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High Germany / Higher Germanie

[ Roud 904 ; Master title: High Germany ; G/D 1:96 ; Ballad Index ShH56 ; VWML CJS2/9/878 ; Bodleian Roud 904 ; GlosTrad Roud 904 ; Wiltshire 843 ; DT WARGRMN2 ; Mudcat 5882 , 22617 ; trad.]

There are three songs known as High Germany. This page describes the best known one; the second is also called The Two Lovers or True Lovers (Roud 1445) as sung by Tony Rose on his album Under the Greenwood Tree, the third is The Wars of Germany (Roud 5608).

James Reeves: The Idiom of the People Cecil Sharp: One Hundred English Folksongs

Phoebe Smith sang Higher Germanie to Peter Kennedy at Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 8 July 1956. This recording was included in 1994 on the Saydisc anthology Songs of the Travelling People and in 2012 on the Topic anthology I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22). Another recording of Phoebe Smith recorded by Paul Carter and Frank Purslow in her home in Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 1969 was included on her LP Once I Had a True Love and on the compilations Hidden English: A Celebration of English Traditional Music and Three Score and Ten.

Shirley Collins learned Higher Germanie from Peter Kennedy’s field recording of Phoebe Smith and sang it on the album recorded in 1959 by—again—Peter Kennedy, A Jug of Punch, and on her anthology Within Sound. She recorded it for a second time in 1967 for her LP The Sweet Primeroses. This was also included in her compilations A Favourite Garland and Fountain of Snow.

Martin Carthy recorded High Germany in 1965 for his first album Martin Carthy; this track was included in 1970 on the compilation Shades of Folk. A live recording with Dave Swarbrick at the Folkus Folk Club in 1966 is available on Both Ears and the Tail. Martin Carthy also sang this live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros, and he sang it in 2016 at Freeland Barbour’s concert The Music and the Land. He commented in his original album’s sleeve notes:

There are two distinct songs bearing the title High Germany. The one sung here was on a broadside by Such and also in A Collection of Choice Garlands printed in the 1780s. The wars referred to are probably those at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Some lines are taken from the other version which is also called The Two Lovers.

The Union Folk sang High Germany in 1969 on their Traditional Sound album A Basketful of Oysters.

Pentangle sang High Germany in 1972 on their album Solomon’s Seal.

Barry Skinner sang High Germany on his 1975 album Abroad As I Was Working.

Derek Sarjeant and Hazel King sang High Germany in 1978 on their album English & Scottish Folksongs and Ballads.

Ian Giles sang High Germany and Ratcliffe Highway as one track of his 1997 WildGoose CD The Amber Triangle. He noted:

Two songs on a military theme, the first a lament of lovers separated in wartime, the second a warning to any bold fellows tempted by the recruiting party.

Alva sang Higher Germany in 2003 on their Beautiful Jo album The Bells of Paradise. They noted:

We learnt our version of this song from the singing of Phoebe Smith, who was acknowledged queen among gypsy singers of S.E. England in the 1950s. She sang Higher Germanie as a duet with her mother. The song probably dates from the Seven Years War (1756-63), a period in which a number of campaigns were fought in Western Germany. It was not unusual in those days for women to accompany armies as cooks, laundresses and nurses.

Isambarde sang High Germany on their 2006 CD Barnstorming and on their 2009 Live EP.

The Askew Sisters sang High Germany on their 2007 WildGoose CD All in a Garden Green. They noted:

We like this song as it shows a gutsy woman willing to ‘face her foes’! This version was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Sussex [VWML RVW2/3/169] and is also known as The King (or Queen’s) Command. However we nicked the first few lines from the popular Oh Polly Dearest Polly version to create a more powerful opening, and put the tune into 4/4 to echo the marching sound of the war drums in the story. The conflict referred to is thought to be the Seven Years’ War, which was partly fought in Germany.

The Cast sang Higher Germanie in 2007 on their Greentrax album Greengold.

