[1880:] Young Beichan and Susie Pye, or Young Beikie, though an English ballad, was very popular at one time throughout Scotland, especially in the Border counties. The hero of the ballad, Young Beichan, was Gilbert Beket, father of the martyr St. Thomas of Canterbury. The story is told in Robert of Gloucester's "Life and Martyrdom of Thomas Beket", and coincides pretty closely with the incidents in the ballad. Susie Pye, an uncouth corruption of the young Saraceness's real name, is spoken of in the chronicle as the daughter of the Saracen Prince Admirand. There are a great number of versions of the ballad, as it has been preserved, so far as we are aware, solely by tradition, and these differ to some extent. [Child 53A] indicates that before marriage the young lady renounced the faith of her fathers and became a Christian. "The fountain stane" is the baptismal font. (Ord, Glasgow Weekly Herald, May 8)
[1912:] A modern version of this story, called The Loving Ballad of John Bateman, was illustrated by George Cruikshank in 1839; and by some editors it is called Young Bondwell. It agrees in its main outline with the well- known legend about Gilbert Becket, father of St. Thomas, who was taken captive by the Saracens and beloved by the daughter of Prince Admiraud. Every one remembers that, after his escape, she followed him with no knowledge of English beyond the two words, 'Gilbert' and 'London', and became his wife. (Johnson, Ballads xxviii)
[1956:] Here again we have a simple story rather well preserved in tradition. So consistent is it, in fact, that we must suppose it to have been frequently fortified or refreshed by 19th century broadside printings. [...] The ballad has a strong and consistent and beautiful melodic tradition, and habitually no refrain. (Bronson, Ballad 166f)
[1979:] This is a ballad which, like Lord Randal - the archetypal ballad of the 'false truelove' - has captured the allegiance of singers throughout the English-speaking world, and has crossed many language barriers in its peregrinations round the globe. Here it is not the woman who betrays her lover, but the far-travelled hero who, when he gets home, forgets or seems to forget the woman who has befriended him 'in furrin parts', and whom he has promised to marry. In this case, however, the troubles and suffering of the wronged heroine have a happy outcome; constancy and fortitude are rewarded, and the two lovers are re-united. Young Beicham (to give it Kinloch's - and Child's - name) may therefore be regarded as the prototype of a large class of romantic adventure- stories.
It seems quite likely, as Child remarks, that the ballad has been affected at some stage by the legend of Gilbert Becket (father of St.Thomas, murdered at Canterbury), who is supposed to have been made prisoner by the Saracens in the Holy Land, and to have had adventures very similar to those of the ballad- hero. The names in various versions - 'Bekie', 'Bechin', 'Beachen', etc. - lends support to this idea. However, the general theme of the ballad is unquestionably very ancient, and certainly antedates the Becket legend, which may well have been adapted to its narrative framework. Campbell Maclean's name Beicham recalls the Young Bicham of Mrs. Brown of Falkland.
[...] Lord Beicham owes a great deal of its universal popularity to print. Both our versions, like those collected by Greig at the beginning of the century, can be shown to be related to an English broadside (printed by Child, ii, p. 508) which played a great part in stabilizing the text of the ballad. Bronson's remarks on this particular phenomenon are so well-expressed and so apt that we subjoin them here:
'It is natural to suppose that anyone who loved to sing narrative songs, and who had experienced the annoyances of forgetfulness, would be glad to put himself beyond the reach of such annoyance if he could ... of course, the breath of life itself lay in the music, which made him wish to keep the songs in mind and perpetuated oral transmission. He would not sing from book, but would merely resort to his copy upon need. Nevertheless, tradition, for at least 300 years, is inextricably bound up with writing, whether printed or manuscript, and we must reckon this element a potent and positive force in our study, rather than the purely negative and deleterious influence it has been too generally accounted.' (Vol. i, p. 409)
Examination of all the records at our disposal shows clearly, nevertheless, that Bella Higgins' beautiful fragment owes as much to orally transmitted and recreated variants as it does to the often printed broadside. (Hamish Henderson, notes 'The Muckle Sangs')
[1986:] Yet another ballad undoubtedly originating in medieval England is Young Beichan (Child 53), which clearly has some connection with the legend of Gilbert Beket, father of Saint Thomas, the martyred Archbishop. However, the essential features of the storyline - the hero being rescued from prison 'in furrin parts' by his jailor's daughter, and the latter eventually coming by sea to claim him, and prevent his marrying another woman - are widely diffused motifs found in several separate national traditions. Mrs Brown knew two quite distinct versions of this ballad, and gave them both to Robert Jamieson in 1783; one is Child's A text (Young Bicham) and the other his C text (Young Bekie). For this latter Mrs Brown provided a tune. (Henderson, Alias MacAlias 84)
[1998:] Grainger recorded a number of versions of Lord Bateman, all quite similar, from the singing of Joseph Taylor, George Wray, Joseph Leaning, and Mr. Thomson. It was one of the most popular of all the ballads, well known among traditional singers on both sides of the Atlantic. It's certainly a good tale, and it's nice to have an occasional long ballad that doesn't end in tragedy and death for all the protagonists. (Notes John Roberts & Tony Barrand, Heartoutbursts - Lincolnshire Folksongs collected by Percy Grainger)