Widely printed on broadsides in the nineteenth century – this has no doubt influenced its popularity in oral tradition. Longer Scottish versions have existed in garlands going back to the middle of the eighteenth century, but it is not clear where its origins lie. Equivalents are known in many parts of Europe and the British versions very likely stem from eighteenth century translations onto stall copies.
One theory is that it is based on the life of Gilbert Beckett, the father of Thomas à Beckett, who was allegedly captured in the Crusades and set free by his captor’s daughter. The Sussex singer Gordon Hall even had a version called “Lord Beckett”. The Gilbert Beckett story seems to be pure fancy, but it may be the legend on which the song is based. Why spoil a good story with the truth? Danny Brazil was particularly proud that he knew the whole song, as opposed to other gypsies who did not know it “properly”.