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2014 February The Nut Brown Maid

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The Nut Brown Maid

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St Valentine’s day is drawing near and to mark it the Worth Book of the Month for February is concentrating on love, and, more particularly, female constancy in love. Worth had a number of books including love poems in his collection but few were as famous as the ballad of the ‘Nut Brown Maid’, a poem variously dated to the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, which was said to be based on the exploits of the ‘Shepheard Earl’ himself, Henry Clifford (1454-1523). What has ensured the continuing popularity of the poem is the dialogue between the Nut Brown Maid of the title and her lover, which explores the theme of constancy in love. When her lover declares that he has to take to the woods as an outlaw and must leave her the maid uses a host of arguments to demonstrate her unconditional love for him. Eventually, she convinces him and he explains that he doesn’t actually have to flee but was rather testing her love for him.

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This version of the ‘Nut Brown Maid’ is included in Edward Worth’s copy of Matthew Prior’s Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1718). Worth was himself a subscriber to the publication, one of a number of Irish subscribers. The lengthy list includes other Trustees of Dr Steevens’ Hospital, men such as Archbishop William King, Marmaduke Coghill, Sir William Fownes, Samuel Dopping, Richard Helsham, Robert Griffith, Thomas Proby and Jonathan Swift; in all nine out of the fifteen Trustees of Dr Steevens’ Hospital appointed by Grizelda Steevens in 1717. To these are joined other Irish nobility, gentry and leading ecclesiastical figures, such as Anthony Dopping. Swift’s decision to buy five copies demonstrates his own literary interest in the work (and his friendship with Prior), but one suspects that some of the other subscribers were more interested in the company their names were keeping in the subscription lists than in the content of the work.

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The seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had witnessed the rediscovery of the poem of the Nut Brown Maid, which had initially been printed in the 1503 Customs of London. Prior had probably first been introduced to the poem in June 1707 via The Muses Mercury, a short-lived monthly journal of 1707-8 produced by the historian, pamphleteer and poet, John Oldmixon (1672/3-1742). Prior (1664-1721), dedicated his Poems on Several Occasions to Lionel Sackville, son of Charles Sackville, the sixth Earl of Dorset, for it was to the latter that he owed his literary and diplomatic career: Charles Sackville has spotted the budding poet reading Horace behind the bar of his uncle’s tavern and as a result he sponsored his schooling at Westminster School. Following his BA at St John’s College Cambridge, Prior embarked on a diplomatic career, first at The Hague and then Paris, before returning to London (he would later play an important role in drawing up the Treaty of Utrecht). It was in London that he published the first edition of Poems on Several Occasions in 1709 and it was during this period that he became a friend of Swift. The work proved to be a popular one, being reprinted several times. Worth’s edition, the subscription edition of 1718, was produced as a result of financial need and it proved to be successful since 1,445 people eventually subscribed. The 1718 edition not only reordered the poems included in the first edition of 1708 but also added new material written in the intervening period. Prior’s version of the Nut Brown Maid, ‘Henry and Emma’ (also included in the compilation), found its own following in the later eighteenth century when George Monck Berkeley (1763-1793), the great grandson of the philosopher George Berkeley, utilised the theme in his ‘Love and Nature’ a musical piece performed in Dublin in 1789 and later published in 1797. Heywood (1993) suggests that the Nut Brown Maid may also have influenced some of the tempestuous themes of WutheringHeights.

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The identification of the principals in the ‘Nut Brown Maid’ has proved problematic. The poem gives us four clues: the man is an ‘earl’s son’; his lands are in Westmoreland; the woman is a ‘Baron’s daughter’ and, finally, there is the suggestion that he might have to go on the run. Some commentators, judging by the fact that its first publication was in 1503, have linked it to Henry Clifford, the first earl of Cumberland (c.1493-1542), but beyond the fact of his earldom, this Henry Clifford doesn’t seem a likely match since he was only nine when the poem was first printed (not to mention the fact that he was brought up with Henry VIII and remained on good terms with the king all his life). His father, Henry Clifford (1454-1523), the tenth Baron Clifford, looks like a better contender: when his father John Clifford, the ninth Baron Clifford was killed at the Battle of Towton in 1461, the Clifford lands in Westmoreland were attainted. Henry was only seven at the time and, given that his father had murdered the seventeen-year-old Edmund, Earl of Rutland (son of Richard Duke of York), was in an invidious position. The fact that he had to lie low for a while no doubt gave rise to the sixteenth-century tradition that he spent his time on the run and living as a ‘Shepheard Earl’, but, as Summerson (2004) points out, he was in little real danger. In any case, by the time he reached the age of eighteen he had been officially pardoned by Edward IV (the brother of Edmund of Rutland).

