- A sort of true story from my early days in the SCA, by Lady Teleri the Well-Prepared, June 2009
The tune of "Queen Eleanor's Confession" works well.
So long ago in Settmour Swamp
In kingdom of the East
A dragon menaced one and all
That foul and crafty beast
It ate up all the mutton meat
And drank up all the mead
Oh, who shall save our barony
In this, its time of need?
Merlynia was our ruler then
From Rivenoak in Wales
She’d fought the Romans handily
Her courage never fails
At last she faced the dragon green
But not with sword or shield
She beat the beast most viciously
With leek found in a field
And so in days of darkness deep
When things were looking bleak
Merlynia saved her barony
Just by taking a leek
I joined the SCA in 1994, and the first few months are a little hazy in memory. I didn’t understand all of what I was seeing, and I don’t remember all of it now.
I do remember a local baronial event – the baronial birthday, I think, Mudthaw – in which our a short playlet pitched our baroness, Merlynia of Rivenoak, against a dragon, which she defeated by striking with a large leek. The leek was a weapon of opportunity, leading to the playlet’s groaner punchline: How the baroness saved Settmour Swamp by taking a leek!
This may have been her investiture. (Southern Region EK is like that.) Like I said, the details are hazy.
When I saw that the theme of Highland River Melee’s 2009 A&S was “leeks in any medium,” I knew just what leek tale I wanted to tell.
The inspiration for the ballad is given above in the Introduction. Merlynia has a Welsh persona; there may well be no Rivenoak actually in Wales, but her name is “Merlynia of Rivenoak” and she’s Welsh, so I’m taking liberties. She has a very early persona, and does extensive research into Roman era history, so I’m making her a rough contemporary of Boudica. (Which makes identifying her as ‘Welsh’ a bit dodgy, I admit, since that’s a word the Anglo-Saxons brought a few centuries later.)
The poem is a ballad. These were used from the 16th century onward as narratives. The earliest Robin Hood poems, such as Robin Hood and the Potter, are ballads. They tell a story. Some have a repeated line or pair of lines to serve as a chorus, and some do not.
The poem is in ballad meter. That’s 8-6-8-6: eight syllables in the first line, six in the second, eight in the third, six in the fourth. The meter is iambic: the poetic “feet” are two syllable pairs of “unstressed-STRESSED.” We see this in the first line:
The two short lines must rhyme; some ballads also try to rhyme the two long lines, but it’s not a requirement.
The baroness’s name, mer-LYN-i-a, presented some problems with the meter. Aside from changing her name, there’s little I can do to make it fit. Bumps in the meter are not uncommon in ballads, and I try to smooth it over with some musical tricks.
Although many ballads sung in the SCA are “traditional” and not dated to pre-1600, the form did exist. We have Robin Hood ballads as early as the mid- to late 1500s (Knight and Ohlgren 1997), and Master Gregory Blount of Isenfir maintains a long list of ballads that survive with music (Lindahl 2009).
Any ballad tune could be used.
The tune used for “The Hunt Is Up” by Wiliam Gray of Reading can be used. Gray is mentioned in the 1589 The Art of English Poesy: “And one Gray, what good estimation did he grow unto with the same king Henry [VIII]... for making certain merry ballads, whereof one chiefly was The Hunt is up.” That tune is a jaunty one in Ionian mode (or a major key), with alternative long and fast notes to give it a swinging feeling, as if one were cantering along on the hunt.
A tune used for “Queen Eleanor’s Confession” (Child 156, first printed as a broadside in 1685) has a humorous quality and is also very suitable. Child does not give the tune, and I now cannot say where I first learned it.
Child, James Francis, ed. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. vol III. Courier Dover Publications, 2003, pp. 257-264.
Knight, Stephen and Ohlgren, Thomas, eds. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997.
Lindahl, Greg, ed. Sixteenth Century Ballads: A work in progress. Accessed 02 June 2009.