Gown of Green (I), The
DESCRIPTION: Polly agrees "to wear the gown of green" The singer leaves "to fight our relations in North America." Many are killed. Some men foolishly buy their sweethearts toys, rings and posies; "give her the gown of green to wear, and she will follow you"
EARLIEST DATE: 1818 (_The Vocal Library_, according to Kidson) [but note the 18C "answer" and rhe several broadsides from before 1813]
KEYWORDS: courting sex war separation death America lover soldier
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,North),Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Greig/Duncan4 907, "The Gown o' Green" (4 texts plus a single verse on p. 575, 4 tunes)
Kidson-TraditionalTunes, pp. 61-63, "The Gown of Green" (1 text, 1 tune)
OShaughnessy-YellowbellyBalladsPart1 19, "The Gown of Green" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bodleian, Harding B 16(106a), "The Gown of Green" ("As my love and I was walking to view the meadows round"), J. Evans (London), 1780-1812; also Harding B 25(766), Harding B 17(116b), Firth c.14(198), Harding B 11(1098), Harding B 11(2104), Harding B 25(766), "The Gown of Green"
cf. "Erin's Lovely Home" (tune, per Greig/Duncan4)
NOTES [575 words]: The description follows broadside Bodleian Harding B 11(1098).
Greig/Duncan4 quoting Duncan: "Learnt fifty to sixty years ago in Kinardine. Noted 26th November 1908."
Greig/Duncan4 versions share only the first two verses with the broadsides. The description is from the broadsides but Greig/Duncan4 versions omit the narrative dealing with separation and North America and goes right to commentary on the fickleness of young women." One verse of Greig/Duncan4 907B seems not connected to the tradition but is suggested by "the fickleness of young women" theme: "When Adam was created, and none on earth but he, And Eve she was his only bride, and full of modesty, No bed of down, I'm sure they had, but on a flowery plain, No wonder that her daughters love to wear the goons o' green."
There are broadsides answering "The Gown of Green"; see, for example, Bodleian, Harding B 25(767), "The Answer to The Gown of Green" ("As a soldier was walking all on the highway"), J. Grundy (Worcester), 18C; also Harding B 25(766), "Answer to The Gown of Green"; 2806 c.18(132), "Sequel to The Gown of Green" - BS
Roud assigns the same number to "The Gown of Green" (I) and (II). The two are obviously related though there is no overlap in story or evidence that they are fragments of some longer ballad; in fact, the wars are not the same. - BS
(In fact it's just possible that they are the same, though not likely. During the American Revolutionary War, Spain was fighting against Britain; if the hero was a sailor, or simply a soldier being transported in a warship, it's just possible that he could have been in a fight with a Spaniard. Alternately, if we reverse the place where he lost the limb, Our Hero could have fought in Wellington's Peninsular Campaign in Spain, then been shipped to America to fight in the War of 1812. That happened to several regiments. - RBW)
The expression "Gown of Green" predates this song. See, for example, J Woodfall Ebsworth, The Roxburghe Ballads, (Hertford: The Ballad Society, 1897 ("Digitized by Microsoft")), Vol. VIII Part 3 [Part 25], pp. 689-690, "The Shepherd's Ingenuity; or The Praise of the Green-Gown" ("Amongst the pleasant shady Bowers, as I was passing on"), printed c.1682, and which ends "Now, all you little pretty maids, that covets to go brave, Frequent the meadows, groves and shade, where you those girls may have, When Flora's coverlid she spreads, then Bridget, Kate, and Jane, May change their silly maiden-heads for curious Gowns of Green."
Also, [Thomas d'Urfey,] Wit and Mirth, or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (London: J Tonson, 1719 ("Digitized by Google")), Vol V, pp. 17-14, "Jockey's Escape from Dundee and the Parsons Daughter whom he had Mow'd" ("Where gott'st thou the Haver-Mill bonack") (1 text, 1 tune), which includes the following verse: "All Scotland ne'er afforded a lass, So bonny and blith as Jenny my dear; Ise gave her a Gown of Green on the Grass But now Ise no longer must tarry here." According to James Henry Dixon, Scottish Traditional Versions of Ancient Ballads (London: The Percy Society, 1845 ("Digitized by Google")), p. 89, "Got on the gown o' green.] A young female who has acted indiscretely, is, in Scotland, said to have put on 'the gown of green.' The expression is not confined to Scotland, but prevails in the north of England." - BS
For that matter, "Greensleeves" is sometimes taken to refer to green clothing with, shall we say, suggestive overtones. - RBW
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