Article MT195

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 25: Bonny Light Horseman1

This piece has been mentioned more than once during this series, not least because it has associations with the period during and after the Napoleonic wars that Gavin Greig, for example, noted as being one of the most significant in terms of song history, and it merits survey in order to see how broadside and oral versions compare.2  We are not overwhelmed with the names of particular printers but the spread of location does indicate the popularity of the piece – and over a considerable period of time, probably beginning with Pitts in London, incorporating the names of Evans and Catnach and ending with Such in London.  Some of the detail below may be thought to verge on the tedious but it was felt useful to try to give a reasonably accurate summation of pedigree since the content of the piece altered so demonstrably through the passage of time and, as will be seen, this offers a perspective on Greig's remarks.

There are at least two Pitts printings, one issued from 14 Great St Andrew Street which gives us a working span between 1802 and 1819 when he moved premises, and a second in songster form issued from 6 Great Andrew Street where Pitts spent the latter part of his career.  The use of the long 'f' in the first issue may indicate early provenance but, obviously, not as early as the late eighteenth century.3  The Pitts title in both cases is The Light Horseman Slain In The Wars Or the Lamenting Maiden and this was imitated by one other printer, Pearson, as seen below.  Text begins as follows:

YE maidens, wives and widows, alfo give attention,
      Unto these few lines tho' dismal to mention;
I'm a maiden distracted, in the defarts (sic) I'll rove,
To the gods I'll complain for the loss of my love.
There is a chorus:
Broken-hearted I wander, broken-hearted I wander,
My bonny light-horseman is flain in the war.
The next stanza introduces the idea of wings like an eagle and how the maiden would 'flutter my out-ftretch'd wings' and kiss 'his' cold lips over and over again.

It is 'two years and two months' since her lover left England's shore and she laments his absence:

O why was I born the fad day for to see,
When the drums beat to arms and did force him from
No Lord, Duke or Earl 'could my love exceed' in respect of 'a more finer youth' who, mounted 'on horse he fo gay did appear' and was respected by his regiment.

The maiden then compares herself to 'the dove that doth mourn' when it loses its mate and how no man on earth will gain her affections…

I'll a maid live and die for my love that was flain.
Thus the piece appears as a lament with conventional similes and sentiments.  Which war is being invoked is difficult to say but the tentative suggestion here is that Bonny Light Horseman itself is of an eighteenth century vintage.  Regiments of light horse in the British army, deriving from the private regiments raised during the latter part of the seventeenth century and during a considerable part of the eighteenth, do not appear to begin to have been so-named until around 1748 (The Duke of Cumberland's Light Horse) and after (1759 – Hale's Light Horse…Burgoyne's Light Horse).  So, taking the appellation 'Light Horse' into account and despite the fact that Britain was engaged in conflict through most of the century in Europe (War of Jenkins' Ear, 1739), at home (the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745), and in North America (1775-1783, (the American revolutionary war), before the all-embracing French wars, we can discount the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) because Britain did not play a major role in a conflict that was, essentially, between the Austrians and the Prussians; and a more likely stimulus, though by no means a certainty, would have been the Seven Year's War (1756-1763), when Britain finally broke French power in North America.  By the 1780s the more precise regimental appellations had been regularly adopted – Dragoon, Hussar and so on - that is, before the French wars.  This regular transmogrification of horse regiments into Lancers, Dragoons and Hussars might suggest that our text already had an attachment to the generic. 

Yet ballad printers, as was their wont, may well have deliberately introduced only a vague gesture, simply for the sake of the narrative and an exotic or even somewhat threatening background into the piece under scrutiny. 

Ultimately, the immediate impulse for composition, be it actual or imaginative, and in its conventional form of a lament, seems to have predated the Napoleonic wars; and that is an important consideration as will be seen.  There are, though, no printings before the advent of those wars.

The Pitts printing from 14 Great Andrew Street offers itself as a possible first issue but we must also take into consideration a printing from Evans (that has a regular 's' instead of the long Pitts 'f').4  However, the Evans printing is from T Evans at '79 Long-Lane', not then the earliest in the family line, nor the most prominent, John.  The Bodleian library Allegro archive, in a comprehensive assembly of material, cites Long Lane or 41 or 42 Long Lane as an address for printings from John Evans and dates of production are given as being between 1780 and 1812 although certain pieces, with demonstrable historical timing discernible in text, can be dated more precisely, usually to a particular year before which the piece could not have appeared (this timing must, of course, allow for retrospective printing).  Still, in a total of thirty-one pieces, T Evans' activity is dated between 1790 and 1813, at least allowing the possibility of an eighteenth century origin for the piece under consideration.  The address on T Evans' copy is not quite consistent: sometimes '79, Long-Lane', sometimes 'Long Lane', sometimes 'Long Lane, West Smithfield' and, occasionally, with 'London' added but never at either 41 or 41 Long Lane, location for John Evans.  Leslie Shepard confirms the 1790s as a time, the earliest, when T Evans was printing.  He also noted a connection between Pitts and the Evans family but it is not at all clear if this connection involved Thomas Evans.5

To complicate matters, the British Book Trade Index gives slightly different dates for Thomas Evans' activities at '79 Long Lane, Smithfield' – 1803-1815.  These dates, as well as confirming parallel activity by Pitts and Thomas Evans, might just allow a possibility that Evans text predated that from Pitts, in which case Pitts' long 'f' as indicating precedence may well be discounted.

