Fair Annie: Pretty as a Liability

david and bathsheba detailThe cultural desire for women to be forever young and fair comes at a price, especially when a couple faces a mid-life crisis.  The man (who was distinctly the more powerful of the two) might decide to find a way to cast off the old wife for someone new and younger.  This certainly is a main theme in the life of Henry VIII!

This is also displayed in the ballad “Fair Annie” (Child 62), which traces its lineage back to 1200 when Marie de France told a tale of two twin girls in Lai del Freisne.  In “Fair Annie,” the bride who has born six children and is carrying the seventh is told to pretend to be a maiden again because her husband (Lord Thomas) is off to fetch a new bride.  Though she protests, she must obey.

Perhaps after six births and yet another pregnancy, Annie is not the flower she once was.  Perhaps Lord Thomas no longer finds her as pleasurable or exciting.  Either way, the lure of a young and beautiful maiden convinces him to cast off his wife.

In complete despair at the situation, Annie turns to music (her flute) to console herself.  The new bride recognizes the tune and asks the woman her lineage–only to discover that they are sisters!  Oh uh, not a smart move there Lord Thomas.  He’ll have his due!

While many variations exist, I learned this version from Maggie Boyle and Steve Tilston.

Fair Annie

“Comb back your hair, Fair Annie,” he said.
“Comb it back into your crown.
You must lead a maiden’s life,
When I bring the new bride home.”

“Oh how can I look maiden-like,
when a maiden I am none;
Six fair sons have I borne by you,
And the seventh coming on.”

“Oh you shall bake my bread,” he said.
“Oh and you shall keep my home;
And you shall welcome my lady gay
When I bring the new bride home.”

And over the door he’s hung a silken towel,
Pierced by a silver pin;
That Fair Annie she might wipe her eyes,
As she’s gang out and in.

Well six months gone and nine coming on,
She thought the time wore long;
So she’s taken a spyglass in her hand,
And up to the tower she has run.

She has looked east, she has looked west,
She looked all under the sun;
And who should she see but Lord Thomas,
A-bringing of his bride all home.

And she has called on her seven sons,
By one by two by three;
And she said unto her eldest son,
“Come and tell me what you see.”

He has looked east, he has looked west,
He looked all under the sun;
And who should he see but his father dear,
A-bringing of his new bride home.

“Oh shall I dress in green?” she said,
“Or shall I dress in black?
Or shall I cast me o’er the high cliffs,
And send my soul to wrack?”

“Oh you need not dress in green,” he said,
“Nor ye needn’t dress in black;
But go fling wide the great hall doors,
And welcome my father back.”

“Well-come, well-come, Lord Thomas,” she said,
“You are welcome unto me.
Well-come, well-come to your merry men all,
That you’ve brought across the sea.”

And she served them with the best of wine,
Yes she served them up and down;
But she drank water from the well
For to keep her spirits down.

She served them the live-long day,
‘Til she thought the time wore long;
So she’s taken a flute all in her hand
And up to the tower she has run.

She has fluted east, she has fluted west,
She fluted loud and shrill.
She wished that her sons were seven greyhounds
And her a wolf on the hill.

“Come down, come down,” the new bride said,
“Come down unto me.
Tell me the name of your father dear,
And I’ll tell mine to thee.”

“Well King Douglas was my father’s name,
And Queen Chatten is my mother;
And Sweet Marie is my sister dear,
And Prince Henry is my brother.”

“Well if King Douglas was your father’s name,
And Queen Chatten is your mother;
Then I’m sure that I am your sister dear,
As Prince Henry is our brother.

“And I have seven ships that sail the sea,
They are loaded to the brim.
Six of them shall I give to you,
And the seventh for to carry me home.

“Six of them shall I give to you,
Once we’ve Lord Thomas hung.”