If Henry Clifford, the tenth Baron Clifford, was indeed the male protagonist of the poem, then that would mean that his first wife, Anne St John (d.1508), was the original ‘Nut Brown Maid’. Anne was the daughter of Sir John St John of Bletsoe (which would match the poem’s suggestion that the ‘Nut Brown Maid’ was a ‘Baron’s daughter’) and we know that Henry and Anne married in 1486 (after the Battle of Bosworth which had ensured that Clifford hopes could rise again), which again would match the final verses of the poem where the man declares that he can now return to his ancestral lands. Certainly Anne was a shrewd choice for Henry Clifford since her father was Lady Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother (making her a niece of the ‘King’s Mother’ and a cousin of the new king, Henry VII). It would be appealing to report that they lived happily ever after but, as it turns out, Henry Clifford proved to be serially unfaithful.

The Nut-Brown Maid. A Poem.
Written three hundred years since.
Be it right or wrong, these Men among
On Women do complayne;
Affyrmynge this, how that it is
A Labour spent in vaine
To love Them wele; for never a dele
They love a Man againe:
For lete a Man do what He can
Ther Favour to attayne,
Yet yf a new do Them pursue,
Ther furst trew Lover than
Laboureth for nought; for from her Thought
He is a banishyd Man.
I say not nay, but that all day
It is bothe writ and sayde;
That Woman’s Fayth is as who saythe,
All utterly decayed.
But nevertheless right good Witness
I’ this case might be layde,
That They love trewe, and contynew,
Record the Nut-brown Mayde;
Which from her Love (whan Her to prove
He came to make his mone)
Wold not depart, for in her Herte
She lovyd but Him alone.
Than betweene Us, lettens discusse,
What was all the maner
Between them two: We wyll also
Telle all the peyne and fere
That She was in. Now I begynne,
So that ye me answere.
Wherefore all Ye, that present be,
I pray Ye give an Eare.

Man.

I am the Knyght, I come by Nyght
As secret as I can;
Saying, alas! thus standeth the Case,
I am a banishyd Man.

Woman.

And I your Wylle, for to fulfylle
In this wyl not refuse;
Trusting to show, in Wordis fewe,
That Men have an ill use,
(To ther own shame) Women to blame,
And causelese them accuse.
Therefore to you I answere now,
Alle women to excuse:
Myn own herte dere, with you what chere,
I pray you telle anone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

It stondeth so; a dede is do,
Wherefore moche harm shall growe:
My desteny is for to dey
A shameful Deth I trowe:
Or ellis to flee: the one must be:
None other way I knowe,
But to withdrawe, as an Outlaw,
And take me to my Bowe.
Wherefore adew, my owne Herte trewe:
None other red I can;
For I must to the grene Wode goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

O Lord! what is this worldis blysse,
That chaungeth as the Mone?
My Somer’s day, in lusty May,
Is derked before the None.
I here you saye, Farewell: nay, nay;
We departe not soo sone:
Why say ye so? wheder wyl Ye goe?
Alas! what have Ye done?
Alle my welfare to sorrow and care
Shulde change, yf Ye were gone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

I can beleve, it shall you greeve,
And shomwhat you distrayne;
But aftyrwarde your paynes harde,
Within a day or tweyne,
Shal sone aslake; and ye shal take
Comfort to you agayne.
Why should Ye nought? for to make thought,
Your labur were in vayne,
And thus I do, and pray you too,
As hertely as I can;
For I muste to the greene Wode goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Now sythe that Ye have shewed to Me
The Secret of your mynde;
I shal be playne to you againe,
Lyke as Ye shal Me fynde.
Sythe it is so, that Ye wyll goe,
I wol not leve behynde:
Shal never be sayd, the Nut-Brown Mayde
Was to her Love unkynd.
Make You redy; for so am I,
Although it were agone:
For in my mynd, of all Mankynde,
I love but yYou alone.

Man.