The bulk of the T Evans printings noted above are of broadside material familiar in eighteenth century and even black-letter garb – The Famous Flower…, The Children in the Woods, The Berkshire Lady and Lord Thomas and fair Eleanor providing examples of the latter - and there being a proportion from 'scribbledom'.  The one or two refer to more contemporary events such as the battle of the Nile (1798) and a ship action involving La Loire frigate in 1805 (we cannot be sure about the Nile printing since it has been shown on this site that texts were often retrospective).6  It may be that the British Book Trade Index dates can be altered in favour of printing by Evans during the 1790s in accordance with Bodleian and Leslie Shepard indicators.  The Evans title is Light Horseman Slain in the Wars, very much like – or anticipating – the Pitts title.  This, at the moment, is as far as we can get in unearthing a progenitor for the piece.

Catnach did not enter the frame until the second decade of the nineteenth century and it seems that it was Catnach who first altered the title to include the word 'Bonny', followed, it would appear, by several other printers (although some deviation is recorded below).  Thus, it does first look as if either the first Pitts printing described above or that from Evans is the earliest that we have. 

Catnach has some changes as compared with Pitts and Evans: 'deserts' in line three of the first stanza (one recalls Pitts' 'desarts'); 'that I did adore' in, place of 'I did so adore' in stanza three; a small-case 'k' on 'King' in stanza four; and, of course, a new title.7

Pitts headers include a figure of a horse on the copy issued from 14 Great St Andrew Street – that is, before 1819 - but no header on his songster, issued from 6 Great St Andrew Street.  Evans has two small headers – a pig and a swan.  One Catnach header block has a head and shoulders portrait of a Stuart or even an Elizabethan gentleman.8  A further Catnach printing has a header of a standing horse.9  None of these headers, though, give real clues for dating and their inclusion is seen to have been something of a random affair.  In contrast, further along the line, as it were, one or two issues from other printers seem to have been included in an effort to match illustration with content and the interesting thing in this is that they offer something of a parallel to the way that text developed, as will be seen below. 

In both Catnach printings, the coupling is Fanny in the Valley (no date nor detail have yet emerged for this piece) and both were issued from '2, Monmouth-court, 7 Dials' which could, then, indicate a date of issue at any time between 1813 and 1838.  Yet that altered title in Catnach as compared to the one in the Pitts and Evans line – Pitts, as we have seen, certainly printing before 1819 - would suggest that Catnach's text came after text from Pitts and Evans. 

In London, Batchelar is next in strict historical line but attempts to date copy involve us in some more juggling.  The Bodleian Allegro archive has Thomas Batchelar at Little Cheapside between 1807 and 1810; at Long-Alley, Moorfields between 1817 and 1828; and 'opposite the Refuge for the Destitute, Hackney Road' between 1828 and 1832.  Ann Batchelar is recorded as printing from the latter address in 1834.  Daniel Batchelar printed from Hackney Road Crescent between 1836 and 1842.  One or two Daniel Batchelar printings, however, gives the address of the 'Refuge' as also being in Hackney Road Crescent.10  One more Daniel Batchelar printing gives the Hackney Road Crescent address as being 'near Shoreditch Church'….11  On several printings the name 'Batchelar' appears without initials at Hackney Road Crescent and the Bodleian indicates that the relevant period was between 1828 and 1832.  To further complicate matters, those many printings from Catnach that had Batchelar's name attached – copy as 'Sold by', not printed - in amongst a nexus of agents, all issued during the Catnach reign between 1813 and 1838, have 14 Hackney-Road Crescent on them (one or two actually have 15). 

Given the assemblage of dates above, there is still no issue of Bonny Light Horseman under the combined Catnach and Batchelar aegis.  More pertinently, addresses on copy of The Bonny Light Horseman, from both Thomas and Daniel Batchelar, refer to the 'Refuge…', Hackney Road and this would appear to narrow the possible period of issue, probably to a time after 1828 with the title then found proclaiming Batchelar as probably having had at least cognisance of Catnach text.  In total the information here might seem to confirm a relatively late issue from Batchelar. 

As for Batchelar copy itself12, in the usual broadside transfer and imitation there are the expected differences in orthography and some phraseology.  There is one example of the long 'f' in 'difmal' but no other such substitution occurs.  Otherwise, in terms of changes, we find 'My bonny light horseman that I did adore' in the second line of stanza three; no capitals on 'lord, duke, or earl' in stanza five; a reversal of phrases in the following line – 'So gay he did appear, when mounted on his horse' (which allows a half-rhyme with 'was' in the final line of the stanza); and 'upon losing its mate' instead of the Evans 'when it loses its mate'.  The chorus is set in italics.  It could even be said that in the textual changes Batchelar has, to a small extent, regularised the sense of the piece.  Batchelar's title as noted above, though, offers the main change.  He may have heard oral versions.  Otherwise, Catnach's title would seem to have given Batchelar impetus – this impetus does not, it should be emphasised, extend to narrative change.

Whiting in Birmingham, printing between 1832 and 1835, and following the Evans line except for one or two differences in punctuation and, in the second line of the first stanza, 'to (sic) dismal to mention', (but with capitals on Lord, Duke and Earl) nevertheless kept the Evans title, although, like Pitts, including Or the Lamenting Maiden in it.  There is no header block.13

Pratt in Birmingham, printing after 1840 according to the British Book Trade Index, also followed the Pitts and Evans line, beginning 'Ye maidens, wives, and widows', and with the odd change in punctuation; but he used a title derived, it seems, from Catnach – Bonny Light Horseman Slain in the Wars.14  Pratt's header is elaborate – a cut showing a cannon, a foot soldier in bearskin and a horseman with what looks like a dragoon helmet on, another foot soldier, this time with shako, in the background and a substantial farmer-like character also in the frame.  This header does suggest that the printer had thought about its link with actuality – unlike, say, Evans with his pig and swan - or had been carried away by the subject-matter.

As the century wore on John Forth in Pocklington15 stuck to the Pitts and Evans line with one or two different elements of punctuation; no capitals on lord, duke or earl; and just the one change in phraseology (compared with Evans and with Pitts) – 'On his grave I'd flutter my out-stretch'd wings' in his stanza two.  The best that can be offered in terms of dating as yet is around 1844 when John Forth succeeded his father.  Forth's title, though, may have come from Catnach, (or, of course, from oral sources) taking shape on copy as Bonny Light Horseman Slain in the Wars.  A header, continuing the random selection already mentioned, is of three racehorses - with their jockeys carrying whips.

Pearson in Manchester (there is no header block on copy), whose output, issued from 6 Chadderton Street, Oldham Road, Manchester, is dated by the Bodleian as being between 1850 and 189916, has a very similar text to that of Pitts and Evans, again differing only in the absence of capitals on lord, duke or earl; in one change of phraseology where he has 'My bonny light-horseman that I do adore'; and with the chorus and the second stanza joined at the top of the stanza.  Pearson, though, like Batchelar, used a new title as compared with Pitts and Evans, namely The Bonny Light Horseman - which links him with Catnach. 

Such, in an issue inclusive of more than one song, took the Pitts and Evans line except for small changes – 'Ye maidens, wives, and widows too', for instance, and 'desert'.  Such has a header block, of a nigger minstrel band, obviously designed to go with the main text on copy, entitled Sambo.  We can only conclude that Bonny Light Horseman Slain In the Wars was, in this case, in the nature of a commercial afterthought.17

The descent in historical time of virtually the same form of text as described above is important in revealing the propensity of broadside printers to follow precedent (probably filching the text), but, equally, the two slightly different forms of text in circulation, one from the Evans and Pitt line and the other from Catnach, show how a small gleam of independence or commercial interchange flourished amongst printers.  All told, none of these differing lines quite insist on major alterations in text. 

But there is one significant switch.  Armstrong, in Liverpool, printed the piece at least twice18 – there are different headers on separate copy, one of a kind of St George figure with lance poised, symbolic, perhaps, rather than representative and another a crude woodcut of a figure with a cutlass-like piece thrust unto his belt and he wearing a hugely feathered bonnet - and we find that the second two lines in the first stanza as compared to those in Evans run as follows:

Of a maid in distraction that's now going to wander,
She relies upon George for the loss of her lover. 
The name 'George' posits a slightly more definite period in history which other internal evidence (below) locates even more precisely.

The chorus, too, undergoes changes:

Broken-hearted I'll wander for the loss of my lover,
My bonny light-horseman was slain in the war.
The second stanza opens with 'Three years and six months…' since the lover left; has 'My bonny light-horseman will I never see more'; and new lines to follow:
When he mounted on, horseback both gallant and brave
And among the whole regiment respected he was…
Then there is a completely fresh stanza:
I shall dress in man's apparel, to the regiment I will go
I will be a true subject and fight all the foes,
I would count it an honour if I could obtain,
For to die in the field where my darling was slain.
Similarly, the eagle stanza is altered:
Had I the wings of an eagle in the air I would fly,
I would cross the seas where my true love doth lie,
And with my fond wings I would beat on his grave,
And kiss his cold lips that are pale in the clay.
There is no lord, duke or earl stanza and another much altered stanza appears:
Now the dove she laments for the loss of her mate,
Oh!  where shall I wander, my true-love, he said,
There's no mortal breathing my favour shall gain,
Since my bonny light-horseman in the wars he was slain.
Finally, a crucial element can be found at the end of copy:
When Boney commanded his men for to stand,
He fixed his cannon the victory to gain,
And my bonny light-horseman in the wars he was slain.
This is a strong development but wholly retrospective where the Napoleonic wars are concerned since the printing was issued from Banastre street, Liverpool, and it is known that Armstrong did not operate from there until 1820.  It makes it more probable that claims for Pitts or Evans as progenitor for the piece in broadside form are valid.  The emerging importance where Armstrong is involved is that, whether he made the alterations himself or whether he got them from a version, printed or oral, already in circulation, they are outstanding.  The usual consistency amongst printers as discussed above has been broken entirely.  Armstrong entitled his piece An Excellent New Song … which suggests that he did use an existing text - oral or printed - in the manner that printers used The Irish Girl and The Transport, claiming that their particular issue was a 'New' version.

