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Tamlin of Carterhaugh Wood


Carterhaugh Wood is the setting for the tale of Tamlin (Tam Lin, Tamas Lin, Tamlane, Tam Lane or Tam Lien) who was in bondage to the Fairy Queen and guardian of the wood. Maidens were warned by their King not to enter Carterhaugh Wood as Tamlin would take either one of their possessions (a ring or green mantle) or their virginity.

Janet (in some versions Margaret) ignored the warnings of the King, her father, who had gifted Carterhaugh Wood to her and decided to visit it and summon Tamlin. Once inside the wood she picked a double rose and attracted the attention of the fairy guardian who confronted her demanding what right she had to enter his domain. They argued about permissions to enter the wood and Tamlin then deflowered her.

Upon her return home she discovered she was pregnant. Janet loved Tamlin and again ventured into the wood but this time in search of herbs she could use in an abortion. This again attracted the attention of Tamlin who forbidded her to terminate their child.

She discovered Tamlin was once a mortal knight who was entrapped by the Fairy Queen and that he was due to be sacrificed at Halloween. The only way to rescue him was to drag him from his horse while the Fairy host were out riding and hold onto him securely whilst the Queen forced him to shape-shift into a number of various types of beasts. Janet, his true love maintained her hold of him during these changes and once more Tamlin became a mortal human and no longer one of the fairies.

The tale has many versions and has been used as inspiration for many songs and at least one film. I especially like this version I found in an article by Joann Keesey featured in Obsidian Magazine No.2

The King forbade his maidens a'
That wore gold in their hair
To come and go by Carterhaugh,
For the young Tam Lin is there.
And those that go by Carterhaugh
From them he takes a wad,
Either their rings or green mantles
Or else their maidenheads!
So Janet has kilted her green mantle
Just a little above her knee,
And she has gone to Carterhaugh
Just as fast as she could flee.
She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but three or four,
When up and spoke this young Tam Lin,
Crying 'Lady, pull no more!'
'How dare you pull those flowers!
How dare you break those wands!
How dare you come to Carterhaugh
Withouten my command?'
She says, 'Carterhaugh it is my own
My Father gave it me,
And I will come and go by here
Withouten any leave of thee!'
There were four and twenty ladies gay
All sitting down at chess,
In and come the fair Janet,
As pale as any glass.
Up and spake her father dear,
He spake up meek and mild,
'Oh alas, Janet,' he cried,
'I fear you go with child!'
'And if I go with child,
It is myself to blame!
There's not a lord in all your hall
Shall give my child his name!'
Janet has kilted her green mantle
Just a little above her knee,
And she has gone to Carterhaugh
For to pull the scathing tree.
'How dare you pull that herb
All among the leaves so green
For to kill the bonny babe
That we got us between!'
'You must tell to me Tam Lin,
Ah you must tell to me,
Were you once a mortal knight
Or mortal hall did see?'
'I was once a mortal knight
I was hunting here one day,
I did fall from off my horse,
The Fairy Queen stole me away.
'And pleasant is the Fairy Land
But a strange tale I'll tell,
For at the end of seven years
They pay a fine to Hell.
'At the end of seven years
They pay a fine to Hell,
And I so fair and full of flesh
I fear it is myself.'
'Tomorrow night is Halloween,
And the Fairy Folk do ride;
Those that would their true love win
At Miles Cross they must hide!
'First you let pass the black horse
Then you let pass the brown,
But run up to the milk white steed
And pull the rider down.
'First they'll change me in your arms
Into some esk or adder,
Hold me close and fear me not,
For I'm your child's father.
'Then they'll turn me in your arms
Into a lion wild.
Hold me tight and fear me not
As you would hold your child.
'Then they'll turn me in your arms
Into a red-hot bar of iron,
Hold me close and fear me not,
For I will do no harm.
'Then they'll turn me in your arms
Into some burning lead,
Throw me into well-water
And throw me in with speed.
'Last they'll turn me in your arms
Into a naked knight
Wrap me up in your green mantle,
And hide me close from sight.'
So well she did what he did say
She did her true love win,
She wrapped him up in her mantle,
As blythe as any bird in Spring.
Up and spake the Fairy Queen,
And angry cried she,
'If I'd have known of this Tam Lin,
That some lady'd borrowed thee,
'If I had known of this Tam Lin,
That some lady borrowed thee,
I'd have plucked out thine eyes of flesh
And put in eyes from a tree!
'If I'd have known of this Tam Lin,
Before we came from home,
I'd have plucked out thine heart of flesh
And put in a heart of stone!'

Click here for another version of the Tam Lin Ballad, this time by Jennifer Holm.


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