minstrel: Re: Gypsies, tramps, and thieves

Lisa and Ken Theriot lnktheriot at compuserve.com
Tue Mar 14 15:02:54 PST 2000


Tangwystyl wrote:

Frankly, I'd be quite startled to discover that the root story was anywhere 
near period, if we assume that the root story involves Gipsies.  If you 
take a look at English attitudes toward Gipsies even at the very end of 
period, it's hard to imagine even the faintest trace of romantic escapism 
attached to them (even assuming the story ends badly).  If we postulate 
that there's a root story involving running off with some non-Gipsy 
itinerant outlaw, then the notion becomes, at least, less impossible. 
 (I've run across historical documents relating to the Elizabethan attitude 
towards Gipsies that come pretty close to rivaling the Nazi attitude 
towards them.)  All in all, any romanticization of Gipsies is much more at 
home in the 18th century (George Borrow and all that).

Well, to further quote Leach, "In the latter part of the 15th century and 
the early part of the 16th there was much resentment against the 
"Egyptians" and they were repeatedly ordered from the country.  The name 
Johnny Faa frequently appears, several times sentenced to be hanged for not 
leaving the country."  Apparently "Johnny Faa" was the Scottish gypsy 
version of "John Smith" for purposes of being called into court.  One of my 
Scottish sources (which, of course, I can't put my hands on at the moment) 
shows a record from the assizes in 1601 wherein a "Johnny Faa" and several 
of his henchmen were hanged for a number of crimes, including "abduction" 
of someone's wife.  The "Tea Table Miscellany" version hints that it's not 
really a gypsy situation so much as a highland girl who has married an 
English lord and regretted it; when the "gypsies" come to the door she 
says:

Gae tak frae me this gay mantile
And bring to me a plaidie
For if kith and kin and a' had sworn
I'll follow the gypsy laddie
Yestreen I lay in a well-made bed
And my good lord beside me
This night I'll ly in a tenant's barn
Whatever shall betide me

(They get hanged in this version, BTW)

I think it possible that the story, by which I mean the _situation_ could 
have happened pre-1600, but I agree that it was some time before anyone 
considered the circumstances suitably romantic for song.

Adelaide


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