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Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)

15 May 11 - 11:39 AM (#3154480)
Subject: Origins: The Bold Princess Royal
From: Brian Peters

I was reading one of Steve Gardham's excellent 'Dungbeetle' articles on the Musical Traditions site (no. 25, about the broadside ballad 'The Bold Pirate') when I noticed a reference to 'The Bold Princess Royal' as a "real event pirate ballad". I'd be interested to know more about the story behind these real events, from Steve or anyone else.

I'm surprised to find no previous thread about this popular English song, nor even a set of words in the DT. I don't have time to do the latter just now, but somone should.

15 May 11 - 11:41 AM (#3154482)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal
From: Brian Peters

Oh bugger, I tried to edit the misspelling in the title but it seems not to have worked. Should be 'Princess Royal', obviously. Mudelf please correct?

--------------Done. MudElf--------------

15 May 11 - 11:57 AM (#3154492)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Reinhard

The Bold Princess Royal in the DT

15 May 11 - 12:19 PM (#3154502)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Reinhard

Frank Purslow wrote in Marrow Bones:

"At daybreak on 21 June 1789, HM packet Princess Royal, nine days out from Falmouth on her way to New York (other accounts say Halifax) carrying mail, was accosted and pursued by a brig which was later identified as the French privateer Aventurier. At 7 pm the Aventurier hoisted English colours and fired a shot, which the Princess Royal returned. After a further shot, the brig continued the pursuit. It was not until 3.30 am on 22 June that the Aventurier resumed its attack, this time with a broadside and musket fire. The Princess Royal was outmanned, with a crew of thirty-two men and boys with seventeen passengers as opposed to the Aventurier's 85 men and boys; and out-gunned too, with six cannons against the brig's sixteen. Nevertheless, the English ship gave a good account of herself, holding the privateer off for two hours; at the end of which time the Aventurier moved away, sustaining further damage to her stern. The French ship was obliged to return to Bordeaux for refitting, while the Princess Royal resumed her course, eventually arriving home on 31 October.

If, as seems likely, this is the event that gave rise to our song, then it is a mystery why the broadside writer has toned down the story instead of embellishing it. Perhaps the full details were not immediately available; it is otherwise hard to see why a dramatic engagement should have become merely an account of a successful escape."

15 May 11 - 12:30 PM (#3154512)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Brian Peters

Thank you, Reinhard. The song doesn't appear in the alphabetical DT list, but of course I should have done a proper search. I still can't find any previous discussion, though.

15 May 11 - 12:50 PM (#3154520)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: MartinRyan

Discussion of the SONG tends to get conflated with discussion of the MORRIS TUNE. This thread has a passing reference by the late Malcolm Douglas.


15 May 11 - 08:05 PM (#3154734)
Subject: Lyr Add: The Bold Princess Royal
From: Ross Campbell

The Bold Princess Royal                 Trad

On the fourteenth day of February we sailed from the land
On the bold Princess Royal bound for Newfoundland
We had forty brave seamen in the ship's companie
And boldly from the eastward tae the westward sailed we

Now we had not been sailing scarce days two or three
When the man on our masthead strange sails he did see
He come bearing down on us for to see what we were
And under his mizzen, boys, black colours he wore

Oh Lord, cries our captain, What shall us do now
Here a-comes a bold pirate for to rob us, I know
O no, cries the first mate, That never shall be so
We'll pull out our reef boys and away from him we'll go

Now this bold pirate he hove alongside
With a loudspeaking trumpet, Whence gang you, he cried
Our captain being up, my boys, he answered him so
We come from fair London and we're bound for Peru

Come heave up your courses and bring your ship to
I have a long letter to send home by you
I shall not heave up my courses nor bring my ship to
It will be in some harbour, not alongside of you

Now he chased us to the windward all of that live long day
And he chased us to the westward but couldn't get no way
He fired shots after us but none did prevail
And the bold Princess Royal soon showed him her tail

Good Lord, cries our captain, Now the pirate is gone
Go you down to your grog, boys, go down every one
Go you down to your grog, boys, and be of good cheer
While the bold Princess has sea-room, brave boys, never fear

Slightly different version from the one in the DT, and something like the version I sing. Didn't keep details of where I found this, but it's annotated "As sung by Louis Killen".


