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> June Tabor > Songs > The Duke of Athole's Nurse

The Duke of Athole's Nurse

[ Roud 3393 ; Child 212 ; G/D 1:160 ; Ballad Index C212 ; trad.]

Frankie Armstrong sang Little Duke Arthur's Nurse in 1975 on her Topic album Songs and Ballads. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

A jokey tale versified into a ballad balanced on a razor-edge of violence. Child called it The Duke of Athol’s Nurse, and it’s No. 212 in his collection. Seventy or eighty years ago it was still fairly common in Scotland, and Gavin Greig recorded seven versions in Aberdeenshire, mostly from women. This anglicised set is based mainly on the version sung to Greig by Alexander Robb, the school caretaker at New Deer, where Greig lived. We’re used to songs in which women dress as men; those in which men are the cross-dressers are rare. Frankie Armstrong remarks that whereas women put on men’s array for the sake of adventure and in search of wider horizons, the men merely end up looking silly. “Such songs tell us a lot about the relative status of the sexes,” says she.

June Tabor sang The Duke of Athole's Nurse, “from the Greig mss. 1885-1914” on her 2003 album of (mostly) Border ballads, An Echo of Hooves.


June Tabor sings The Duke of Athole's Nurse

As I come in by the Duke of Athole's gates
I head a girl sing bonny,
“It's I would give all of my half-year's fee
For a kiss and a sight of my Johnny.”

“You are the Duke of Athole's nurse,
And oh but you sing bonny.
Keep well, keep well your half-year's fee,
Here's a sight and a kiss of your Johnny.”

He's leaned him over his saddle bow
And given her kisses many,
“It's you have my heart but another has my hand,
So what better are you of, Johnny?”

“If I have your heart but another has your hand,
These words have fairly undone me.
But come let us set a time to meet again,
So it's in good friendship you'll leave me.”

“You'll go down to yonder alehouse
And drink 'til the day be a-dawning;
Spare not the beer although it be dear,
At the wine keep constantly drawing.
And as sure as the love that we both once had
I'll come and I'll clear your lawing.”

Se he's gone down to yonder alehouse
And drank 'til the day was a-dawning;
And he spared not the beer although it was dear,
At the wine he kept constantly drawing.

And he's looked out of the shot window
To see if the day was a-dawning,
And there he espied seven well-armed men
A-come for to clear his lawing.

“Oh landlady, landlady, what can I do?
My life it is not worth a farthing.
My love has sent all seven of her brothers;
I'll be dead ere the day be a dawning.”

She's take off her petticoat,
Likewise her gown and her apron.
She's given him the bonnet from off of her head
And she's set him down to the baking.
And the birds never sang so sweetly on the bush
As the young squire sang at the baking.

“Oh came there a stranger here last night
To drink ere the day was a-dawning?
Come show us the room that the stranger is in,
We've come for to clear his lawing.”

“There came a stranger here last night
But he left ere the day was a-dawning,
And he bought but a pint and he paid it ere we went
So he did not leave any lawing.”

They sought him up, they sought him down,
They spared not the feather beds a-turning,
And as they went but and as they went ben
They said, “Bonnie lassie, are you baking?”

They sought him up, they sought him down,
They spared not the curtains a-riving.
And aye as the landlady went but and ben
She scolded the lassie at her baking,
Saying, “I've had many and many's the maid
But the likes of you I've never had baking.”

They sought him up, they sought him down,
Through hall and kitchen a-raking,
And each one of them as they passed by
Kissed the bonny lassie at her baking.

And for all that they called, for all that they sought,
They left the bonny lassie busy baking.