“The Soldier Maid”


The singer, a maiden, runs away from her parents and enlists as a soldier/sailor. She proves highly successful. Sent home to recruit, a woman falls in love with the "soldier boy." The other woman betrays her secret; the woman is cashiered

Supplemental text

Soldier Maid, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From John Ord, Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads (1995 John Donald edition),
p. 311. No source information given.

When I was a fair maid, at the age of sweet sixteen,
From my parents I did run away a soldier to become;
I 'listed in the army and a soldier I became,
And they learned me to play upon the rub-a-dub-a-dum.

  With my nice cap and feathers, if you only me have seen,
  You would have said and sworn that a young man I had been;
  With my gentle waist so slender, and my fingers long and small,
  I could play upon the rub-a-dub the best among them all.

Oh, many was the prank that I played upon the field,
And many was the young man his love to me revealed;
And so boldly I fought though only a wench,
Many a prank I have seen played upon the French.

My officers they favoured me: for fear I would be slain
They sent me back to England for to recruit again;
They sent me up to London to keep guard in the tower,
'Twas that I remained for many a day and hour.

Many a night in the guard-room I have lain,
I never was afraid to lie down with the men;
At the putting-off my clothes, I oft times gave a smile,
To think that I lay with soldier-men, and a maid all the while.

I had not been in London a year but only three,
When a beautiful young lady she fell in love with me;
'Twas then that I told her that I was a maid;
She went unto my officer and my secret she betrayed.

My officers they sent for me to ask if it were true;
I told them that it was -- what other could I do?
I told them that it was -- with a smile to me they said,
"'Tis a pity we should lose such a drummer as you've made.

"But for your gallant conduct at the siege of Valenciennes,
A bounty you shall get, my girl, and a pension from the King."
But should the war arise again and the King in want of men,
I'll put on my regimentals and I'll fight for him again.

Long description

Singer enlists as a (drummer/sailor) (and fights "with the Noble Duke of York at the seige of Valenciennes"). Her "fingers neat and small" makes her the best drummer. She sleeps with the men but remains "a maiden all the while," Sent as a guard to the Tower of London a girl falls in love with her, she reveals her secret which the girl betrays to the regiment. She is given a bounty by the queen for her courage, marries and teaches her husband to drum, and would enlist again "if the (Queen/Duke) be short of men"


The [long] description is from broadside Bodleian, 2806 c.17(132). In Mary Ann Haynes's version on Voice11 her secret is revealed when she is wounded on the battlefield and she would enlist again "If our old queen was to go short and never want of men." The queen is a character in all versions (the broadsides are almost identical to each other) but not as an indication there is no king. Possibly this is a side reference to one of King George III's bouts of "madness" (porphyria).

Yates, Musical Traditions site _Voice of the People suite_ "Notes - Volume 11" - 11.9.02 cites broadsides from c.1655 to 1689, predating the Siege of Valenciennes. Between 1689 and 1793 the Musical Traditions notes that "Roy Palmer ... [reports] there was indeed a female drummer at Valenciennes by the name of Mary Ann Talbot (1778 - 1808). In 1809 Talbot was the subject of a book The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Ann Talbot." - BS

Ben Schwartz originally described his texts of "The Female Drummer" as separate from "The Soldier Maid." As the above makes clear, the song evolved heavily over time -- e.g. the localiation to Valenciennes. I consider "The Female Drummer" a special case of "The Soldier Maid," though, and have lumped accordingly.

This has proved very popular with folk revival singers. It doesn't seem to have been quite as popular in tradition, though by no means rare (the notes in Henry/Huntington/Herrmann list only fifteen traditional texts, mostly from Grieg, but many Pop Folk recordings).

Valenciennes was one of the great border forts Louis XIV used to protect from invasions from the Netherlands. The chronology here is confusing, however: It was in July 1656 that the Prince de Conde (at that time serving the Spanish) forced the Vicomte de Turenne (then a French officer) to give up the siege of Valenciennes. But Oliver Cromwell did not committ English troops to the fight (on the side of the French) until 1657. I wonder if the Siege of Valenciennes referred to in the song might not be some other engagement, perhaps during the War of the Spanish Succession.

