Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre
Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre ("Marlborough Has Left for the War" also known as Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough, "The Death and Burial of the Invincible Marlbrough") is one of the most popular folk songs in French. The burlesque lament on the death of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) was written on a false rumour of that event after the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709. It tells how Marlborough's wife, awaiting his return from battle, is given the news of her husband's death.
For years it was only known traditionally, and does not appear among the many anecdotic songs printed in France during the middle of the 18th century. Suddenly around 1780 it burst out and became the rage. For instance, the tune concludes a Sonata (in D-major) for Viola d'amore and Viola composed by Carl Stamitz in 1780 while in Paris. And it happened that when Louis XVII of France was born in 1785 (son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and heir to the French throne) he was nursed by a peasant nicknamed Madame Poitrine. The nurse, whilst rocking the royal cradle, sang Marlborough s'en va-t-en guerre and the dauphin, it is said, opened his eyes at the name of the great general. The name, the simplicity of the words, and the melodiousness of the tune, interested the queen, and she frequently sang it. Everybody repeated it after her, including the king. The song was sung in the state apartments of Versailles, in the kitchens and in the stables – it became immensely popular.
From the court it was adopted by the tradespeople of Paris, and it passed from town to town, and country to country. It became as popular in England as in France. It is said that a French gentleman wishing, when in London, to be driven to Marlborough Street, had totally forgotten its name; but on humming the tune, the coachman drove him to the proper address with no other direction. Johann von Goethe, who traveled in France during the same period, was so annoyed with the universal concert of Marlborough that he hated the duke who was the innocent cause of the musical epidemic. It also became popular in Spain due to the Bourbon dynasty's influence on Spanish nobility. The name of Marlborough was modified to an easier to pronounce Mambrú. It was sung by children while playing Hopscotch (Rayuela). It then spread to Latin America.
The popularity of the song was such that it gave its name to fashions, to silks, to head-dresses, carriages and soups. The subject of the song was printed on fire screens, on fans and on porcelain; it was embroidered on tapestries and engraved on toys and keepsakes. The rage endured for many years, slowly fading after the French Revolution, although, it is said that Napoleon liked to hum the tune, for instance when crossing the Memel (June 1812) at the beginning of his fatal Russian campaign.
The song is referenced in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment, where Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova tries to make her children sing the popular Russian version in public shortly before her death.
The song is referenced in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, where Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky sings the first verse of the song to his son Prince Andrei after hearing Russia's military strategy (Part First, Chapter XIX).
An operetta produced in Paris in December 1867 borrowed the title of the song. One act each was written by Georges Bizet, Léo Delibes, Émile Jonas and Legouix (see Classical music written in collaboration).
The song has been translated into several languages. The English version shown below was written by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 19th Century.
The Swedish version, Mellbom, is in certain academic circumstances (mainly at Östgöta Nation) traditionally combined with a humoristic pantomime describing the plot. Traditionally the fourth officer in the funeral parade, the one who was “left nothing to carry”, performs in the nude. The Mellbom pantomime was invented by Måns Hultin, a member of Östgöta Nation, 1856. Due to the large number of female students at the present day Nation, Mellbom shows have grown rare during the last 20 years.
|Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre,
mironton, mironton, mirontaine,
|Mambrú se fue a la guerra,
¡qué dolor, qué dolor, qué pena!,
|Marlbrough zieht aus zum Kriege,
Die Fahne läßt er wehn;
|Marlbrook the Prince of Commanders
Is gone to war in Flanders,
As Longfellow's English translation above is far from literal, a more literal and universified translation of the French is provided below. The recurring refrain "mironton, mironton, mirontaine" ("rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat-tat") is omitted.
- Marlborough has left for the war / Nobody knows when he will come back.
- He will come back at Easter / Or on Trinity Sunday.
- Trinity Sunday goes by. / Marlborough does not return.
- My lady climbs up her tower / As high as she can climb.
- She sees her page coming / All clothed in black.
- "Good page, my good page / What news do you bring?"
- "At the news that I bring / Your pretty eyes will start crying!
- "Take off your pink clothing / and your embroidered satins!
- "My lord Marlborough is dead; / he is dead and buried.
- "I have seen him borne to the grave / by four officers.
- "One of them carried his breastplate / another his shield.
- "Another carried his great sabre / and the last carried nothing.
- "On his tomb was planted / a beautiful flowering rosebush.
- "When the ceremony was over / Everyone went to bed."
Mieczyslaw Kolinski,"Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre: Seven Canadian Versions of a French Folksong"Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 10,(1978), pp. 1–32
- W. H. Wills Poets' Wit and Humour Ward, Lock and Tyler