From the notes to the Penguin Book (1959):
"This ballad has many titles. Scholars know it as Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight or May Colvin, but An Outlandish Rover, The Highway Robber, The Old Beau are among titles preferred by folk singers. Child...noted it as one of the most widespread of ballads, with relatives in Poland, Germany, Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands (as Halewijn), and elsewhere, as far afield as Australia. It is also among the most persistent, being not infrequently sung today. Some scholars see in it traces of the Bluebeard story, others believe it may be an offshoot of the legend of Judith and Holofernes. Perhaps more plausible is the theory that the ballad is descended from a folk-tale about a malevolent water-spirit who transforms himself into a knight and marries a girl with the intention of carrying her off to his watery home. The genial incident of the dialogue with the parrot (borrowed from Oriental tradition?) was isolated and made into a comic stage song, called Tell-Tale Polly (c. 1860).
Within this century, besides our Norfolk set, versions have been printed from Westmoreland (FSJ vol.II, p.282), Yorkshire (three versions, FSJ vol.II, pp. 282-3), Herefordshire (FSJ vol.IV, p.122), Hertfordshire (FSJ vol.IV, p.118), Sussex (FSJ vol.IV, p.121), Wiltshire (Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, ed. A. Williams, 1923; pp.159-161), and Somerset (four versions, FSJ vol.IV, pp.119-121); Sharp reported that he had found 23 sets of it in that county), Devon (FSJ vol.IV, p.119) and Cornwall (FSJ vol.IV, pp.116-117). A fragmentary version in Manx is printed in FSJ vol.VII, p.301)." -R.V.W./A.L.L.
This version was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Mr. Hilton of South Walsham, Norfolk, in 1908. It was first published in the Folk Song Journal, vol. IV, p. 123.
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Other versions on the DT:
False Sir John (May Colvin)
False Sir John (2) (May Colven: Child's version C)
The King o'Spain's Daughter
Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight (Child A)
Lady Isobel and the Elf Knight There is a note from Sandy Paton regarding the provenance of this version, here.
The Lonely Willow Tree
The Outlandish Knight
In the Forum:
Le Tueur de Femmes
The Outlandish Knight A discussion, largely of Martin Carthy's recorded version.
There is an entry at the Traditional Ballad Index: Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight
As might be expected, there are a lot of broadside versions of this song at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads. Here is a selection:
The Outlandish Knight Printed and Sold by H.F. Sefton, 33, Broad Street, Worcester 18(?)
The Outlandish Knight Printed by J. Catnach, 2, Monmouth-court. Sold by Marshall, Bristol between 1813 and 1838
The Outlandish Knight Swindells, A. (Manchester) between 1796 and 1853
The Outlandish Knight Wilson, J. (Bideford)
The Outlandish Knight Pitts Printer Wholesale Toy & Marble warehouse 6, Great st, Andrew street 7 dials between 1819 and 1844
Old Beau's Courtship Harkness, J. (Preston) between 1840 and 1866
In Folk Song in England (1967) A. L. Lloyd refers to Lajos Vargyas' Researches into the Medieval History of Folk Ballad (Budapest, 1967), in which Vargyas uses iconography, amongst other things, to trace this ballad back to a putative Central Asian origin. Although a good pinch of salt should probably be taken, it's hard to resist Lloyd's comment:
"If Vargyas is right, at least some vital motifs of our common European ballad derive from imaginings vastly remote from us in time and space, from the anxious dreams of prehistoric herdsmen on the wild steppes between the Tienshan and the Altai mountains of western Mongolia."