15 May 11 - 08:25 PM (#3154745)
Subject: Lyr Add: The Bold Princess Royal (John Copper)
From: Ross Campbell

The Bold Princess Royal                 (John Copper, 1817-98)

On the fourteenth of February we sailed from the land
In the bold Princess Royal bound for Newfoundland.
We had forty bright seamen, our ship's company,
So boldly from the east'ard to the west'ard bore we

We had not been sailing scarce days two or three
When a man from our topmast a sail he did see;
Come bearing down on us to see where we bore
And under her mizen black colours she wore

'Great God,' cried our captain, 'what shall we do now?
Here comes a bold pirate to rob us I know.'
'Oh no,' cried our chief mate, 'that shall not be so.
We will shake out our reef, my boys and away from him we'll go.'

It was the next morning at the dawning of day,
This lofty, large pirate shot under our lee
'Whence came you?' cried the pirate. We answered him so:
'We are out of fair London, bound for Callao.'

Then back your main topsails and heave your ship to,
I have a letter to send down to you.'
If I back my main topsails and heave my ship to,
It will be for some pilot, not alongside of you.'

He chased us to the east'ard all that livelong day,
He chased us to the west'ard but he couldn't make no way.
He fired shots after us but none did prevail,
And the bold Princess Royal soon showed him her tail

'Oh now,' cried our captain, 'that pirate is gone,
Go down for your grog, my boys, go down every one.
Go down for your grog, my boys, and be of good cheer,
For while we've got sea room, bold lads, never fear.'

From Roy Palmer's "Boxing the Compass" (formerly "The Oxford Book of Sea Songs"). According to his notes "This set comes from the shepherd John Copper (1817-98) of Rottingdean, Sussex, via his family tradition."

Possibly the source for Louis Killen's version above?


16 May 11 - 03:55 AM (#3154888)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: GUEST,Jon Dudley

I believe this subject has been aired before but since when did that make any's fascinating. As Brian Peters noted correctly (threads passim.) Bob Copper recorded a very fine and dramatic version from Ned (Wintry) Adams which has a quite different tune from the family's. In fact Bob was very taken with it and always put it down to the fact that it was sung by a proper sailor rather than a ploughman! Strange that the departure date in both of these versions is given as Valentine's day. Oh, you can also sing it to the hymn tune 'Immortal invisible God only wise'....'which is rather nice.

16 May 11 - 04:28 AM (#3154898)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Kevin Sheils

Probably everyone I know who sings it (myself included) dates it 14th February but playing Sam Larner's version last week I noticed he sings 15th.

16 May 11 - 05:09 AM (#3154917)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: MGM·Lion

Jon ~~ I tried it, just for myself, to Immortal Invisible, & it does indeed sound v nice. However, as I never tire of saying, any song in Common/Ballad metre [which so many of them are] can in effect be sung to the tune of any other, and the tune attributed to each is largely a matter of convention.

And once start down THAT road!...

Best regards


Just e.g. tried singing The Little Musgrave And Lady Barnard to tune of O Worship The King All Glorious Above. Wowie! Try it...

16 May 11 - 05:50 AM (#3154940)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: GUEST,Jon Dudley

Michael, you are of course right. I would have loved to have heard you belting out BPR to a hymn tune!

16 May 11 - 06:02 AM (#3154946)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Brian Peters

Hi Jon,
The Wintry Adams version is indeed a cracker which is why, after singing the version out of 'Marrow Bones' for several years, I decided to do that one instead.

16 May 11 - 11:02 AM (#3155126)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: GUEST,Jon Dudley

Brian, I think that Bob considered that getting that song from Ned Adams was one of his greatest achievements whilst collecting. Ned's curious but effective 'lift' at the end of some of the lines really makes this song very different. He wrote it up so well in Songs and Southern Breezes and recounted the tale many times - relishing it more with each telling. The fact that he had to return several times to the pub and bought copious amounts of beer for the assembled company by way of encouragement only added to the suspense. There was never any question that Ned would have repeated it either - just one go and that was it! What the BBC expenses sheet must have looked like goodness knows. What times though.

I do hope that people return to some of these field recordings made by the collectors to get the true grit that you need to digest to get the full goodness from the songs. The sincerity of their delivery makes you want to weep.

16 May 11 - 03:31 PM (#3155290)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Steve Gardham

The Aventurier encounter is 1798 not 1789 and this PR was a packet so not RN, but there have been numerous PRs throughout British history. It is one of those names in the RN that is perpetuated and ships of this name were invoved in just about every major engagement in British history. Of all the engagements of a ship of that name the Aventurier incident is by far the closest to our ballad and of course with just 40 bright seamen and little armament is not RN.

The date 14th February has no significance here. If you look at my article on 'The Bold Pirate' mentioned in Brian's post you'll see that each version of it has a different date. The main reason why 14th February is consistent in BPR is because it was copied endlessly on broadsides whereas 'Bold Pirate' only has one extant broadside.

