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The Fair Flower of Northumberland

[ Roud 25 ; Child 9 ; G/D 6:1149 ; Ballad Index C009 ; trad.]

Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs Northumbrian Minstrelsy The Oxford Book of Ballads

The Exiles sang The Fair Flower of Northumberland in 1967 on their Topic album The Hale and the Hanged.

This good old song has been on the go for the best part of four hundred years, perhaps longer. In 1597, Thomas Deloney, the ‘balleting silk-weaver‘ and forefather of the novel published his rambling Pleasant History of Jack of Newbery, a tale half-prose, half-verse concerning a famous Berkshire cloth-maker, John Winchcomb, whose house was, for the period, a huge factory. Deloney imagines Henry VIII visiting the factory, with its two hundred looms, and hearing the girls singing The Fair Flower of Northumberland as they worked—“two of them singing the ditty and all the rest bearing the burden”. The song lasted better in Scotland than in England, and early in the twentieth century, Gavin Greig obtained a version from a Kininmonth woman, which is the basis of the version given here.

Dick Gaughan sang The Fair Flower of Northumberland in 1972 on his Trailer album No More Forever.

Martin Simpson played the tune of The Fair Flower of Northumberland in 1984 on the Dambuster anthology Buttons & Bows and on his 1989 CD Leaves of Life.

Sheena Wellington sang The Fair Flooer o Northumberland on her 2003 Greentrax album Hamely Fare.

Lori Watson and Rule of Three sang Floor o Northumberlan in 2009 on their CD Pleasure's Coin.

Jim Reid sang Flower of Northumberland in 1984 on his Springthyme album I Saw the Wild Geese Flee. He noted:

A concise version of this popular ballad of the fair flower of Northumberland who falls in love with a prisoner and helps him gain his freedom, and escape over the border to Scotland.

Lizzie Higgins sang Flower of Northumberland on an digital download bonus track of her 1985 Lismor album What a Voice.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset—then still with Jackie Oates—sang The Fair Flower of Northumberland in 2005 on their CD Cruel Sister. She commented:

Presumably set in the times when the Scottish and Northumbrian borders were full of warring clans and families (including border reivers the Unthanks), this song tells of a young Northumbrian girl deceived by a duplicitous Scotsman. I was inspired to learn this song as a young North Eastern girl living in Glasgow, as it tickled me some what! Scotland had the last laugh though as ironically, I unwittingly learnt the Scottish version before I discovered the Northumbrian equivalent. I found the words in 100 Folk Songs and New Songs by Alasdair Clayre.

Jackie Oates recorded The Flower of Northumberland in the following year for her eponymous first album Jackie Oates.

The Spiers Family sang Fair Flower of Northumberland in ca 2012 on their album Plenty Brass and a Bonny Lass. They noted:

Emma [Spiers] learned her version of this 17th century ballad from the singing of Gordon McCulloch. It's the story of a naïve young English girl being taken advantage of by a Scotsman.

Alasdair Roberts sang The Flower of Northumberland on his, Amble Skuse and David McGuinness' 2018 CD What News. They noted:

Alasdair learnt this ballad from his late father Alan, who can be heard singing the song on a compilation LP from Folk Treff 77 in Pforzheim, (West) Germany. According to Child, the earliest copy of this ballad is introduced as The Maiden's Song in Deloney's Pleasant History of John Windhcomb, in his Younger Yeares called Jacke of Newberie, a book written as early as 1597. Child finds ‘interesting agreements’ between the song and certain Polish, Scandinavian and German ballads.

Lyrics

Dick Gaughan sings The Fair Flower of Northumberland

The provost's ae dochter wis walkin her lane,
    O but her luve it wis easy won,
Whan she spied a Scots prisoner makin his mane
    An she wis the flouer of Northumberlan

“O, gin a lassie wad borrow mem
    O gin her luve it wis easy won,
A wad mak her a ladie o heich degree
Gin she'd lowse me out frae my prison sae strang.”

Sae it's she's dune her doun tae her faither's guid stocks,
    O but her luve it wis easy won,
An she's stolen the best keys thair for mony's the brave lock,
For tae lowse him out frae his prison sae strang.

An it's she's dune her doun tae her faither's guid stables,
    O but her luve it wis easy won,
An she's stolen the best horse that wis baith fleet an able
For tae cairry thaim owre tae bonnie Scotlan.

Bit as thae were ridin across thon Scots muirs he cried,
    “O but yer luve it wis easy won.
Get ye doun frae my horse, ye're a brazen-faced hour,
Altho ye're the flouer o Northumberlan.”

“It's cook in yer kitchen A shairly will be,
Altho my luve it wis easy won,
For A cannae gae back tae my ain countrie,
Altho A'm the flouer o Northumberlan.”

“It's cook in my kitchen ye cannae weill be,
O but yer luve it wis easy won,
For my ladie she winnae hae sairvants like ye
An ye'll need tae gae hame tae Northumberlan.”

“For A hae a wife in my ain countrie,
    O but yer luve it was easy won,
An A cannae dae naethin wi a lassie like ye,
An ye'll need tae gae back tae Northumberlan.”