The Swindells firm seems to have adapted bits of both the Evans and Armstrong texts in a four-stanza version.19  The title, for example, is simply Bonny Light Horseman, indicating possible awareness of the Catnach development (or of oral versions).  The tendency amongst printers to imitate makes it less likely that Swindells – or others in their turn - invented the title independent of Catnach.  The stanzas begin with 'Maids, wives, and widows' and then follow with the Armstrong 'Three years and six months', plus the eagle stanza as in Armstrong and, finally, 'Like a dove I will mourn…', again in Armstrong vein.  However, the Armstrong man's-apparel stanza and the Boney lines as set out above are not included.  There is also but one 'Broken-hearted I will wander' in the chorus as opposed to two in Evans and as opposed to the altered line in Armstrong.  There is no mention of any George.  Thus, if it was the Swindells firm that first set out lines in the 'Armstrong' fashion, then that firm may slot into historical perspective after Catnach and Pitts; and Armstrong has to have been the one who expanded the new material as his title suggests; and the Swindells firm could have issued the text after Evans, Pitts and Catnach but before Armstrong in line of succession.  It is possible that both Armstrong and Swindells had access to other versions, probably oral, but this is speculative and may be set aside in favour of tracing and comparing broadside development per se by virtue of that imitative tendency already noted.  If we stick to broadside text, then, and if it was Armstrong who first added Napoleonic references, details in Swindells text could not have been added before 1820.  To repeat: the transfer could have been the other way round - Armstrong from Swindells - but the strength of Armstrong's alterations and that very specific title would seem to favour him as instigator.  Not for the first time, imprecise details for dating of printings leave an open question and the Swindells name alone gives us the usual headache. George Swindells, printing from 1780 on, died in 1796, to be succeeded by his widow, Alice, and son, John.  Alice is known to have printed until 1828 (the Bodleian actually gives a date of 1853).  Other Swindells followed.  The copy in question has, merely, 'SWINDELLS, PRINTER' on it – this as found on the bulk of Swindells copy in both upper and lower case type…sometimes the initial 'A' is found…occasionally 'A.  Swindells, Printer, Manchester', not much help in pinpointing issue.  Speculatively, though, because of the mixture of material and the history of the text as adduced above, it is suggested that this Swindells issue is a relatively late one. 

Harkness20, printing like Forth and Pratt around 1840 and on, has the title Bonny Light Horseman and begins with 'Maids, wives, and widows' and has the same stanzas as those in Swindells although there is one change in phraseology in stanza two where he has:

He was mounted on horseback, so gallant and free,
And through the whole regiment respected was he…
Harkness and Swindells together posit a northern form of text although it is still Armstrong who provided the major changes and Harkness seems not to have taken Armstrong text much into account.  The headers on Swindells and Harkness merit a glance.  Swindells has a woodcut of a soldier with cross-belts and shako caressing his girl with a rural scene in the background.  Harkness has a mounted soldier wearing a tri-corn hat, pointing back in time to such dress.  In both cases some attempt has been made to match header with content just as Pratt did, in one way beginning to separate the text out from its initial generic import as manifested in Evans.  How conscious a development this was is impossible to know but a possibly deliberate association of header and content has already been canvassed.

A copy without imprint (English) follows the Armstrong line and includes the 'apparel' stanza found in Armstrong (and this same stanza appears once more in another text with no imprint, as discussed below).  It also has that final Armstrong three-line stanza mentioning Boney and the Armstrong title, A New Song… suggesting issue – certainly, as far as the Armstrong material is concerned - after 1820: unless the piece actually predate Armstrong, impossible to gauge as yet - a frustrating merry-go-round getting us nowhere in terms of issue but confirming the most prominent development in text!21

Overall, development of text is uneven and with no rigid demarcation lines, Forth, Whiting and Pratt continuing in the London line; Armstrong (particularly), Swindells and Harkness adapting text; but the two lines are quite distinct where Napoleonic association is concerned.

Copy from de Marsan in New York (printing, according to the Bodleian library, around 1860) follows the Armstrong line although, as an obvious imitator in terms of succession, de Marsan does not count that much in terms of genesis and pedigree.22  The majority of the stanzas, though, are the same as those in Armstrong and this means that the names of George and Boney resurface although the final stanza differs from that of Armstrong:

When Bony commanded his men how to stand,
And proud wav'd his banners all gaily and grand,
He fixed his cannons the victory to gain,
But my bonny light horseman in battle was slain.
We at least have proof not just of how text travelled but of how it sometimes continued to alter over a period of time and how, in this case, a specific attachment to period is offered at a relatively late date, thus involving retrospect and a printer's commercial instinct.

