Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy: Songs From the French Wars

Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy: Songs From the French Wars

Jerry Bird (Folklore Society, Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society)

All the songs and tunes in this presentation (with one notable exception – the one written by Hardy himself) may be dated to the period (roughly speaking) 1795 to 1815, though, as is the way with folk songs, which tend to metamorphose over time, some are earlier songs or tunes adapted for use during that period.

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Jerry Bird

Notes to songs:

Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

One of the best-known songs of a sailor leaving his family to go to sea to ‘fight for the crown’. It was notably in the repertoire of the Copper family singers from Rottingdean in Sussex, who popularised it in the last century, making it a firm favourite at folk clubs and music sessions today.

The song is a reminder that not all sailors in the navy were pressed – some enlisted for the promise of travel and adventure. It was certainly not for the rations, which were generally inedible, nor the pay – naval tars received around half the wages of soldiers. Those who were pressed were generally treated like slaves – kept below decks in filthy conditions and not allowed shore leave.

The New Rigged Ship

A popular tune published as least as long ago as 1804. It may even have been played to celebrate the commission of a new vessel. It appears in many manuscript collections including that of the Hardy family.

Midst of Night

Most folk songs would have been sung unaccompanied; This one was collected in Dorset by the Hammond Brothers in the 1900s, when it was sung by one Joseph Elliott of Todber.

It is one of a body of songs in which a wife or lover fails to recognize her lover returning from the war. We must remember that the men were often away for years at a time, and many would have returned looking somewhat different from when they left – they would have been older, more weather-beaten, and quite possibly maimed or scarred by their experiences. Also – there were no snapshots to remind the wife or lover of their man’s appearance. Very often in such songs the returnee teases their partner – usually pretending to be a stranger.

This is one of the more strange songs of the genre, as the protagonist claims that the woman’s partner was killed in battle and it is slightly ambiguous as to who has actually returned, as the last two lines are in the first person!

Bonny Light Horseman

A lament from the days of Waterloo. A folk song that was taken up and printed by many broadside printers. There are five versions by different printers in London alone. The song became very popular in Ireland and was recorded by Planxty with Christy Moore on vocals in the 1970s. This version is roughly the one used by that band.

The Dark-Eyed Sailor

One way of a soldier or sailor fighting in foreign wars proving his identity on his return, was to share a love token, such as a coin or ring with his wife or lover, which would be broken in two.

This a classic broken-token song, often known as Fair Phoebe and her Dark-Eyed Sailor. It tells the story of two lovers who break a token—such as a ring—in half when they are parted, so that they will know each other when they are finally reunited. The song originated in the late eighteenth century, was printed on street ballad sheets in the early nineteenth century, and survived in the oral tradition into the twentieth century when it was particularly popular in Suffolk. This version was popularised by Steeleye Span in the 1960s folk-revival.

March of the Sussex Fencibles

The fencibles (from the word defencible) were British Army Regiments raised in the Britain and the colonies for defence against the threat of invasion during the Seven Years' War, the American War of Independence and French Revolutionary wars in the late 18th century. They were usually temporary units, composed of local volunteers, but commanded by Regular Army officers. Their role was, as their name suggests, usually confined to local patrol and garrison duties, thus freeing up the regular Army units to perform offensive operations.

The Dorset fencibles probably had a band, though as far as I know no specific tunes have survived. This tune was transcribed from an old engraving of a manuscript found by an Australian book dealer: Two Favourite Marches of the Sussex Fencibles with Six New Country Dances for the Pianoforte. This is March No. 1.

Bold Grenadier

In 1815, the Duke of Wellington took command of a multinational army that comprised British, Dutch, Belgian and German troops in the culmination of the 20-year conflict with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Such was the contribution of non-British troops to the victory at Waterloo that in a recent revisionist history of the campaign it was referred to as ‘The German Victory’.1 Alongside the regiments of the British Army at Waterloo were units from allied nations, including Hanover, Brunswick, the new Kingdom of Holland and a separate Prussian Army. Also present within Wellington’s army was the King’s German Legion (KGL), a corps of Hanoverians that had been created when that electorate was overrun by the French in 1803.

The Bold Grenadier, otherwise known as ‘Nightingales Sing’ first appears in the 17th century and is known throughout Britain in various versions. The soldier is sometimes a ‘brave volunteer’ or an artillery man, but the fact that here he is a foreigner, would suggest that this version dates from around the time of Waterloo.

Soldier’s Joy

A well-known English Reel which Hardy knew well. It appears in The Dance at the Phoenix and in Far From the Madding Crowd, where it is played at the wedding feast:

‘So the dance began. As to the merits of “The Soldier’s Joy,” there cannot be, and never were, two opinions. It has been observed in the musical circles of Weatherbury and its vicinity that this melody, at the end of three-quarters of an hour of thunderous footing, still possesses more stimulative properties for the heel and toe than the majority of other dances at their first opening. “The Soldier’s Joy” has, too, an additional charm, in being so admirably adapted to the tambourine aforesaid—no mean instrument in the hands of a performer who understands the proper convulsions, spasms, St. Vitus’s dances, and fearful frenzies necessary when exhibiting its tones in their highest perfection.’

Bold Nelson’s Praise

Usually written after an important event, Broadside ballads are not folk songs in the true sense of the word; unlike true folk songs they were not usually written by anyone involved with the action, but by professional songwriters and publishers.

This song appeared as a broadside ballad shortly after Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson was celebrated in many songs and verses, although ballads about Napoleon have survived in greater numbers. The names Lord Howe, Viscount Duncan and Sir Sydney Smith, mentioned in the song were famous naval commanders associated respectively with the naval victories of ‘The Glorious First of June”’ 1794, Camperdown 1797, and the defense of St Jean d’Acre in 1799.

It is sung to a variant of the famous Irish harper Turlough Carolan’s Princess Royal.

The tune had previously been used by Durham composer and former boat-builder William Shield in his musical the ‘Lock and Key’. He set the words of a song called ‘Arethusa’ in the libretto to the tune,. Arethusa was the name of an English ship involved in a skirmish with the French in the English Channel in 1778.

Carolan, who lived from 1670 – 1738 would no doubt have been astonished that his tune ended up in a patriotic operetta and was later used for a song about England’s most famous Naval commander. He would have probably been even more surprised that it later emerged, changed to a major key, as a morris dance tune in the nineteenth century.

The Sergeant’s Song

Also not a true folk song. But Hardy has made a good effort here though!

The Fall of Paris

This is the adaptable tune that Hardy chose to end the Dance at the Phoenix with.

It was played when the allied regiments entered Paris after the battle of Waterloo, but Wellington sharply put a stop to it, and the offending Royal Regiment played instead 'Croppies Lie Down.' The reason for Wellington’s ire was probably the fact that it had been used as the tune for the song ‘Ah Ça Ira’, which contains the line ‘les aristocrates a la lanterne', which roughly translates as, 'Lets go lynch the aristocrats') sung by the first and bloodiest French Revolutionaries in the late 1780's.

The tune was originally a dance tune – for a quadrille – known as Le Carillon Nationale. It was composed in France in the 18th century, though its exact date and the name of the composer are not known. It was played by British army bands during the Peninsular War against Napoleon's armies. Its dance roots later gradually resurfaced, and in 1805 it was printed in O'Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Uilleann or Union Pipes, and in 1816 the melody was again printed, this time in England in London dancing master Thomas Wilson's Companion to the Ball Room.


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