Author Topic: Add: The Famous Flower of Serving Men


Posted - 07 Mar 03 - 09:47 pm

Famous Flower of Serving Men, The

My mother did me deadly spite, for she sent thieves in the dark of night
Put my servants all to flight, they robbed my bower, they slew my knight

They couldn't do to me no harm, so they slew my baby in my arm
Left me naught to wrap him in but the bloody sheet that he lay in

They left me nought to dig his grave but the bloody sword that slew my babe
All alone the grave I made, and all alone the tear I shed

And all alone the bell I rang, and all alone the psalm I sang
I leaned my head all against a block, and there I cut my lovely locks

I cut my locks and I changed my name from Fair Eleanor to Sweet William
Went to court to serve my king as the famous flower of serving men

So well I served my lord the king that he made me his chamberlain;
He loved me as his son, the famous flower of serving men

And oft time he'd look at me and smile, so swift his heart I did beguile
And he blessed the day that I became the famous flower of serving men

But all alone in my bed at e'en, there I dreamed a dreadful dream
I saw my bed swim with blood, I saw the thieves all around my head

Our king has to the hunting gone, he's ta'en no lords nor gentlemen
He's left me there to guard his home, the famous flower of serving men

Our king he rode the wood all around, he stayed all day but nothing found
And as he rode himself alone, it's there he spied the milk-white hind

The hind she broke, the hind she flew, the hind she trampled the brambles through
First she'd mount, then she'd sound, sometimes before, sometimes behind

Oh what is this, how can it be, such a hind as this I ne'er did see
Such a hind as this was never born; I fear she'll do me deadly harm

And long, long did the great horse turn, for to save his lord from branch and thorn
And but long e'er the day was o'er, they tangled all in his yellow hair

All in a glade the king drew nigh and the hind shone bright all in his eye
He sprang down, sword drew, she vanished there all from his view

And all around the grass was green, and all around where a grave was seen
And he sat himself all on the stone, great weariness it seized him on

Great silence hung from tree to sky, the woods grew still, the sun hung fire
As through the wood, the dove he came, as through the wood he made his moan

Oh, the dove, he sat down on a stone, so sweet he looked, so soft he sang
Alas the day my love became the famous flower of serving men

The bloody tears they fell as rain; still he sat, and still he sang
Alas the day my love became the famous flower of serving men

Our king cried out, and he wept full sore, so loud unto the dove he did call
"Come pretty bird, come sing it plain!"

"Oh it was her mother's deadly spite for she sent thieves in the dark of the night
They come to rob, they come to slay, they made their sport, they went their way"

"And don't you think that her heart was sore, as she laid the mould on his yellow hair
And don't you think her heart was woe, as she turned about all away to go"

And how she wept as she changed her name from Fair Eleanor to Sweet William
Went to court to serve her king, the famous flower of serving men

The bloody tears they lay all around, he's mounted up and away he's gone
One thought filled his mind, the thought of her that was a man

And as he's rode himself alone, a dreadful oath he there has sworn
That he would hunt her mother down like he would hunt the wildwood swine

For there's four and twenty ladies all, And they're all playing at the ball
But fairer than all of them, is the famous flower of serving men

Our king rode in, into his hall, and he's rode in among them all
He's lifted her to his saddle brim, and there he's kissed her cheek and chin

The lords all stood and they stretched their eyes, the ladies took to their fans and smiled
For such a strange homecoming, no gentleman had ever seen

And he has sent his nobles all, and to her mother they have gone
Ta'en her that's did such wrong, they've laid her down in a prison strong

And he's brought men up from the corn, and he's sent men down to the thorn
All for to build a bonfire high, all for to set her mother by

Ah, bonny sang the morning thrush, all where he sat in yonder bush
Louder did her mother cry in the bonfire where she burned close by

For there she stood all among the thorn, and there she sang her deadly song
Alas the day that she became the famous flower of serving men

For the fire took first upon her cheek and there it took upon her chin
It spat and it sang in her yellow hair, as there she burnt like hokey green

Source: Kennedy, D (1987) Martin Carthy: A Guitar in Folk Music. Petersham, New Punchbowl Music


Notes to follow when I find my Carthy Chronicles booklet...

