'Tis of a fair damsel in London did dwell,
A-waiting in her beauty, which none there could excel.
Her master and her mistress she serv√?¬®d seven year,
And what follows after you soon shall quickly hear.
She packed up her box with her red cloak and gown,
She packed up her box all to leave London town,
Her red cloak and gown, and the rest of her clothes,
And with her box upon her head from service she goes.
She put her box upon her head, and carried it along,
The first that she met with was an able man and strong,
He said, My pretty fair maid, pray will you come with me,
And I'll put you in a nearer way across this country?"
He took her by the hand, and he led to a lane,
He said, "My pretty fair maid, I'll tell you plump and plain,
Deliver up your money without fear or strife,
Or else this very moment I'll take away your life."
The tears from her eyes like two fountains did flow,
Saying, "Where shall I wander, or where shall I go?"
And while this young fellow was feeling for his knife,
This beautiful damsel she took away his life.
She put her box all on her head, and with it trudged along,
The next that she met was a noble gentleman,
He said, "My pretty fair maid, where are you going so late,
Or what was that noise that I heard at yonder gate?"
"That box you carry upon your head to yourself does not belong,
To your master or your mistress you have done something wrong,
To your master or your mistress you have done something ill,
For one moment from trembling you cannot keep still."
"This box upon my head to myself it does belong,
To my master and my mistress I have done nothing wrong,
To my master and my mistress I have done nothing ill,
But I fear in my heart that a young man I did kill."
"He demanded my money, and I soon let him know,
For while he was fumbling I proved his overthrow;"
She took him by the hand and led him to the place
Where this able young fellow lay bleeding on his face.
This gentleman got off his horse to see what he had got;
He had three loaded pistols, some powder, and some shot,
Beside three loaded pistols, some powder, and some ball,
A knife, and a whistle some robbers for to call.
He put the whistle to his mouth, and he blew it loud and shrill,
Then four stout and able fellows came tripping o'er the hill;
This gentleman shot one of them, and that most speedily,
And this beautiful young damsel she shot the other three.
When this noble gentleman saw all the robbers dead,
He took the damsel by the hand, and thus to her he said,
"I'll take you for my own bride, for the deed that you have done,
In taking of your own part, and firing off your gun."
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Source: Lucy Broadwood and J.A. Fuller Maitland, English County Songs, 1893.
Tune and text noted from a Mrs Wilson of Northamptonshire.
The song seems to have begun its life in the 18th century, as The Staffordshire Maid. By the 19th century the action had moved south and shortened a bit; the set above is very close to broadside texts, which appeared as The Undaunted Female. It persisted in tradition at least as recently as the 1970s, generally known as Box on her Head; Gwilym Davies recorded a set from Mrs. Dodds of Steep, Hampshire, in 1973; it was published in English Dance and Song, vol.38 no.1, 1976. The song has been found mainly in England; less often in Scotland and just occasionally in the USA and Canada.
Various broadside editions can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, listed as:
The Staffordshire maid
The undaunted female
Roud: 289 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six