Week 186 – The Bold Princess Royal

I’m a fool. Having recorded a song which begins “On the fourteenth of February” I then completely forgot to post it on 14th February. So, one month late, here it is.

My tune comes from the Butterworth MSS, but was actually collected in September 1910 – at Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent – by his friend and associate Francis Jekyll, nephew of the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll (the family surname, I believe, rhymes with “treacle” rather than “heckle”).

As was common practice at the time, Jekyll appears to have noted the tune but not the words. And, as always in these circumstances,  my first port of call for a singable set of words was the Copper Family songbook. In truth, words for this song don’t vary that much from singer to singer; although in retrospect I do wish I’d shopped around a bit, and managed to provide the pirate with a loud-speaking trumpet (as in Sam Larner’s version and the printed ballad sheet shown below).

I can forgive the collector for not writing down the words of the song. But rather less forgivable is the fact that he failed to record the singer’s name. That’s pretty poor in any circumstances, but somehow it seems worse given that the singer was an inhabitant of the Minster Union (Workhouse). Almost certainly going into the workhouse was a source of shame and indignity for the singer. And, because an Eton-educated folk song collector couldn’t be bothered to find out his name, he (I assume it was a him, ‘Bold Princess Royal’ seems like the sort of song which would have been sung mainly by men) is robbed even of claiming a place as a minor footnote in history. It’s really not good enough.

I must thank George Frampton for originally drawing this song to my attention – and the others which Jekyll collected on Sheppey – some years before they became more readily available via the Take Six, and now the Full English archive.

The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.

The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.

The Bold Princess Royal

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

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