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The Sailor from Dover / The Rich Irish Lady / Queen Sally

[ Roud 180 ; Laws P9 ; G/D 6:1219 ; Henry H72 ; Ballad Index LP09 ; Bodleian Roud 180 ; Mudcat 167854 ; trad.]

Sam Henry's Songs of the People

Horton Barker of Chilhowie, Virginia, sang Pretty Sally to Maud Karpeles in September 1950. This recording was included in 2017 on the Musical Traditions anthology of historic recordings og Appalachian singers and musicians, When Cecil Left the Mountains. Mike Yates and Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

Often linked (erroneously!) to the Child ballad The Brown Girl (Child 295), this is actually a version of the 19th century broadside Sally and her True Love Billy. In so many folksongs we find that parted lovers return and find love again. But this is not the case here and the callousness of thestory line comes as something of a shock to the listener. For some reason or other the song has turned up repeatedly in the Appalachians.

Cecil Sharp collected The Sailor from Dover in 1909 from Mrs Lucy Durston, Bridgwater, Somerset. and Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd published it in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Lloyd recorded it in 1956 for his and Ewan MacColl's project The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume III and in 1960 for his album A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Like all tracks from the latter LP it was reissued in 2003 on the CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd noted:

An old ballad [The Brown Girl (Roud 180; Child 295) - ed.], seldom met with now, tells of a dark girl whose sweetheart sends words that he cannot fancy her “because she is brown”. Later he falls dangerously ill, and begs her to come to him. At the bedside, like Barbara Allen, she mocks him. Mysteriously, she strokes his breast with a white wand to give him peace, but says she can never forgive him, and that she'll gleefully dance on his grave. Writers of broadside ballads seemed to feel this subtle story might not appeal to their customers, so they changed the situation to one in which a snobbish girl slights a sailor, and it is the honest seaman who finally looks forward to dancing on her grave. Evidently the pot-poets understood their market, for the sailor version has survived far better than the brown girl set. Sharp obtained the song from Mrs. Durston of Bridgwater, Somerset.

Sarah Ogan Gunning sang Sally on her 1965 Folk-Legacy and 1967 Topic album, Girl of Constant Sorrow. Archie Green noted:

A Rich Irish Lady under many titles is widely collected in America and has been extensively commented on by scholars, perhaps because of its association with The Brown Girl (Child 295).

Sarah learned Sally at the age of five from her mother. When I expressed surprise that she retained so many songs from childhood, she indicated that before she learned to read she could learn a piece at church or at home after just one or two hearings. When she grew older and was exposed to musical notation (square and round) at the singing schools conducted by wandering teachers, she lost her power to learn a song ‘;at once’; that is, it might take her a period of days or weeks to learn something she liked. Sally is one of the few ballads that Sarah clearly identified as coming from England, unlike Loving Nancy and May I Go With You, Johnny? which she localized, respectively, to Kentucky and the Civil War.

Hedy West sang The Rich Irish Lady on her 1965 Topic and 1967 Folk-Legacy album, Old Times & Hard Times. She and A.L. Lloyd noted:

“This is another song Uncle Gus and Grandma learned from their mother, about whom Uncle Gus says: ‘She sung a right smart, all these here old time songs; I don’t remember how many I’ve heared her sing. He (her husband, Kim Mulkey) didn’t sing none of the songs like that. Most of the singing he done he’d do in church. He sung these old midnight songs (religious songs)’.”

The ballad is related to Child No. 295 The Brown Girl, but the situation is reversed, for there the man first scorns the girl but later his feelings change and he calls the girl to him, but she mocks him and says she’ll dance on his grave. In England The Rich Irish Lady is best known in a seamen’s version called Sally and Billy or The Sailor From Dover.

Kate Peters Sturgill of Norton, Virginia, sang Queen Sally to Mike Seeger on 31 December 1968. This recording was included in 1978 on the Blue Ridge Institute album in their Virginia Traditions series, Ballads from British Tradition. The album's booklet noted:

Kate's rendition of Queen Sally is highly unusual; she has grappled with the problem of fitting ordinary guitar chord accompaniment to a rhythmically complex song. Her solution has been to simply (but uniquely) alter the time from 3/4 to 2/4 as needed and not to attempt to adhere to any one strict time signature. She has subtly subjugated the instrumental accompaniment to the maintenance of the tune's odd twists and quirks.

The song itself has an interesting and complex history. Not only is it very similar to some versions of The Brown Girl (see Sharp variant J, pp. 303-304), it is also very much like some texts of The Death of Queen Jane (Child 170; Sharp 32, pp. 230-232). The main difference between the two ballads has to do with why Queen Jane (or Sally) is sick. In The Death of Queen Jane, King Henry cuts a baby-his-from her dying body. In The Brown Girl, there is none of that; we can only assume that she (in this case Queen Sally) is bearing an illegitimate child. Consequently, the overall emotion of the song is not one of sorrow on the part of the doctor (or King Henry), but rather of scorn. Kate's version is also unique in that the man called for is King Henry; he is usually a “young squire” or a “wealthy merchant”. The name is evidently borrowed from The Death of Queen Jane. Cox mentions a number of variant titles including Sally and her True Love Billy, The Bold Sailor, and The (Young) Sailor from Dover and says it has been in print since the late 18th century.

Shirley Collins recorded Sailor from Dover during the sessions for her and her sister Dolly's album Love, Death & the Lady. But as three other ones, this track was left out and only found its way onto the album's 1994 and 2003 CD reissues. Shirley Collins noted:

Completed from a fragment sung to me by Mrs. Ollie Gilbert in Timbo, Arkansas. I met Ollie and her husband Oscar in 1959 when I joined Alan Lomax on a field recording trip in the Southern United States. They had lived a typical old-style mountaineer life. Oscar was reputed to be “the fightingest man in Arkansas”, having killed seven men, mostly “over women and moonshine”. After dinner Oscar told me to “go join the womenfolk” while the men drank whiskey. I didn't protest—and Ollie and I had a splendid evening swapping songs.

Shirley Collins recorded this song again as The Rich Irish Lady for her 2016 album Lodestar. She noted:

Another song recorded on the field trip of 1959, it's from Horton Barker, recorded by Alan Lomax, in Chilhowie, Virginia. Hurton was a gentle, subtle singer, which for me intensifies the vengeful outcome of the story. When we were playing it at a mastering session, the engineer James Johnson turned to me when it came to the “dance on your grave” verse and said, “He doesn't mean it, does he?” Then as the fiddle tune drove in at the end, he shook himself. “Oh yes, he does, doesn't he!”

Gracie Baker from Pound, Virginia, sang Fine Sally from London on 6 December 1973 to Mark Wilson and Bill Nowlin. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology Meeting's a Pleasure Volumes 1 & 2. Mark Wilson noted in the accompanying booklet:

The common book title for this is The Brown Girl and it is often identified as Child 295, but this assimilation seems entirely the product of a ‘Piltdown man’ style hoax perpetuated by Baring-Gould (see 'Dungbeetle' note #1 on the MT site). Instead, the lyric merely represents the excellent descendent of the broadside Sally and her True Love, Billy. As such, it can be readily found within all of the major North American collections. Other good versions: Sarah Gunning, FL 26; Maggie Hammons, Hammons Legacy 003; Cas Wallin, on the CD that accompanies Rod Amberg's book, Sodom Laurel Album..

Mabs Hall from Billinghurst, Sussex, sang A Sailor from Dover in 1985 to Mike Yates. This recording was released on the Veteran Tapes cassette anthology of traditional singing in Sussex, Ripest Apples, and in 2001 on the Veteran anthology of traditional folk music from coastal England, When the Wind Blows. Mabs and Gordon Hall also sang A Sailor from Dover in a 1980s recording that was released in 2008 on their posthumous Veteran CD As I Went Down to Horsham. John Howson and Mike Yates noted:

Edwardian song collectors have linked this song with the ballad The Brown Girl (Child 295). According to Maud Karpeles, “The main difference lies in a reversal of the sexes. Here it is the woman and not the man who falls sick and is spurned by a former lover. Otherwise there are many common elements.” (Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs, Vol.1, 1974).

Word sets have been collected not only in England, but also in Scotland (by Gavin Greig), in Newfoundland (by Maud Karpeles) and in the Appalachian Mountains of North America (by Cecil Sharp). An American recording, by Archie Sturgill, can be heard on the CD Close to Home (Smithsonian Folkways SFCD 40097). This song was a particular favourite in the Hall family.

Cath and Phil Tyler sang Queen Sally on their 2008 album Dumb Supper.

Bellowhead sang Fine Sally on their 2014 album Revival. A live recording from their final tour in November 2015 was included in the following year on their CD and DVD The Farewell Tour.

