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Traditional English Folk Songs

A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs Full English - A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs features the amazing talents of Mat Williams who did most of the vocals and also played most of the traditional instruments involved in the recordings, such as Guitar, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Banjo, Banman, Upright Bass, Piano and many more. Mat invited some fellow folk musicians to share him for this album and add more traditional instruments, such as the Irish Whistle, Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran. Enjoy the music and read along as you listen!


King Henry

Sound Sample:
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Let never a man a wooing wend
That lacketh things three.
A store of gold an open heart
And full of charity.
And this was seen of King Henry
Though he lay quite alone.
For he’s taken him to a haunted hall
Seven miles from the town.

He’s chased the deer now him before
And the doe down by the den,
Till the fattest buck in all the flock
King Henry he has slain.
His huntsmen followed him to the hall
To make them burly cheer,
When loud the wind was heard to sound
And an earthquake rocked the floor.

And darkness covered all the hall
Where they sat at their meat.
The grey dogs, yowling, left their food
And crept to Henry’s feet. `
And louder howled the rising wind
And burst the fastened door
And in there came a grisly ghost
Stamping on the floor.

Her head hit the roof-tree of the house
Her middle you could not span.
Each frightened huntsman fled the hall
And left the King alone.
Her teeth were like the tether stakes
Her nose like club or mell,
And nothing less she seemed to be
Than a fiend that comes from hell.

Some meat, you King Henry,
Some meat you give to me.
Go kill your horse you King Henry
And bring him here to me.
He’s gone and slain his berry brown steed
Though it made his heart full sore,
For she’s eaten up both skin and bone
Left nothing but hide and hair.

More meat, you King Henry,
More meat you give to me.
Go kill your greyhounds King Henry
And bring them here to me.
And when he’s slain his good greyhounds
It made his heart full sore,
For she’s eaten up both skin and bone
Left nothing but hide and hair.

Words & Music: Traditional,
arranged & performed by Mat Williams

More meat, you King Henry,
More meat you give to me.
Go fell your goshawks King Henry
And bring them here to me.
And when he’s slain his gay goshawks
It made his heart full sore,
For she’s eaten them up both skin and bone
Left nothing but feathers bare.

Some drink, now King Henry,
Some drink you give to me.
Oh sew up your horse’s hide
And bring in a drink for me.
And he’s sewn up the bloody hide
And a pipe of wine put in,
And she’s drunk it up all in one draught
Left never a drop therein.

A bed, a bed now King Henry,
A bed you’ll make for me.
Oh you must pull the heather green
And make it soft for me.
And pulled has he the heather green
And made for her a bed,
And taken has he his gay mantle
An o’er it he has spread.

Take off your clothes now King Henry,
And lay down by my side.
Now swear, now swear you King Henry
To take me for your bride.
Oh God forbid, says King Henry
That ever the like betide,
That ever a fiend that comes from hell
Should stretch down by my side.

When the night was gone and the day was come,
And the sun shone through the hall,
The fairest lady that ever was seen
Lay between him and the wall.
I’ve met with many a gentle knight,
That gave me such a fill,
But never before with a courteous knight
That gave me all my will.

Some notes on the first verse

For non-native speakers the first verse might appear a bit of a mystery. So these notes should help to understand the meaning behind the words. The very first line says

Let never a man a wooing wend that lacketh things three

“To woo” is normally to try and attract the attention of a woman (when you are a man) or a man (when you are a woman) or whatever combinations you might think of. But in this case it means to take something from its environment, or at least try to.

“To wend” means travelling in a leisurely way with no fixed purpose: To proceed on or along; go: wend one's way home. To go one's way; proceed. [Middle English wenden, from Old English wendan.]

Within the context of this song “to wend” seems to refer to the hunting activity. So the modern meaning of this line is: don't let someone set out for adventure (hunting) without them being prepared with these three things. A store of gold, an open heart and full of charity. This all ties in with the commentary below - the king strangely has to be prepared to be courteous to the lowest of society and treat every person as equal. The rest of the verse is easy and follows the story. The king kills the fattest deer and takes it to a hall in the middle of nowhere and his huntsmen follow him there to 'make them burly cheer' (have a party and banquet and get drunk).

Origin and meaning of King Henry

There are many old songs about supernatural beasts, shape-shifting and miraculous conclusions, but this is one of the best. One of the themes is the old concept of “courtesy” which did not mean remembering to say “please” and “thank you” and helping old ladies across the road but “courtesy” as in “of the court,” kingly.

The king, or emperor or the local squire had a duty to treat those below him in the social system politely because that was the mark of the master. Also woven through the tale is the old law of taking in the stranger. When the roads were bad and the wild forests dangerous, when journeys were made on foot or horseback, any traveller in trouble - “benighted” in its literal sense, could ask for food and shelter and be given it. This rule applied anywhere that travel was difficult or dangerous, from scarcely populated desert regions to the old Wild West of America as many a Hollywood film testified. It was a good system on the whole: occasionally things turned out not so well but you never knew when you might be in dire need of hospitality yourself. Once accepted into the house, the guest was sacred.

So, the story begins. King Henry is feasting in a remote hall, said to be haunted, when ominous things start to happen - the howling gale, the earthquake, the sudden darkness. The breakdown of the physical world is often used to herald the supernatural. Think of all that thunder and lightning in the Dracula stories. In comes the monster and the huntsmen flee, their terror overcoming their loyalty.

One of the many wonderful things in this song is the attention to detail. In any form of story-telling, the general is never as effective as the particular. Which is the more vivid:

“The dogs were ever so frightened” Or:
“The grey dogs, yowling, left their food
And crept to Henry’s feet”?

The monster makes dreadful demands of the king - not only does she want enormous amounts of food but it must be a sacrifice and the grieving king must kill his horse (again, the detail is telling: not just his horse but “his berry brown steed.”) and his dogs and his hawks, before she is satisfied. Then the bloody hide, left uneaten, must be sewn up and a pipe of wine put in (“Pipe” sounds nicely genteel, like a small sherry: in fact a pipe was a very large cask.) The king must act as lady’s maid and make her a bed. Then comes the worse demand of all - he must take her for his bride. The law of hospitality is sacred. The king obeys. In the morning sunlight the monster is transformed into a beautiful woman.

The story has elements of “Beauty and the Beast,” and, of course, all those princesses who had to kiss frogs, whereupon handsome princes appeared. There is no hint in the story as to how, why or by whom the lady was turned into a monster in the first place, but better without, I think. It increases the suspense if we do not know that she is under a spell to begin with. It’s a creepy, brutal tale, but exciting and satisfying at the same time.

Commentary written by Gillian Goodman,
© ClassicRocks, Mat Williams 2012


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