The Famous Flower of Serving-Men

The Famous Flower of Serving-Men or The Lady turned Serving-Man is Child ballad number 106.Francis James Child, "English and Scottish Popular Ballads", [ "The Famous Flower of Serving Men"] ] Child considered it as closely related to the ballad The Lament Of The Border Widow or The Border Widow's Lament. [Francis James Child, "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads", v 2, p 429, Dover Publications, New York 1965]


A woman's husband and child are killed by agents of her mother (or, sometimes, stepmother). The woman buries them, cuts her hair, changes her name from "Fair Elise" or "Fair Elinor" to "Sweet William", and goes to the king's court to become his servant. She serves him well enough to become his chamberlain.

The variants split, sharply, at this point. The common variant is that the king goes hunting and is led into the forest by a white hind. When it vanishes, he is in a clearing, and a bird, the dead husband, laments what happened to his love. The king asks, and the bird tells the story. The king returns and kisses Fair Elise while she is still dressed as a man. Often her mother/stepmother is executed, and usually the king marries her.

Occasionally, the king goes hunting, and the woman laments her fate, but is overheard; when the king is told it, he marries her.

In "The Border Widow's Lament", the woman laments, in very similar verses, the murder of her husband by the king; she buries him and declares she will never love another.


Martin Carthy took the fragments and reworked the ballad, drawing on lines from other ballads. He set it to a tune used by Hedy West for the Maid of Colchester.In 2005, he won the award for Best Traditional Track for 'Famous Flower of Serving Men' in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Ellen Kushner's novel "Thomas the Rhymer" includes elements not only of that ballad but also "The Famous Flower of Serving-Men".


External links

* [;ttFLRSERV2;ttFLWSERV2.html "The Famous Flower of Serving Men"]
* [ "The Famous Flower of Serving Men"]
* [ "The Lady turned Serving-Man"]
* [ Steeleye Span version]

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