An, sae laith wis he thon lassie tae tine,
    O but her luve it wis easy won,
He's hiret an auld horse an he's hiret an auld man
Tae cairry her hame tae Northumberlan.

Bit whan she got thair her faither did froun an said,
    “O but yer luve it was easy won,
Tae gang wi a Scotsman whan ye're barely saxteen,
An ye were the flouer o Northumberlan.”

Bit whan she gaed ben her mither did smile an said
“O but yer luve it was easy won
But ye're no the first that thon Scots has beguilet
An ye're walcome back hame tae Northumberlan.”

“For ye winnae want breid an ye winnae want wine,
O but yer luve it was easy won,
An ye winnae want siller tae buy a man wi
An ye're aye the fair flouer o Northumberlan.”

Jim Reid sings The Fair Flower of Northumberland

A maid went by the prison door,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
And she spied a prisoner a-standin there
    A-wishing he was in fair Scotland.

It's, “Oh fair maid wad ye pity me?”
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
“Wad ye steal the key and let me gang free?
    And I'll mak ye my lady in fair Scotland.”

She went untae her faither's stable,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
And she's stolen the steed that wis baith fleet and able,
    Tae cairry them on tae fair Scotland.

And when they cam untae a moss,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
He's bad her licht aff her faither's best horse,
    And return again tae Northumberland.

And when she cam tae her faither's ha,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
She's looted her low amangst them aa,
    Although she's the flooer o Northumberland.

Then up spoke her faither and he spoke bold,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
“How could ye dae so at fifteen years old
    And you the flooer o Northumberland.”

Then up spoke her mother she spoke wi a smile,
    “Maids with whiles is easy won;
Oh ye're no the first one that he has beguiled,
    And ye're welcome back hame tae Northumberland.”

Jackie Oates sings The Flower of Northumberland

Oh the provost's dochter was walking aline,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
Whan she spied a Scots prisoner making his moan,
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

And it's, “Oh, if the lassie would borrow a key,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
I would make her a lady of high degree.”
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

So it's she's gone her up to her father's bed stock,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
And she's stolen the keys for many a broad lock,
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

And she's gone her down to her father's stable,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
And she's taken a horse that's both fleet and able,
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

But as they were a-riding across the Scots moor he cried,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
“Get you down from my horse, you're a brazen-faced whore.”
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

“For it's I have a wife in my own country,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
And I can't do nothing with a lassie like thee.”
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

“Oh it's cook in your kitchen I surely will be,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
For I dare not get back toe my country.”,
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

“Oh it's cook in my kitchen you never shall be,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
For my lady she will not have servants like thee.”
    Oh and she's the fair flower of Northumberland.

And when she's got back her faither did frown and said,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
“ For to be a Scot's whore when you're barely fifteen,
And you were the flower of Northumberland.”

But when she got back her mother did smile and said,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
“But you're not the first lass that the Scots hav beguiled
And you're still the flower of Northumberland.”

“For you'll not want for bread and you'll not want for wine,
    Oh but her love it was easy won,
And you'll nor want for silver to buy you a man,
An you're still the flower of Northumberland.”

The Spiers Family sing Fair Flower of Northumberland

A provost's ae dochter was waakin her lain,
    O but her love it was easy won,
When she heard a Scots prisoner maakin his main,
    Aye and she was the floo'er o Northumberland.

It's o gin a lassie would borrow a key,
    O gin her love it was easy won,
I wid maak her a lady o high degree
    If she'd loose me oot o this prison sae strang.

So she's gaen ben tae her faither's bed stock,
    O but her love it was easy won,
And she's stolen the keys for many guid locks
    Tae loose him oot o his prison sae strang.

Then she's gaen ben tae her faither's stable,
    O but her love it was easy won,
And she's stolen a steed that wis baith fleet and able
    Tae cairry them on tae bonnie Scotland.

And as they were a-riding across the Scots moor,
    He said, O but yer love it was easy won,
Get doon fae my horse, you're a brazen faced whore
    Tho' ye micht be the floo'er o Northumberland.

For it's I hae a wife in my ain country,
    O but yer love it was easy won,
And I canna dae nithing wi a lassie like thee
    So ye'll need tae gae hame tae Northumberland.

It's cook in your kitchen I surely will be,
    Although my love it was easy won,
For I canna gae hame tae my ain country
    Though I am the floo'er o Northumberland.

It's cook in my kitchen ye cannae well be,
    O but yer love it was easy won,
For my lady, she winna hae servants like thee
    So ye'll need tae gae hame tae Northumberland.

But laith was he the lassie tae tyne,
    O but her love it was easy won,
So he's hired an auld horse and he's hired an auld man
    And he's sent her back hame tae Northumberland.

And when she's gaed in, her faither did frown
    And said, o but yer love it was easy won,
Tae gang wi a Scotsman when yer barely fifteen,
    O and ye were the floo'er o Northumberland.

But when she's gaed in, her mither did smile,
    And said, o but yer love it was easy won.
But yer nae the first that the Scots hae beguiled
    And yer welcome back hame tae Northumberland.

Ye winna want bread and ye winna want wine,
    O but yer love it was easy won,
And ye winna want silver tae buy a man wi
    And you're aye the floo'er o Northumberland.