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> Nic Jones > Songs > The Duke of Marlborough
> Maddy Prior > Songs > Duke of Marlborough

The Duke of Marlborough / Lord Melbourne

[ Roud 233 ; Master title: The Duke of Marlborough ; Ballad Index WT161 ; Bodleian Roud 233 ; GlosTrad Roud 233 ; Wiltshire 99 , 786 ; Mudcat 27509 ; trad.]

George Wray sang Lord Melbourne on Unto Brigg Fair, from a cylinder recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger. The LP sleeve notes commented:

It is a great pity that the quality of the cylinders of this stirring ballad do not permit the inclusion of more of this song or more particularly of this fine singer. The manner in which he switches from a terraced style, stark and strident, to a gently fluid and ornamented style for the last verse is potent evidence of his creative ability and marks strongly his insistence on the narrative rather than Joseph Taylor’s predominate concern with the tune. Other versions are found in: BTSC, BF, SEF and FSJ 4 p. 156, 20 p. 266 and importantly Grainger’s transcription in FSJ 12. Also on many broadsides, eg. C, F, Bl, Dl, P, Ph, Fo, W, HP, HW, WL, WB - all in the Madden Collection at the University Library, Cambridge.

Nic Jones sang this song as The Duke of Marlborough in 1970 on his first solo album, Ballads and Songs. He commented in his album sleeve notes:

In addition to The Outlandish Knight, Cecil Sharp also very kindly supplied me, through the aid of his book, with The Duke of Marlborough. Versions of this have been collected in Lincolnshire, Sussex, Norfolk and Somerset, all having probably derived from a printed broadside copy. The tune used here is the only major one collected, and very fine is it too.

Fairport Convention sang Lord Marlborough on their 1971 album Angel Delight. This track was also included in the anthologies Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock and New Electric Muse. The latter album’s notes commented:

Fairport V, according to the numeration employed by Pete Frame, was a four-piece with the three Daves—Mattacks, Pegg and Swarbrick—and Simon Nicol playing on Angel Delight (1971), an album of mixed quality but with some contemporary and traditional songs still deserving of a place in their repertoire, including this one. The lord of the title was Col. Churchill, created Duke by William of Orange in 1688, after his victory over the rebellious Duke of Monmouth. The earliest printed version we know appeared some 100 years later, though it seems to have originated as a broadside. Hammond collected a version with a similar sprung rhythm (in 5/4, this is in 5/8) from a man in Dorset in June 1906.

Cross o’ the Hands sang Lord Marlborough on their 1996 album Handmade.

John Roberts & Tony Barrand sang Lord Melbourne in 1998 on their CD of English folksongs collected by Percy Grainger, Heartoutbursts. They noted:

In Lincolnshire Posy this is categorised as ‘Lord Melbourne’ (War Song), where it is given a fanfare-like, almost arrhythmic treatment. The song is better known as Lord Marlborough, to whom it properly refers. John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough, soldier and statesman, is perhaps best known for his “glorious victories” against the French at Blenheim and Ramillies. He was a meticulous planner, and was also known for his consideration of the welfare of his soldiers, which is perhaps why he became so popular in balladry. He was also an ancestor of Winston Churchill, whose elder brother Charles became the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1892.

Maddy Prior recorded The Duke of Marlborough in 2001 for her CD Arthur the King.

Danny Spooner sang Marlborough on his 2008 CD Brave Bold Boys. He noted:

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was the son of Sir Winston Churchill, an English MP and the forebear of Sir Winston Churchill the British Prime Minister during WW2. The hero of this piece of jingoism, he was regarded as one of England’s greatest ever army commanders and strategists. Entering the army in 1667 he quickly rose through the officer ranks, enjoying a spectacular career until, due to some questionable dealings, he fell from royal favour in spite of his spectacular victories at Blenheim and Ramillies. He was re-instated by George I, one of his greatest admirers, but in 1718 was incapacitated by a stroke and resigned. While staying at Windsor Lodge he suffered another stroke and died on 26 June 1722. There are versions of this song in many collections. I got it from the singing of an English mathematician, Eric Gooding.

The Wilson Family sang The Duke of Marlborough on their 2009 CD A Grey Lock or Two. They noted:

Though produced on numerous broadsides during the mid 1800’s, this song is either another example of gross obsequiousness or rose-tinted hero worship. The Marlborough referred to was a certain John Churchill and the broadsides don’t seem to have appeared until about a century after his death! Hero to some, he appears to have been a Machiavellian character who, in spite of being knighted by James II, when the wind started coming from the continent he jumped ship and sided with William of Orange but continued to be ‘Jimmy’s’ pen-pal. There are stories of further manoeuvring and accusations of corruption, which may suggest that the line ‘but ne’er was bribed by gold’ may have been a bit ‘tongue in cheek’.


George Wray sings Lord Melbourne

I am an Englishman born by birth, Lord Melbourne is my name;
In Devonshire I first drew breath, that place of noble fame.
I was beloved by adell my men, by kings and princes likewise,
𝄆 I never faideld in anything but one great victory. 𝄇

Then good Queen Anne sent us on board, to Flanders we did go.
We left the banks of Newfoundland to face our daring foe.
We climbed those lofty bidells away, with broken guns, shields likewise;
And all those famous towns we took, to all the wordells surprise.

[King Charles the second we did preserve, to face our foemen French.
And to the battle of elements* we boldly did advance. [*ie. Ramilles]
The sun was down, the earth did shake and I so loud did cry,
“Fight on me lads for old Eng-e-lands sake, we’ll join the field or die.”

And now the glorious victory’s won, so boldly keep the field.
When pris’ners in great numbers took, which forced our foe to yield.
That very day my horse was shot, all by a cannon ball;
As soon as I got up again, my head in camp* did fall. [*ie. aide-de-camp]

Now on a bed of sick-e-ness lie, I am resigned to die.
You gen’rals all and champions bold, stand true as well as I;
Stand to your men, take them on board and fight with courage bold.
I’ve led my men through smoke and fire but now to death must yield.]

Nic Jones sings The Duke of Marlborough

You generals all and champions bold who take delight in the field,
Who knock down palaces and castle walls and fight until they yield:
Oh I must go and face the foe without my sword and shield.
I always fought with my merry men, but now to death I must yield.

I am an Englishman by my birth, and Malborough is my name;
In Devonshire I drew my breath, that place of noted fame.
I was belovèd by all my men, by Kings and Princes likewise,
Though many towns I often took, I did the world surprise.

Well, good Queen Anne sent us abroad, to Flanders we did go;
And we left the banks of Newfoundland, for to face the daring foe.
We climbed those lofty hills so high where guns stones broke, likewise,
And all those famous towns we took and we won great victory.

King Charles II I did serve to face the foes in France,
And at the battle of Ramilles we boldly did advance.
The sun was down and the moon did shine; so loudly did I cry:
“Fight on, me lads, for Fair England! We’ll conquer or we’ll die!”

Now we have gained the victory and bravely held the field,
We took a number of prisoners and forced them to yield,
That very day my horse got shot, all by a musket ball,
And ’ere I mounted up again, my second man did fall.

Now on a bed of sickness prone, I am resigned for to die;
You generals all and champions bold, stand true as well as I.
Unto your colours stand you true and fight with courage bold;
I’ve led my men through fire and smoke but n’er was bribed by gold.

(repeat first verse)


George Wray’s lyrics were copied from the liner notes of Unto Brigg Fair.