Incidentally, there are historical records of women running off to join the army and navy. Arthur Herman, _To Rule the Waves_, p. 224, tells of a woman (unnamed) who fought at La Hogue (1692) aboard the _St. Andrew_ and was later invited to meet the queen. Gorton Carruth, _The Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates_, p. 149, says that one Lucy Brewer served on the U. S. S. _Constitution_ during the War of 1812 under the name "Nicolas Baker." (The book gives no other useful details). According to David Davies, _A Brief History of Fighting Ships_, Carroll & Graf, 2002, p. 166, reports that a woman served on the French ship _Achille_ at Trafalgar; she had enlisted to be near her husband, and was freed by the British after the ship was captured.

There are fairly extensive records of female soldiers in the American Civil War. At least two books on the subject have been written: Lauren Cook and Deanne Blanton's _They Fought LIke Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War_, which I have not seen, and Bonnie Tsuie, _She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War_(Twodot, 2003). A few even became officers: Cuban immigrant Loreta Janeta Velazquez reportedly served as "Lt. Henry Buford" from 1861 until discovered in 1863, though many of the stories about her are self-reported and dubious. Tsui, p. 29, even reprints a woodcut of her in uniform, with a mustache and beard. (I must admit to finding this account pretty unreliable.) The Confederates even deliberately commissioned one female officer, Sally Louisa Tompkins -- though she was commissioned to allow her to run a hospital.

Tsui profiles several of these disguised soldiers, but by no means all -- a woman named Mollie Bean fought in the 47th North Carolina regiment, and was used as a major character in Harry Turtledove's historical science fiction story _The Guns of the South_.

Tsui, p. 1, states that "Scholars today estimate that about 250 women joined the Southern troops and that up to 1,000 women may have enlisted in both the Confederate and Union armies." I do not know the basis for this estimate -- it sounds as if it might just be a case of "There's one in every regiment!" Though in fact that would give a somewhat higher figure for the Federals. Based on the statistical totals in Frederick Phisterer's _Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States_1883; (I use the 2002 Castle Books reprint), the Union armies eventually mustered the equivalent of about 1830 regiments of volunteers, plus 130 regiments of Black troops, 30 regiments of regulars, and about 50 regiments of soldiers from Confederate states. That's roughly two million men in arms. So it was really a case of "There's one in every brigade."

It's interesting to note how "folkloric" some of these women's stories sound. For example, Tsui, pp. 8-9, says that Sarah Emma Edwards ran away from home at fifteen to avoid being married, and at twenty she enlisted in a Michgan regiment as Franklin Thompson (Tsui, p. 10), though she served primarily as a medical attendant rather than a front line soldier. She also fell in love with at least one of her officers (pp. 17-18). Later on, she would desert (p. 20). Must have been quite the character.... - RBW

Historical references

  • May 24-July 28, 1793 - Siege of Valenciennes by the Allies including the British under the Duke of York (source: Campaigns in the Online Encyclopedia site "Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 182 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica")

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 2806 c.17(132), "The Female Drummer" ("A maiden I was at the age of sixteen"), W. Armstrong (Liverpool), 1820-1824; also Harding B 11(2338), Harding B 11(1187), Harding B 11(1188), Firth c.14(165), Firth c.14(166), Firth c.14(168), Harding B 11(970), Harding B 17(93b), Harding B 11(969), Harding B 11(2505), Harding B 16(93c), 2806 c.16(67), Harding B 20(240)[some words illegible], "The Female Drummer"


  • Harry Cox, "The Female Drummer" (on HCox01)
  • Mary Ann Haynes, "The Female Drummer" (on Voice11)


  1. SHenry H497, p. 326, "The Drummer Maid" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Ord, p. 311, "The Soldier Maid" (1 text)
  3. Peacock, pp. 346-347, "The Soldier Maid" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. ST DTsoldma (Full)
  6. Roud #226
  7. BI, DTsoldma


Alternate titles: “The Handsome Young Sailor”; “When I Was a Fair Maid”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1930 (Ord)
Found in: Britain(Scotland,England(Lond,South)) Ireland Canada(Newf)