Reynardine – a mystery

Mr Fox album cover

The first time I encountered this song was when I bought Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention way back in the mid 70’s. I had heard selections from the album before, the jigs and reels sets, Matty Groves and the great Crazy Man Michael, but m=nothing prepared me for the enigma of this song. The bands arrangement added to the effect, a shimmering heat haze of a song, the mountains in the lyric are symbolised and embodied in a series of chords which shimmer and shift over which floats one of Sandy Denny’s finest vocal performances.
So what is the mystery in the song? On the face of it,it seems pretty straightforward, girl walks over mountain, meets mystery man, professes anxiety, is placated by his charm aand finally leaves with him to go to his castle.However, the mystery is in her apparent seduction, and his name.

1814 - from the Bodleian Library

Apparently the older ballad (pictured above), was heavily adapted by A L Lloyd, the great folklorist and one of the fathers of the folk revival in the UK. Here is his adaptation –

One night upon my rambles
Two miles below Fermoy
I met a farmer’s daughter
All on the mountains high.
I said, My pretty fair maid
Your beauty shines so clear
All on these lonesome mountains,
I’m glad to meet you here.

She said, Kind sir be civil,
My company forsake,
For in my own opinion
I fear you are a rake.
And if my parents they should know,
My life they would destroy
For keeping of your company
All on the mountains high.

He said, My dear I am no rake
Brought up in Venus’ train,
But I’m seeking for concealment
All on the lonesome plain.
Your beauty so enticed me
I could not pass it by,
So it’s with my gun I’ll guard you,
All on the mountain high.

Her cherry cheek and ruby lips
They lost their former dye.
She fainted in his arms there
All on the mountain high.
They hadn’t kissed but once or twice
Till she came to again,
With that she kindly asked him,
Pray tell to me your name.

If by chance you look for me
Perhaps you’ll not me find,
For I’ll be in my castle –
Enquire for Reynardine.
Sun and dark she followed him,
His teeth did brightly shine,
And he led her over the mountains,
That sly, bold Reynardine.

The mystery then is why the girl swoons. Is she bewitched by Reynardine? Is she revived by a kiss, or enslaved by it? Strangely, for someone who seemed initially so antagonistic and uncertain about the stranger,
She said, Kind sir be civil,
My company forsake,
For in my own opinion
I fear you are a rake.
she quickly allows herself to be seduced by him into following him for some considerable time. His reaction to her seduction is more sinister than romantic,
Sun and dark she followed him,
His teeth did brightly shine,
maybe this is because Reynardine is not what he seems. Note of course that Reynard is an anthropomorphic Fox in mythology,so the implication is that Reynardine is some kind of Werewolf figure, and the maiden is truly doomed, seduced by his charms into following him to his lair. There are a couple of other great versions out there too, an incandescent guitar workout from Bert Jansch,
and a plainer unadorned version from his old flame, the brilliant and mysterious Anne Briggs,
The song got an interesting revision by Bob Pegg and his then wife Carole with their band Mr Fox on their eponymous album.
Dripping in mystery, with a gothic droning keyboard the narrative unfolds, how our heroine is courted by Mr Fox, but after a surveillance operation his true nature is revealed, leading to the plucky girl confronting him with devastating results. This would make a great short film in the style of an M R James horror story. Its also a great example of Psych-folk before the term was even invented.

I’ll tell you tale of Mr. Fox, how he came courting me,
He was the smartest fellow you could ever hope to see.
Now Foxy came to our town in the springtime of the year,
And he said I was the fairest of any young girl here.

My Dad said I should marry him, that I should be his bride,
And I saw me walking up the aisle with Foxy by my side,
But Foxy was a bit too sly, and I didn’t trust his smile,
So I told him change the wedding day and put it by awhile.

This didn’t suit old Mr. Fox, he said I’d rue the day,
He pulled his hat down over his eyes and went upon his way,
But unbeknown to Foxy, I’d followed through the wood,
Till I came across the clearing where his fine old mansion stood.

I hadn’t been there but a while, when I heard a scream and shout,
It was Foxy with a woman a-knocking her about.
I hadn’t been there but a while when I heard a curse and swear,
It was Foxy with a woman, held fast by her hair.

He dragged her through the bushes, he dragged her through the trees,
It tore my heart in two to see her pleading on her knees.
He dragged her up the marble steps, he dragged her through the hall,
I followed close behind them and hid against the wall.

As they were going up the stairs, the woman gave a wail,
She tore away from Fox and clasped her hand around the rail.
Foxy took his knife with a blow both sharp and sweet,
The hand was severed from the wrist and dropped down at my feet.

The night was black, the night was cold, no pathway could I find,
But I ran through the trees as if the Devil was behind.
The forest it was dark and thick and pricked with many a thorn,
But I ran through the trees as if I’d never see the dawn.

The very next day old Foxy came to see if we’d be wed.
I told that I’d had a dream as I lay in my bed,
I told him that I’d seen a house in the middle of the wood,
And anyone who went inside, could never come to good.

Old Foxy turned his back on me, he turned as if to leave,
But I took him by the arm and plucked the hand from out my sleeve.
Foxy gave a yelp and then he gave a squeal,
And he ran as if the hounds of hell were crying at his heel.

In the middle of the forest where the lark and linnet sing,
The dogs of the town got Fox inside a ring,
They tore him limb from limb, they tore him hair from hair,
And his flesh it was eaten by the birds of the air.

More lyrics:
All about Mr Fox:

Bringing things (slightly) more up to date, don’t forget the movie of the book of by Angela Carter – A Company of Wolves. Here we see another version of the meeting of the maiden and Reynardine
and here we see how things turn out for this maiden..

So the mystery goes on and the romance endures between the fox-man and the maiden, and will undoubtedly continue as long as there is storytelling.

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