An old ballad

Dave Hicks

Friend of Leo's
Mar 28, 2003
... accompanied by a variety of guitars and one lonely mandolin. (Long and dull treatise below.)

This ballad, probably written by Laurence Price, was first published in 1657 as a broadside entitled "A Warning for Married Women, by the example of Mrs. Jane Renalds, a West-Country woman born neer unto Plymouth, who having plighted her troth to a seaman, was afterwards married to a carpenter, and at last carried away by a spirit, the manner how shall be presently recited." (Lyrics would seem to be almost beside the point with titles like that; however, the broadside managed to come out at 32 verses.)

Somewhere along the line the tale made its way into tradition and became known as Child ballad 243 (also Roud 14). UK versions go by a variety of names, such as "The Daemon Lover", "James Harris", "A Warning for Married Women", "The Distressed Ship Carpenter", "James Herries", "The Carpenter’s Wife", "The Banks of Italy", or "The House-Carpenter”. These more recent versions dispense with a lot of the backstory in the broadside, and so generally run to 12 or fewer verses.

The song seems to have survived longer in the Southern Appalachians and Ozarks than the old country, and in the US it is generally called "The House-Carpenter". While the Devil, or at least a close friend of his, is a major player in the older versions, US variants generally dispense with the supernatural element.

The lyrics I used deny the title character even a walk-on part and start in the middle of the saga. No demonic entities make an appearance, save for some sound effects at the end.

Thanks if you do listen – it’s rather long!

There is a nice discussion of the song on Sing Out! – here’s a link to part one:

The Demon Lover (The House Carpenter) - Sing Out!