Child Ballad #12 of which Jon says, “Poor old dogs. Can’t say I ever feel terribly sympathetic towards Lord Randal, however – I’m not sure why but I always have a nagging suspicion that he may have deserved it…” This seems to be a widely used storyline although I’ve picked up that the earliest printed version of the ballad is in 1787 in The Scots Musical Museum. There it is titled Lord Ronald, my Son. It may have had its roots in an Italian ballad of the 1600s, which this Wiki link expands on. It has numerous alternate titles, including Lord Randall, Jimmy Randal, Jimmy Randolph, Jimmy Ransome, The Croodlin Doo, King Henry, My Son and Tiranti, my love. It’s known throughout the British Isles, North America and widely across Europe. Sir Walter Scott associated the ballad with the death of Thomas Randolph (Randal), Earl of Murray – (or Moray), Robert the Bruce’s nephew. Randolph died at Musselburgh in 1332 and some suggested because the death was so untimely for Scotland, it could have been caused by poison. According to Burl Ives the tune came to America with followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie who settled in North Carolina after his defeat. In The Journal of Folk Song Society (Vol.ii., No. 6 and Vol. iii., No. 10) Miss Gilchrist suggests the identity of Lord Randal is the sixth Earl of Chester, who died in 1232. The said Earl was poisoned by his wife. There is a German version Grossmutter-Schlangenkoechin, where the death is due to poisonous snakes. The song’s theme has also been found in Italy, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Iceland. Jon picked this up from Peter Bellamy and Mainly Norfolk has bags of excellent detail about that and other versions with quotes from various sleeve notes. Usurprisingly, there are lots of threads on Mudcat with this post following Jon’s lyrics the closest. You’ll spot some other variants at the bottom, but if you search it by Child #12, you’ll find other stuff. A quick note as well on “spickit and sparkit,” which apparently means speckled and blotched.
You can buy the August digital album now from all good download stores: