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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - #28, July, 2004



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

July, 2004:–


"The Cavalier" – Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

"Polly Oliver" – England

("Sweet Polly Oliver", "Pretty Polly Oliver", "Polly Oliver's Rambles")

I first heard this melody with the words of "The Cavalier", by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

The 'Cavaliers' fought for King Charles I of England and Scotland in the Civil war (1642-9) between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) of Oliver Cromwell (main battle: Naseby, 1645).

The Cavalier

(Words: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

While the dawn on the mountain was misty and grey,
My true love has mounted his steed, and away
Over hill, over valley, o'er dale and o'er down,
Heav'n shield the brave gallant that fights for the crown!

He had doff'd the silk doublet, the breast-plate to bear,
He has placed the steel-cap o'er his long-flowing hair,
From his belt to his stirrup his broad-sword hangs down;
Heav'n shield the brave gallant that fights for the crown!

Now joy to the crest of the brave cavalier!
Be his banner unconquered, resistless his spear,
Till in peace and in triumph his toils he may drown
In a pledge to fair England, her Church and her Crown.

From Songs of the British Isles Orig. published by J. Curwen and Sons, London.
Reprinted (by permission) c.1954, in a school song book.

The Traditional English Melody "The Cavalier", or "Polly Oliver"
appears on Page 33 of:

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 2: "The Violin in Major Keys."
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

It was much later that I heard the same melody with the words of "Polly Oliver".

The earliest complete version of 'Polly Oliver' in the Bodleian Ballad Collection dates from 1850 (a damaged, incomplete, version dates from 1837), and may refer to the war of the Spanish Succession, when British forces fought in Flanders and other parts of Europe under the Duke of Marlborough, to foil the various schemes of Louis XIV of France, and to prevent his invasion of the Netherlands (battles of: Blenheim, 1704; Ramilles, 1706; Oudenarde, 1708; Malplaquet, 1709). The British monarch was Queen Anne (d. 1714, and succeeded by George I, reigned 1714-27). Or the King may have been George II (reigned 1727-60), who in 1743, led his army against the French at Dettingen, Bavaria (War of the Austrian Succession).

For an insight into the period, see: "The Life of Col. James Gardiner, Who was Slain at the Battle of Prestonpans, September 21, 1745", by Philip Doddridge, D.D. (Col. (then Ensign) Gardiner was wounded and taken prisoner in the battle of Ramilles (Belgium, 1706), and was afterwards posted to the army at Ghent (Flanders) in the later part of 1742). The book is available for download at:

Alternatively, "Polly Oliver" may refer to an even earlier time: John Knox (1515-72), the Scottish Reformer, wrote, in 1558, at Geneva, "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women." (See the last poem).

There are several variants of the words of "Polly Oliver", and a few parodies.

To view the various images in the Bodleian Library, go to:

The Browse or Search Term is: 'Polly Oliver's Rambles.'

Polly Oliver's Rambles

PRATT, Printer, 82, Digbeth, Birmingham (slightly edited) (1850)

One night as Polly Oliver lay musing on her bed,
A comical fancy came into her head,
Neither father nor mother shall make me false prove;
I'll list for a soldier and follow my love.

Early the next morning this fair maid arose,
She dressed herself in a man's suit of clothes,
Coat, waistcoat and breeches, a sword by her side,
On her father's black gelding like a dragoon did ride.

She rid till she came to fair London town,
She dismounted her horse at the sign of the crown,
The first that came to her was a man from above,
The next that came down was Polly Oliver's true love.

Good evening good evening kind captain said she,
Here's a letter from your true love Polly Oliver said she,
He opened the letter, a guinea was found,
'For you and your countrymen to drink her health round.'

Supper being ended she hung down her head,
And called for a candle to light her to bed,
The captain made this reply: 'I have a bed at ease,
You may lie with me countryman if you please.'

'To lie with a captain is a dangerous thing,
I 'm a new enlisted soldier to fight for my king,
To fight for my king by sea and by land,
Since you are my captain I'll be at your command.'

Early the next morning this fair maid arose,
and dressed herself in her own suit of clothes,
And down stairs she came from her chamber above,
Saying, 'here is Polly Oliver, your own true love.'

He at first was surprised, then laughed at the fun,
And then they were married and all things were done,
'If I had laid with you the first night, the fault it was mine.
I hope to please you better, love, for now it is time.'

(From the Bodleian Ballad Collection)

Sweet Polly Oliver

(words: A.P. Graves...Digital Tradition)

As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head;
'Nor Father nor Mother shall make me false prove!
I'll 'list for a soldier and follow my love!'

So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother's clothes;
She cut her hair short, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London town.

Then up spake the sergeant one day at his drill:
'Now who's good for nursing? A captain lies ill.'
'I'm ready', said Polly. To nurse him she's gone,
And finds 'tis her true love all wasted and wan.

The first week the doctor kept shaking his head;
'No nursing, young fellow, can save him,' he said.
But when Polly Oliver had nursed back his life,
He cried, 'You have cherished him as if you were his wife!'

At that poor Polly, she burst into tears,
And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears.
And very soon after, 'for better or worse',
The captain, took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.

- The Oxford School Music Books
- Digital Tradition

Pretty Polly Oliver

1. As pretty Polly Oliver
Sat musing, 'tis said,
A comical fancy
Came into her head;
Nor father nor mother
Shall make me false prove,
I'll list for a soldier
And follow my love.

2. So in soldier's attire
To the wars she went out,
And bore a brave part
In both raid and in rout;
In the battle she found him
Slightly wounded and low
On the ground where he lay
With his face to the foe.

3. Now Polly he knew
In a moment's quick glance,
And he cried, Why my dear,
Sure I've met you in France;
But the lass she said, nay,
He was surely mistook,
But her words were belied
By the love in her look.

4. The sergeant sent for
The parson to come,
And couple the lovers
Who'd follow'd the drum;
And Polly, restored to
Her womanly state,
Found all she had sought
In a home and a mate.

From 'The Contemplator' website
(see below to listen to the melody)

And together on one Broadsheet in the Bodleian Ballad Collection:

"Polly Oliver's Rambles", and

The Female Soldier's Adventure for her True Love

Come all young girls of courage so bold,
Who value your true love more than gold,
Listen awhile, and I'll let you know
How I followed my true love thro' frost and snow.

My love he was a comely youth
As ever lov'd a girl with truth,
A smart young drummer then was he
As ever belong'd to his Majesty.

For seven months he courted me,
So well I loved his company,
He vow'd he lov'd me as his life,
Fain would have made me his lawful wife.

But when my parents came to know
That I lov'd this young drummer so,
They confin'd me, without delay,
Unto my chamber night and day.

My love he sent to let me know
That his regiment abroad must go,
To Flanders then they march'd away,
By orders of his Majesty.

And when this sad news I did hear,
My eyes did flow with floods of tears.
Locks and bolts I soon made fly,
Resolv'd to follow my love or die.

In man's apparel then straightway
I drest myself so smart and gay,
Cockade and feathers, neat and trim
In my love's regiment enter'd in.

With drums and trumpets merrily,
I followed my love so cheerfully,
The music that did sweetly play,
With colours flying, rich and gay.

Come all young men where'er you be,
A toast then drink so cheerfully,
Unto each lass of courage bold,
That values her true love more than gold.

Listen to the melody for "The Cavalier", or "Polly Oliver" here:
(19th century Folksongs and Shanties)

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