Monday, 1 August 2016

Lord Peter and Little Kerstin

Lord Peter (Herr Peder) and Little Kerstin (Liten Kerstin) are common names for the main male and female actors in Swedish ballads. It is not unusual that the two of them appear together in the same ballad, and more than one Swedish ballad goes by the name of Herr Peder och Liten Kerstin (Lord Peter and Little Kerstin). The ballad I am writing about today is possibly the most well-known of these ...

by John Bauer


It seems that in the beginning of the ballad, Lord Peter and Little Kerstin are in love. They sit across the table from one another, exchanging many glad words, a common ballad scene ... At least, it seems that Little Kerstin is very much in love with Lord Peter, but it becomes clear that when it comes to marriage he has other plans.

(In Danish this ballad is known as Herr Peders Slegfred slegfred is an archaic word for a woman who is living together with a man without being married. Little Kerstin is, in some ballad texts, referred to as a frilla, which can similarly mean an unmarried lover.)

So Lord Peter announces that he will be getting married (to someone else, we understand). He tries to persuade Little Kerstin that she should not come to the wedding — so far away, so high in the hills — but she will not be deterred.

Little Kerstin dresses up magnificently, and rides her horse to where the wedding is taking place. Her journey there passes uneventfully, but she is noticed when she arrives, and people ask who the grandly dressed woman is. Little Kerstin asks to sit beside the bride, but Lord Peter refuses her this, and she ends up serving wine and weeping.

Lord Peter and his bride are then led to bed, but soon news comes in to him that Little Kerstin has hanged herself in the apple orchard. Lord Peter then immediately regrets all he has done, and runs out to where Little Kerstin is hanging. Having ordered that the two of them should be buried together, he kills himself. The new bride also dies of sorrow, bringing the body count up to three.

The ballad was probably quite well-known in this form, and was widespread from northern Sweden (Norrland) to Denmark and Swedish-speaking Finland. There are variants though, where the ending is different: rather than taking her own life, Little Kerstin has her revenge on Lord Peter and his bride with a knife, or by burning down the bridal house.

This ballad seems to be quite closely related to one of the Child ballads of the British isles: Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender, or Fair Annette, or the Brown Girl (Child #73).

A Swedish full text of Herr Peder och Liten Kerstin.


The melody is from Norrland. Geijer and Afzelius write that the song is well-known all over the country (Sweden), with very little variation in the melody.

Notes: Herr Peder och Liten Kerstin (Ahlström No 101, Berggreen No 16).

Here is a youtube film of me demonstrating the melody ...


Unfortunately, I don't know of any recordings of the Swedish ballad. But here are a couple in Danish.

Several of the Danish versions published by Grundtvig use basically the same omkväde (chorus) lines as the Swedish versions (as seen in the Norrland melody given above). But this first Danish version has a different omkväde and a different melody!

A version in Danish from the band Gny:

A second Danish version by Camilla Granlien, singing unaccompanied. The omkväde is similar to the Swedish version. This video is one of those that may or may not be viewable depending on your location:


E. G. Geijer and A. A. Afzelius, Svenska Folkvisor Från Forntiden, Stockholm, 1814--1816
J. N. Ahlström, 300 Nordiska Folkvisor, Stockholm, 1878
A. P. Berggreen, Folke-Sanger og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1860

My own translation of the ballad Lord Peter and Little Kerstin is included in my book, also called Lord Peter and Little Kerstin.