The Company Dressed in Green

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The Company Dressed in Green

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Black River Bridge, NB

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Sandy Ives












"The Company Dressed in Green" is descended from a 19th century Irish Broadside called "The Squire of Edinburgh Town," which is, in turn, a reworking of Child Ballad 221, "Katharine Jaffray." It tells the story of how a woman forced to marry against her will is successfully abducted from the wedding by her lover. It was particularly common in Northeastern North America.


“The Company Dressed in Green” is often considered to be a version of Child Ballad 221, “Katharine Jaffray.” It was first printed in 1802 by Sir Walter Scott in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border with the title “The Laird of Lamington.” He conflated two versions out a manuscript of ballads compiled by David Herd in the 18th century. Scott also based “Lochinvar,” in Marmion, on the plot of “Katharine Jaffray.” T. F. Henderson wrote in the notes on this ballad in Minstrelsy that some people said it took place near the confluence of the rivers Cadden and Tweed and some near Traquair. “Katharine Jaffray” tells the story of a Scottish woman living on the borders who is set to marry an English nobleman against her wishes. The man she loves, a Scots Laird, carries her off from her wedding to his rival.

“The Company Dressed in Green” can be traced back to an 1860sIrish Broadside called “The Squire of Edinburgh Town,” which was a reworking of the story in “Katharine Jaffray” where a woman is forced to wed against her will and then rescued from the wedding by her lover. The two men are generally a squire and a farmer, though there it varies as to which one is the bridegroom and which the lover. Unlike in “Katharine Jaffray,” these two men are divided by class, not ethnicity. In versions which are derived from the “Squire of Edinburgh” broadside, the characters generally do not have proper names and the action takes place in Edinburgh or some fictionalized place rather than on the Scottish borders. The tune to this broadside was generally one called “The Fairy Troop,” which was current in 1850s Ireland. In some versions of “The Squire of Edinburgh,” such as one from Springfield, Vermont, there is a mention of how the lover and his men “may have been some fairy troops/ That rode along this way” (Flanders 1963, 265). In the version presented here, from Black River Bridge, New Brunswick, this has been changed to “Did you see any fairer troops/ That rode along this way.”

The ballad was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. In North America, it was particularly well known in the Northeast and Ontario. It has appeared only rarely in the southern or western United States and, unlike versions found in the Northeast, those in the South or West are typically not based on the “Squire of Edinburgh” broadside. The text here from the Northeast Archives appears to be descended from the aforementioned 19th century Irish Broadside and seems to be most similar to versions from Brunswick, Maine, via County Clare, Ireland, Springfield, Vermont, via County Cork, and Islesford, Maine, via County Waterford. Those from Islesford and Springfield are virtually identical. This is not surprising, given Counties Cork and Waterford border one another.

Texts collected in Bridgewater, Maine and Saint Stephen, New Brunswick are believed to be closely related and from Scotland, rather than Ireland. The localized title of these two versions is “A Scotch Ditty.” The belief that they are from Scotland has also been made on the basis of the last stanza in the Saint Stephen version, which states: “Come all you North Country gentlemen,/ Take warning now by me./ And don't be tricked as I have been,/ All on my weddin' day;/ Don't be tricked as I have been,/ All on my weddin' day,/ For instead of flesh I was catchin' fish/ And I always had foul play” (Barry 1929, 405), sentiments and language which turn up in the Child versions from Scotland. The warning stanza doesn't appear in any copies of the Irish Broadside, although it does appear in two Canadian texts from tradition which are themselves derived from the broadside. Phillips Barry in British Ballads from Maine, says the Saint Stephen, NB and Bridgewater, ME versions are more complete variations on Child's L text from Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, perhaps on the basis of the fairy troop verses, which are very similar to those in Child L. Helen Hartness Flanders in The Green Mountain Songster takes this relationship as evidence that the Irish ballad printer who printed “The Squire of Edinburgh Town” simply printed a copy of a Scottish text given to him by an Irish singer. However, others argue an Irish origin. Francis James Child, who has printed part of a “Squire of Edinburgh” version, from the singing of an Irish woman in Taunton, Massachusetts, in the introduction to “Katharine Jaffray,” writes that “green is a color no Scots girl would wear, for ill luck” (Child 1965, 218) and Helen Creighton and Tristram Coffin both cite Child's comment as evidence that “The Squire of Edinburgh” incarnation is of Irish origin. In any case, it is interesting to note that both Scottish and Irish versions of the ballad have been found in Maine and New Brunswick.