See the Flower of Serving Men entry for more information.

In a mudcat post Malcolm Douglas noted that Carthy's tune "is not traditionally associated with the ballad, but was borrowed from Hedy West, who sings a song called The Maid of Colchester to it."

Database entry is here

Edited By Ed - 07/03/2003 21:55:29

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 08 Mar 03 - 04:02 am

This song originally appeared on Carthy's album Shearwater in 1972. Martin wrote:

"There is a whole group of songs and stories in which the heroine, seeking to hide some shame, takes on a disguise. In Fairy stories, this has come out in, among others, the German tale Catskin, and the English Cap o' Rushes, (more properly Cap of Ashes?). In song, one of the forms it has taken is the one known on broadsides as The Lady turned Serving Man, and in drastically curtailed form to Bishop Percy, Sir Walter Scott and Johnson, as The Famous Flower of Serving Men, or The Lament of the Border Widow.

"Having first read The Famous Flower and been fired with enthusiasm, I was sobered by reading the rather pedestrian text of the Broadside, which immediately followed, and gave the story an ending, because it simply did not match - either in intensity or in elegance - the considerably older, shortened version, and decided to try and tell it in my own way. The tune came from Hedy West, who sings it to an American song called The Maid of Colchester."

I take it that Carthy speaks here of the broadside text in Child (vol.II pp.430-432) which is preceded by three Border Widow fragments, including one "communicated to Percy in 1776 by the Dean of Derry... which he wrote down from the recitation of his mother, Mrs Barnard, wife of the Bishop of Derry". This may or may not be older than the Price broadside; we simply don't know. It corresponds to the first four-and-a-half verses of Carthy's text.

Most of the rest of the text here is of Carthy's own making, though many of the motifs (and doubtless some phrases) derive from other ballads or folktales. The whole is a thoroughly impressive piece of work; although Martin modestly described it as "Trad. arr. Carthy", we should not imagine (as I'm sure many people do) that it is a traditional song as it stands. It is a new song of his own, based on a traditional fragment and a traditional tune from elsewhere, but with a great deal added.

A fine song by anybody's standards, but of course not particularly relevant to any discussion of the history of the ballad in tradition.


Posted - 08 Mar 03 - 08:50 am

Thanks for the notes, Malcolm. Is "(more properly Cap of Ashes?)" your addition?

I was aware that this version was largely rewritten by Carthy and debated whether it was therefore appropriate to add to the database. However, given that it's the best known version of the song, I think that it's worth an entry here, if only to quash any misapprehensions that people might have.


Posted - 08 Mar 03 - 08:56 am

I think there's another reason to add 'well-known' versions of songs like this. People doing general Internet searches are more likely to be drawn here and then they can, if the wish, learn more about the origins, hence the importance of the 'Related files'. The only thing we need to be wary of is copyright issues.

Edited By dmcg - 08/03/2003 14:36:08

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 08 Mar 03 - 02:24 pm

"More properly Cap of Ashes?" was Martin's own comment. I think he was making a comparison between Cap o' Rushes and Ashypelt.


Posted - 16 Feb 05 - 09:56 pm

Listening to the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards this evening, I was amused to notice that Martin Carthy's recent (last year) re-recording of this version was awarded 'Best Traditional Song'...

Feeling apoplectic, Malcolm? *grin*

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 17 Feb 05 - 04:13 am

No; though it's a pity that the Radio 2 people can't be bothered to do a few minutes' elementary research (such as reading the sleeve notes).

Really, they just use the term "traditional" to make the point that it isn't "singer-songwriter 'folk'," which the majority of their listeners would probably assume otherwise.

The song is a masterpiece in its genre, but it isn't a traditional song. I'd put Carthy's best work in that vein in a similar category to Burns; material taken from tradition and re-worked with new material, and with a thorough understanding of genre and context, into something that transcends its origins.

The distinction is an important one, because failing to make it encourages assumptions and misunderstandings which are far too common already.

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