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The Husbandman and the Servingman / Singing the Travels

[ Roud 873 ; Ballad Index K226 ; trad.]

The Husbandman and the Servingman is part of the medieval mummers play The Seven Champions of Christendom from Symondsbury near Bridport, Dorset, and is a heated discussion about the merits or otherwise of being employed or independent. In Shakespeare's time most English villages had their local amateur acting companies, who on Christmas or Plough Monday performed traditional dramas in the streets or the halls of great houses. This custom has now almost died out. Peter Kennedy recorded a fragment of a revived but genuine version of this play in Symondsbury in February 1951 (BBC recording 22323). It has been included in the anthologies World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England (Columbia, 1955) and Songs of Christmas / Songs of Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Peter Bellamy starring as the servingman (employed soldier) and Royston Wood as the husbandman (farmer) sang alternate verses of The Husbandman and the Servingman on The Young Tradition's final LP, Galleries; together they sang the repeated stanzas of the husbandman. They also sang it on November 17, 1968 at their concert at Oberlin College, Ohio, that was published in 2013 on their Fledg'ling CD Oberlin 1968. Heather Wood commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

There is very limited tradition of harmony singing in England: a notable example is the Copper family of Sussex. This song comes from the Cantwell brothers of Oxford.

Maddy Prior and June Tabor recorded this dialogue as Singing the Travels for their album Silly Sisters. A live recording from the Maddy Prior, Family & Friends Christmas tour of 1999 was published on her CD and video Ballads and Candles.

Andy Turner learned Husbandman and Servingman from the singing of Fred and Ray Cantwell of Standlake in Oxfordshire (as recorded by Peter Kennedy on November 14, 1956; BBC recording 23537). He sang it as the June 1, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

The Young Tradition sing The Husbandman and the Servingman

Well met, well met, my friend, all on the highway riding,
Though freely together here we stand.
I pray now tell to me of what calling this thou be
And art thou not a servingman?

Oh no, my brother dear, what makes thee to inquire
Of any such thing from my hand?
𝄆 Indeed I will not frain but I will tell you plain:
I am a downright husbandman. 𝄇

Well, if an husbandman you be, will you walk along with me,
Though freely together here we stand.
For in a very short space I may take you to a place
Where you may be a servingman.

As to thy diligence, I give thee many thanks,
But nought do I require from thine hand.
𝄆 But I pray now to me show wherefore that I may know
The pleasures of a servingman. 𝄇

Well, isn't it a nice thing to ride out with the king,
With lords, dukes or any such men;
For to hear the horn to blow and see the hounds all in a row,
That's pleasures of a servingman.

But my pleasure's more than that, to see my oxen fat
And a good stock of hay by them stand;
𝄆 With my plowing and my sowing, my reaping and my mowing,
That's pleasures of an husbandman. 𝄇

But then we do wear the finest of grandeur,
My coat is trimmed with fur all around;
Our shirts as white as milk and our stockings made of silk:
That's clothing for a servingman.

As to thy grandeur give I the coat I wear
Some bushes to ramble among;
𝄆 Give to me a good greatcoat and in my purse a grout,
That's clothing for an husbandman. 𝄇

But then we do eat the most delicate fine meat
Of goose, and of capon, and swan;
Our pastry's made so fine, we drink sugar in our wine,
That's diet for a servingman.

As to thy ducks and capons, give I my beans and bacon,
And a good drop of ale now and then;
𝄆 For in a farmer's house you will find both brawn and souse,
That's a living for an husbandman. 𝄇

Kind sir, I must confess although it causes me distress
To grant to you the uppermost hand;
Although it is most painful, it is altogether gainful
And I wish I'd been an husbandman.

So now, good people all, both be you great and small,
All knowing the king of our land;
𝄆 And let us, whatsoever, to do our best endeavour,
For to maintain an husbandman. 𝄇

The Silly Sisters sing Singing the Travels

Well met, my brothers dear, all along the highway riding,
So solemn I was walking along.
So pray come tell to me what calling yours may be
And I'll have you for a servantman.

Some servingmen do eat the very best of meat
Such as cock, goose, capon and swan;
But when lords and ladies dine, they drink strong beer, ale and wine
That's some diet for a servantman.

Don't you talk about your capons, let's have some rusty bacon
And aye, a good piece of pickled pork.
That's always in my house, a crust of bread and cheese
That's some diet for a husbandman.

When next to church they go with their livery fine and gay
And their cocked hats and gold lace all around,
With their shirts as white as milk, and stitched as fine as silk:
That's some habit for a servantman.

Don't you talk about your livery nor all your silken garments,
That's not fit for to travel the bushes in.
Give me my leather coat, aye, and in my purse a groat:
That's some habit for a husbandman.

So me must needs confess that your calling is the best
And will give you the uppermost hand.
So now we won't delay but pray both night and day;
God bless the honest husbandman.

Acknowledgements

Thank you very much to David Bartlett of Sound Tradition for correcting lots of embarrassing typos and mishearings.