The Bramble Briar
"The Bramble Briar", "The Merchant's Daughter" or "In Bruton Town" (Roud 18; Laws M32) is a traditional English folk murder ballad that tells the story of how two brothers murder a servant who is courting their sister. There are many versions of the song going by a number of different titles.
A girl of noble birth falls in love with a servant and the two agree to get married. However, her two brothers discover the tryst and, because they consider him too low-born for her, decide to murder him. They go out hunting in the woods early in the morning and take the servant along with them. One of the brothers kills the man and hides the body in a bramble thicket. Once back home, their sister asks them why they are whispering to each other and what has become of the servant. One of the brothers tells her that they have lost him somewhere that he will never be found. That night the girl dreams of her lover. He is dead and covered in blood. The following day, she goes out to the woods where she eventually finds the corpse in the briars. She kisses his dead lips and sits mourning with his body for three days. When she at last returns, her brothers ask her why she is whispering and she tells them to get away from her, calling them "bloody butchers". In other versions of the story, she severs the head of the unfortunate victim, and takes it back with her in a jar.
The ballad was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1904 but is considerably older than that. It is a re-telling of a 14th-century tale called Isabella and the Pot of Basil by Boccaccio although, according to the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs the story was probably not new even then. The English romantic poet, John Keats, adapted the story into a poem called Isabella, or the Pot of Basil. Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt illustrated Keats's poem in his painting, Isabella and the Pot of Basil, in 1868.
Many musicians have recorded this song including:
- Martin Carthy recorded it as "Bruton Town" on his 1966 album Second Album
- Jacqui McShee recorded it as "Bruton Town" with Pentangle on their 1968 album The Pentangle and live on their 1968 album Sweet Child
- Sandy Denny performed a live version of "Bruton Town" in 1972 released on Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (1986)
- Maddy Prior and Tim Hart again used the title "Bruton Town" for a recording on their Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1 (1968)
- Louis Killen sang "Bramble Briar" on English and Scottish Folk Ballads (1964)
- Meg Baird, Helena Espvall & Sharron Kraus on the album Leaves From Off The Tree (2006)
- "Roud Folk Song Index 18". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
- The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd (1959)
- http://www.john-keats.com/gedichte/isabella.htm John Keats: Isabella
- "BBC - Your Paintings - Isabella and the Pot of Basil". Retrieved 20 February 2015.