The Cruel Mother
1: The Cruel Mother

Versions from the Singing Tradition
1: The Cruel Mother
As sung by Jock Duncan, Pitlochry, Perthshire
2: The Cruel Mother
As sung by Lemmy Brazil, Gloucester
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As sung by Jock Duncan of Pitlochry, originally of New Deer, Aberdeenshire where he learned this ballad from George Kidd, farm grieve on the neighbouring farm back in around 1935 when Jock was 10 or 12 years old. Recorded by Peter Shepheard. Jock never heard the song from anyone else. There are three tunes and four fairly full texts in The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection (GD 193) and Bronson has 47 versions, texts and tunes, in his The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads. To find a new version in the 1990s as full as Jock's is remarkable.

Jock Duncan: I used tae visit him quite a lot, Geordie. He wis greive in the 30s at North Faddenhill for ma father - we were South Faddenhill. Fen he retired he bought a wee croftie away in the hill o Meigle at New Deer and there he skuttered aboot, rearin a calf, and keepin a hen or two. Geordie used tae sing that song tae me even fen he wis retired. It wis one o his favourites. It wis in the 50s the last I saw o Geordie.

Jock's version is unique in many ways but is perhaps most similar to the north-east version collected by Peter Buchan in the early 1800s (Peter Buchan: Ballads of the North of Scotland. This includes the use of flower and plant symbolism in the chorus: the rose being the flower of passion and the lindie the linden or lime tree, being somewhat akin to the Rowan and having significance as a holy tree giving protection against evil.

A maiden was coorted seiven years an a day,
Hey tae the rose and the lindie O
Until her beau did her betray.
Doun by the greenwood sidey O

She leaned her back against a wa,
And bore him bonnie bairnies twa.

Then she took oot a wicked knife,
And dang awa their precious life. [i.e. beaten to death

Oh she beeried them 'neath a marble stane,
And then went hame a maiden again.

Ae nicht she looked ower her castle wa,
And saw twa bonnie boys at the ba.

'Oh bonnie bairnies gin ye were mine,
I wad feed ye on fine cakes an wine.'

'And I'd lat ye drink the ferra coo's milk, [i.e. farrow cow
And dress ye in fine satin an silk.'

'Oh cruel, cruel mither when we were thine,
We didna feed on cakes an wine.'

'Nor did we drink on the ferra coo's milk,
Nor did we dress in satin an silk.'

'For you took oot a wicked knife,
And you dang awa oor precious life.'

'Oh bonnie bairnies ye'll tell tae me,
Fit kin o pain for ye I mith dree.' [i.e. what pain I might endure

'Cruel, cruel mither we'll tell tae ye,
Fit kin o pain for us ye maun dree.' [i.e. what pain you must endure

'It's seiven lang years a fowl in the woods,
An seiven lang years a fish in the floods.'

'Then it's seiven lang years a tongue to the bell,
Hey tae the rose and the lindie O
And the rest o the time in the flames o Hell.
Doun by yon greenwood sidey O'

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