[[quoteright:320:[[Literature/YoungBeichan http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/YoungBekie.JPG]]]]
[[caption-width-right:320:Burd Isabel and Billy Blind, from ''Young Bekie'']]

[[IThoughtItMeant Has nothing to do with children.]]

In the late 19th century, Harvard professor Francis James Child was concerned that the tradition of [[FolkMusic folk songs]] in the British Isles was endangered--songs were dying out, unrecorded. He made it his personal mission to collect as many traditional folk songs as he could from England and Scotland. (Including Ireland, he felt, was way too ambitious a goal.)

He got about 300 of them, not including variants; many of the ballads have a dozen variants, or more, and most have several -- though some are only fragmentary. (Some versions you may be familiar with have had verses created by the person performing them, to make the song make sense.) Even today, ballads are often referred to by the numbers Child assigned them. See here for the full text of ''[[http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/index.htm The English and Scottish Popular Ballads]]''.

They range, as ballads often do, from {{Fairy Tale}}s in verse form all the way through to accounts of historical events, with historical characters, perhaps a little refined for story form. Many are recognizably popular forms of medieval {{Chivalric Romance}}s.

Many of them are heavy on dialect, especially the Border Ballads, those collected on the English-Scottish border. Metrical considerations means that using standard English often requires a total rewrite. This also helps keep the number of {{Evil Matriarch}}s high; unlike a FairyTale, you can not merely Bowdlerise her into a WickedStepmother, because the terms change and no longer fit the meter. A WickedStepmother appears in different ballads than the Evil Matriarch.

Many [[MurderBallad Murder Ballads]] are Child Ballads. RobinHood has so many that Child lumps them all together in their own volume.

Child Ballads may be thought of as the Scottish/English branch of a larger collection of MedievalBallads. Medieval ballads are found in all countries around the North Sea, from {{Iceland}} to {{Sweden}}.

Those interested in a more thorough and detailed discussion might wish to check out [[http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006448.html this post and comment thread]].

