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Literature / The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward

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First night after I was borne, a lord I was,
An earle after my father doth die;
My father is the worthy Lord of Learne,
And child he hath noe more but mee;
He sent me over the sea with the false steward,
And thus that he hath beguiled mee.

"The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward" is Child Ballad #271.

The young lord of Lorn is sent abroad to study languages. The servant who went with him — and had sworn to keep him safe — tries to murder him and lets him off only on the promise to never reveal the truth to any man or woman.

The lord gets a job as a shepherd. The steward, presenting himself as the lord, wins the daughter of the Duke of France. She sees the lord one day and offers him a job; the steward objects because of his lowliness, and the duke gives him a job in the stable.

One day a horse kicks him and the lord rebukes it, telling it if only it knew whom it was kicking. The daughter overhears, asks him to explain, and, when he refuses, sits down and tells him to tell the horse. He does. She puts off the wedding and sends a letter to his father, who arrives with a great force. The steward is captured and executed as he had sworn he would be if he failed to guard the young lord. The young lord and the daughter marry.

Compare the Gender Flip Fairy Tale "The Goose Girl". It appears to be derived from the Chivalric Romance Roswall And Lillian. Full text of the two Child variants here; yet another variant here.

Tropes included

  • Bride and Switch: Bridegroom and switch, with the twist that she didn't know the man first.
  • The Cavalry: The Lord of Lorn arrives in force to establish his son's identity.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The duke's daughter happens on the true lord while the false steward is wooing her.
  • Distressed Dude: The young lord stays alive by promising to never to tell that his servant robbed him. The servant turns him into a servant, until the daughter of a local lord figures out how to get the story out of him. (Gender Flip version of the Damsel in Distress in "The Goose Girl").
  • Evil Laugh: After the steward had stolen the young lord's identity, he does this.
    He laughed the bony child to scorne
    That was the bonny Lord of Learne.
    He laughed that bonny boy to scorne;
    Lord! pitty it was to heare;
    I haue herd them say, and soe haue you too,
    That a man may buy gold to deere.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: the pretense to get around the promise is that the heroine just happens to be listening.
  • Exact Words: The hero had promised not to tell the truth to anyone. When the heroine overheard him lamenting his fate to a horse, she asked him to tell her; he refused, she sat down on the hay and told him to ignore her and go on telling the horse, and he did so.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: The young lord, being oathbound not to reveal who he is, is reduced to working as a shepherd, and later as a stable boy.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The false steward is executed gruesomely for his treachery.
  • I Warned You: The young lord's mother was afraid bad things would happen if they sent him abroad, as she states when they receive the letter telling what happened to their son:
    When the Ladye of Learne these tydings heard,
    O Lord! shee wept soe biterlye:
    "I told you of this, now good my lord,
    When I sent my child into that wild country."
  • Malicious Slander: When the young lord improbably shows up again in the service of the duke, the steward posing as him tries slander. It doesn't work.
    "Will you beleeue me, lady faire,
    When the truth I doe tell yee?
    Att Aberdonie, beyond the sea,
    His father he robbed a hundred three."
  • Meaningful Rename: The young lord calls himself Poore Disaware after he starts to tend sheep.
  • The Oath-Breaker: The steward swore a great oath to protect the young lord and may he die an ill death if anything befall him. Then he tried to murder him.
  • The Promise:
    • The steward promises to protect the young lord on his journeys, and promptly becomes The Oath-Breaker.
    "If I be not true to my master," he said,
    "Christ himselfe be not trew to mee!
    If I be not true to my lord and master,
    An ill death that I may die!"
    • The young lord promises to never tell anyone about the steward's having attacked and robbed him. (He gets around this through Exact Words.)
    • The duke's daughter, who was wooed by the steward pretending to be the young lord, promises upon learning the truth that she will marry no one but the true lord.
    "If you doe not my councell keepe,
    That I haue told you with good intent,
    And if you doe it not well keepe,
    Ffarwell! my life is at an ende."
    "I wilbe true to thee, Lord of Learne,
    Or else Christ be not soe vnto me;
    And as I am a trew ladye,
    I'le neuer marry none but thee."
  • Rescue Romance: The young lord is stuck in the role of a servant, oathbound not to tell anyone his true identity, until the local lord's daughter figures out how to get the story out of him and summons his family to help him. Thereafter, they promptly marry.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: The young lord knows he's a suitable suitor all along, but the duke's daughter doesn't, because he made The Promise to never tell.
  • Surrogate Soliloquy: Talk to the horse
  • Tender Tears: In one variant, when the young lord has evaded The Promise through Exact Words, the duke's daughter weeps over the tale she "overheard."
    But when he told the horse his tale
    The lady wept full tenderly.