One further printing, housed in the National Library in Ireland, also emphasises the Armstrong line and employs the long 'f'.23  In respect of the newer Armstrong material, the final stanza reads:

      when Boney commanded his men to
He fixed his cannon quite over the Land
He fixed his cannon the victory to gain
My bonny Light horfeman in the battle
  [was] flain.
This is singular.  The setting out includes the long 'f' and there are the one or two usual changes as compared to, say, the Evans text discussed here.  For example:
      The dove laments for the abfence of her
O, where muft I go my true Love to fee
No man breathing my favour can gain,
Since my bonny Light horfeman in a (sic) the
                battle was flain…
This follows the inclusion of the stanza first seen in Armstrong copy (and, to remind ourselves, not in Swindells nor in Harkness copy) that begins with the protagonist declaring that she will dress in man's apparel.

It does not look as if this printing is an Irish one despite its location (NLI makes no pretence and there are plenty of examples of English printings in its stock).  Where Irish issue is concerned, as a single sheet, it would have been a relatively late printing, most likely from around 1840, and that this would contradict the implication of the employment of a long 'f'.  Examples of printing in Ireland before 1840 often take the particular form of a booklet - printed in Drogheda, Dublin, Waterford and so on - that dominated issued from Ireland up until the 1830s.24  So that the likelihood of the copy from NLI as being an Irish printing is small.  And if it is an English printing the content that associates the piece with the Napoleonic wars is distinctive as compared to the earliest of printings exemplified first off in Evans because of the Armstrong line together with that associated 1820 date indicating a time before which – this is to take into account the sum of details of issue set out above - the piece could not have appeared.  The conclusion is that this particular piece is an English printing issued in the 1820s or after.

The peculiarities of the Irish printing situation can be underlined by reference to a copy without imprint - in the booklet format - from the Leslie Shepard collection.25  The Shepard text is in the Armstrong mode, stresses the name of 'King George', and has a chorus:

Broken-hearted I'll wander,
For the loss of my lover,
He's my bonny light horseman,
Was slain in the war.
And text (set out here as it is on copy) declares that 'It's a year and six months' since the lover 'left the English shore'; following with:
When he mounted on horseback both
      gallant and brave,
And amongst the whole regiment re-
      spected he was.
All told there are but three stanzas – 'You wise maids and widows' (another slight change); 'It's a year and six months' only since the lover left, and, after another chorus (the same lines as before), the piece concludes with the eagle stanza:
Had I the wings of an eagle to fly in
      the air,
I'd fly o'er the sea where my lover
      does dwell,
And with my fond wings I would beat
      on his grave,
And kiss his cold lips as they lie in the
This seems to represent the ultimate diminishing of narrative.

Finally, there is one copy, almost illegible, from Cooper in Stafford, one of the several printers who appear with a brief portfolio and then disappear, details of operation often being scarce.  It has not been possible to decipher this text except to discover, firstly, that it begins with 'You wives…' and, secondly, that there do not appear to be any references to either 'George' or 'Boney'.  If this is so, then the piece seems likely to have followed the first-established line as in Pitts and Evans.26

As far as printings are concerned, then, the narrative line is reasonably consistent in several copies beginning with Evans and Pitts although there is an interchange of position of stanzas; and the earliest printings offer a familiar enough story of an absent lover.  The most interesting development occurred when an existing text was adapted to fit current or late circumstance, namely the Napoleonic wars - these wars beginning, strictly speaking, in 1792 with the second allied coalition and in which the British took active part from 1793 on; and ending, perhaps, with Napleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815 or even his death in St Helena in 1821…this extended period offering scope for printers to exploit resonances.  Later copy – from Such, for instance, and from de Marsan in America - underlines precisely this kind of exploitation.  The north-south divide in England is worth noting since it emulates, if not exactly, other such demarcation already explored in this series of articles – Fanny Blair provides a good example.27  Odds favour Pitts, Evans and Catnach for first developments – textual narrative tone being set and then a new title emerging.  But the overall variation in header blocks suggest that printers were happy enough to offer an individual touch even if not of great significance.  Armstrong would seem to be a key figure in the change of historical context but in printing terms this was not directly, say, after Waterloo: the retrospective element has already been emphasised.  And still some text like that of Pearson retained a connection with the Pitts and Evans line. 