The Queensberry Rules sang High Germany in 2008 on their Fellside CD Landlocked.

James Findlay sang High Germany in 2009 on his first CD, As I Carelessly Did Stray. He noted:

Loads of different versions of this one about. The war referred to is likely to be The Duke of Marlborough’s Bavarian campaign in the early 1700s. However, looking at the dates listed in the Bodleian Library for broadside ballad versions, the earliest is from the period 1813-1838, so possibly it was later adapted to fit the Napoleonic wars.

Hladowski & Joynes sang Isle of Germany on their 2012 CD The Wild Wild Berry.

Mairi Campbell sang High Germany, accompanied by David Francis, in this 2013 video:

Rosie Upton sang Isle of Germany in 2014 on her CD Basket of Oysters. She noted:

Words collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs Emma Overd of Langport [VWML CJS2/9/878] and the tune from Tom Spracklan of Hambridge, Somerset [VWML CJS2/9/505] . As far as I know the only version that has the phrase ‘Isle of Germany’. Was it noted down incorrectly, had Mrs Overd learnt it wrongly or did she assume that Germany was an island? I like this jaunty tune in stark contrast to the horror of slaughter. A reminder that many cheerfully march off to war, following the pipe and drum, in the futile belief it will end in glory.

Broom Bezzums sang High Germany on their 2015 CD No Smaller Than the World.

Thom Ashworth sang High Germany, with verses very similar to Martin Carthy’s, in 2017 on his EP Hollow.

GreenMatthews sang High Germany on their 2019 CD Roots & Branches. They noted:

An English folk song collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset in 1906 [VWML CJS2/9/878] . The war in question is the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The song recommends riding a horse 800 miles to a war zone if you’re pregnant. Don’t try this at home, kids…

Jon Boden sang High Germany in a 2021 video about Pendennis Castle in Cornwall This is part of a video series Songs of England which explores traditional songs and their connections to historic places. It was commissioned by English Heritage and the Nest Collective.


Shirley Collins sings Higher Germanie

So, dearest Polly, the war it has begun,
And I must march along by the beating of the drum.
Come dress yourself all in your best and sail away with me;
I’ll take you to the wars, my love, in Higher Germanie.

I’ll buy Polly a pony and on it she shall ride,
I’ll buy Polly a pony to ride all by my side.
We’ll stop at every alehouse and drink when we get dry,
We’ll be true to one each other and marry by and by.

It’s when I get to Plymouth town, a bed for you I’ll have,
That shall be covered in roses and the roses shall be red.
So when your baby it is born and smiling on your knee,
You will think of lovely Will, love, in Higher Germanie.

Oh, cursed are the cruel wars that ever they should rise
And out of Merry England press many a lad likewise.
They took my husband from me and all my brothers three,
And they sent them to the cruel wars in Higher Germanie.

Martin Carthy sings High Germany

“Oh Polly love, oh Polly, the rout has now begun,
And we must go a-marching to the beating of the drum.
Go dress yourself all in your best and come along with me;
I’ll take you to the war, my love, in High Germany.”

“Oh Willy love, oh Willy, come list what I do say,
My feet they are so tender, I cannot march away.
And besides, my dearest Willy, I am with child by thee,
Not fitted for the war, my love, in High Germany.”

“I’ll buy for you a horse, my love, and on it you shall ride
And all my delight shall be a-riding by your side.
We’ll stop at every alehouse and drink when we are dry,
We’ll be true to one another, get married by and by.”

Oh, cursed be them cruel wars that ever they should rise
And out of Merry England press many a man likewise.
They pressed my true love from me, likewise my brothers three,
And sent them to the war, my love, in High Germany.

My friends I do not value nor my foes I do not fear,
Now my love has left me I wander far and near.
And when my baby it is born and a-smiling on my knee
I’ll think on lovely Willy in High Germany.

(repeat first verse)


Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.