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The Fair Flower of Northumberland

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

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. His liner notes commented:

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.

Lyrics

Dick Gaughan sings The Fair Flower of Northumberland Jackie Oates sings The 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

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.”

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.”

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.”

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 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.”

“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.”

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.

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

She went untae her faitherʼs stable,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
And sheʼs 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,
Heʼs bad her licht aff her faitherʼs best horse,
    And return again tae Northumberland.

And when she cam tae her faitherʼs ha,
    Maids with whiles is easy won,
Sheʼs looted her low amangst them aa,
    Although sheʼs 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 yeʼre no the first one that he has beguiled,
    And yeʼre welcome back hame tae Northumberland.”