Nut-Brown Maid, The

DESCRIPTION: The man claims that women, given the chance, are never true. The woman cites the case of the Nut-brown Maid. They play through the story. The woman will follow her man, even to the greenwood, and will fight for him, etc. The ballad ends by praising women
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1537: Richard Arnold's "Chronicle" of c. 1521 (Chambers dates it c. 1503) and in Richard Hill's manuscript (Balliol Coll. Oxf. 354) before 1537; printed in 1707 in the Muses Mercury
KEYWORDS: infidelity love dialog outlaw
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 31-47, "The Not-Browne Maid" (1 text)
Bell-Combined, pp. 14-28, "The Nut-Brown Maid" (1 text)
OBB 69, "The Nut-Brown Maid" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: John Ashton, _A Century of Ballads_, Elliot Stock, London, 1887; reprinted 1968 by Singing Tree Press, pp. vi-xii, "(The Nut browne Mayde)" (1 text)
Katherine Briggs, _A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language_, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2), volume A.2, pp. 450-451, "the Nut-Brown Maid" (1 summarized prose text, telling only the Maid's story without the enclosing dialog)
E. K. Chambers, editor, _The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse_, Oxford, 1932 (corrected edition, 1966), pp. 1-14, "The Nutbrown Maid" (1 text)
DIgital Index of Middle English Verse #761

ST OBB069 (Partial)
NOTES [404 words]: Given its elaborate stanzaic structure, regular alternation of speakers, and elaborately formal language, it seems clear that this should be accounted a literary rather than a folk production. I know of no version in oral tradition, although Briggs, p. 451, notes a variety of partial parallels, such as "The Saucy Sailor," "Fair Annie" [Child 62], and "The Squire of Low Degree" (the latter itself, found in the Percy Folio among other places, being of dubious place in tradition; for a list of editions, see Joanne A. Rice, Middle English Romance: An Annotated Bibliography, 1955-1985, Garland Publishing, 1987, pp. 523-525).
A parody of this song, "The New Nutbrowne Maid," occurs as early as 1520. Obviously this makes the original even older. The earliest date depends on the age of Arnold's Chronicle, which is undated. The latest date I have seen is the 1521 date cited above. Garnett and Gosse's English Literature: An Illustrated Record, which prints a facsimile, dates the Chronicle to 1502/3, and Briggs, p. 451, also says 1502. However, Roman Dyboski, Songs Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book, 1908 (I use a [crummy] Forgotten Books print-on-demand copy made in 2016), p. xxx, thinks that the Hill copy is the oldest copy although the very same page suggests that it was copied from Arnold!
There is a possibility that Queen Elizabeth herself heard this piece; according to J. C. Holt, Robin Hood, revised edition, Thames & Hudson, 1989, p. 140, one Robert Langham was present when Elizabeth heard an entertainment in July 1575 at the Earl of Leicester's palace of Kenilworth which featured the "The Nut Brown Maid."
Garnett is also quite effusive about the merits of the piece, but adds that "One famous ballad stands out prominently from the rest as being, so far as is known, the invention of the anonymous writer. It is The Nut Brown Maid...." The only anonymous ballad? Uh-huh.
Percy's version, from what I can tell, appears to come from the Chronicle text, only with several of Percy's pet archaizing tricks (he did at least improve the punctuation to something resembling sense).
A facsimile of the Richard Hill manuscript is now available at the Balliol Library manuscripts resource at the Bodleian web site; go to and scroll down to MS. 354. This song is on folios 210-213. - RBW
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File: OBB069

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