The Famous Flower of Serving Men

Date August 1954
Track ID 38037
Part 1

Track Information

Original Track ID

SA1954.103.A1; SA1954.103.A2

Original Tape ID



In this ballad, a girl's father builds her a bower decorated with flowers. However, her spiteful stepmother sends a robber to slay her knight. The robber raids her bower, slays the knight and kills her baby, leaving her nothing to roll it in but "the bloody sheet my love lay in". She cuts off her hair and changes her name from 'young Ellen fair' to 'young Willie Dare'.

[Jeannie Robertson tells the rest of the story of the song, but it is not sung.] When the girl cuts her hair off she goes dressed as a man to look for work. She goes to a castle and the butler tells the master of the house that a fine-looking young man is seeking work as a stable boy. The master says that if the man is so good looking he could serve out the wine to his guests. Over the weeks his initial suspicion that she is not a man is confirmed, and one day he tells his housekeeper to dress her in white silk. She is the finest-looking woman for miles around, and the master of the house falls in love with her and marries her.

Jeannie got the song from her mother.

Item Notes

4 verses of irregular length. Fragment, sung twice, with spoken explanation of the story in between. This version's music and text are transcribed (with errors) in Bronson, 'The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads' (1976, p. 262). There are several versions in Bodleian Library Broadside Collection, the earliest from c. 1664-1666.

The melody is commonly used for 'I Wish I Wish' (also known as 'Died for Love'). Jeannie Robertson also used it for the song 'What A Voice' (also known as 'I Wish I Wish'), and also uses it for the 'My Wee Doggie' song on tape SA1954.103.

See also:
Greig-Duncan vol. 1, pp. 409-411, no. 163

Recording Location

County - Aberdeenshire

Parish - Aberdeen

Village/Place - Aberdeen






R199 GD163 C106

Source Type

Reel to reel

Audio Quality