Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
166. The Lady turned Serving-Man

YOU beauteous ladies great and small,
I write unto you, one and all,
Whereby that you may understand
What I have suffer’d in this land.

I was by birth a lady fair,
My father’s chief and only heir;
But when my good old father died,
Then I was made a young knight’s bride.

And then my love built me a bower,
Bedeck’d with many a fragrant flower;        10
A braver bower you ne’er did see
Than my true love did build for me.

But there came thieves late in the night,
They robb’d my bower, and slew my knight,
And after that my knight was slain        15
I could no longer there remain.

My servants all from me did fly
In the midst of my extremity,
And left me by myself alone
With a heart more cold than any stone.        20

Yet, though my heart was full of care,
Heaven would not suffer me to despair;
Wherefore in haste I changed my name
From fair Elise to Sweet William.

And therewithal I cut my hair,
And dress’d myself in man’s attire;
And in my beaver, hose, and band,
I travell’d far through many a land.

With a silver rapier by my side,
So like a gallant I did ride;        30
The thing that I delighted on,
It was to be a serving-man.

Thus in my sumptuous man’s array
I bravely rode along the way;
And at the last it chancèd so        35
That I to the King’s court did go.

Then to the King I bow’d full low,
My love and duty for to show;
And so much favour I did crave,
That I a serving-man’s place might have.        40

‘Stand up, brave youth,’ the King replied,
‘Thy service shall not be denied;
But tell me first what thou canst do;
Thou shalt be fitted thereunto.

‘Wilt thou be usher of my hall,
To wait upon my nobles all?
Or wilt thou be taster of my wine,
To wait on me when I do dine?

‘Or wilt thou be my chamberlain,
To make my bed both soft and fine?        50
Or wilt thou be one of my guard?
And I will give thee thy reward.’

Sweet William, with a smiling face,
Said to the King, ‘If’t please your Grace
To show such favour unto me,        55
Your chamberlain I fain would be.’

The King then did the nobles call,
To ask the counsel of them all;
Who gave consent Sweet William he
The King’s own chamberlain should be.        60

Now mark what strange thing came to pass:
As the King one day a-hunting was,
With all his lords and noble train,
Sweet William did at home remain.

Sweet William had no company then
With him at home, but an old man:
And when he saw the house was clear,
He took a lute which he had there:

Upon the lute Sweet William play’d,
And to the same he sang and said,        70
With a sweet and noble voice
Which made the old man to rejoice:

‘My father was as brave a lord
As ever Europe did afford,
My mother was a lady bright,        75
My husband was a valiant knight:

‘And I myself a lady gay,
Bedeck’d with gorgeous rich array;
The bravest lady in the land
Had not more pleasure at command.        80

‘I had my music every day,
Harmonious lessons for to play;
I had my virgins fair and free
Continually to wait on me.

‘But now, alas! my husband’s dead,
And all my friends are from me fled;
My former joys are pass’d and gone,
For I am now a serving-man.’

At last the King from hunting came,
And presently, upon the same,        90
He callèd for this good old man,
And thus to speak the King began:

‘What news, what news, old man?’ quoth he;
‘What news hast thou to tell to me?’—
‘Brave news,’ the old man he did say,        95
‘Sweet William is a lady gay.’—

‘If this be true thou tell’st to me,
I’ll make thee lord of high degree;
But if thy words do prove a lie,
Thou shalt be hang’d up presently.’        100

But when the King the truth had found,
His joys did more and more abound:
According as the old man did say,
Sweet William was a lady gay.

Therefore the King without delay
Put on her glorious rich array,
And upon her head a crown of gold
Which was most famous to behold.

And then, for fear of further strife,
He took Sweet William for his wife:        110
The like before was never seen,
A serving-man to be a queen.


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