A version of this article was published in English Dance and Song Volume 66 part 1
Published here by permission of the current editor, Derek Schofield

The Valiant Virgin (Roud 2930)

A 17th century ballad which has survived in two independent forms in southern England and North-east Scotland.

In Jim Copper's songbook (see A Song for Every Season, Bob Copper 1971 pub. Heinemann p.220) is a 7 stanza ballad called Brisk and Lively Lad which commences 'It's of a brisk and lively lad come out of Gloucestershire'.  James Dale Copper (1882-1954) of Rottingdean, Sussex, wrote this song down in 1936 from the family repertoire and most likely from his own father's singing.  The only other version I've seen in this form is in the second of The Folk Song Society's journals (1900) p60 entitled The Brisk Young Lively Lad as collected by Lucy Broadwood in Surrey, and this version differs only marginally from the Sussex version, which could suggest a common broadside origin, or at least that the singers had learned their versions from the same source.

The only other oral versions I know of are the three versions in The Greig-Duncan Collection (Vol 1 p460-2) under the main heading The Dublin Heiress.  They were found in NE Scotland and are textually very close, each having 8 stanzas.  They closely follow the London printed broadside c.1820 The London Heiress given here.  Catnach, Pitts, Birt and Batchelar of London and Sweets of Stroud all printed very similar versions.

Two 17th century ballads tell almost the same story, that of a rich girl falling in love with a poor youth to the consternation of her father who has the youth pressed to sea.  She follows in the guise of surgeon's mate, he is wounded and she tends to his wounds.  Eventually she reveals her identity and both return home, either to find her father dead, or he regrets his former behaviour and they marry.  The two ballads, The Valiant Virgin; or Philip and Mary, c.1671 (The Roxburghe Ballads, Ballad Society, volume 7, p546) and The Ship Carpenter's Love to the Merchant's Daughter; or The Bristol Bridegroom by Lawrence Price c.1656 (The Roxburghe Ballads, Ballad Society, volume 8, p146) have only a few phrases in common but their stories are so close that one must have influenced the other and, although Ebsworth, the editor of The Roxburghe Ballads at the time, has assigned the latter an earlier date of printing, either or both could have had earlier editions.  Just to show how close the two ballads are I have selected an equivalent stanza from each.

Stanza 10 from The Valiant Virgin:

Into the Surgeon's Cabbin they did convey him straight
Where first of all the wounded men, the pretty Surgeon's Mate,
Though in this trim, unknown to him, did bravely show her Art,
She drest, and kist, the woful wounded part.
            (He was shot in the groin by the way!)
Stanza 7 from The Ship Carpenter's Love:
Then to the surgeon's care was he brought down with speed immediately;
Whereas the pretty surgeon's mate did courteously upon him wait.
She drest the woful wounded part, although the sight did pierce her heart;
She then did use her utmost skill to cure him with a right good will.
No more need be said about the Ship Carpenter ballad other than its ending may have influenced the ending of the more modern ballad in that the father is not dead when they return and welcomes them with open arms.
The old man was with joy possest; his daughter then he kist and blest:
“Thrice welcome home thou art to me, once more, my jewel from the sea.”
                        ….. and gave them all that e're he had.
However, The Valiant Virgin has whole stanzas in common with the more modern ballad, The London Heiress.  Curiously though, the southern England oral version has one stanza which appears to derive directly from the 17th century version and which doesn't appear in The London Heiress.  Also in places the syntax of The Brisk and Lively Lad is much closer to the original than The London Heiress is.  Here is the stanza from The Valiant Virgin which appears in The Brisk and Lively Lad but not in The London Heiress.
2. A man of mean extraction, brought up in Worcestershire,
    Was guided by Affection to love a Lady dear,
    Whose eyes did shew like morning dew, that doth on Lillies lye;
    Her face, and grace, well mixt with Majesty.
In all, 7 of the stanzas in The Valiant Virgin have close equivalents in either The Brisk and Lively Lad or The London Heiress, or both.

Whilst we have not room here for the full 17th century 21 stanza ballad, the ballad's preamble tells the story admirably:

'… a description of a young Gentlewoman of Worcestershire (a rich Gentleman's Daughter), being in love with a Farmer's Son, which her Father despiseing, because he was poore, caus'd him to be Prest to Sea; And how she disguised herselfe in Man's Apparel and followed him; where in the same Ship, she (being very expert in Surgery) was entertained as Surgeon's Mate, and how loving to him (and skilfully to others) she behaved herself in her Office; and he having got a Shot in the Thigh, how diligent she was to dress him; she never discovering herself to him until they came both on shore: Her Father dyeing whilst she was at Sea ( He having no more children than she), they went into the Countrey to take Possession of her Estate, and to Marry; To the admiration of all that were at the Wedding.'
In both of the 19th century versions the girl reveals her identity and buys his freedom from the captain.  When they arrive at her father's he is still alive and welcomes them expressing his regret for his previous actions.  In the Scottish versions they marry but the southern English version ends with the girl telling her father she has found her true love and now they will remain on shore.

One more interesting difference is the whole event takes place over two months or so in The Valiant Virgin whereas The London Heiress makes it last seven years.  The period of seven years is often found in ballads as it was how long an apprenticeship lasted both at sea and on land.

Thanks to the diligence of Malcolm Douglas I have managed to locate a scarce copy of an interim 18th century version c.1765 printed in Newcastle and held in Glasgow University Library (ref BD 20-1-10 vol 2, Euing item 51).  It is the first item in The Worcestershire Garland and it is titled The Constant Lovers of Worcestershire.  Its 11 stanzas are an obvious condensing of The Valiant Virgin and they are undoubtedly the direct ancestor of the southern English oral version.

What this study shows then is an almost perfect example of how over three centuries of printing the ballads have been pared down by printers with a little help from oral tradition.  We finished up in the 20th century with two quite different, though related ballads and the differences were almost all due to the printers' alterations.

The London Heiress

(Madden Collection, London Printers 2,
VWML microfilm 75, item 1085)

In London lived an Heiress unto a Gentleman,
And all her father's care was to wed her to a man,
The Farmer's son being handsome he gain'd the Lady's heart,
They were so close engag'd no ransom could them part.

When her father came to know his daughter's foolish mind,
He said unto his daughter you must be other ways inclined,
For spring time is drawing near and press time coming on,
And all her father's care was to press the farmer's son.

But when this lady came to know of her father's cruelty,
She said unto herself my love I will soon follow thee,
I'll dress myself in man's attire and after him will go,
I'll boldly plough the ocean where the stormy winds do blow.

On the fourth of October this battle it begun,
In front of the battle they placed the farmer's son,
Where he received a dreadful wound, which pierc'd him to the heart,
O said he, where is she that would ease me of my smart.

Unto the surgeon's cabin they had this lad convey'd,
There was no one to wait on him but the surgeon's servant man,
And when she turn'd herself around he viewed every part,
O said he, one like thee was once mistress of my heart.

You are the very young man, she said your freedom I'll enlarge,
Here is fifty bright guineas for to clear you of your discharge,
Then she went before the captain and fell upon her knees,
She bought her love and brought him safe over the raging seas.

When she came to her father's gate she kneeled there awhile,
Then her father said unto her now I see my own dear child,
My child I have been wanting these seven long years and more,
She said I have been looking for the lad that you sent o'er,
And now since I have found him all on my native shore,
We will live at home in peace and never sunder more.

Pitts, Printer, wholesale Toy and Marble warehouse
6, Great St. Andrews Street, Seven Dials.

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