17 May 11 - 07:01 PM (#3155993)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Artful Codger

Could you post the Wintry Adams tune?

18 May 11 - 09:37 AM (#3156294)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Les from Hull

On the 21st of June, at daybreak, his Britannic majesty's packet Princess-Royal, Captain John Skinner, of six guns (two 6s and four 4s) and 32 men and boys, exclusive of 17 passengers, nine days from Falmouth, on her way to New-York with a mail, fell in with, the French brig privateer Aventurier, of 16 guns (14 long 4-pounders, and two 12-pounder carronades) and 85 men and boys. At 5 a.m. the privateer made sail after the packet ; who, on her part, crowded all sail to get away, but without much effect, the prevailing light air and smooth sea giving an advantage to the former in the use of her numerous sweeps. At 7 p.m. the Aventurier, hoisting English colours, fired a shot, which the Princess-Royal returned. The privateer fired another shot, and then dropped in the wake of the packet, as if intending to defer the attack until daylight.

On the 22d, at 3 h. 30 m. a.m., the Aventurier came suddenly up within pistol-shot, and fired a broadside, accompanied by musketry. This the Princess-Royal, having brought five of her six guns, including the two 6-pounders, to bear on one side, returned with spirit. One of the 6-pounders was commanded by a lieutenant, who was going out to join the 64-gun ship St. Albans ; and the male passengers kept 14 muskets in constant use. Captain Skinner was unable to use one, having lost his right arm on board a frigate in the former war. After a two hours' engagement, the French privateer took to her sweeps and rowed off. One of the packet's 6-pounders was now brought to bear as a stern-chaser, and struck the privateer twice in the counter, to the evident confusion of the people on board. At 6 a.m. the privateer being entirely out of gun-shot, the packet ceased firing, and commenced repairing her damages, which were rather serious. Her sails and rigging were much cut, also her spare spars and boats: several round shot had struck the hull, and one large one had entered the counter; but yet the Princess-Royal had not a man hurt. On board the privateer, were 30 English and American prisoners. From some of these it was afterwards ascertained, that the Aventurier had all her masts shot through and her sails and rigging much cut, had received 19 shot in her hull below the wales, and sustained a loss of two men killed and four wounded. Her injuries, indeed, were so great, that the privateer was compelled to break up her cruise and return to Bordeaux to refit. Such a result did great credit to the skill, as well as gallantry, of the packet's crew ; nor must we omit to state that, when all the 4-pound cartridges were consumed, Captain Skinner's sister. and her maid employed themselves in the bread-room in making new ones.

(Naval History of Great Britain - Vol II by WE James)

18 May 11 - 05:06 PM (#3156556)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Steve Gardham

Cheers, Les.
If that lot isn't the inspiration for our well-travelled ballad then it certainly deserves to be! (IMO)

18 May 11 - 06:52 PM (#3156653)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Les from Hull

Post Office Packet Service

18 Jun 11 - 06:13 PM (#3172582)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)

Although I have been unable to establish with any degree of certainty I strongly suspect that this PR is the one and same as 'The Bold Princess Royal'.
I have written John Macgregor Skinner's biography and 'Les from Hull's' reference from Sir William Millburn Smith's 'Naval History of Great Britain - Vol II'. appears to be correct. A letter that appeared in THE TIMES in September 1798 gives a more detailed account and certainly endorses Smith's account.
More of interest than relevance is the fact that Skinner's first vessel, HMS Phoenix, is also mentioned in Pete Seeger's song 'The Phoenix and the Rose, at a time when the young Skinner lost his right arm.

Peter Scott Roberts

19 Jun 11 - 05:48 PM (#3173063)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: GUEST,SteveG

Thanks for adding your opinion here, Peter. That's at least 3 of us who are happy to accept the Aventurier incident as the stimulus for the ballad. Sometimes a ballad was written directly from the newspaper report, sometimes a seaman with a talent for a bit of doggerel sought the chance to earn a shilling from the printer and if the story was second hand it mattered little if some of the facts were altered somewhat, but there were also professional hacks who made a living from writing such pieces. Facts were pretty much irrelevant. Far more important was the interest and sales the ballad made on the streets. If it sold well it was immediately 'pirated' (excuse pun) by hundreds of other printers around the country.

11 Jul 22 - 03:47 PM (#4147016)
Subject: RE: Origins: Bold Princess Royal (Song)
From: Joe Offer

Joe - do cleanup