DESCRIPTION: Duke William goes disguised to "know what usage have poor sailors." A press gang takes him at an inn. On board, he tears his trousers and asks for a tailor. Stripping for flogging his disguise is blown. He promises reforms and leaves gold for the crew.
EARLIEST DATE: before 1820 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 16(77c))
KEYWORDS: navy disguise humorous royalty sailor pressgang clothes gold
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (2 citations):
GreigDuncan1 7, "Duke William" (1 fragment)
Ashton-Sailor, #37, "Duke William's Frolic" (1 text)
Bodleian, Harding B 16(77c), "Duke William's Frolic" ("Duke William and a nobleman, heroes of England's nation"), J. Pitts (London), 1802-1819; also Harding B 28(82), Harding B 25(561), Harding B 16(78b), "Duke William's Frolic"; Harding B 11(3665), "Duke William"; Harding B 11(1024), "Duke William the Jolly Sailor"; Harding B 25(556), "The Duke of Cumberland's Frolick"
NOTES: The description follows broadsides Bodleian Harding B 11(3665) and Harding B 11(1024).
The subject is William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, 1721-1765, according to Bodleian notes to its broadsides.
Ashton, Modern Street Ballads (1888), p. 228: "This is supposed to refer to some frolic of William IV.'s when he was Duke of Clarence, and properly belongs to last century." - BS
I'm with Ashton on this one; the Bodleian suggestion is extremely unlikely. Not that this happened to either Duke William (I grant that Cumberland and Clarence are the only candidates, since we need a Duke William during the press gang era) -- press gangs sought sailors, not royalty in disguise. But William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the Butcher of Culloden, was about as unlikely a victim of a press gang as one can imagine. Immensely fat, he couldn't possibly do any useful work on shipboard. Nor is there anything "naval" in his record. Nor would he have hesitated to scream bloody murder were he taken. And, last but not least, he would not show any sense of comradery with sailors.
The future William IV (1765-1837; reigned 1830-1837), who was Duke of Clarence, is a much better candidate. The third son of George III, no one expected him to become King, so he was made a midshipman at the age of 13. His talents were limited, but at least he knew his way around a ship. And he had rough manners suitable to a sailor, and he didn't go *quite* as bad, physically, as Cumberland. He would go on to become an admiral (though without a command), and even admiral of the fleet in 1811.
There is even an instance of him being sent to sea against his will, although not actually pressed. Philip Ziegler, King William IV, 1971 (I use the 1989 Cassell Biographies edition), pp. 65-66, tells of him taking a mistress (not his first) named Sally Winne in 1788. His father George III, who disapproved strongly of his sons' license, ordered William sent to America. "The result was that the unfortunate Prince was shanghaied as he came in sight of the Lizard after a three-week cruise and brusquely ordered to set sail for the New World. With chagrin, he obeyed, complaining to his father, 'the men are in a peculiar hard situation'.... And so, sulkily, Prince William set forth on what was to be his final posting as an active sailor."
William, however, was not yet Duke of Clarence. When his father went mad, William was called home, and eventually, in 1789, given the dukedom (Ziegler, p. 70).
To give the Duke his due, William, shortly before becoming king, actually spent a brief period in true command of the fleet. It was rather a disaster -- he gave up the post after 15 months -- but he did get the navy to buy its first steam vessel, and he tried to reform the promotion system. Also, he tried to limit flogging -- an interesting point in light of this song. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.2
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.