The Sweet Trinity
"The Sweet Trinity", also known as "The Golden Vanity" or "The Golden Willow Tree", is Child Ballad 286. The first surviving version, about 1635, was "Sir Walter Raleigh Sailing In The Lowlands (Shewing how the famous Ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Gally & how it was again restored by the craft of a little Sea-boy, who sunk the Gally".
A captain of a ship (the Sweet Trinity or Golden Vanity or Golden Willow Tree of the title) laments the danger it is in; Sir Walter Raleigh complains that it was captured by a galley, but the more common complaint is that it is in danger from another ship, which may be French, Turkish, Spanish, or (especially in American variants) British. A cabin boy offers to solve the problem. The captain promises him rich rewards, which vary enormously between versions. The boy swims to the enemy ship, bores holes in its hull, and sinks it.
He swims back. Usually, the captain declares he will not take him up, let alone reward him; in some variants, he extorts the rescue and reward by sinking, or threatening to sink, his ship as well, but usually, he drowns (sometimes after saying he would sink the ship if it weren't for the crew). Occasionally, the crew rescue him, but he dies on the deck. In the variant with Raleigh, Raleigh is willing to keep some of his promises, but not to marry him to his daughter, and the cabin boy scorns him. In the New England version recorded by John Roberts (see below), he sinks both ships but is rescued by another one, thus explaining how the story could have been passed on.
One variant of "The Sweet Trinity", American traditional, closest to Child's version C.
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- The Carter Family recorded it in 1935 under the title "Sinking in the Lonesome Sea".
- The Almanac Singers (Pete Seeger on lead vocal) recorded it on Deep Sea Chanteys and Whaling Ballads (1941).
- A.L. Lloyd on The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume III (1956).
- Scottish Skifle artist Lonnie Donegan recorded the song as 'The Golden Vanity' for the b-side of his UK number 1 single My Old Man's a Dustman in 1960.
- The New Lost City Ramblers recorded it (as "Sinking in the Lonesome Sea", after the Carter Family version) on Gone to the Country (1963, Folkways FA2491).
- The Chad Mitchell Trio recorded it on At the Bitter End (1964).
- Dutch singer Boudewijn de Groot included a Dutch retelling of the song, called Noordzee ('North Sea'), on his self-titled 1965 debut album. The translation was written by his close companion Lennaert Nijgh.
- Martin Simpson on the album Golden Vanity (1976).
- Steeleye Span recorded it in 1995 for the album Time, but it appeared instead on an anthology The Best of British Folk Rock.
- The Friends of Fiddler's Green on This Side of the Ocean (1997).
- Loudon Wainwright III recorded a version under the name "Turkish Revelry" on Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys (2006).
- Peter, Paul and Mary also recorded the tune as "The Golden Vanity" and the Brothers Four, as "The Gallant Argosy".
- In 1966 Benjamin Britten made an arrangement of the song (opus 78) for boys' voices and piano.
- In 1992 Bob Dylan performed it at a concert. This later appeared as a bootleg album called Golden Vanity (recordings made 1988 - 1992) (see Dylan bootlegs).
- Crooked Still recorded the song as "The Golden Vanity" on their Live album (2009) and on "Some Strange Country" (2011).
- John Roberts recorded a New England version, entitled "The Weeping Willow Tree", on his 2003 album Sea Fever.
- The baritone Bruce Hubbard, recorded it as "The Golden Willow Tree" in 1989 for his album "For You, For Me", with Dennis Russell Davies and the Orchestra of St. Luke's. It is on Angel/EMI Records.
- Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, and Ed Trickett recorded it in 1978 on their second CD for Folk-Legacy "The Ways of Man".
Aaron Copland used it as one of the songs in his Old American Songs sets.