Cecil Sharp labelled this fragment from Mary Ann Clayton “Earl Richard”, which is rather confusing, and not the title given by the singers. “Earl Richard” is the title given to the song by early Scottish versions, and has stuck with folklorists ever since as a generic title. The usual title given by singers is “The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter” and the name of the seducer is often William, not Richard. First registered as ‘The Shepperdesse of Arcadia’ to Francis Grove in 1624, Child presents evidence that the ballad is very likely even older. It certainly has parallels in such as ‘The Marriage of Sir Gawain’ and indeed Scandinavian ballads such as the Danish ‘Ebbe Galt’. The 17th century copy continued to be printed well into the 18th century and was eventually taken up by Scottish remakers, and included in collections like Percy’s Reliques, so its popularity in oral tradition comes as no surprise. Scottish versions abound, but it is rarer in England and even rarer across the Atlantic where only a handful of versions have been collected.
Notes by Steve Gardham and Gwilym Davies