More than one third of all the Child Ballads deal with love and eighteen contain the elopement motif. Twelve involve both elopement and family opposition to lovers. In his article, “The Historical Ballads of the Northeast of Scotland,” David Buchan divides the aforementioned genre into three types, one of which is “ballads of abduction and elopement.” Buchan relates all of the historical ballads of the Northeast to relations between Highland and Lowland culture and believes that the function of the abduction and elopement ballads is “to express the differences between the two cultures, the Highland and the Lowland” (Buchan 2014, 151). The central pair of characters in each of the ballads in this abduction and elopement group involve a highland man and a lowland woman. “Katharine Jaffray” is not a ballad from the Northeast of Scotland. However, it is a ballad which, in its original form, takes place on the Scottish borders. Perhaps, like the Northeastern ballads, it is also a statement about cultural relations, only, this time, the relationship in question is between the English and the Scottish. In the broadside versions, the disjuncture may be between social classes, as represented by the squire and farmer suitors. However, this may be to somewhat different effect than in the Child versions because the bride's status is not known. Therefore, the split is more prominent in the relationship between the hero and hero's rival than in that between either man and the woman.


1. Oh, there was a squire, lived in Edinburgh town,/ And a squire of a high degree./ And he courted of this comely maid,/ And a comely maid was she.

2. Oh there was a farmer, lived in the East./ And he had one only son./ And he courted of this comely maid,/ Til he thought that he had her won.

3. Oh he got consent from old and young,/ From her father and mother likewise./ But still she cried, “I am undone,”/ While the tears roll from her eyes

4. Oh she wrote her love a letter,/ And she sealed it with her hand,/ Saying, “I am going to be wed,/ Unto another man.”

5. Oh he wrote her back an answer./ And it was short and keen./ Saying, “Dress yourself in green, my love,/ And I'll dress in the same”

6. Oh he looked east and he looked west./ And he looked all over the land./ And he picked out three score of men,/ All of a noble clan.

7. Oh he mounted them on milk white steeds./ And green were all their clothes./ And he himself a single man,/ To the wedding house he goes.

8. All the company they did welcome them there,/ And a welcome man was he./ Saying, “Did you see any fairer troops,/ That rode along this way?”

9. Oh they handed him a glass of beer,/ And a cup of the wine so strong./ Saying, “Here's a health to the new Bridegroom,/ For he is a happy man.

10. Oh but ten times happier is the man,/ That will enjoy the bride./ Another loves just as well,/ And he takes her from his side”

11. Then up stepped the new bridegroom./ And an angry man was he,/ Saying, “If it is for fight you came/ I am a man for thee.”

12. “It was not for fight that I came here,/ But my company for to show./ Give me one kiss from your lovely bride/ And away from you we'll go”

13. Oh he caught her by the slender waist./ And he grasped her by the sleeve./ And out of the wedding house he goes,/ While the company asked no leave.

14. All the drums did beat and the organs did play,/ Most glorious to be heard./ So now she is wed to her squire lad,/ And the company dressed in green. [spoken]


Stanley MacDonald, Sandy Ives, Black River Bridge, New Brunswick, Miramichi, Child 221, Roud 93, Ballad, Broadside, Irish, Scottish, Border, Elopement, Abduction, Parental Opposition


Barry, Phillips. British Ballads from Maine. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929; "Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads." Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads. Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 2000. Web. 06 May 2014; Buchan, David. “The Historical Ballads of the Northeast of Scotland.” The Ballad and the Folklorist: The Collected Papers of David Buchan. Ed. W. F. H. Nicolaisen and James Moreira. St. John's, NL: Memorial University of Newfoundland, Folklore and Language Publications, 2014. 148-56; Child, Francis James. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Vol. IV. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1965; Coffin, Tristram Potter. The British Traditional Ballad in North America: Revised Edition. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977; Creighton, Helen. Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966; Flanders, Helen Hartness. Ancient Ballads Traditionally Sung in New England Vol. III. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963; Flanders, Helen Hartness et. al. The New Green Mountain Songster: Traditional Folk Songs of Vermont. Hatboro, PA: Folklore Associates, Inc., 1966; Fowke, Edith. A Family Heritage: The Story and Songs of LaRena Clark. Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 1994; "The Green Wedding." Sing Out! Spring 2006: 76. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Nov. 2014; Moore, Ethel and Chauncey O. Ballads and Folk Songs of the Southwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964; Palmer, Roy. Everyman's Book of British Ballads. London: JM Dent and Songs Ltd., 1980; Pine Mountain Settlement School. Song Ballads and Other Songs of the Pine Mountain Settlement School. N.p.: n.p., 1923; Scott, Walter. Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: Revised and Edited by T. F. Henderson Vol. I. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1932; Scott, Walter. Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: Revised and Edited by T. F. Henderson Vol. III. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1932; White, Newman Ivey, and Frank Clyde Brown. The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore Vol. II: Folk Ballads from North Carolina. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1952; Würzbach, Natascha and Simone M. Salz. Motif Index of the Child Corpus. Trans. Gayna Walls. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995.


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The Company Dressed in Green


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