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> Tony Rose > Songs > The Royal Oak
> June Tabor > Songs > Royal Oak
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Royal Oak

The Good Luck Ship / The Royal Oak

[ Roud 951 ; G/D 1:40 ; Ballad Index VWL091 ; trad.]

Norfolk singer Harry Cox sang The Good Luck Ship in a recording by the BBC on December 18, 1945. This was included in 2000 on his 2 CD Topic Records anthology, The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud commented in the liner notes:

We have not been able to trace any other versions of this song, which seems to be unique to Harry. There are plenty of songs in the English tradition which detail sea-fights, and at least two which feature a ship called the Rainbow, but none are quite like this one.

Peter Bellamy learned The Good Luck Ship from the singing of Harry Cox and sang it in 1969 on his second LP, Fair England's Shore (which took its name from the second-to-last verse of this song). Peter Bellamy commented in the album's sleeve notes:

The Good Luck Ship has by no means an unusual theme—though the idea of winning out against ten-to-one odds is perhaps unusual valour, even for the Folk! Probably an early Georgian song, I learned it from Harry Cox of Norfolk, whose version of Betty the Serving Maid this melody so closely resembles.

Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd printed the ballad as The Royal Oak in 1959 in their The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Clive Carey collected this version from Moses Mansfield of Almshouse Cottages, Haslemere, Surrey, in 1912.

Tony Rose sang The Royal Oak unaccompanied in 1970 on his first album, Young Hunting. He commented in the sleeve notes:

The Royal Oak is something of an enigma, for there is no historical record of any such events as the one described here, involving a ship called the Royal Oak. Nevertheless the song has a fine tune, and with Britannia very definitely ruling the waves, I'm surprised the sung is not sung more widely.

June Tabor sang The Royal Oak live at the Stagfolk Folk Club at Shackleford Social Centre, near Godalming on March 26, 1972. However, this track was not included in the concert's LP Stagfolk Live but only in 2005 on June Tabor's anthology Always.

Roy Harris sang it on his 1972 LP The Bitter and the Sweet; this track was also included in the maritime compilation CD Round Cape Horn.

Jim Mageean sang The ‘Royal Oak’ in 1978 on his Greenwich Village album Of Ships…and Men. He commented:

This sea ballad tells of a naval battle which took place in 1669. The song is slightly exaggerated as it claims that ten Turkish men o' war were defeated by one British ship. In the actual battle seven Algerian vessels were beaten. A very interesting ballad anyway, in which Johnny Collins assists me my supplying a superb bass line.

And Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded Royal Oak for their 2006 album Straws in the Wind. Carthy commented in the sleeve notes:

Not much historical background seems to be known about the Royal Oak if indeed such a background exists. According to A.L. Lloyd there are versions from the English West Country (from the Baring-Gould collection) and Aberdeenshire (from Gavin Greig) both of which name the ship as The Marigold, and suggests that the encounter took place at the end of 1669. I wonder myself whether it's just a great piece of imagination. Just a story with no basis in fact like so many other songs. Great story and great derring-do. Great melody too.

Lyrics

Peter Bellamy sings The Good Luck Ship

Did you ever hear tell of the good luck ship?
Did you ever hear tell of the commander's name?
She's the Royal Rainbow out from Bristol town
And Captain Ramsgate was his name.

Now this good luck ship was loaded deep,
Three anchors weighed all on her bows;
And the wind it being east north east, my boys,
As close to the wind as we could steer.

Now we had not been sailing three days or four
When we espied ten men-of-war,
Before we spied ten men-of-war,
And down on us they did huzzah.

So it's, “Strike, come strike, you English dogs,
Come strike your tops'ls down by speed!”
“If you've a mind for to have them strike,
Come you on board, strike them for me.”

So he called up his merry men all, saying,
“Get you ready, boys, obey my call,
Get your firelocks ready and fix them well
And throw in a-plenty of good bombshell.”

Then he called up his little cabin boy,
He sent him up aloft so high,
And there to fly King George's flag
And under that we'll fight or die.

So from the sunrise into the sun going down,
We fight like any, boys, when we meet,
From the sunrise into the sun going down
We spied not one sail of our fleet.

But three we sank and three we burned;
The other three, well, they ran away.
And one we brought safe to fair England's shore
To let them know we'd won the day.

So now, thank God, we have won the day;
We've caused the Frenchies all for to rue.
Here is Captain Ramsgate and all his crew
Let everyone give them a good huzzah!

Tony Rose sings The Royal OakMartin Carthy sings Royal Oak

As we were a-sailing all on the salt sea,
We hadn't sailed months past but two or three.
Not before we saw ten sail of Turk,
All men-o'-war full as big as we.

As we was sailing all on the salt sea,
We hadn't sailed months past two or three.
Long before we saw ten sail of Turk,
All men-o'-war full as big as we.

“Pull down your colours, you English dogs!
Pull down your colours, do not refuse.
Oh, pull down your colours, you English dogs,
Or else your precious life you'll lose!”

“Pull down your colours, you English dogs!
Pull down your colours, do not refuse.
Oh, pull down your colours, you English dogs,
Or else your precious life you'll lose!”

Our captain being a valiant man,
And a well-bespoken young man was he:
“Oh, it never shall be said that we died like dogs,
But we will fight them most manfully!”

And our captain being a valiant man,
And a well-bespoken young man was he:
“Oh, it never shall be said that we died like dogs,
But we will fight them manfully!”

“Go up, you lofty cabin boys,
And mount the mainmast tops'l high,
For to spread abroad to King George's fleet.
But we'll run the risk or else we'll die!”

“Go up, you lofty cabin boys,
And mount the mainmast topsail high,
For to spread abroad to our noble fleet
We'll run the risk or else we'll die!”

The fight begun about six in the morn
And unto the setting of the sun.
And at the rising of the very next morn,
Of them ten ships we could not see but one.

The fight begun 'bout six in the morning
And unto the setting of the sun.
Oh, and at the rising of the very next morning,
Out of ten ships could not see but one.

For three we sank and three we burned,
And three we caused to run away,
And the one we took into Portsmouth harbour
For to let them know we had won the day.

Oh, three we sank and three we burned,
Three we caused to run away,
And one we brought into Portsmouth harbour
For to let them know we had won the day.

Well, if anyone then should enquire
Or want to know our captain's name,
Ol' Captain Wellfounder is our chief commander,
And the Royal Oak is our ship by name.

And if anyone then should enquire
Or want to know our captain's name,
Captain Wellfounder is our chief commander,
But the Royal Oak is our ship by name.

Acknowledgements

Lyrics taken from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, ed. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959:91, and adapted to the actual singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.