One cannot either say that the text was changed irrevocably as a result of Armstrong's infiltrations but sung versions offer a further gradual hardening in development in the Armstrong manner.  These sung versions can be found in both manuscript and published form as well as later recordings and they have a curious resemblance in their progress to the way that broadside printing developed.  Cecil Sharp located versions, from Jack Barnard (1908) and from William Russell (1909).  In Mr Barnard's case there are two fragments, both in the mode of lament for a lost love.  The first 28 reminds us of broadsides if not closely:

O eighteen long months with him I've been courting
Where true loves do walk and young lambs were sporting
Where me and my true love passed many a long hour
Where the voice of the nightingale rang through the bower
Pity a lover, pity a lover
It's my jolly light horseman in the wars he
            is slain.
A second stanza is the same as Mr Barnard's second version although that fragment is set out slightly differently29:
O you blooming young maidens
        I pray now take part
Never cause a young damsel
        To be wounded to the heart
O send him safe back again
        To the girl he adore
When the voice of the nightingale
        Sings through the bower.
There is a chorus –
Pity a lover, pity a lover
My jolly light horseman
      In the wars he is slain…
This too has echoes of the broadside versions discussed above and a further stanza continues in like vein to the first:
O eighteen long months by her I've been courted
Where sweethearts do walk and young lambs are sporting
Where me and my true love passed many long hours
Where the voice of the nightingale sang thro the bower…
Clearly, whilst a certain relationship with broadside versions can be detected, something of a new song has emerged although it has much in common with other laments that include the nightingale, lambs and, of course, the 'true love', the 'blooming young damsel' scattered throughout broadside printings. 

William Russell's version30 has some resemblance to the broadside theme although looking to be somewhat garbled; but, equally, maintains the generic lament in two stanzas and a chorus:

Our dove seems to mourn for the loss of her lovyear
And why does she mourn for her lovyear she says
He is nothing but an onion(!) we could not maintain
And her died in the wars where my true love was slain
      Brokenhearted I wander
      For the loss of my lovyear
      He's a bonny light horseman
      In the wars he is slain
The second stanza introduces the 'eagle' image as found in broadsides:
If I was an eagle – could fly in the air
I would cross the salt seas where my true love lies there
I would kiss his sweet cold lips that lays in the clay
And with my wings I would fly over his grave
This would seem to leave no doubt that we are seeing the same song – strictly, text; and helps 'place' the other two Sharp manuscript versions.

George Butterworth collected a version from a Jesse Robinson in 191031 more closely aligned to broadside versions, but beginning with the (possible) Armstrong development, the earliest sung version to do so:

Bonaparte he commanded his troops for to stand,
And he placed his cannon right over the land,
…………the victory to gain,
And he slew the light horseman, I shall see him no more

      Broken hearted I must wander for the loss of my lover,
      It's a bonny light horseman, I shall see him no more.
There follows the eagle stanza ending with 'And with my two wings I would write on his grave'.  But then there are distinct changes:
I'll………fall down at large,
There's 50 bright guineas to buy his discharge,
And if that will not do it there's twice as much more,
If you'll let me go with you, where the loud cannons roar…
all suggesting other songs entirely whose links are then emphasised:
I'll go down to some nunnery & there end my life,
I never will get married nor be made any man's wife,
I'll be constant, true-hearted, & ever will remain,
And I never will get married till my love comes again.
A generic love song emerges reverting to the initial Evans broadside version, albeit still much altered; but the Napoleonic gesture at its head reveals acquaintance with developments as introduced by Armstrong after 1820 - or, as always, through the unknown quantity of oral transmission.

A second manuscript copy of the same song from Butterworth, embracing a tune noted by Francis Jekyll, fills a gap that exists in the first Butterworth manuscript version – in stanza one, the third line is 'And he placed his cannon the vict'ry to gain…'. 

George Gardiner got a fragment32 - unfortunately, singer and location are both unknown – initially displaying quite clear echoes of broadside copy but with the reference to King George inheriting the Armstrong development (or that of earlier oral versions):

Ye fair maids and widows I pray give attention,
It's of a fair maiden I'm just going to mention,
It's of a fair maiden who was going to wander,
To apply to King George for the loss of her lover,
                Broken-hearted I'll wander for the loss of my lover,
                For my bonny light horseman, in the wars he was slain.
A second stanza begins with a dove mourning for 'the loss of her lover' but then peters out: no Boney.  Overall, there is more seeming relevance to the kind of song that emerged in the Sharp manuscripts but we might take this as indicative of an incomplete version.

We come nearer to broadside versions in song in a version got by Sabine Baring-Gould from 'J.  Peake' in Liskeard in May 1891.33  In this version, a direct echo of broadside lines occurs in the very first line – 'Ye maidens, ye wives, give attention & hear' – but the song then changes direction somewhat: 'And list to my lines, and behold my sad tears' because the protagonist is:

…a maiden distracted, in the forest I rove
To the woods I complain for the loss of my love.