!! Child Ballads with their own page:
* "Literature/WilliesLady" (#6)
* "Literature/TamLin" (#39)
* "Literature/YoungBeichan" (#53)
* "Literature/SirAldingar" (#59)
* "Literature/FauseFoodrage" (#89)
* "Literature/TheFamousFlowerOfServingMen" (#106)
* "Literature/TheLordOfLornAndTheFalseSteward" (#271)
!!Tropes common in the Child Ballads:
%% Zero context examples have been commented out. Please provide context before uncommenting.
* AbhorrentAdmirer: "Kemp Owyne" (Child #34), "Alison Gross" (Child #35)
%% * ActuallyIAmHim: Played for tragedy in "Bonnie Banks o'Fordie" (Child #14)
%% * AllGirlsWantBadBoys: Several, including "Black Jack Davey" (Child #200)
* AttemptedRape: In "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (Child #4), the knight tricks the protagonist into running off to him, only to reveal that he intends to rape and kill her. Fortunately, she kills him instead.
%% * BedTrick
* BeingEvilSucks: The bandit learns this the hard way "Bonnie Banks o'Fordie" (Child #14)
* BewareOfHitchHikingGhosts: "The Suffolk Miracle" (Child #272) has this plot (with a horse instead of a car). In the ballad, the hitchhiker is the protagonist's lover, who died of grief when her father prevented him from seeing her; it also makes use of the reappearing garment device (in this case, a handkerchief which shows up in the man's grave).
%% * BrideAndSwitch
* BrotherSisterIncest: "Sheath and Knife" (Child #16), "The Bonny Hind" (Child #50), "Lizie Wan" (Child #51), "The King's Dochter Lady Jean" (Child #52), and "Brown Robyn's Confession" (Child #57)
%% * CameBackWrong: Above all else, never kiss a ghost in a ballad.
* CreepyCrows: Several ballads depict ravens and crows as creepy, but most especially "The Three Ravens" and its more cynical variant, "The Twa Corbies" (both are Child #26).
%%* CycleOfRevenge
%%* DamselInDistress
* DeathByChildbirth: In "Sheath and Knife" (Child #16), the pregnant woman goes with her brother to give birth
* DeathBySex: ''Very'' common.
* DisproportionateRetribution: In the versions of the ballad that give him a motive, Lamkin is a stonemason who brutally murders a lord's wife and infant son because the lord didn't pay him.
* DistressedDude: Tam Lin
* DoubleInLawMarriage: "Rose the Red and White Lily" not only ends with a pair of sisters marrying a pair of brothers, the brothers are their stepbrothers.
* DownerEnding: Many ballads play this trope straight, others have endings that would have been considered [[HappyEnding happy]] in days past, but fall short of the mark by today's standards. Some "happy endings" are [[ValuesDissonance pretty horrific]] to modern audiences.
** Ballad 110, wherein we learn that if a young woman is raped and the perpetrator is single, she will be forced to marry her rapist, whether she wants to or not.
%%* DueToTheDead
%%* EngagementChallenge
* EvenEvilHasLovedOnes[=/=]MyGodWhatHaveIDone: "Bonnie Banks o'Fordie" (Child #14). An outlaw comes upon three sisters in the woods. He threatens each one in turn to make her marry him. The first two refuse and are killed. The third threatens him with her brother or brothers. He asks after them and discovers that [[{{Irony}} he is the brother]]. He commits suicide.
* EvenTheGuysWantHim: "Willie O'Winsbury" (Child #100), also known as "John Barbour" or "Tom the Barber." In each version, the king's daughter becomes pregnant by the title character, and the king decides to give his blessing to the match after seeing how handsome the young man is. The version recorded by Pentangle contains this lyric:
--->''But when he came the king before,\\
he was clad all in the red silk.\\
His hair was like the strands of gold;\\
his skin was as white as the milk.\\
"And it is no wonder," said the king,\\
"That my daughter's love you did win.\\
If I were a woman, as I am a man,\\
My bedfellow you would have been."''
%%* EvilMatriarch
* TheFairFolk: True to older folklore, most of the fairies and elves who appears in the ballads are right bastards.
** In "King Orfeo" (Child #19), the king of the fairies kidnaps the protagonist's wife, Heurodis, just because he can.
** In "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" (Child #4), the Elf knight entices the protagonist to run away with him (thought whether by means of flattery or magic depends on the version) and turns out to be TheBluebeard who intends her to kill her partially for her jewels and partially just ForTheEvulz.
** In "The Queen of Elfan's Nourice" (Child #40), a woman is kidnapped to nurse the children of the Fairy Queen.
** In "Hind Etin" (Child #41), Lady Margaret is abducted by the eponymous Hind Etin and bears him seven sons.
%%* FamilyUnfriendlyDeath
%%* FamilyUnfriendlyViolence
%%* FlowerMotifs
%%* TheGloriousWarOfSisterlyRivalry: "The Twa Sisters" (Child #10)
%%* GoldDigger
* HistoricalVillainUpgrade: To Eleanor of Aquitaine and William Marshal in "Queen Elanor's Confession." Whatever their faults (and there were many), they never had an affair, killed Rosamund de Clifford, or plotted to poison Henry II.
* IceQueen: Barbara Allen in "Barbara Allen" (Child #84). She only starts to [[DefrostingIceQueen defrost]] after a young man dies because of her.
* ImpossibleTask:
** "The Elfin Knight" (Child #2) is pretty much the TropeCodifier: a pair of ex-lovers challenge each other to impossible tasks which they want the other to fulfill before they would love them again.
--->''Ask him to find me an acre of land \\
Between the salt water and the sea-strand, \\
Plough it with a lamb's horn, \\
Sow it all over with one peppercorn, \\
Reap it with a sickle of leather, \\
And gather it up with a rope made of heather ...''
* InfantImmortality: Averted in many ballads:
** "The Maid and the Palmer" and "The Cruel Mother" are about mothers who killed or kill their own infants.
** "Sir Patrick Spens" (Child #58) may be based on the ill-fated voyage of seven-year-old Margaret, Maid of Norway (and heiress to the Scottish crown) from Norway to Scotland. As in real life, she dies in the ballad--though in a shipwreck rather than of an illness.
** "Lamkin" (Child #93) goes into graphic detail about the murder of a baby and his mother.
%%* IWillWaitForYou
