The main variant has been collected frequently from traditional singers in England, Scotland, Ireland and North America.
Three main English language variants of this group of ballads, with rather different plots, have been published:.
Lady Isabel hears the horn of an elf-knight and wishes she had the horn and the knight "to sleep in my bosom". He immediately appears and asks her to go to the greenwood.
They ride there, and he tells her that he has killed seven kings daughters there and she is to be the eighth. She suggests that he put his head on her knee "that we may hae some rest before that I die".
She puts him to sleep with a "small charm" and after tying him up with his own belt she kills him with his own dagger. Fair lady Isabel sits in her bower sewing, Aye as the gowans grow gay There she heard an elf-knight blawing his horn.
The first morning in May . May Day , the morning of May 1, and May Eve, the evening of April 30, were important holidays with pagan connotations.
A harpist plays and everyone else falls asleep. He tells her to wade in, and when she expresses her doubts - when she is up to her knee and then her waist - says that no harm will befall her and that he has often watered his horse there.
When she is up to her chin he tells her:. She asks him for a kiss to "comfort me" and when he leans down to kiss her she pulls him from the saddle and drowns him.
They ride, sometimes to the side of a river, or more often to the banks of the sea, where he tells her to dismount:.
He tells her to take off her clothing, sometimes item by item Child E , as it is too costly to be allowed to rot in the sea.
She asks him either to turn his back:. For it is not fitting that such a ruffian A naked woman should see. She rides home, leading the spare horse.
Sometimes the story ends here, but often when she arrives home a parrot comments on how late she has returned, saying he is afraid "Some ruffian hath led you astray".
She promises him a luxurious cage if he keeps her secret, and when her father asks the parrot what makes him "speak before it is day" he replies that a cat was going to eat him.
His mistress promises him that:. In performance the last syllable of the fourth line is sometimes repeated twice, and then the line is repeated:.
In Scotland this variant is sometimes called May Colvin various alternative spellings occur. Child gives two versions of this. In the second the knight uses a charm to make an initially reluctant May Collin go with him, and the story ends when, after the parrot episode, she goes to her parents, tells them what has happened, and they go to the scene of the crime to find and bury the body "for fear it should be seen".
The Outlandish Knight variant was repeatedly printed by broadside publishers both in London and the provinces. The Roud Folk Song Index lists about instances of this group of ballads collected from traditional singers, with the great majority being of the Outlandish Knight story.
Steve Roud and Julia Bishop point out that this is one of about half a dozen Child ballads that have been most consistently popular, having been collected "time and again all over the English-speaking world" .
These ballads have received a lot of attention from folklorists and other scholars. There is some consensus that they derive from a family of ballads related to the Dutch ballads about Heer Halewijn.
Discussion is sometimes confusing as both an individual variant and the group as a whole can be referred to as a ballad by scholars.
The ballad family is known throughout Europe and is described by Child as the ballad which "has perhaps obtained the widest circulation".
At least 60 French, or French-Canadian versions have been collected and these almost all end in the same location as the English version, on a riverbank or by the sea, a motif only found elsewhere in the extensive and widespread Polish variants.
Numerous German variants are known. Child says 26 German variants  but Lloyd, writing more than a century later, claims over In his introduction to this group of ballads Child discusses their place in European culture.
He places them in the group of ballads and stories often named after what is considered to be the most complete example, the Dutch ballad Heer Halewijn , he describes ballads from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Transylvania, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France and he reviews theories put forward to explain the origin of this ballad family and the nature of the "Outlandish Knight".
He mentions theories that the ballad draws on stories about elves, or about the nix or neck, malevolent water spirits in German folklore, and that it is derived from the Judith and Holofernes story in the Old Testament.
Holger Olof Nygard, in an article in "The Journal of American Folklore" discusses the various theories put forward about the origin of the ballads in this group and what he calls its "continental analogues.
And for these we may well be thankful, for their authors have trod the sands of surmise and have taught us how to avoid them, if we will but learn by example.
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