The Famous Flower of Serving-men; or, The Lady Turned Serving-man

Here’s a ballad from The Oxford Book of Ballads for National Poetry Month:

One of my favorites, entitled: The Famous Flower of Serving-men; or, The Lady Turned Serving-man

Note: I changed the spelling of two words to make them more easily understandable to modern audiences, otherwise I left it untouched.

– – –

Her lover being slain, her Father dead,
Her bower rob’d, her Servants fled,
She drest her self in Mans attire,
She trim’d her locks, she cut her hair,
And thereupon she chang’d her name
From Fair Elise to Sweet William.

You Beautious Ladies, great and small,
I write unto you one and all,
Whereby that you may understand
What I have suffered in this land.

I was by birth a Lady fair,
My father’s chief and onely heir,
But when my good old father dy’d
Then was I made a young Knights bride.

And then my love built me a bower
Bedeckt with many a fragrant flower;
A braver bower you never did see
Than my true love did build for me

But there came thieves late in the night,
They rob’d my bower, and slew my Knight;
And after that my Knight was slain
I could no longer there remain.

My Servants all from me did flye
In the midst of my extremity,
And left me by my self alone
With a heart more cold than any stone.

Yet though my heart was full of care
Heaven would not suffer me to despair;
Wherefore in hast I chang’d my name
From Fair Elise to Sweet William.

And therewithal I cut my hair
And drest my self in mans attire,
My Doublet, Hose, and Bever-hat,
And a golden band about my neck.

With a silver Rapier by my side
So like a gallant I did ride;
The thing that I delighted on
Was for to be a Serving-man.

Thus in my sumptuous mans array
I bravely rode along the way,
And at the last it chanced so
That I unto the Kings Court did go.

Then to the King I bowed full low,
My love and duty for to show,
And so much favour I did crave
That I a Serving-mans place might have.

Stand up, brave youth the King reply’d,
Thy service shall not be deny’d;
But tell me first what thou canst do;
Thou shall be fitted thereunto.

Wilt thou be Usher of my Hall
To wait upon my Nobles all?
Or wilt thou be taster of my Wine
To wait on me when I shall dine?

Or wilt thou be my Chamberlain
To make my bed both soft and fine?
Or wilt thou be one of my guard?
And I will give thee they reward.

Sweet William, with a smiling face,
Said to the King, If’t please your grace
To show such favour unto me,
Your Chamberlain I fain would be.

The King then did the Nobles call
To ask the counsel of them all,
Who gave consent Sweet WIlliam he
The King’s own Chamberlain should be.

Now mark what strange things came to pass:
As the King one day a hunting was
With all his Lords and noble train,
Sweet William did at home remain.

Sweet William had no company then
With him at home but an old man,
And when he saw the Coast was clear
He took a Lute which he had there.

Upon the Lute Sweet William plaid,
And to the same he sung and said
With a pleasant and most noble voice
Which made the old man to rejoyce:

My father was as brave a Lord
As ever Europe did afford;
My Mother was a Lady bright,
My Husband was a valiant Knight.

And I my self a Lady gay
Bedeckt with gorgeous rich array;
The bravest Lady in the land
Had not more pleasures to command.

I had my musick every day,
Harmonious Lessons for to play;
I had my Virgins fair and free
Continually to wait on me.

But now, alas, my Husband’s dead
And all my friends are from me fled;
My former joys are past and gone
For now I am a Serving-man.

At last the King from hunting came,
And presently upon the same
He called for the good old man
And thus to speak the King began:

What news, what news, old man? quoth he,
What news hast thou to tell to me?
Brave news, the old man he did say,
Sweet William is a Lady gay.

If this be true thou tellest me
I’ll make thee a Lord of high degree,
But if thy words do prove a Lye
Though shalt be hanged up presently.

But when the King the truth had found
His joys did more and more abound;
According as the old man did say,
Sweet William was a Lady gay.

Therefore the King without delay
Put on her glorious rich array,
And upon her head a crown of gold
Which was most famous to behold.

And then, for fear of further strife,
He took Sweet William for his wife;
The like before was never seen,
A Serving-man to be a Queen.


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