About the Ballads

Entertainment in the Twelfth Century

In twelfth century Europe, there was no television, no radio or recorded music, no computers or telephones, no newspapers or magazines.Books are rare, hand-written documents and they were in Latin, a language only a few, very educated people could read. Professional musicians lived in the households of very wealthy noblemen, or traveled from place to place, as did wandering actors who presented plays based on stories from the Bible, but professional entertainment was a rare luxury for most people. In such a world, it was important to be able to make your own entertainment. People told stories, played riddling games and played chess a few other more simple games that have survived until today. To find out about some games of the Middle Ages and how to play them, visit Tara Hill Design's Rules for Medieval Games page . The games at the bottom of that page, Nine Man's Morris or Merreles, Fox and Geese and Sailor's Solitaire, were all played in 12th century Britain. A stone board for playing Merreles was recovered when Jedburgh Abbey was excavated by archaeologists in 1984. Jedburgh is very close to the places where An Earthly Knight is set.
 
Stories about King Arthur and his court were just beginning to be popular at this time. Although the stories probably originated in Wales, many people believed that Camelot had been located in Scotland. The website for the Roman fortress town of Caerleon in Wales has a great set of pages about King Arthur and the legends surrounding him, starting with their King Arthur Introduction page.

The Ballads

People also danced and sang songs to amuse themselves. Many of the songs were long and told complete stories, just as short stories, plays and novels do today. These story-songs are called ballads. Some ballads had very simple tunes and were used for dancing. Unlike now, people then did not dance in couples. Instead, they danced in long lines, or in circles. Today, we do not know which ballads were sung to provide music for dancing and which were just sung for to be listened to.

Some French ballads readily lend themselves to the simple line and circle dances that were popular in those days. The popular dances of this time are very easy to learn and perform. To learn more about these dances, visit Arron Rice's Middle Ages Dance Page .

Many of the ballads mentioned in An Earthly Knight are real songs.  The song I called "L'anneau d'or" (The Gold Ring) is also known as "La fille du roi d'espagne" (The King of Spain's Daughter). You can read a version of this song in French on the web site Chansonnet on their  "La fille du roi d'Espagne." page. You can read the French text of another song that tells the same story by visiting "Isabeau s'y promeme" on the parolenet web site. Another of the songs mentioned,  about a girl who pretends to be dead for three days to protect her honour is usually called "Blanche comme la neige," (White as the Snow). Click on the title to read a version of this song in French.
 

"Tam Lin" and "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight"

Because so little information was recorded about everyday life, it's difficult to say how old most of these ballads are. It's possible that ballads mentioned in An Earthly Knight were not known in the 12th century, but we know that songs can exist for a long time before they are written down. The two ballads that provided me with the plot for An Earthly Knight are "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" and "Tam Lin."

"Tam Lin" orginated in Scotland. It has proven to be a very popular and appealing ballad. Many books have been based on Tam Lin and even a few movies. To read the text of the ballad visit Lesley Nelson-Burns's Tam Lin Page . To find out more about this ballad and its history, visit the Tam Lin Page in the Legends Web Site. To find out even more, visit the Tam Lin Web Site. Click on this "Tam Lin" Music link to hear one of the tunes of  this ballad in midi format. (This music file was created by John Renfro Davis and is also found on the first Tam Lin page linked above.) Information about "Tam Lin" on the www seems almost endless.

"Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" is not as popular as "Tam Lin," but most ballads aren't. In the past, "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight," or "The Outlandish Knight" as it is sometimes called, was very popular and versions of this ballad are found in virtually every country in Europe. To read one version of this song, visit Lesley Nelson-Burn's The Outlandish Knight Page. For another version of the song text, visit this Ballad Page from Poet's Corner (the song you want is the second poem on the page). To hear one tune click on this "Lady Isabel" music link . (This music file was created by Lesley Nelson-Burn and is also found on the Outlandish Knight page linked above.) 

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