Dominion Of The Sword

James Bell
  1. Dominion Of The Sword -:-- / 04:03

“Small power the word has…”


I think this ballad, popularised by Martin Carthy and originally entitled Law Lies a-Bleeding, was a parody of the ballad Love Lies a-Bleeding. Printed in 1659, when Oliver Cromwell had died and his ‘protectorate’ was falling apart, this song is basically a long rant about how, now that the law is collapsing, so is the social hierarchy. I tweaked the words a little, and I’ve kept the tune that Carthy used for it — an adaptation from a Breton pipe tune called Ar Ch’akouz (The Leper) — because I can’t imagine it any other way. It is one of my favourite old English songs, and for me perhaps the most timeless. The gist: laws, principles, hierarchies, ideologies, money… all the articles of power, all depend on who is holding the fucking sword.

You can read the original broadside ballad here:


Lay by your pleading
Law lies a-bleeding
Burn all your studies now
And throw away your reading
Small power the word has
And can afford us
Not so many privileges
Half as the sword does

It fosters bastards
Plasters disasters
It’ll make the servants
Even greater than the masters
It ventures it enters
It sneaks and it centres
Turns saints to sinners
And the rulers to dissenters

It talks of small things
But it sets up all things
This’ll master money
And then money masters all things
It’s not the season
To talk of reason
Never call it loyal
When the sword says it’s treason

It conquers the crown too
The grave and the gown too
It raises up the warlord
But it’ll pull him down too
First the aggressor
Then the oppressor
Offer your apologies
Bow, nod and “yes sir”

No gospel can guide it
No law can decide it
Nothing can be true
Until the sword’s sanctified it
Law books, lament them
For who can implement them
When all that the sword says
Negator argumentum

Well-read well-bred
Spineless and gutless
There’s not a library
Compares to a cutlass
And blood that I spilt, sir
Has all of the guilt, sir
And thus you have seen me run
My sword up to the hilt, sir

Credits & Copyright

Traditional, adapted by Martin Carthy and James Bell. Recorded and released by James Bell in January 2018. (P) House of Lyra.