%%* KingArthur
* LawOfInverseFertility: Unmarried women become pregnant very easily.
%%* LoveHurts
%%* LoveMartyr
%%* MaliciousSlander: You can actually die of this in ballads.
* MamasBabyPapasMaybe: In "Gil Breton", the child's birth comes with magical affirmation of his paternity, to avert this.
* MoralityBallad: The constant use of DeathBySex in many of the ballads results in this trope.
* TheMourningAfter: "The Unquiet Grave" (Child #78) initially plays this straight. In the end, though, it's subverted: The living lover's incessant grief prevents their beloved from resting in peace.
%%* MurderBallad: Tons and Tons.
* MurderTheHypotenuse: The older sister in "Twa Sisters" and the Nut-Brown Maid in "Lord Thomas and Fair Annet" (Child #73) both do this.
%%* MyGodWhatHaveIDone
* OffingTheOffspring: "The Cruel Mother" (Child #20), "The Maid and the Palmer" (Child #21)
* OurGhostsAreDifferent: Though, in ballads, it's ''always'' a bad idea to be in love with a dead person, they're not necessarily evil ''per se''. Ghosts and other revenants can pop up to drive their killers crazy ("The Cruel Mother", Child #20), or just to say goodbye ("Sweet William's Ghost", Child #77; "The Wife of Usher's Well", Child #79).
* ThePardon: Often asked for, not always granted.
%%* ParentalAbandonment
* ParentalIncest: In "Brown Robyn's Confession" (Child #57), the protagonist confesses to having fathered two children on his mother and five on [[BrotherSisterIncest his sister]].
* ParentalMarriageVeto: ''Very'' common.
%%* ThePromise
* RecycledINSPACE: Some ballads are clearly variants of older stories--"King Orfeo" (Child #19), for instance, is a retelling of the [[Myth/ClassicalMythology Greek myth]] of Orpheus and Eurydice. With FairFolk.
* RobinHood: ''All'' of Book V, or ballads #117-154, deal with the Robin Hood legend, acting as the oldest source for several of the most common incidents in retellings, including Robin's DefeatMeansFriendship first meeting with Little John and the "Golden Arrow" archery contest trap.
* RunawayBride: A the end of Hind Horn (Child #17), Jean elopes with her true love, Hind Horn, even though she's newly wed to someone else.
* ScarpiaUltimatum: The bandit does this to three sisters in "Bonnie Banks o'Fordie" (Child #14)
* SecretTestOfCharacter: Lovers are very fond of this, feigning poverty, or their own deaths, to discover whether the other really is in love with them.
* SiblingTriangle: the sister's motive in "The Twa Sisters"
* StandardHeroReward: e.g. "The ''Golden Vanity''" (Child #286) [[spoiler: SUBVERTED TO THE MAX!!! The hero is told this is the reward, if he drills holes in the enemy man-o'-war, which he does (In a horribly poetic way: He let the water in, and it dazzled in their eyes, and he sunk them in the Low Lands Low.) He is then [[DidYouActuallyBelieve betrayed by the captain]] and is abandoned to drown in the ocean.]] StandardHeroReward be damned!
* StockPuzzle: e.g. "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (Child #1), "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (Child #46)
* StarCrossedLovers: Around half of the ballads have these.
* StuffedIntoTheFridge: A noblewoman and her infant son in "Lamkin (Child #93) are brutally murdered because her killers harbor a grudge against her husband.
* SurpriseIncest: In "The Bonny Hind" (Child #50) and "The King's Dochter Lady Jean" (Child #52) with tragic consequences.
%%* SweetPollyOliver
%%* TheCakeIsALie: See "The ''Golden Vanity''" example above.
* TheseQuestionsThree: In "The Devil's Nine Questions", a subtype of Child #1 "Riddles Wisely Expounded", the Devil challenges one or several human characters to answer nine (= three times three) riddles, threatening he will take to hell whoever cannot give the right answers. At least that is what he says: [[ArtifactTitle Many variants contain only eight riddles.]]
%%* ThickerThanWater: Robin Hood gets himself killed trusting this trope.
* TogetherInDeath: "Fair Margaret and Sweet William" (Child #74); "Lord Lovel" (Child#75); some variants of "Barbara Allen" (Child #84).
** The living lover in "The Unquiet Grave" (Child #78) seems determined to [[DrivenToSuicide prematurely fulfill this trope]], but the ghost of their beloved always begs them to go and [[HerHeartWillGoOn live out the rest of their life instead]].
* TraumaticCSection: In "Jellon Grame" (Child #90), the protagonist does this to his lover and raises the baby himself.
%%* UngratefulBastard: The Captain in "The Golden Vanity" (Child #286).
* VillainProtagonist: Lamkin or Long Lankin in "Lankin" (Child #93), who murders a woman and a child either because [[DisproportionateRetribution her husband didn't pay him for building a castle]] or just ForTheEvulz.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: Most of the historical ballads.
** Special note goes to "Queen Elanor's Confession" (Child #156), Eleanor of Aquitaine confesses to, among other things, having lost her virginity to William Marshal. Given that Eleanor's eldest child, Marie of France, was two years older than Marshal, that is very unlikely.
* VoluntaryShapeshifting: Evil shapeshifters will often have a RedRightHand (e.g. "The House Carpenter", Child #243). Good shapeshifters are rare, but see "The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child #113).
%%* WickedStepmother
%%* WomanScorned: "Child Owlet". Genderflipped in "Sir Aldingar"
* AYearAndADay: In "The Unquiet Grave" (Child #78), the protagonist mourns on their dead lover's grave for this long.
* YoungestChildWins: Sometimes played straight, sometimes subverted: in "The Twa Sisters" (Child #10), the elder ''kills'' the younger.
%%* YourCheatingHeart: Combines well with DeathBySex.