Yet I You rede, to take good hede
What Men wyl think and sey;
Of Yonge and Olde it shall be tolde
That Ye be gone away:
Your wanton wylle, for to fulfylle,
In grene Wode you to play;
And that Ye myght from your delyte
Noo lenger make delay.
Rather than Ye shuld thus for me,
Be called an ylle Woman,
Yet wold I to the grene Wode goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Though it be songe, of Olde and Yonge,
That I shuld be to blame;
Their’s be the charge, that speke so Large
In hurting of my Name.
For I wyl prove, that feythful Love
It is devoyd of Shame;
In your Distress and Hevyness,
To parte wyth You the same.
And sure all thoo that doo not so
Trewe Lovers are they none:
But in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

I counsel you, remember how
It is noo Mayden’s lawe
Nothing to dought, but to renne out
To Wode with an Outlawe.
For Ye must there, in your hand bere
O Bowe redy to drawe;
And as a Theef, thus must Ye lyve,
Ever in Drede and Awe.
Whereby to you gret harme myght growe;
Yet I had lever than,
That I had to the grene Wode goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

I think not nay; but as Ye saye,
It is noo Mayden’s lore;
But Love may make Me for your sake,
To com on fote, to Hunte and Shote,
To get us Mete in Store.
For so that I your Company
May have, I ask noo more:
From whiche to parte, it makith myn Herte
As colde as ony Stone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

For an Outlawe, this is the Lawe,
That Men hym Take and Binde,
Wythout pytee Hanged to bee,
And waver with the Wynde.
Yf I had neede, as God forbede,
What resons coude Ye finde?
For sothe I trowe, Ye and your Bowe
Shuld drawe for fere behynde.
And noo Merveyle; for lytel avayle
Were in your Council than:
Wherefore I to the Wode wyl goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Full well knowe Ye, that Wymen be
But febyl for to Fyght:
Noo Womanhede it is in deede,
To be bold as a Knyght.
Yet in suche fere yf that Ye were,
With Enemys day and nyght;
I wolde withstonde, wyth bowe in honed,
To greve them as I myght;
And You to save, as Wymen have
From dethe many one:
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Yet take guood hede! for ever I drede,
That Ye coude not sustein
The thorney Weyes, the depe Valeis,
The Snowe, the Frost, the Reyn,
The Cold, the Hete. For Drye or Wete,
We must lodge on the Playn;
And us above, noon other Rofe,
But a Brake, Bush, or twaine;
Whiche sone shuld greve you, I beleve;
And Ye wolde gladly than,
That I had to the grene Wode goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Sythe I have here been partynere
With You of Joy and Blysse,
I must also, parte of your woo
Endure, as Reson is.
Yet am I sure of one plesure,
And, shortly, it is this:
That where Ye bee, me seemeth, par-dy
I could not fare amyss.
Without more Speche, I you beseche,
That We were soon a gone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Yf Ye goo thedyr, Ye must consyder,
Whan Ye have lust to dyne,
Ther shal no Mete be for to gete,
Nor Drink, Bere, Ale, ne Wine;
Ne Shetis clean, to lye betwene,
Made of Thred and Twyne;
Noon other House but Levys and Bowes,
To kever your Head and myn.
O myn Herte swete, this ylle Dyet
Shuld make you Pale and Wan:
Wherefore I to the Wode wyl goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Among the wylde Dere, such an Archier,
As Men say that Ye bee,
We may not fayle of good Vitayle,
Where is so grete plente:
And Watir cleere of the Ryvere
Shal be full swete to Me;
With whiche in hele, I shal right wele
Endure, as Ye shal see.
And er We goe, a Bed or two
I can provide anone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Loo! yet before, Ye must do more
Yf Ye wyl go with Me;
As cutte you’re here, up by your Ere,
Your Kurtel by the knee.
Wyth Bowe in Honde, for to wythstonde
Your Enemys, yf nede be:
And this same Nyght, before Day-lyght,
To Wode-ward wyl I Flee.
And yf Ye wille al this fulfylle,
Do it shortly as Ye can;
Ellis wil I to the grene Wode goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

