These tales have been collected in England, including Cornwall - and Wales. Storytellers have passed on many sorts of stories - many in English, some in the native languages of Cornwall and of Wales.
What is called English folklore is drawn from a varied and quite violent past, as well as from Germanic, Celtic and Christian sources, and many tales of Britain tales reflect deeper-lying conditions of the country in the past.
Old stories that you hear of, are more likely about bold heroes, kings and queens and noble men and women than about honest, frugal commoners and many of the downtrodden ones, no matter how good they might have been. Apart from hero tales, Britain has ancient myths, fairy tales of many sorts, legends, and other forms of tales too. Some are wont to reflect, in some way or other, social conditions they were shaped in and built from, and some might be products of fancy, even hostility.
[A source: The introduction in Keding and Douglas, 2005, passim]
A Glimpse of the background
The English people . . . is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved. [Jean-Jacques Rousseau]
Stories of the many downtrodden are hardly as popular as stories of kings and nobles who got power and wealth and then wrote history versions that suited them well. England shares the island of Britain with Wales and Scotland, and is amazingly diverse. Some stories from England go way back, to the times of Celts, and to Romans who conquered and stayed in the country for centuries. Stories about Celts and Romans may mingle with legends. Other stories relate to Angles and Saxons who came and settled and drove the Celts farther west, away from the flat plains. Danes came and took over north-east of England. And at one time the Danish King Canute ruled over England, Denmark and Norway. Harald Hardrada ("Harsh-ruler"], a Norwegian king, tried to take England in 1066 with a large Viking army, but failed. Normans led by the cruel and greedy William the Conqueror came to the island right afterwards, and became largely vicious lords with vast tracts of lands. Twenty years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which William won, there was left only two major English landowners, one English bishop and three English abbots. Normans went on to give England taxes and tax records.
Life for the conquered beneath the Normans and their descendants was tough, and the poor had few rights and few opportunities. Punishments were savage and cruel. The tables were set for tales of Robin Hood among others, and stories of ghosts in the mansions of the rich.
A king wanted to divorce his wife; much untoward was to follow. In the first half of the 1500s the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, for King Henry VIII wanted to divorce and the Church would not allow divorce. The English Reformation was based on Henry VIII's desire to annul his first marriage, and at the start more political than theological. [Wikipedia, s.v. "English Reformation"]
In 1642, civil war broke out. The king was beheaded, but the civil war went on without him. At last Great Britain had a dictator, Oliver Cromwell. Regional militias were set up to maintain order, suppress vice and encourage virtue. Drinking, gambling and horse-racing were banned. The militia interfered with free speech and liberty.
When Cromwell died in 1659, the people wanted a king again. When the new king had reigned for fifty years, one more of several plagues hit England. A chant and game reflects it:
A ring a ring of roses. A pocket full of posies.
The "roses" were scarlet sores, and the posies were herbs and flowers to keep the disease away. The sneezing was a symptom too, and falling down stood for dying.
In September 1666, London burned for three days and nights. Much had to be rebuilt.
Giant success with much German blood on the throne. Kings succeeded one another. One of them lost America and went cuckoo. Then, in 1837, an eighteen-year-old of 3/4 German descent became queen. During her very long reign, lots of stories that circulated among commoners far from court and its cares were recorded by folklorists, and published.
During Queen Victoria's reign, women had no right to vote, not yet. However, in the 1900s common people won the right to vote, and much changed for it.
Wars and worse and reflections on the English by a US philosopher.
Some wars reflect mentalities, others hardly, and some not. If you do not really like another, it may be stepped up so that you make wars, take prisoners, capture slaves, and then lord it. The very many wars fought by England probably reflect what it reflects . . . what could it be? It is a tricky problem, yet it stands to reason to keep utterly polite with a "stiff upper lip" like P. G. Wodehouses' butler Jeeves among latently very violent and quarrelsome people. Civil British manners have a background, suffice to say. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Military history of England", "Military history of the United Kingdom", "List of wars involving England", "List of wars involving Great Britain" and much else.]
The New England philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson found in his essay "Ability": "The nearer we look, the more artificial is their social system." "Heavy fellows, steeped in beer and fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. Their drowsy minds need to be flagellated by war." And, "When they [the English] have pounded each other to a poultice, they will shake hands and be friends for the remainder of their lives." He does not say how long such lives will be.
