The Cruel Brother

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is that obtained in 1800 by Alexander Fraser Tytler from Mrs. Brown of Falkland, and by him committed to writing. The first ten and the last two stanzas show corruption, but the rest of the ballad is in the best style.

The Story emphasises the necessity of asking the consent of a brother to the marriage of his sister, and therefore the title The Cruel Brother is a misnomer. In ballad-times, the brother would have been well within his rights; it was rather a fatal oversight of the bridegroom that caused the tragedy.

Danish and German ballads echo the story, though in the commonest German ballad, Graf Friedrich, the bride receives an accidental wound, and that from the bridegroom's own hand.

The testament of the bride, by which she benefits her friends and leaves curses on her enemies, is very characteristic of the ballad-style, and is found in other ballads, as Lord Ronald and Edward, Edward. In the present case, 'sister Grace' obtains what would seem to be a very doubtful benefit.


There was three ladies play'd at the ba',
With a hey ho and a lillie gay
There came a knight and played o'er them a',
As the primrose spreads so sweetly.

The eldest was baith tall and fair,
But the youngest was beyond compare.

The midmost had a graceful mien,
But the youngest look'd like beautie's queen.

The knight bow'd low to a' the three,
But to the youngest he bent his knee.

The ladie turned her head aside;
The knight he woo'd her to be his bride.

The ladie blush'd a rosy red,
And say'd, 'Sir knight, I'm too young to wed.'

'O ladie fair, give me your hand,
And I'll make you ladie of a' my land.'

'Sir knight, ere ye my favour win,
You maun get consent frae a' my kin.'

He's got consent frae her parents dear,
And likewise frae her sisters fair.

He's got consent frae her kin each one,
But forgot to spiek to her brother John.

Now, when the wedding day was come,
The knight would take his bonny bride home.

And many a lord and many a knight
Came to behold that ladie bright.

And there was nae man that did her see,
But wish'd himself bridegroom to be.

Her father dear led her down the stair,
And her sisters twain they kiss'd her there.

Her mother dear led her thro' the closs,
And her brother John set her on her horse.

She lean'd her o'er the saddle-bow,
To give him a kiss ere she did go.

He has ta'en a knife, baith lang and sharp,
And stabb'd that bonny bride to the heart.

She hadno ridden half thro' the town,
Until her heart's blude stain'd her gown.

'Ride softly on,' says the best young man,
'For I think our bonny bride looks pale and wan.'

'O lead me gently up yon hill,
And I'll there sit down, and make my will.'

'O what will you leave to your father dear?'
'The silver-shod steed that brought me here.'

'What will you leave to your mother dear?'
'My velvet pall and my silken gear.'

'What will you leave to your sister Anne?'
'My silken scarf and my gowden fan.'

'What will you leave to your sister Grace?'
'My bloody cloaths to wash and dress.'

'What will you leave to your brother John?'
'The gallows-tree to hang him on.'

'What will you leave to your brother John's wife?'
'The wilderness to end her life.'

This ladie fair in her grave was laid,
And many a mass was o'er her said.

But it would have made your heart right sair,
To see the bridegroom rive his hair.

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