I shall as now do more for You,
Than longeth to Womanhede,
To short my Here, a Bow to bere,
To Shote in tyme of nede.
O my sweet Moder, before all other,
For You have I most Drede;
But now Adiew! I must ensue,
Where Fortune duth Me lede.
All this make Ye, and lete Us Flee:
The day run fast upon:
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Nay, nay, not so: Ye shal not goe;
And I shal telle Ye why:
Your Appetyte is to be light
Of Love, I wele espie.
For right as Ye have sayde to Me,
In lykewise hardely
Ye wolde answere, whosoever it were,
In way of Company.
It is sayd of Olde, sone Hote, sone Colde;
And so is a Woman;
Wherefore I to the Wode wyl goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Yf Ye take hede, yt is noo nede
Such wordis to say bee Me;
For ofte Ye preyd, and longe assayed,
Er I you lovid, par-dy;
And though that I of Auncestry
A Baron’s Daughter bee;
Yet have You proved, how I You Loved,
A Squyer of low Degree:
And ever shal, what so befalle,
To dey therefore anone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

A Baron’s Childe to be begyled,
It were a cursed Dede:
To be Felawe with an Outlawe,
Almighty God forbede!
Yt bettyr were, the pore Squyer
Alone to Forest Spede;
Than Ye shal saye, another Daye,
That by that wycked Dede
Ye were betrayed. Wherefore, good Maide,
The best rede that I can,
Is that I to the grene Wode go,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Whatsoever befalle, I never shale
Of this thing You upbraid:
But yf Ye go, and leve Me so,
Then have Ye Me betraid.
Remember Ye wele, how that Ye dele;
For yf Ye, as Ye sayde,
Be so unkynde, to leve behynde
Your Love, the Nut-brown Maide:
Trust Me truely, that I shal dey
Some after Ye be gone;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Yf that Ye went, Ye shulde repent;
For in the Forrest now
I have purveid me of a Maide,
Whom I Love more than You.
Another fayrer than e’er Ye were;
I dare it well avowe:
And of You bothe, Eche shude be worthe
Wyth other, as I trowe,
It were myn Ese, to live in Pese:
So wyl I, yf I can:
Wherefore I to the Wode wyl goe,
Alone, a banishyd Man.

Woman.

Though in the Wode I undirstode,
Ye had a Paramour;
All this may nought remove my Thought,
But that I will be Your.
And She shall fynde Me soft and kynde,
And curteis every hour;
Glad to fulfylle all that She wylle
Commaunde Me to my Pow’r.
For had Ye loo an hundred moo;
Yet wolde I be that One;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Myne own dere Love, I see the Prove,
That Ye be kynde and trewe;
Of Mayde and Wyf, in al my Lyf,
The best that ever I knewe.
Be merey and glad; be no more sad;
The case is chaunged newe;
For it were Ruthe, that for your Trouth,
Ye shulde have cause to rewe.
Be not dismayed; whatsoever I sayd
To you whan I began:
I wyl not to the grene Wode goe,
I am no banishyd Man.

Woman.

Theis tydingis be more glad to me
Than to be made a Quene;
Yf I were sure, they shulde endure:
But it is often seen,
When Men wyle breke Promyse, they speke
The wordis on the Splene.
Ye shape some Wyle, Me to begyle,
And stele fro me, I wene.
Then were the case wurs than it was;
And I more woo begon;
For in my mynde, of al Mankynde,
I love but You alone.

Man.

Ye shall not nede further to drede:
I wyl not disparage
You. God defende; syth you descende
Of so grete a Lynage.
Now understande, to Westmerlande,
Whiche is my Herytage,
I wyl you bringe; and with a Rynge,
By way of Maryage
I wyl you take, and Lady make,
As shortly as I can.
Thus have ye wone an Erlie’s Son,
And not a banishyd Man.

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Sources:

Bassil, Veronica (1984), ‘The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson’ in Studies in Literature and Language, vol 26, no.2 (Summer, 1984), pp. 157-182.

Heywood, Christopher (1993), ‘A Yorkshire Background for “Wuthering Heights”’, The Modern Language Review vol 88, no. 4, pp. 817-830.

Hoyle, R. W. (2004), ‘Clifford, Henry, first earl of Cumberland (c.1493–1542)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5647, accessed20 Jan 2014]

Rippy, Frances Mayhew (2004), ‘Prior, Matthew(1664–1721)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22814, accessed20 Jan 2014]

Rogers, Pat (2004), ‘Oldmixon, John(1672/3–1742)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20695, accessed20 Jan 2014]

Summerson, Henry (2004), ‘Clifford, Henry, tenth Baron Clifford (1454–1523)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5646, accessed20 Jan 2014]

 

Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian, The Edward Worth Library.

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