The Bonny Bunch of Roses
The earliest known version of the tune is in William Christie's "Tradition Ballad Airs" (1881), but there is another tune, of Irish origin. There is an obvious difficulty in identifying the narrator's voice. It is a conversation between Napoleon's son (Napoleon II, 1811-1832, named King of Rome by his father upon birth) and his mother (Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, Napoleon's second wife, whom he married after divorcing Josephine). The sentiment is pro-Napoleon, which would indicate an Irish origin.
The Irish, who were themselves under the British thumb through the 18th and 19th centuries, were actually big fans of Napoleon Bonaparte. His bravery captivated the national imagination, as did his defiance even in defeat. The Irish also adored the tragic story of the romance between the doomed emperor and his second wife, Marie Louise. So it's no surprise they chose her words to frame the story of Bonaparte's fall.
In the lyrics below, from 1881, the "Bonnie Bunch o' Roses" is, according to some it's a figure of speech for the British Empire, and others[who?] say it is Britain. And St. Helena is, of course, the island to which Bonaparte was exiled (the second time, that is - his first exile was on Elba).
- Near by the swelling ocean,
- One morning in the month of June,
- While feather'd warbling songsters
- Their charming notes did sweetly tune,
- I overheard a lady
- Lamenting in sad grief and woe,
- And talking with young Bonaparte
- Concerning the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.
- Thus spake the young Napoleon,
- And grasp'd his mother by the hand:-
- "Oh, mother dear have patience,
- Till I am able to command;
- I'll raise a numerous army,
- And through tremendous dangers go,
- And in spite of all the universe,
- I'll gain the bonny Bunch of Roses, O."
- Oh, son, speak not so venturesome;
- For England is the heart of oak;
- Of England, Scotland, and Ireland,
- The unity can ne'er be broke.
- And think you on your father,
- In the Island where he now lies low,
- He is not yet interred in France;
- So beware of the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.
- Your father raised great armies,
- And likewise kings did join the throng;
- He was so well provided.
- Enough to sweep the world along.
- But when he went to Moscow,
- He was o'erpower'd by drifting snow;
- And though Moscow was blazing
- He lost the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.
- "Oh, mother, adieu for ever,
- I am now on my dying bed,
- If I had liv'd I'd have been brave
- But now I droop my youthful head.
- And when our bones do moulder,
- And weeping-willows o'er us grow,
- Its deeds to bold Napoleon
- Will stain the bonny Bunch of Roses, O."
There are many recorded versions, including the Chieftains (with Dolores Keane as the singer), De Dannan, Fairport Convention, Glen Campbell, Harry Cox, Cyril Poacher, Séamus Ennis, Nic Jones, Maddy Prior and June Tabor in collaboration with the Oysterband. Bob Dylan featured Paul Clayton's version on his Theme Time Radio Hour.
- http://www.folkinfo.org/songs/displaysong.php?songid=39 Folkinfo page, with musical notation]
- "Bonny Bunch of Roses", 19th-century broadside (alternate lyrics)