My father he built me a shady bower,
And cover'd it over with shamrock flowers.
The finest bower that ever I see,
My aged father he built for me.
My father he married me to a noble knight,
My mother she ow'd me a dreadful spite;
She sent nine robbers all in one night,
To rob my bower and slay my knight.
How could she have done me a bigger harm
To murder my babies all in my arms?
Left nothing at all for to wrap them in,
But the bloody sheets that my Love died in.
All alone, all alone then I will wash them,
All alone, all then I will bury them;
Cut off my hair and I'll change my name,
From Fair Eleanor to Sweet William.
I will saddle my horse and away I'll ride,
Till I come to where some fair king do reside,
To one of his servants I'll give a gay gold ring,
To carry a message unto the King.
"It's do you want either cook or groom,
Or do you want any stableman?
Do you want a manservant all in your hall.
To wait on the nobles when they do call?"
"It's we don't want neither cook nor groom,
Nor we don't want ne'er a stableman;
But we wants a manservant all in our hall,
To wait on the nobles when they do call."
Not very long after it happen'd so,
The young King and his nobles did a-hunting go,
Left no-one at all but a gay old man,
To keep company with Sweet William.
And when she thought she was all alone,
Took down her fiddle and play'd a tune:
"Once my love was a rich, noble knight,
And me myself was a lady bright."
Then bye and bye this young King came home,
"What news, what news, oh! my gay old man?"
"Good news, good news, oh! my Lord," said he,
"Your servant man is a gay lady."
"Go and fetch me down, then, a pair of stays,
That I might lace up her slender waist,
Go and fetch me down that gay gown of green,
That I might dress her up much like my Queen."
"Oh no. Oh! no. Oh! my Lord", said she.
"Pay me my wages and I'll go free,
For I never heard tell of a stranger thing,
As a servantman to become a queen."
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Source: Purslow, F, (1972), The Constant Lovers, EDFS, London
An extract from Frank Purslow's notes is given below:
Gardiner Hp 1322. Albert Doe, Bartley, Hants. December 19008
Apparently a good singer with a very fine repertoire, some, if not all, of Irish origin. The tune of this version in any case betrays its country of origin, as it is a variant - a good one - of a tune much associated with texts of Irish origin, such as The Croppy Boy, The Isle of France, Sweet William, The Wild and Wicked Youth and several others. Nevertheless, this appears to be the only version of the ballad noted in England in this century. I have recently heard of two versions recorded lately in Dorset, but enquiries have failed to produce any concrete information. The earliest known text is the mid 17th-century ballad-sheet one entitled The Famous Flower of Serving Men, composed by Laurence Price. Professor Child, who included the ballad as no 106, was of the opinion that Price had modelled the ballad on an earlier popular romance...
Albert Doe's set was first published in The Folk Music Journal, vol.I no.3, 1967: pp. 147-8, in a piece by Frank Purslow, The George Gardiner Folk Song Collection (with ten songs). It was largely as given here, except that in several places Purslow has substituted "King" for Mr Doe's "lord". Verse 5 ended:
And one of those servants I'll give a ring,
That I might dissolve a gracious thing.
Purslow commented: "[Bronson's] fourth version (from New Hampshire) helps to make sense of the misremembered last two lines of verse 5...
I gave the porter a gay gold ring
To carry my message unto the king."
The version in question was noted by Marguerite Olney from Mrs Belle Richards, Colebrook, New Hampshire, in 1942, and was published in Flanders and Olney, Ballads Migrant in New England, Faffar Strauss and Young, New York, 1953.
Verse 8 was as follows:
Then bye and bye this young lord went out,
Left no-one at all but this gay old man,
To keep company with Sweet William.
Purslow: "As the above version cannot really be said to be really similar to any of the printed versions I have seen, I have been unable to supply the missing line from verse 8." Evidently he later remedied that situation.
One of the Dorset sets Purslow refers to will have been that recorded by Peter Kennedy (1968) and Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (1963) from "Queen" Caroline Hughes. More recently (1975), Mike Yates recorded a related version, The Small Birds Whistle, from the Traveller Jasper Smith (Epsom, Surrey); this can be heard on Topic's My Father's the King of the Gypsies - English and Welsh Travellers & Gypsies (Topic TSCD 661).
Although apparently of English origin, the ballad has been found more often in Scotland (along with the overlapping ballad The Border Widow's Lament), and in the USA and Canada. Although the tune here is Irish, the song has rarely been reported there. It is presumably a comparatively recent coupling with the text.
There are a number of broadside editions at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, the earliest-dated being from Elizabeth Andrews of London (between 1664 and 1666):
The famous flower of serving-men
Laurence Price's ballad was entered in the Stationers' Register on July 14, 1656. The text can be seen at Bruce Olson's website: The famous Flower of Serving-Man. Or, The Lady turn'd Serving-Man.
Roud: 199 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Related Songs: The Famous Flower of Serving Men (thematic)