Little Sir Hugh
Date 11 October 1979
Track ID 66258
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A Traveller version of the ballad 'Little Sir Hugh' or 'The Jew's Daughter', which differs from most versions in that it serves to illustrate the early persecution of the Jews.

Stanley Robertson explains the back-story to the song: Rebecca was a pretty Jewish girl who lived next door to Hugh, a selfish, thoughtless lad who ridiculed Rebecca in public. She loved him anyway, but knew she could never have him. The song begins with Hugh playing with his ball, which goes over the wall and into Rebecca's garden. She tempts him over and up to her bedroom. When they are lying naked together she stabs him to death, wraps his body in the "cape o bleed" [his blood-soaked cape] and throws him down her deep garden well. He is never found, but his father orders the slaying of two hundred Jews in reprisal.

Item Notes

5 verses of 4 lines. Sung to a variant of the melody familiar as the tune Robert Burns used for his song 'Ye Banks and Braes o Bonny Doon' (Roud Folk Song Index no. 13889). In more complete versions of this ballad, the murder is described in detail, and in the supernatural dialogue that follows the discovery of the boy's body in a well, the boy's ghost instructs his mother to make preparations for his burial.

This ballad is said to reflect the circumstances surrounding the death of a young boy, Hugh of Lincoln (1247-1255). The accusation, threatening and execution of a Jewish man for this crime, coupled with the rampant anti-semitism of the time, began a pogrom in which many Jews were murdered. Hugh became a martyr for Christians, and sites associated with him became places of pilgrimage. In some versions, the murderer is not a Jew, but a Gypsy.

As noted in the booklet accompanying 'The Muckle Sangs' album (CDTRAX 9005), the character Rebecca in this Traveller version of the song is probably inspired by the character in Walter Scott's novel 'Ivanhoe'.

'Tocher' 40 (1986) pp. 193-194
'Scottish Ballads' (E. Lyle, 1994) pp. 246-248
'A Scottish Ballad Book' (D. Buchan, 1973) pp. 80-81
'Scottish Tragic Ballads' (J. Pinkerton, 1781) pp. 50-52
'Book of Scottish Ballads' (A. Whitelaw, 1845) pp. 30-31
'Ballads of Scotland' vol. 1 (W. E. Aytoun, 1858) pp. 221-223
'Gleanings of Scarce Old Ballads' (P. Buchan, 1825) pp. 33-35
'A Scots Musical Museum' vol. 6 (J. Johnson & R. Burns, 1853 edition) no. 582
'Ancient & Modern Scottish Songs' vol. 1 (D. Herd, 1869, 1973) pp. 96-98, 155-157
'Andrew Crawfurd's Collection of Ballads & Songs' vol. 1 (E. Lyle, 1975) pp. 31-33
'Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland' (E. MacColl & P. Seeger, 1977) pp. 86-88

Recording Location

County - Aberdeenshire

Parish - Aberdeen

Village - Aberdeen








R73; C155;