Lyrics

Horton Barker sings Pretty Sally

There was a rich lady from London she came,
She was called Pretty Sally, Pretty Sally by name.
Her wealth it was more than the king he possessed,
Her beauty was more than her wealth at the best.

There was a young doctor was living hard by
Who on this fair maiden in love cast his eye.
He courted her nightly, a year and a day,
But still she refused him and ever said, “Nay”

“Oh Sally, dear Sally, pretty Sally,” says he,
“Can you tell me the reason our love cannot be?
You're cruel and (un)kindness my ruin will prove
Unless all your hatred will turn into love.”

“I bear you no hatred, nor no other man
But truly to marry you I never can.
Give over your (coldness?) I pray you be still,
For you I'll ne'er marry, of my own free will.”

Was soon at the (?) ere a year had gone by
Pretty Sally grew sick and she feared she would die.
She (?) was in love and herself she accused,
So sent for the doctor she once had refused.

“Oh am I the doctor whose skill you would try?
Or am I the young man you once did deny?”
“Yes, you are the doctor can kill or can cure,
Unless you will help me I'm dying I'm sure.”

“Oh Sally, dear Sally, pretty Sally,” says he,
“Don't you remember how you slighted me?
You treated me coldly, my love you dis-scorned,
So now you must suffer for things past and gone.

“Yet they are past and gone dear, forget and forgive
For upsetting me longer in this world to live.
I never can forgive you until my dying day
But on your grave I'll dance when you're laid in cold clay.”

She took from her fingers the diamond rings three,
Saying, “Take these and wear them while dancing for me.
I'll freely forgive you though me you disdain,
So now you must leave me in sorrow and pain.”

A.L. Lloyd sings The Sailor from Dover

There was a sailor from Dover, from Dover he came
He courted a fair young damsel, and Sally was her name;
And she being so lofty and her portion being so high,
All on a poor sailor love she scarce would cast an eye.

“O Sally, dearest Sally, o Sally,” then said he,
“I fear that your false heart my ruin it will be;
Without your present hatred is turned into love,
You'll make me broken-hearted and my ruin it will prove.”

“I cannot love a sailor, nor any such a man,
So keep your heart in comfort and forget me if you can.
I pray you keep your distance and mind your own discourse,
For I never intend to marry you unless that I am forced.”

But when a year was over and twelve months they was past,
This lovely young damsel she grew sick in love at last.
Entangled she was all in her love, she did not know for why,
So she sent for the young man on whom she had an eye.

“Oh, am I now now the doctor, that you have sent for me?
Pray do you well remember how once you slighted me?
How once you slighted me, my love, and treated me with scorn,
So now I will reward you for all that you have done.”

“For what is past and gone,” she said, “I pray you to forgive,
And grant me just a little longer time for to live.”
“Oh no, my dearest Sally, as long as I have breath,
Well I'll dance all on your grave, love, as you lie under the earth.”

Kate Peters Sturgill sings Queen Sally

Queen Sally, Queen Sally
Taken sick down in bed,
No one knew the reason
To relieve her from bed.

King Henry was sent for
On horseback full speed,
To relieve Queen Sally,
Queen Sally his maid.

“I am no doctor,
Why did you send for me here?”
“Yes, you 're the doctor
Who can kill or can cure.”

“I courted you in honor,
You slighted me in scorn,
I'm now going to remind you
Of things past and gone.”

“Of days past and gone, love,
Let's forget and forgive,
Spare me one hour.
Please Lord let me live.”

“I'll spare you no hour,
No moment or day,
I'll dance on your grave love
When you're 'neath the cold clay.”

Off of her fingers
Diamond rings she drew three,
“Wear these loving Henry,
When you're dancing o'er me.”

“When you 're dancing o'er me love,
On the banks of my grave,
Think of Queen Sally,
Queen Sally, your maid.”

Shirley Collins sings Sailor from Dover

There was a sailor from Dover, from Dover there came
He courted a lovely lady, and Sally was her name;
But she being so lofty and her fortune being so high,
All on a poor sailor love she'd scarcely cast an eye.

“O Sally, dearest Sally, o Sally,” then said he,
“I fear that your false heart my ruin it will be;
Unless your present hatred is turned into love,
You'll leave me broken-hearted and my ruin it will prove.”

