bloody butchers

The Bramble Briar (ballad)

"The Bramble Briar", "The Merchant's Daughter" or "In Bruton Town" (Roud 18; Laws M32) is a traditional English folk murder ballad that tells the story of how two brothers murder a servant who is courting their sister. There are many versions of the song going by a number of different titles.


A girl of noble birth falls in love with a servant and the two agree to get married. However, her two brothers discover the tryst and, because they consider him too low-born for her, decide to murder him. They go out hunting in the woods early in the morning and take the servant along with them. One of the brothers kills the man and hides the body in a bramble thicket. Once back home, their sister asks them why they are whispering to each other and what has become of the servant. One of the brothers tells her that they have lost him somewhere that he will never be found. That night the girl dreams of her lover. He is dead and covered in blood. The following day, she goes out to the woods where she eventually finds the corpse in the briars. She kisses his dead lips and sits mourning with his body for three days. When she at last returns, her brothers asks her why she is whispering and she tells them to get away from her, calling them "bloody butchers". In other versions of the story, she severs the head of the unfortunate victim, and takes it back with her in a jar.


The ballad was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1904 but is considerably older than that. It is a re-telling of a 14th century tale called Isabella and the Pot of Basil by Boccaccio although, according to the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs the story was probably not new even then. The English romantic poet, John Keats, adapted the story into a poem called The Ballad of Isabella and the Pot of Basil.


A large number of musicians have recorded this song including:

  • Martin Carthy recorded it as 'Bruton Town' on his 1966 album Second Album
  • Sandy Denny performed a live version of Bruton Town in 1972 released on Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (1986)
  • Maddy Prior and Tim Hart again used the title Bruton Town for a recording on their Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1 (1968)
  • Louis Killen sang Bramble Briar on English and Scottish Folk Ballads (1964)
  • Martin Simpson used the same title for the ballad on Bramble Briar (2001)


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