The Famous Flower of Serving Men
No: 106; variant: 106
- YOU beautious ladies, great and small,
I write unto you one and all,
Whereby that you may understand
What I have suffered in this land.
- I was by birth a lady fair,
My father’s chief and onely heir,
But when my good old father dy’d,
Then was I made a young knight’s bride.
- And then my love built me a bower,
Bedeckt with many a fragrant flower;
A braver bower you never did see
Then my true-love did build for me.
- But there came thieves late in the night,
They rob’d my bower, and slew my knight,
And after that my knight was slain,
I could no longer there remain.
- My servants all from me did flye,
In the midst of my extremity,
And left me by my self alone,
With a heart more cold then any stone.
- Yet, though my heart was full of care,
Heaven would not suffer me to despair;
Wherefore in hast I chang’d my name
From Fair Elise to Sweet William.
- And therewithal I cut my hair,
And drest my self in man’s attire,
My doublet, hose, and bever-hat,
And a golden band about my neck.
- With a silver rapier by my side,
So like a gallant I did ride;
The thing that I delighted on,
Was for to be a serving-man.
- Thus in my sumptuous man’s array,
I bravely rode along the way;
And at the last it chanced so
That I unto the king’s court did go.
- Then to the king I bowed full low,
My love and duty for to show,
And so much favour I did crave
That I a serving-man’s place might have.
- ‘Stand up, brave youth, the king replyd,
‘Thy service shall not be denyd;
But tell me first what thou canst do;
Thou shalt be fitted thereunto.
- ‘Wilt thou be usher of my hall,
To wait upon my nobles all?
Or wilt thou be taster of my wine,
To wait on me when I shall dine?
- ‘Or wilt thou be my chamberlain,
To make my bed both soft and fine?
Or wilt thou be one of my guard?
And I will give thee thy reward.’
- Sweet William, with a smiling face,
Said to the king, If’t please your grace
To show such favour unto me,
Your chamberlain I fain would be.
- The king then did the nobles call,
To ask the counsel of them all,
Who gave consent Sweet William he
The king’s own chamberlain should be.
- Now mark what strange things come to pass:
As the king one day a hunting was,
With all his lords and noble train,
Sweet William did at home remain.
- Sweet William had no company then
With him at home but an old man;
And when he saw the coast was clear,
He took a lute which he had there.
- Upon the lute Sweet William plaid,
And to the same he sung and said,
With a pleasant and most noble voice,
Which made the old man to rejoyce:
- ‘My father was as brave a lord
As ever Europe did afford;
My mother was a lady bright,
My husband was a valiant knight.
- ‘And I my self a lady gay,
Bedeckt with gorgious rich array;
The bravest lady in the land
Had not more pleasures to command.
- ‘I had my musick every day,
Harmonious lessons for to play;
I had my virgins fair and free,
Continually to wait on me.
- ‘But now, alas! my husband’s dead,
And all my friends are from me fled;
My former joys are past and gone,
For now I am a serving-man.’
- At last the king from hunting came,
And presently upon the same
He called for the good old man,
And thus to speak the king began.
- ‘What news, what news, old man?’ quod he;
‘What news hast thou to tell to me?’
‘Brave news,’ the old man he did say;
‘Sweet William is a lady gay.’
- ‘If this be true thou tellest me
I’le make thee a lord of high degree;
But if thy words do prove a lye,
Thou shalt be hanged up presently.’
- But when the king the truth had found,
His joys did more and more abound;
According as the old man did say,
Sweet William was a lady gay.
- Therefore the king without delay
Put on her glorious rich array,
And upon her head a crown of gold,
Which was most famous to behold.
- And then, for fear of further strife,
He took Sweet William for his wife;
The like before was never seen,
A serving-man to be a queen.