The Bold Princess Royal
Download Midi File
Lesley Nelson-Burns

According to the Canadian singer who related the song to Helen Creighton for her Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia, this song is based on the true story of a ship carrying passengers between Halifax and Newfoundland. The song was found throughout England and was also popular in America.

The ballad was printed on numerous broadsides in England in the mid and late 1800s. Several of these can be found at the Bodleian Library. The ballad is listed in a Manuscript list of a Bristol printer (Collard) dated 1837. Vaughan Williams collected it, and it appeared in his Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties (1908).*

The dates and ports vary. In different versions the ship leaves on the fourteen or fifteenth of February, fourth of August, eighth of October, fourteenth of April, fourteenth of November and eighteenth of June. The ship sailed from the bay, from land and from Liverpool and was bound for various places including Cairo, the Rio Grande and New Orleans.

The song is sung to several tunes, this is an arrangement by Vaughan Williams. The first time I heard this song it was sung to the tune of Sweet Betsey from Pike.

On the fourteenth of February
We sailed from the land,
In the bold Princess Royal
Bound for Newfoundland,
We had forty brave seamen
For our ship's company,
And boldly from the eastward
To the westward sailed we.

'We had not been sailing
Past days two or three,
When a man from our foremast
A sail he did see,
She hove down upon us
To see what we were,
And under her foremast
Black colours she wore.

Now when this bold pirate
She hove alongside,
With a large speaking trumpet,
'Whence come you?' they cried.
Our captain being aft, boys,
He answered him so;
We come from fair London
And we're bound for Cairo:'

'Come haul down your topsails,
Your sternsails also,
For I have a letter
To send home by you'
'I'll not haul down my topsail
Nor heave my sails to,
But shall be in some harbour,
Not alongside of you?'

They fired shot after us
But could not prevail,
When the bold Princess Royal
Soon shewed them her tail,
They drove us to windward,
But couldn't make us stay,
We hoisted our mainsail
And then bore away.

'Thank God,' cries our captain,
'The pirate is gone.
Come down to your grog boys,
Come down everyone,
Come down to your grog boys
And be of good cheer,
For while we have sea-room,
Brave boys, never fear.'

Related Links
From English County Folk Songs and
Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia
See Bibliography for full information.
*Information from Steve Roud's Broadside and Folksong Indexes.