Herr Mannelig

Early one morning before the sun did rise

And the birds sang their sweet song

The mountain troll proposed to the fair squire

She had a false deceitful tongue

Sir Mannelig, Sir Mannelig won’t you marry me

For all that I’ll gladly give you

You may answer only yes or no

Will you do so or no

To you, I will give the twelve great steeds

That graze in a shady grove

Never has a saddle been mounted on their backs

Nor had a bit in their mouths

To you, I will give the twelve fine mills

That stand between Tillo and Terno

The millstones are made of the reddest brass

And the wheels are silver-laden

To you, I will give the gilded sword

That jingles from fifteen gold rings

And strike with it in battle as you will

On the battlefield, you will conquer

To you, I will give a brand new shirt

The lustrous best for to wear

It is not sewn with needle or thread

But crocheted of the whitest silk

Gifts such as these I would gladly receive

If you were a Christian woman

But I know you are the worst mountain troll

From the spawn of Necken* and the devil

The mountain troll ran out the door

She wailed and she shrieked so loudly

“Had I gotten that handsome squire

From my torment, I would be free now”

Sir Mannelig, Sir Mannelig won’t you marry me

For all that I’ll gladly give you

You may answer only yes or no

Will you do so or no

“Early one morning, a mountain troll proposes marriage to a young man, our hero, Sir Mannelig. The mountain troll then spends several verses describing the various wonderful gifts she will give to the young man. These include twelve untamed horses, twelve mills, a gilded sword, and a new shirt, all of which are described in luxurious detail. When she has finished listing these gifts, Sir Mannelig answers.

He tells the troll that if she had been a Christian woman, he would have gone along with her proposal, but as she is a troll, he will not. This upsets the troll, and she runs off, screaming that if she had married the fair young man she would have been freed from her suffering. The ballad is short, at just seven verses.

But the omkväde for this ballad is long – as long as a full verse – so it behaves as a conventional chorus. In this chorus, the mountain troll urges Herr Mannelig to marry her, so this repetition of her wish alternates with the descriptions of the gifts she will give to him.

A second variant of the Herr Mannelig ballad appears in a later volume of the ballad collection of Södermanlands Fornminnesförening, entitled Skogsjungfruns Frieri (The Forest Maiden’s Proposal). This version is longer, with twelve verses. The additional verses are made up of descriptions of further gifts: a red castle, a stable, a red cape, a blue mantle, and diamonds and gold.

There are a couple of differences in this version of the ballad: Most obviously, the female character appears as a forest maiden (skogsjungfru) rather than a mountain troll (bergatroll). Both of these could be supernatural beings. Also It is written in the first verse that the forest maiden sings with a beautiful voice (rather than having a lying tongue). And here Herr Mannelig tells the forest maiden that he will not marry her as she is a heathen (rather than because she is a troll). Here is the Swedish ballad text for The Mountain Troll’s Proposal, and here for The Forest Maiden’s Proposal.

A number of other Swedish ballads are known that seem to be variants on this same theme: a man, usually Sir Magnus (or Måns), meets a supernatural female creature of some kind (a sea-troll, a mermaid, a little bird, a group of elves). She urges him to marry her, promising many gifts, and he refuses, usually saying that if only she had been a Christian woman he would have accepted.” (Ilga Timur from youtube comments)

“Good details but what you all seem to miss is that it is basically about unrequited love. All other things like the fact that she feels herself like a troll are just metaphors. God, you are all idiots.” (Blazkowicz Incorp)

“The second line tells us she is insincere. The line about her being unable to escape her torment implies she wanted to marry him to break a curse.” (Michael Stora)

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