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Six Dukes Went A-Fishing

[ Roud 78 ; Ballad Index FO078 ; VWML CJS2/10/1960 ; trad.]

Percy Grainger collected Six Dukes Went A-Fishing in 1906 from George Gouldthorpe at Brigg Union Workhouse, Lincolnshire, It was included in 1959 in Ralph Vaughan Williams' and A.L. Lloyd's The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. A.L. Lloyd recorded it in 1956 for the album Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collection. Kenneth F. Goldstein commented in the album's booklet:

Child learned a version of this ballad which he included in his notes to The Death of Queen Jane, to which several of its lines bear a great similarity.

The ballad appears to be descended from a late 17th century broadside detailing the death and funeral of the Duke of Grafton, who died in battle in 1690. Lucy Broadwood, however, believed that the ballad may have referred to the death and burial of William de Poole, first Duke of Suffolk, whose end was similar to that of the duke in the ballad (see JFSS, III, pp. 170-190). If such is indeed the case, then the 17th century broadside was probably inspired by the earlier ballad of the Duke of Suffolk and the broadside in turn seems to have effected the traditional form of the ballad—note the reference to stanza 2 to the Duke of Grantham (obviously an oral corruption of Grafton).

The ballad has come down in tradition to this century and has been collected both in England and America. The version sung here by Lloyd was collected in 1906 by Percy Grainger from Joseph Leaning of Brigg, Lincolnshire.

Lloyd recorded this song for a second time in 1960 for A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Like all tracks from the latter LP it was reissued in 2003 on the CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

It is plausible to suggest that the drowned man in this dark story was really the first Duke of Suffolk, murdered my political enemies in 1450, and bis body flung on the seashore at Dover (the incident is illustrated in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part II). Folk singers were evidently impressed by the gaunt imagery of the song, for fragments of the funeral scene turn up in other, later songs. Percy Grainger recorded it phonographically from a poor lime-burner, George Gouldthorpe of Barrow-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, in 1906. Benjamin Britten has piano-set it. The word “flamboys” means “torches” (flambeaux, in French).

Cecil Sharp collected Six Dukes on October 9, 1908 from William Atkinson at Marylebone Workhouse, London. It was included with the title The Duke of Bedford in Maud Karpeles’ book The Crystal Spring.

Shirley and Dolly Collins recorded Six Dukes in 1970 for their album Love, Death & the Lady. Shirley commented in the liner notes:

This song, collected by Percy Grainger from George Gouldthorpe in 1908 at Goxhill, Lincolnshire, is to me one of the most haunting and fascinating. Its rarity, mystery and age make it a treasure. How did it end up on the lips of a Lincolnshire lime-burner? I would dearly love to trace its journey back over the centuries.

Lisa Knapp sang Six Dukes in 2007 on her album Wild and Undaunted, with lyrics very similar to those of Shirley Collins.

Bernie Cherry learned Six Dukes Went A-Fishing from the Penguin Book and sang it on his 2013 Musical Tradition anthology With Powder, Shot and Gun.

Andy Turner learned Six Dukes from Maud Karpeles' book and sang it as the July 4, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Pilgrims' Way sang Six Dukes in 2016 on their Fellside CD Red Diesel. They commented in their liner notes:

We got this from Paul Sullivan, on of the finest musicians and singers ever to emerge from Grimsby.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings Six Dukes Went A-Fishing Shirley Collins sings Six Dukes

Six dukes went a-fishing
Down by yon sea-side.
One of them spied a dead body
Lain by the waterside.

Six dukes went a-fishing
Down by the sea-side.
One spied a dead body
Come floating in the tide.

The one said to the other,
These words I heard them say:
“It's the Royal Duke of Grantham
That the tide has washed away.”

And the one said to the other,
These words I heard them say:
“It's the Royal Duke of Grantham
That the tide has washed away.”

They took him up to Portsmouth
To a place where was known;
From there up to London
To the place where he was born.

And they took him up to London
To the place where was known;
From there back to Grantham,
The place where he was born.

They took out his bowels,
And stretched out his feet,
And they balmed his body
With roses so sweet.

And they took out his bowels,
And they bound up his feet,
And they balmed his body
With roses so sweet.

Six dukes stood before him,
Twelve raised him from the ground,
Nine lords followed after him
In their black mourning gown.

Six dukes went before him,
Nine raised him from the ground,
Twelve lords followed after
In their black mourning gowns.

Black was their mourning,
And white were the wands,
And so yellow were the flamboys
That they carried in their hands.

So black was their mourning,
So white were the wands,
So yellow were the flamboys
They carried in their hands.

Now he lies betwixt two towers,
He now lies in cold clay.
And the Royal Queen of Grantham
Went weeping away.

He now lies twixt two towers,
He now lies in cold clay.
And the Royal Queen of Grantham
Went weeping away.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origin: Duke of Bedford / Six Lords Went a-Hunting.