           Broken-hearted I wander, In sorrow I ponder,
           Alas!  My light horseman is slain in the wars.
The history of Baring-Gould's collecting and setting down of versions is complex and, sometimes, subject to scepticism and the foregoing lines are no exception, particularly with 'forest' when so many broadsides in general are content with 'woods', with the phrase 'in sorrow I ponder' and with the interjection, 'Alas!'.  Whatever suspicions accrue, the version certainly reverts somewhat to familiar text:
Had I the wings of an eagle, how quickly I'd fly
To the spot where my true love in [illegible] did die,
O'er his grave would I flutter my out stretched wing,
And perched on his tomb would this lullaby sing…
(the inversion in the final line and the use of the word 'lullaby', again smack of late introduction).  It is a year and a day since the lover bade farewell and she asks why she was born to see such a sad day 'When the drums beat to arms' to call her lover away.  Then there is a 'Duke' and an 'Earl' stanza where no other lover will suffice, before a final stanza where a dove is in mourning for her mate and where the protagonist will 'wail' for her love whom 'never another' will replace…'A maiden I'll die'.  There are obviously plenty of echoes of broadside text as well as 'new' lines…we cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that some were contributed by Baring-Gould himself, judged on the known history of alterations that he indulged in, some acknowledged, some not.  Granted that this is speculation.  The point as far as connection between song and broadside text is concerned is that it is visible and that broadside text as historically dated most definitely takes precedent over Mr Peake's song.  Since echoes are discernible it might be tempting to suggest that Mr Peake's version did indeed derive from broadside text but, as in so many cases, the question must inevitably remain open.  Crucially for this brief survey, there are no Napoleonic references in Baring-Gould's version.

Baring-Gould adverted to a version in W A Barrett's English folk song and this turns out to be the closest of all to the earliest broadside form.34  It begins with the 'Ye maids, wives, and widows' stanza and includes practically all the broadside words as from, say, Evans.  The second stanza, too, follows broadside text closely.  The third stanza centres even more on early broadside text with its 'Two years and two months…' line; and, in the following stanza, the same lines are present as found in Evans - save for the very last word:

When mounted on a horse he so gay did appear,
And by all his regiment respected he were.
Finally, there is a mourning dove stanza.

The chorus is familiar from broadside text:

Broken-hearted I'll wander, broken-hearted I'll wander,
My bonny light horseman that was slain in the wars.
There is nothing about where Barrett got his version save a reference at the foot of the printed page giving the information that the piece 'has been frequently reprinted in London, Birmingham and Preston as a broadside ballad since the year 1790'.  We can perhaps assume Pitts, Evans and the other London printers, and Pratt and Whiting in Birmingham and Harkness in Preston, to have been responsible for text as discussed above.  The date given by Barrett would suggest the possibility that Evans and not Pitts may have been progenitor is strengthened somewhat as far as known broadside text is concerned.  Again, there are no Napoleonic references in the Barrett version.  Overall, Barrett's version begs questions as to source – print or orality?

A version from Frank Kidson's and Alfred Moffatt's English Peasant Songs (1929) is a cat amongst pigeons in some ways.35  The text is in the older mode although altered in certain phraseology: it begins with a 'maidens, wives ands widows stanza', follows with one introducing the eagle and ends with a third of lament 'Like a dove'.  The second stanza, in particular, is worth quoting:

Were I winged like an eagle
I would fly unto my darling,
To that spot so sad and lonely
Where my soldier he is laid.
I would kiss the grass above him,
And for evermore I'll love him,
And I'll curse the war so cruel
That my dear one has betrayed…
Similarly, one or two phrases in the third stanza are new to us:
In my grave so cold and cheerless
Very soon I shall be lying,
But my move and I in heav'n above
Will surely meet again.
One can argue that a different song has emerged and it almost puts Baring-Gould into an acceptable category for pedigree.  We should not either lose sight of the fact that there is no Napoleonic connection and that this version is a kind of throwback.  There are no details on copy as to where it came from.  The tune, too, offers interest (below).

A sung version from America36 maintains some adherence to the earliest broadside texts but does include references to King George and to Boney – thus bespeaking familiarity with a later form.  A version from Canada37 is even more specific, adopting the Armstrong form – reference to George and to Boney (in a final stanza) and on the way offering 'Three years and six months' as the period since when the lover has 'left England's shore'.  Helen Creighton, as editor, merely remarks that the piece was 'A broadside of Waterloo' – not, as far as can be ascertained, entirely accurate….  It seems clear that, whatever the possible attachment to broadside text may or may not have been, these sung versions do promote the references to the Napoleonic wars that Armstrong broadside text (or was it Swindells?) first introduced.  The 'new' song quite escapes the original broadside generic lament.

Sam Henry published a version with most of the familiar broadside text intact if shuffled slightly – broadside text, that is, in the Armstrong line, thus leading to an apparent assumption that the piece was a 'song of the Napoleonic Wars'.38

Tunes, an extraordinarily plangent set, are worth looking at more than once.  These include one from Petrie39, a version from an informant in Wexford which, as it turns out, is very much like that used by the late Mary Ann Carolan (see below for more on Mrs Carolan).  This tune is also quite close in melodic phrasing to that from America.  Barrett's tune has many of the musical phrases found in the Petrie and American tunes.  Helen Creighton's version, adopting the same three-four time signature (this, in conventional music terms), differs somewhat but not altogether.  William Russell's tune also favours the Petrie mould except for a persistent flattening of notes in the third line and again where, in the chorus, the tune rises before the final phase.  Jack Barnard's version 'Sung very hazily and in a hurry' first off but then taken down (presumably during another visit) with greater care, according to Sharp's notes on the manuscript, again has the Petrie pattern.  So has one of two tunes contributed by Sam Henry – but he also offered another very attractive one that is quite different to that of Petrie.  Of this, Sean Corcoran, in notes to the Topic Mary Ann Carolan album of 1982, wrote that the Henry second tune is in the line of a Galway tune whereas that from Mrs Carolan herself is of northern Irish origin.  This, in turn, bespeaks circulation of sung versions in Ireland - so far unsupported by strong evidence – that Sean Corcoran proposed.

