The usual title given to this song is The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter and the name of the seducer is often Richard, not William. 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.
For a Gloucestershire version with a tune, see http://glostrad.com/earl-richard/.
Notes by Steve Gardham and Gwilym Davies