guldborg must not speak his name while he fights. The very name 'Brand' is doubtless a direct derivative of 'Hildebrand.' Winchester (13.2), as it implies a nunnery, corresponds to the cloister in the Danish ballad. Earl Brand directs his mother to marry the King's daughter to his youngest brother; but her refusal, if she did as Guldborg did, has been lost.


(From R. Bell's Ancient Poems, Ballads, etc.)

Oh did ye ever hear o' brave Earl Bran'?
Ay lally, o lilly lally
He courted the king's daughter of fair England
All i' the night sae early.

She was scarcely fifteen years of age
Till sae boldly she came to his bedside.

'O Earl Bran', fain wad I see
A pack of hounds let loose on the lea.'

'O lady, I have no steeds but one,
And thou shalt ride, and I will run.'

'O Earl Bran', my father has two,
And thou shall have the best o' them a'.'

They have ridden o'er moss and moor,
And they met neither rich nor poor.

Until they met with old Carl Hood;
He comes for ill, but never for good.

'Earl Bran', if ye love me,
Seize this old earl, and gar him die.'

'O lady fair, it wad be sair,
To slay an old man that has grey hair.

'O lady fair, I'll no do sae,
I'll gie him a pound and let him gae.'

'O where hae ye ridden this lee lang day?
O where hae ye stolen this lady away?'

'I have not ridden this lee lang day,
Nor yet have I stolen this lady away.

'She is my only, my sick sister,
Whom I have brought from Winchester.'

'If she be sick, and like to dead,
Why wears she the ribbon sae red?

'If she be sick, and like to die,
Then why wears she the gold on high?'

When he came to this lady's gate,
Sae rudely as he rapped at it.

'O where's the lady o' this ha'?'
'She's out with her maids to play at the ba'.'

'Ha, ha, ha! ye are a' mista'en:
Gae count your maidens o'er again.

'I saw her far beyond the moor
Away to be the Earl o' Bran's whore.'

The father armed fifteen of his best men,
To bring his daughter back again.

O'er her left shoulder the lady looked then:
'O Earl Bran', we both are tane.'

'If they come on me ane by ane,
Ye may stand by and see them slain.

'But if they come on me one and all,
Ye may stand by and see me fall.'

They have come on him ane by ane,
And he has killed them all but ane.

And that ane came behind his back,
And he's gi'en him a deadly whack.

But for a' sae wounded as Earl Bran' was,
He has set his lady on her horse.

They rode till they came to the water o' Doune,
And then he alighted to wash his wounds.

'O Earl Bran', I see your heart's blood!'
''Tis but the gleat o' my scarlet hood.'

They rode till they came to his mother's gate,
And sae rudely as he rapped at it.

'O my son's slain, my son's put down,
And a' for the sake of an English loun.'

'O say not sae, my dear mother,
But marry her to my youngest brother.

'This has not been the death o' ane,
But it's been that o' fair seventeen.'

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