Tam Lin Balladry

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The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter

Source: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child.

Child Ballad Number: 110

cites: 'The beautifull shepherdesse of Arcadia', a Roxbourghe Ballads, III, 160, 161. b the same, II, 30, 31.


A knight encounters a shepherd's daughter and says he will die if they do not lay together. They do, and he departs. She follows him, running alongside his horse and swimming across rivers to keep up. When she reaches the king's castle, she tells the king that his knight has taken her virginity. The king commands that the knight responsible will either marry her or be hanged. The knight offers her money instead, but she refuses each offer. Finally, he marries her, and at the altar they learn she is a lady and he is but a squire.

The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter

    1. There was a shepherd's daughter
      Came triping on the way,
      And there she met a courteous knight,
      Which caused her to stay
    2. 'Good morrow to you, beautious maid,'
      These words pronounced he;
      'O I shall dye this day,' he said,
      'If I have not my will of thee.'
    3. 'The Lord forbid,' the maid reply'd,
      'That such a thing should be,
      That ever such a courteous yong knight
      Should dye for love of me.'
    4. He took her by the middle so small,
      And laid her down on the plain,
      And after he had had his will,
      He took her up again.
    5. 'Now you have had your wil, good sir,
      And put my body thus to shame,
      Even as you are a courteous knight,
      Tel me what is your name.'
    6. 'Some men do call me Jack, sweet heart,
      And some do call me John,
      But when I come to the king's [fair] court,
      They call me Sweet William.'
    7. He set his foot in the stirrop,
      And away then did he ride;
      She tuckt her kirtle about her middle,
      And run close by his side.
    8. But when she came to the broad water,
      She set her brest and swom,
      And when she was got out again,
      She took her heels and run.
    9. He never was the courteous knight
      To say, Fair maid, will you ride?
      Nor she never was so loving a maid
      To say, Sir Knight, abide.
    10. But when she came to the king's fair court,
      She knocked at the ring;
      So ready was the king himself
      To let his fair maid in.
    11. 'O Christ you save, my gracious leige,
      Your body christ save and see!
      You have got a knight within your court
      This day hath robbed me.
    12. 'What hath he robbed thee of, fair maid?
      Of purple or of pall?
      Or hath he took thy gay gold ring,
      From off thy finger small?'
    13. 'He hath not robbed me, my liege,
      Of purple nor of pall;
      But he hath got my maidenhead,
      Which grieves me worst of all.'
    14. 'Now if he be a batchelor,
      His body I'le give to thee;
      But if he be a married man,
      High hanged shall he be.'
    15. He called down his merry men all,
      By one, by two, and by three;
      Sweet William was us'd to be the first,
      But now the last comes hee.
    16. He brought her down full forty pound,
      Ty'd up with[in] a glove:
      'Fair maid, I give the same to the,
      And seek another love.'
    17. 'O I'le have none of your gold,' she said,
      'Nor I'le have none of your fee;
      But I must have your fair body
      The king hath given me.'
    18. Sweet William ran and fetcht her then
      Five hundred pound in gold,
      Saying, Fair maid, take this unto thee;
      Thy fault will never be told.
    19. ''Tis not your gold that shall me tempt,'
      These words then answered she,
      'But I must have your own body;
      So the king hath granted me.'
    20. 'Would I had drank the fair water
      When I did drink the wine,
      That ever any shepherd's daughter
      Should be a fair lady of mine!
    21. 'Would I had drunk the puddle-water
      When I did drink the ale,
      That ever any shepherd's daughter
      Should have told me such a tale!'
    22. 'A shepheard's daughter as I was,
      You might have let me be;
      I'd never come to the king's fair court
      To have craved any love of thee.'
    23. He set her on a milk-white steed,
      And himselfe upon a gray;
      He hung a bugle about his neck,
      And so they rode away.
    24. But when they came unto the place
      Where marriage rites were done,
      She provd her selfe a duke's daughter,
      And he but a squire's son.
    25. 'Now you have married me, sir knight,
      Your pleasures may be free;
      If you make me lady of one good town,
      I'le make you lord of three.'
    26. 'Accursed be the gold,' he said,
      'If thou hadst not bin true,
      That should have parted thee from me,
      To have chang'd thee for a new.'
    27. Their hearts being then so linked fast,
      And joyning hand in hand,
      He had both purse and person too,
      And all at his command.


  • A woman meets a man in the woods
  • They have sex
  • The woman must undergo hardships to claim the man
  • The hardships involve confronting a member of royalty
  • There are questions about the man's identity
  • The woman gets what she wants


There are a number of versions of this ballad that share opening verses with Tam Lin, particularly those regarding the Knight asking no leave of the maiden, and the maiden asking him his name. This story often uses the same construction seen in Tam Lin of a woman risking her rings, mantle, or maidenhead.

I have mostly included it because it's one of the few ballads where the woman gets to outwit and outargue someone, and that's a relief after so many of the others.

Version Notes

Added to site: August 2014