Butterworth's tune begins to differ from the Petrie line more considerably. 

One is not so much suggesting that Petrie is necessarily progenitor, as it were, although the date of first publication of his Ancient Music of Ireland (1855) would support the possibility of his being first in line to record a tune, but, excepting the Butterworth and especially the Sam Henry 'Galway' alternative, as pointing out that the Petrie tune does indicate the persistence of particular melodic phrasing in differing versions, thus offering similarities if not complete faithfulness to a parallel melodic course in certain other tunes mentioned more than once in this series of articles – tunes for Erin's Lovely Home…, say, or for The Enniskillen Dragoon.

Baring-Gould's tune, it should be added, though using the three-four time signature, is much at odds with the Petrie line in melodic phrasing: not an unfamiliar aspect of his versions.  If nothing else, and bearing in mind Baring-Gould's propensity to introduce his own material, it may represent how singers reached out for a suitable vehicle.  It is, in this respect, the only tune that has – in conventional music terms – a minor key.

The Kidson and Moffat tune is quite unlike any other, beginning as a running four-four air that, to a modern ear now, might even offer a reminder of Napoleonic tunes such as one that accompanies The Grand Conversation….  The chorus part for 'Broken-hearted I wander…' turns into three-four time, slightly related in its rising and falling to the notes of the air already used.  Like the Baring-Gould tune, it has its own uniqueness and certainly proposes varied means of transmission.

As for later recordings, they serve here mostly to underline a lasting popularity for the song.  Of these recordings one, recorded by Canny Fettle40, has a tune much like the Galway tune as adduced by Sean Corcoran and as published by Sam Henry, carrying a quite slow, considered progression of narrative.  There are differences in the sequence of stanzas as compared to other versions – first a familiar Boney stanza ('the 'wives, maids and widows' lines have disappeared), then a dove stanza, then a 'small bird' (not an eagle) stanza followed by 'Broken-hearted I'll wander, Broken-hearted I'll remain' … for the light horseman 'in the wars he was slain'.  Lal and Norma Waterson, in relatively jaunty fashion, followed the other tune course41 - that is, in line from Petrie - and the text takes elements of broadside versions as we have found them, again with an opening 'Bonaparte has commanded' stanza; then a stanza with 'Wives, sweethearts and widows'; a stanza asking the listener to view the light horseman with his 'red, rosy cheeks' and 'curly black hair' - this the only sung version (as far as has been ascertained) bar that from Mary Ann Carolan (below) that has such a description; and a final 'If I had the wings of an eagle' stanza with the horseman as 'the one I love best'.  The tune is fashioned to suit the two singers, and this aspect and small changes in text do indicate the way that raw material can be so adapted without losing the essence of the lament.  Both the Canny Fettle and Waterson versions are, in a sense, 'late' additions and one looks elsewhere for possible connections with earlier (even broadside) versions.

Thus, Mrs Carolan's version, very stately in comparison with the Waterson version, had become indelibly associated with Bonaparte.42  Mrs Carolan wove her way through the song with elongations of words (and notes), shortened phrasing here and there, and delicate grace notes, an individual shaping of the song entirely.  Her stanzas are, in sequence, 'Boney commanded', a stanza beginning 'If you saw my love on sentry' and one introducing not an eagle but a blackbird and the light horseman's 'wounds' that the lover 'will heal'….  Her light horseman has 'red rosy cheeks and flowing brown hair'.  One may perhaps assume that her version was as her father, Pat Usher senior, had it and that she had not added or subtracted in any in any significantly developmental way - which gives us a certain historical perspective, though not approaching the latest broadside versions that we have and so, more probably, invoking oral dissemination during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth.

What, ultimately, is the more interesting development in Mrs Carolan's version and in others is that the full 'Maids, wives and widows' text seems to have disappeared entirely during the course of the song's re-emergence in late nineteenth and twentieth century terms although, clearly, as above, we can see how remnants remain.  Helen Creighton's reference to Waterloo underlines this change.  The recorded versions mentioned here in addition to Mrs Carolan's together extend and cement the progress of transmission and individual colouring in each case but very much along the same lines.43  One might be led to suggest that whether or not broadside text was first, in the changes in oral versions as set out above the more precise attachment of lament to a lover slain in the Napoleonic wars gains in its impact on the listener.

Roly Brown - 4.12.06
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT195

Top Home Page MT Records Articles Reviews News Editorial Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services   Updated: 4.12.06