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The white cockade

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This broadside ballad probably dates from about 1750, though the original version is lost. Late eighteenth century versions vary considerably, more in fact than the few oral versions collected in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries. It could easily have originated in Scotland, England or Ireland, but apart from the odd Scottish fragment it only survives in oral tradition in England. Of the two earliest broadside versions that have survived, Angus of Newcastle’s ‘The Blue Cockade‘ (Robert White Collection, Newcastle University Library, Ref 17.34) mentions ‘the Stravan’ which could be a contraction of Strathavon in Scotland; and Evans of London’s 1794 printing of ‘The Light Blues‘ (Bodleian Ballads website,  Curzon b15 (83)) is firmly set in Limerick, Ireland. (from The Yorkshire Garland Group )

As “The White Cockade” we know some different melodies and lyrics and also the color of the cockade varies from white to blue and black. The cockade pinned on the cap is fashionable in the eighteenth century worn as a symbol of loyalty to a certain ideology, or even as an indication of social status (and more often part of a servant’s uniform). In Britain the white cockade indicated the Jacobites while the government ones wore the black or blue cockade. In France the white cockade was the symbol of the Ancien Régime, while the Revolutionaries wore the tricolor one. And yet the meaning of the color of the cockade of this ancient ballad has been lost over time and more likely it had to do with the colors of the regional regiments in the areas where it was sung.
“A widely travelled song, the colour of the recruit’s cockade changing according to the area in which the song is found or the political opinion of a singer through whose hands (or mouth!) the song has passed. During the 18th century wars, cockades of their national colours were worn by the soldiers engaged. The white cockade became the distinctive emblem of the Jacobites and this is usually the colour mentioned in Northern counties, where the song may possibly have originated. “The Orange and Blue” (which also appears in the song Green Grows the Laurel,) may refer to the army of William III, in which case the “blue” version of the song must be the earlier.”( from The Wanton Seed)


Popular melody of the Border (widespread in both England and Scotland), it was published in Blackwood’s Magazine, (Edinburgh 1821) by Thomas Doubleday (1790-1870) who heard it from a Newcastle street singer.
“More than a hundred years ago this song was being spoken of as “a favourite with the peasantry in every part of England but more particularly in the mining districts of the North”. A soap-boiler and vitriol manufacturer, Thomas Doubleday (who was also a fine pioneer folk song collector) heard it sung by a street ballad singer in Newcastle and he sent a copy to Blackwood’s Magazine, who published it in 1821. Every version found since then is so close to Doubleday’s, that it looks as if the song’s early appearance in print quite fixed its form for ever. Frank Kidson noted a version from his mother “who heard it sung in Leeds about the year 1820”, but it’s the Newcastle set, word for word, and note for note. More or less identical is this present version, an amplification of a set found in Yorkshire by Nigel and Mary Hudleston”. (A.L. Lloyd)

Despite its variations, the song focuses on two characters, the young farmer enlisted in the army, and the fiancée who mourns his fate and curses the recruiter. The recruiters’ method described in the first stanza is the usual one: the baiting of the unfortunate victim a little drunk, persuaded by good pay. The ballad ends with a last farewell to the sweetheart with the promise of a future marriage. We do not know if the young man regretted his decision, perhaps he dreams of who knows what adventures in distant lands, still ensnared by the speeches of the enlisted sergeant. It is the woman who suffers from separation and worry!

Kate Rush – “Underneath the Stars” 2003

The Yorkshire Garland Group  

One day as I was walking
all o’er yon fields of moss
I had not thoughts of enlisting, ‘till
some soldiers did me cross
They kindly did invite me
to a flowing ball(1) and down
They advanced,
they advanced
me some money
A shilling from the crown
My true love, he is listed
and he wears a white cockade
He is a handsome young man,
likewise a roving blade
He is a handsome young man,
he’s gone to serve the King
Oh, my very,
oh, my very
Heart is aching
all for the love of him
My true love, he is handsome
and comely for to see
And by a sad misfortune
a soldier now is he
I wish the man that’s listed him
might prosper night nor day
And I wish that,
and I wish that
The hollanders (2)
might sink him in the sea
Then he took out of his hankerchief
to wipe my flowing eye
Leave off your lamentation,
likewise your mournful sighs
Leave off you grief and sorrow,
until I march o’er yon plain
We’ll be married,
we’ll be married
In the springtime,
when I return again
My true love, he is handsome
and it’s all for him I’ll rove
I’ll write his name on every tree
that grows in yonder grove
My poor heart it does hallow,
how my poor heart it does cry
To remind me,
to remind me
Of my ploughboy,
until the day I die
1) ball= bowl


Show of Hands live

The Witches Of Elswick

‘Twas on one Monday morning
As I walked o’er the moss,
I little thought of ‘listing,
‘Til some soldiers did me cross,
The company enticed me
To drink their health all round,
And the bounty (and the bounty),
And the bounty (and the bounty),
They gave me:
Five guineas and a crown (1).
My head was full of drink love
And I didn’t think of you
And now I’m forced to go and join
The orange and the blues(2).
Our ship she waits at anchor
To take the flowing tide.
I’ll return love (I’ll return love),
I’ll return love (I’ll return love)
In the springtime
When I make you my bride.
So early the next morning,
Before the break of day,
The captain called his orders
And my love marched away.
All in your ranks and files boys,
All on your native shore.
Fare thee well love (fare thee well love),
Fare thee well love (fare thee well love),
Fare thee well love,
You’re the lad that I adore.
But I hope you (3) never prosper 
And I hope you always fail;
At everything you venture
I hope you n’er do well;
And the very ground you walk upon –
May the grass refuse to grow,
Since you’ve been the (since you’ve been the),
Since you’ve been the (since you’ve been the)
Very cause of
My sorrow, grief and woe.
It’s true my love has listed
And he wears a blue cockade;
He is a handsome young man,
Likewise a roving blade;
He is a handsome young man,
He’s gone to serve the king,
Whilst my very (whilst my very),
Whilst my very (whilst my very)
Heart is breaking
All for the love of him.
1) the notorious shilling of the king
2) government troops
3) the curses go, of course, to the sergeant


My love was born in Aberdeen

Robert Burns assumes the text of the old ballad and transforms it into a Jacobite song, so the white cockade is immediately associated with the rebellion led by the “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. A legend says that the custom spread after Charlie pinned a white rose on his hat.


The melody “My love was born in Aberdeen” is a reel that we find in the Apollo’s Banquet of Playford (1687) with the title of “Scots tune”, it must have been a popular dance dating back to 1615-30, also published in Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs by Herd (1776).
Here the girl is proud of her love who fought for the restoration of the Stuarts in the last Jacobite revolt of 1745.

The Corries live

Meredith Hall & La Nef

Timothy Reynolds & Ulrich Wedemeier – live

My love was born in Aberdeen,
The boniest lad that e’er was seen;
But now he makes our hearts fu’ sad –
He takes the field wi’ his White Cockade.
O, he’s a ranting, roving lad!
He is a brisk an’ a bonie lad!
Betide what may, I will be wed,(1)
And follow the boy wi’ the White Cockade!
I’ll sell my rock, my reel, my tow(2),
My guid gray mare and hawkit (3) cow,
To buy mysel a tartan plaid, (4)
To follow the lad wi’ the White Cockade.
1) or: Betide what may, my heart is glad
⁠To see my lad wi’ his white cockade.
2) distaff, flax fibre
3) spotted
4)or: That ev’ry loyal Buchan lad
May tak’ the field wi’ his white cockade.



Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

folklorista delle Terre Celtiche

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