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Fair Rosamund

[ Roud 3729 ; Ballad Index Lins193 , Perc2154 ; Bodleian Roud 3729 ; trad.]

Hedy West sang Fair Rosamund on her album Old Times & Hard Times (Topic 1965, Folk-Legacy 1967); the album was reissued in 2001 as part of her Fellside compilation Ballads & Songs from the Appalachians. She and A.L. Lloyd noted:

This isn’t a West family song, but comes from Massachusetts and is quoted in Eloise Hubbard Linscott’s Folk Songs of Old New England. It’s a rare song. It seems to have turned up only once in the USA and is known in England only from old broadsides. It concerns “Rosamund the I fayre daughter of Walter Lord Clifford, concubine to Henry II (poisoned by Queen Eleanor as some thought) who dyed at Woodstock, AD 1177, where King Henry had made for her a house of wonderful working.” Thomas Deloney, the Elizabethan balladeer, had a long ballad about the same lady, but he didn’t mention the curious incest motive that is so strong in the present version. Hedy West says: “Through repeated singing I have altered the last phrase of the melody.”

Nick Dow sang Fair Rosamond in 1978 on his Dingle's album Burd Margaret. He noted:

This is a combination of three versions of the song collected over a period of two years. Fair Rosamond was a mistress to Henry II. Stories of the period say that she was poisoned after the birth of Henry's son, the Earl of Salisbury.

Peggy Seeger sang Fair Rosamund in 1981 on her and Ewan MacColl's Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 3. They noted:

Child overlooked this splendid little companion piece to Queen Eleanor's Confession. It is one of the oldest of all known English ballads, dating from the 12th century when Henry II took Rosamund Clifford as his mistress. In the Roxburghe collection, it is called The Unfortunate Concubine or Rosamund's Overthrow, occasioned by her brother's praising her beauty to two young knights in Salisbury as they ride along the road. The text is from Mrs E.I. Kidder and Miss H. Irons of Assonet, Massachusetts.

Maggie Holland sang Fair Rosamund on her 1999 album, Getting There. She noted:

I learned this little Appalachian song from the singing of Hedy West, who I saw in about 1966 at the Old Ford, North Camp. There was a wonderful high lonesome sound to both her voice and her banjo. I've heard the story of Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund, but I didn't know about this creepy sounding brother Clifford. So who did poison her? Reminds me of the Oyster's Oxford Girl whose “time was short and story long…”

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset sang Fair Rosamund in 2005 on their album Cruel Sister. this track was included in 2011 on their anthology A Retrospective. She noted:

I learnt this song after ransacking my parents record collection one afternoon, and hearing the American singer Hedy West’s version, which you can find on her collection Old Times & Hard Times (Topic Records). I’ve slightly Anglicised and slowed down this peculiar story, which is about the concubine of King Henry II and an implied incestuous undercurrent emanating from her protective brother “young Clifford”. The vivid imagery really stands out to me and I love telling this mysterious tale.

Gavin Davenport sang Fair Rosamund in 2013 on his Haystack album The Bone Orchard. He noted:

One of the most pared down ballads I know, this fragment packs lots of tension and emotion into a few short verses and shows a snapshot of the story of Rosamund Clifford.

Simpson Cutting Kerr sang Fair Rosamund in 2015 on their Topic album Murmurs. Martin Simpson noted:

I learned this exquisite and rare fragment from Hedy West’s 1965 Topic recording Old Times & Hard Times. It is disturbing on many levels. Young Clifford’s admiration for his sister is clearly incestuous, and the sense of covert activity on the part of the King is plain nasty. Rosamund, the daughter of Walter Lord Clifford, became concubine to King Henry the second, and was reputedly poisoned by Queen Eleanor.

Hedy West remains one of the most important musicians of my life, almost 40 years after I first saw and heard her. She was also the subject of quite the biggest crush of my teenage years…

Lynne Heraud and Pat Turner sang Fair Rosamund in 2019 on their WildGoose album Watching for Winkles. They noted:

This one of the oldest of all known English ballads, dating from the 12th century, when Henry II took the renowned beauty, Rosamund Clifford, as his mistress. In the Roxburghe Collection, it is called The Unfortunate Concubine or Rosamund’s Overthrow.

Lyrics

Hedy West sings Fair Rosamund

“I have a sister,” young Clifford said,
“A sister no man knows;
She hath a colour all in her cheeks,
Like a drop of blood in snows.”

“She hath a waist, a waist, a waist
Like to my silver cane;
I would not for ten thousand worlds,
Have King Henry know her name.”

King Henry in his fair bower,
Was hid so close and still;
That every word young Clifford said,
He wrote down in a bill.

The first fair line she looked on
She did begin to smile,
The next fair line she looked on,
The tears run down in aisle.

“O cursèd be my brother Clifford,
O, cursèd may he be!
Can't he dote on his hawks and hounds,
But he must dote on me.”

Peggy Seeger sings Fair Rosamund

“I have a sister,” young Clifford he said,
“A sister no man knows;
She hath a colour in her cheek
Like drops of blood in snow.
Like drops of blood in snow.

“She hath a waist, a waist, a waist
Like to my silver cane;
And I would not for ten-thousand worlds
Have King Henry know her name,
Have King Henry know her name.”

King Henry was in his bower
Hidden close and still;
And every word young Clifford spoke
He wrote down in a bill,
He wrote down in a bill.

Now, the first fair line she looked on
She did begin to smile,
And the next fair line she looked on
Down the tears did fall,
Down the tears did fall.

“Cursed be my brother Clifford,
O, cursed may he be!
Why don't he dote on his hawks and hounds
But he must dote on me,
He must dote on me?”