Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Mary Clarke, Willson Wood, Kenneth Clarke

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


The traditional ballad, the genre of the above poetry, has been a subject of much controversy and speculation, especially regarding its origin. The problem of origin is not likely to be solved unless much more evidence is found. Among the many theories are communal authorship, and individual poet; humble and oral origin, and sophisticated and literary origin. Studies of linguistics, of ballad refrain, and of carole continue the attempt to discover ballad genesis. However, a very different approach perhaps can be used to determine the origin of some ballads, particularly the romantic ballads; that approach is to use the courtly love code as an indicator - the highly codified love which evolved from literary sources of eleventh and twelfth century Provence. Elements of courtly love occur in the above stanzas of "Johnie Scot" (No. 99), such as high birth of the lovers, bravery, and illicit love. If substantial evidence of inherent courtly love elements in certain of the ballads can be offered, the ballads in question would appear to have originated from literary or courtly sources.

All of the 3')5 Child ballads were first screened for romantic elements. Since more than half the ballads contain such elements, the scope was narrowed to approximately eighty romantic ballads in the first 116. Selection was then made of five ballads which seemed to offer the best examples of courtly love. Two of them were probably composed soon after courtly love came into vogue, for they appear to have been based primarily on illicit and sensual love: "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" (No. 81) and "Glasgerion" (No. 67). Three others, if of courtly origin, possibly were composed towards the end of the courtly love era when marriage was becoming idealized, for they include definite hints of marriage: "Johnie Scot" (No. 99), "Lady Maisry" (No. 65), and "Sir Cawline" (::o. 61). In order to show contrast, other romantic ballads were studied for absence of courtly love or use of courtly love simply as ornamentation. Ballads in this group are "Hind Horn" (No. 17), "Tam Lin" (No. 39), and "The Raffled Knight" (No. 112).

Evelyn Kendrick in The Ballad Tree regards the romantic ballads as:

Those ballads which form the main trunk of the tree . . . 'romantic' in their concern with the them of love and adventure . . .

The romantic ballad deals with the stuff of life, as it would be understood in any age . . . it appears today as it did five hundred years ago.

Romantic as applied to the ballads in this paper refers to those ballads which focus on male-female relationships involving some aspect of love. Then this love appears to be courtly and intrinsic to the ballad plot, the theory of ballad origin directly related to the courts achieves validity.


Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Folklore | Linguistic Anthropology | Literature in English, North America | Music | Musicology | Social and Behavioral Sciences