“The Famous Flower of Serving-Men”


Fair (Elise) has lost father, then husband. She disguises herself as a man and seeks service at the king's court, becoming chamberlain. When only an old man is about, she reveals herself in song. The old man tells the king she is female; he marries her.


"The Border Widow's Lament" is given in Child's introduction to "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men," and has been described as "a self-sufficient fragment" of the longer ballad. - KK, RBW

Bronson has extensive notes about the complicated history of this ballad, where both text and tune seem to have suffered from editorial activiety. - RBW

The title of Jasper Smith's version on Voice11 is from a verse lifted from "The Croppy Boy." The notes for the ballad make it a version of "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" [Child 106]. At best it is an abridgement and corruption of the first verse of the Percy fragment in Child's headnote to "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" added to the lily-bower verse of Child/Border Widow [shamrock-bower here to go with "Old Ireland free"]; here is Percy: "My mother showed me a deadly spight; She sent three thieves at darksome night; They put my servants all to flight, They robbed my bower, and they slew my knight." Here is a description of Jasper Smith's "The Small Birds Whistle": A girl runs away with a man who leaves her with a baby; her father builds her a bower but "Then my father he owed me a dreadful spite. He sent nine robbers all in one night To take my baby and to do me harm" and that ends the story.

Also collected and sung by Ellen Mitchell, "Border Widow's Lament" (on Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, "Have a Drop Mair," Musical Tradition Records MTCD315-6 CD (2001)) - BS


  • Mary Delaney, "My Brother Built Me a Bancy Bower" (on IRTravellers01)
  • Caroline Hughes, "The Famous Flower of Servantmen" (on FSBBAL1) {Bronson's #3.3 in addenda}
  • Jasper Smith, "The Small Birds Whistle" (on Voice11)


  1. Child 106, "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  2. Bronson 106, "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" (7 versions+5 in addenda)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 227-232, "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" (1 traditional text plus assorted variants and a songster version)
  4. Percy/Wheatley III, pp. 86-90, "The Lady Turned Serving-Man" (1 text)
  5. Flanders/Olney, pp. 127-129, "Sweet William" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
  6. Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 77-88, "The Famous Flower of Servingmen" (4 texts plus a fragment, the "A" text being from "The Charms of Melody" rather than tradition; 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
  7. MacSeegTrav 13, "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Creighton/Senior, pp. 62-63, "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3}
  9. OBB 153, "The Lament of the Border Widow"; 166, "The Lady Turned Serving-Man" (2 texts)
  10. PBB 29, "The Lament of the Border Widow" (1 text)
  11. BBI, ZN2994, "You beauteous Ladies great and small"
  13. ADDITIONAL: John S. Roberts, The Legendary Ballads of England and Scotland (n.d.), pp. 248-249, "The Border Widow's Lament"
  14. Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #425, "The Bonnie Bower (The Lament of the Border Widow)" (1 text)
  15. Roud #199
  16. BI, C106


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1769 (Percy); title found in the Stationer's Register in 1656
Found in: Britain(England(Lond,West),Scotland(Aber,Bord)) US(MW,NE) Canada(Mar) Ireland