“I cannot love a sailor, nor any such a man,
So keep your heart in comfort and forget me if you can.
I pray you keep your distance and mind your own discourse,
For I never intend to marry you unless that I am forced.”

But when a year was over and a twelve months they were past,
A lovely young Sally, she grew so sick at last.
Entangled she was all in her love and she couldn't tell for why,
She sent for the young man whom on she had an eye.

“O Sally, dearest Sally, o Sally,” then said he,
Pray don't you remember, love, how once you slighted me?
How once you slighted me, my love, and you treated me with scorn,
So now I will reward you for all that you have done.”

“For what is past and gone,” she said, “I pray you to forgive,
And grant me just a little longer on this old Earth to live.”
“Oh no, my dearest Sally, as long as I've had breath,
I'll dance all on your grave, my love, as you lay under the earth.”

Shirley Collins sings The Rich Irish Lady

There was a rich lady from London she came,
She was called Pretty Sally, Pretty Sally by name.
Her wealth it was more than a king could possess,
Her beauty was more than her wealth at its best.

There was a young doctor was living hard by
Who on this fair maiden in love cast his eye.
He courted her nightly a year and a day
But still she refused him and ever say nay.

“O Sally, dear Sally, Pretty Sally,“ says he,
“Can you tell me the reason our love can't agree?
Your cruel unkindness my ruin will prove
Unless all your hatred will turn into love.”

“I've no hatred to you nor to other man
But truly to marry you I never can.
Give over your courting, I pray you be still
For you I'll ne'er marry of my own free will.”

'Twas soon after this, scarce a year had gone by
Pretty Sally got sick and she feared she would die.
She tangled was in love and she knew not for why,
She sent for the doctor she once did deny.

“So am I the doctor whose skill you would try?
Or am I the young man you once did deny?”
“Yes you are the doctor, can kill or can cure,
Unless you can help me I'm dying I'm sure.”
“But Sally, Pretty Sally, O Sally,” said he,
“Don't you remember that you once slighted me?”

“For what's past and done, sir, I hope you'll forgive
And grant me some longer in this wide world to live.”
“That I'll ne'er do, Sally, while I do draw breath,
But I'll dance on your grave when you're laid in the earth.”

“Ten thousand times over my folly I see,
I freely forgive you although you won't me.”
Then off from her fingers gold rings she drew three,
Saying, “Take them and wear them when your dancing on me.”

Gracie Baker sings Fine Sally from London

There was a fair lady from London she came
A beautiful creature called Sally by name.
There came a young squire to court her but on him she did deny
Upon this young man she scarce cast her eye.

Six months and better had gone by and past
This beautiful creature took sick at last.
“Oh, go for the doctor, oh, go in great speed
Our Sally is sick, she's sick, indeed.”

“Oh, Sally, oh Sally, oh, Sally,” said he
“Am I the doctor you've sent for me?”
“Oh, yes you're the doctor, can kill or can cure
Without your assistance I'm ruined I'm sure.”

“Oh, Sally, oh Sally, oh, Sally,” said he
“Don't you re member when you slighted me?
You laughed at my courtship, you denied me with scorn
And now I'll reward you for things past and gone.”

“All things past and gone, forget and forgive
And spare me a little while longer to live.”
“I'll never forgive you enduring my breath
But I'll dance on your grave when you're cold in the earth.”

She pulled off her gloves, her diamond rings three
Saying, “Take these and wear these when you dance upon me.”
“I never will wear them enduring my breath
But I'll dance on your grave when you're cold in the earth.”

Now Sally is dead as you all may suppose
Left other fair ladies to wear her fine clothes.
Her body is lying in a bank of cold clay
Her red rosy cheeks are molding away.

Mabs and Gordon Hall sing A Sailor from Dover

A sailor from Dover from Dover he came,
He courted pretty Sally and Sally was her name.
Sweet Sally grew lofty, her portion grew high,
'Til she, on her sailor, would scarce cast an eye.

Oh, six weeks were over and six weeks were past,
That beautiful damsel she grew sick at last.
Her heart was entangled, she knew not for why,
She sent for the sailor that she had denied.

“Oh Sally, sweet Sally, sweet Sally,” said he,
“Don’t you remember when you first slighted me?
When you first slighted me love and treated me with scorn.
And now I shall reward you for what you have done.”

“But what is past and gone love forget and forgive.
And I will prove constant as long as I live.”
“Oh no pretty Sally not while I have breath.
I’ll dance on your grave love, where you lie underneath.”