personal website


header image


Famous Flower of Serving Men

One of the most powerful ballads.

Made popular by Martin Carthy.

There is a fine Wikepedia description.

The extended version written below is taken fromĀ this link

Famous Flower of Serving Men

I was by birth a lady fair
My father’s chief and only heir
But when my good old father died
Then I was made a young knight’s bride

And then my love built me a bower
Bedecked with many a fragrant flower
A braver bower you never did see
Than my true love did build for me

Although I got married to this knight
My stepmother did me deadly spite
For she sent thieves in the dark of night
To rob my bower and slay my knight

They couldn’t do to me no harm
So they slew my knight in my arms
Left me naught to wrap him then
But the bloody sheet that he lay in

My servants all from me did flee
In the midst of my extremity
And left me by myself alone
With a heart more cold than any stone

Twas all alone I dug his grave
And all alone in it him I laid
While Christ was priest and I was clerk
I laid my love in the cold clay earth

And all alone the bell I rang
And all alone this song I sang
I leaned my head all against a block
And there I cut my lovely locks

No living man I’ll love again
Since that my lovely knight is slain
With a lock of his yellow hair
I’ll chain my heart for ever more

I cut my locks and I changed my name
From Fair Eleanor to Sweet William
I went to court to serve my king
As the famous flower of serving men

So well I served my lord, the king
That he made me his chamberlain
He loved me as his son
The famous flower of serving men

Oh oft time he’d look at me and smile
So swift his heart I did beguile
And he blessed the day that I became
The famous flower of serving men

But all alone in my bed at e’en
Oh there I dreamed a dreadful dream
I saw my bed swim with blood
And I saw the thieves all around my head

Our king has to the hunting gone
He’s ta’en the lords, the gentlemen
He’s left me there to guard his home
The famous flower of serving men

Our king he rode the wood all around
He stayed all day but nothing found
And as he rode himself alone
It’s there he saw the milk white hind

Oh the hind she broke, the hind she flew
The hind she trampled the brambles through
First she’d mount and then she’d sound
Sometimes before, sometimes behind

Oh what is this, how can it be?
Such a hind as this I ne’er did see
Such a hind as this was never born
I fear she’ll do me dreadful harm

And long, long did the great horse turn
For to save his lord from branch and thorn
But long e’er the day was o’er
It tangled off in his yellow hair

All in the glade the hind drew nigh
And the sun grew bright all in their eye
And he sprang down, sword he drew
She vanished there all from his view

And all around the grass was green
And all around there a grave was seen
And he sat himself all on the stone
Great weariness it seized him on

Great silence hung from tree to sky
The woods grew still, the sun on fire
As through the woods the dove he came
As through the wood he made his moan

The dove, he sat down on the stone
So sweet he looked, so sweet he sang
“Alas the day my love became
The famous flower of serving men”

The bloody tears they fell like rain
As still he sat and still he sang
“Alas the day my love became
The famous flower of serving men”

Our king cried out, then he wept full sore
He beat his breast and tore his hair
So loud unto the dove he did call
“Oh pretty bird, come sing it plain”

“Oh it was her stepmother’s deadly spite
For she sent thieves in the dark of night
They came to rob, they came to slay
They made their sport, they went their way

“And don’t you think that her heart was sore
As she laid the mold on his yellow head
And don’t you think that her hear was woe
As she turned her back away to go

“And how she wept as she changed her name
From Fair Eleanor to Sweet William
Went to court to serve her king
As the famous flower of serving men”

Oh the bloody tears they lay all around
He’s mounted up and away he’s gone
And one thought came to his mind
He’d thought the servant was a man

And as he rode himself alone
A dreadful oath he there has sworn
That he would hunt her stepmother down
As he would hunt the wildwood swine

For there’s four and twenty ladies all
And they’re all playing at the ball
But fairer than all of them
Is the famous flower of serving men

Oh he’s rode him into his hall
And he’s rode in among them all
He’s lifted her to his saddle brim
And there he’s kissed her cheek and chin

His nobles stood and they stretched their eyes
The ladies took to their fans and smiled
For such a strange homecoming
No gentleman had ever seen

And he has sent his nobles all
Unto her mother they have gone
They’ve ta’en her that ‘s done such wrong
They’ve laid her down in prison strong

And he’s brought men out from the corn
And he’s sent men down to the thorn
All for to build the bonfire high
All for to set her mother by

All bonnie sang the morning thrush
All there he sat in yonder bush
But louder did her mother cry
In the bonfire where she was burned close by

For there she stood all among the thorn
And there she sang her deadly song
“Alas the day that she became
The famous flower of serving men”

For the fire took first all on her cheek
And then it took all on her chin
It spat and rang in her yellow hair
And soon there was no life left in

And then for fear of any strife
He took Sweet William for his wife
The like before was never seen
A servant man became a queen

Child #106
compiled from several sources, mainly Carthy’s as printed in
Singout, supplemented with Child and Bronson
versions recorded by Martin Carty and Lisa Null


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.