Just how far Emerson advocates (prescribes) that the English need to be sent to war for their "drowsy minds"; or merely seeks to describe the mentality aptly, is not for me to say, at least not here and now.
A look behind the scenes: Mistreating the Irish harshly and for long - how decent is that? It is unwise to consider the English and Irish good allies. Englishmen in power and many accomplices sold a lot of Irish people as slaves. The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners to be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the Caribbean. Most of the early slaves to the New World were actually white. John Martin informs that hundreds of thousands of Irish people were transported on British ships bound for the Americas. The slaves included men, women and even the youngest of children. Whenever they rebelled or disobeyed an order, they were punished severly - and rather often to death. Being brusque is not as bad as that. 
Oliver Cromwell went to war against Ireland in 1649. The brutal war lasted until 1653. Cromwell is still a hated figure in Ireland. [Cromwellian conquest of Ireland]
A few enlightening quotations
The English may batter us to pieces, but they will never succeed in breaking our spirit. [Maud Gonne (Irish Actress)]
This selection of tales
The background of a people resonates - but there are many strains in that, not just one song of war and top-down mistreatments of others. Many wise tales that are told in it or have come down to us from the past, and resonates with many songs that are sung in it. "By their folk songs - not just a few of them - and the many strains intertwined as their history you may know much of them" - deep down. That is a guess. To guess one's way to theorising or claiming this and that about what is behind a facade is what psychoanalysts do! [Wikipedia, "Metapsychology"]
Add "perhaps" to great claims to avoid being bitten and making them your pet ideas.
Now, by their stories you may see if common people have been as quarrelsome and cruel as those on the top, or just giving up halfway and bowing to them and sustaining them half-heartedly by quite symbiotic or old patterns, or doing still better!
The following material has been culled from some of the oldest sources so far. Trimmed or retold folktales and legends follow.
- Tormod Kinnes
Addy, Sidney Oldall. Household Tales with Other Traditional Remains: Collection in the Counties of York, Lincoln, Derby, and Nottingham. London: D. Nutt, 1895.
Armistead, Wilson. Tales and Legends of the English Lakes. Glasgow: Thomas D. Morison, 1891, p. 68-71.
Bottrell, William. Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall. Vol. 2, Penzance: William Bottrell, 1873.
Emerson, Peter Henry, coll and ed. Welsh Fairy-Tales and Other Stories. London: D. Nutt, 1894.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English Traits. New, rev. ed. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1876 (1856).
Halliwell, John Orchard. Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales: A Sequel to the Nursery Rhymes of England. London: John Russell Smith, 1849.
Hartland, Edwin Sidney, ed. English Fairy and Other Folk Tales. London: Walter Scott, 1890.
Hunt, Robert. Popular Romances of the West of England, or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall. London: John Camden Hotten, 1865.
Huws, John Owen. Folk Tales and Heroes of Wales.. Vols 1-3. Llanrwst, Wales: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, (Vol. 1:) 2004, (Vol. 2:) 2004, (Vol.3:) 2006.
Jacobs, Joseph, coll, ed. English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1890.
Jacobs, Joseph, coll, ed. More English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1894.
Johnson, Clifton, ed. The Birch-tree Fairy Book: Favorite Fairy Tales. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1906.
Johnson, Clifton M., ed. The Oak-tree Fairy Book: Favorite Fairy Tales. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1905.
Jones, Gwyn. Stories from Wales. Paperback ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013 (1955).
Keding, Dan, and Amy Douglas. English Folktales. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2005.
Parkinson, Thomas. Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, as Told by Her Ancient Chroniclers, Her Poets, and Journalists. London: Elliot Stock, 1889.
Peele, George. The Old Wives Tale 1595. Menston: Scolar Press / The Malone Society Reprints, 1908.
Rhys, Ernest, ed. Fairy Gold: A Book of Old English Fairy Tales. London: J. M. Dent, 1906.
Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-lore and Legends: England and Scotland. London: Gibbings, 1894.
Tregarthen, Enys. The Piskey-purse: Legends and Tales of North Cornwall. London: W. Gardner, Darton 1905.
USER'S GUIDE: [Link]|
© 2007–2017, Tormod Kinnes. [Email] ᴥ Disclaimer: [Link]