All texts of the very popular Child ballad “The Golden Vanity” appear ultimately to descend from a broadside of about 1682 concerning the cruelty of Sir Walter Raleigh aboard his quite fictitious ship “The Sweet Trinitie.” The enemy in that case is merely a “false Gallaly” or “galley,” presumably Spanish or French, though its nationality is not given. Some twenty different titles have been attached to more modern versions of the song, ranging from the “Sweet Kumadee” in northeast Scotland to the “Bold Tennessee” in the United States. The ballad’s modern form is exemplified by a broadside printed by Such of London between 1849 and 1862. The “enemy” is frequently identified as Spanish or Turkish.
Part of the ballad’s appeal seems to be its narration of cruel betrayal of a heroic innocent at the hands of a respected establishment figure, whether Raleigh or the otherwise unnamed captain in all traditional versions.