Percy's Reliques - Mary Ambree.

Mary Ambree.

††††††††††† In the year 1584, the Spaniards, under the command of Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, began to gain great advantages in Flanders and Brabant, by recovering many strong holds and cities from the Hollanders, as Ghent (called then by the English Gaunt), Antwerp, Mechlin, &c. See Stow's Annals, p. 711. Some attempt made with the assistance of English volunteers to retrieve the former of these places probably gave occasion to this ballad. I can find no mention of our heroine in history, but the following rhymes rendered her famous among our poets. Ben Jonson often mentions her, and calls any remarkable virago by her name. See his Epicúne, first acted in 1609, Act 4. sc. 2.; his Tale of a Tub, Act 1. sc. 4.; and his masque intitled the Fortunate Isles, 1626, where he quotes the very words of the ballad:

"Mary Ambree, (Who marched so free
To the siege of Gaunt,
And death could not daunt,
As the ballad doth vaunt)
Were a braver wight," &c.

She is also mentioned in Fletcher's Scornful Lady, Act v. sub finem.
"-- My large gentlewoman, my Mary Ambree, had I but seen into you, you should have had another bedfellow.--"

††††††††††† It is likewise evident that she is the virago intended by Butler in Hudibras (p. i. c. iii. v. 365), by her being coupled with Joan d'Arc, the celebrated Pucelle d'Orleans.

"A bold virago stout and tall
As Joan of France, or English Mall."

††††††††††† This ballad is printed from a black-letter copy in the Pepys Collection, improved from the Editor's folio manuscript, and by conjecture. The full title is, "The valorous acts performed at Gaunt by the brave bonnie lass Mary Ambree, who in revenge of her lovers death did play her part most gallantly. The tune is, The Blind Beggar, &c."

WHEN captaines couragious, whom death cold not daunt;
Did march to the siege of the citty of Gaunt,
They mustred their souldiers by two and by three,
And the formost in battle was Mary Ambree.

When brave Sir John Major was slaine in her sight,
Who was her true lover, her joy, and delight,
Because he was slaine most treacherouslie,
Then vowd to revenge him Mary Ambree.

She clothed herselfe from the top to the toe
In buffe of the bravest, most seemelye to showe;
A faire shirt of male[ 1] then slipped on shee;
Was not this a brave bonny lass, Mary Ambree?

A helmett of proof shee strait did provide,
A strong arminge sword shee girt by her side,
On her hand a goodly faire gauntlett put shee;
Was not this a brave bonny lass, Mary Ambree?

Then tooke shee her sworde and her targett in hand,
Bidding all such, as wold, bee of her band;
To wayte on her person came thousand and three:
Was not this a brave bonny lass, Mary Ambree?

"My soldiers," she saith, "soe valiant and bold,
Nowe followe your captaine, whom you doe beholde;
Still formost in battel myselfe will I bee:"
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

Then cryed out her souldiers, and loude they did say,
Soe well thou becomest this gallant array,
Thy harte and thy weapons soe well do agree,
There was none ever like Mary Ambree.

Shee cheared her souldiers, that foughten for life,
With ancyent and standard, with drum and with fife,
With brave clanging trumpetts, that sounded so free;
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

"Before I will see the worst of you all
To come into danger of death, or of thrall,
This hand and this life I will venture so free:"
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

Shee led upp her souldiers in battaile array,
'Gainst three times theyr number by breake of the daye;
Seven howers in skirmish continued shee:
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

She filled the skyes with the smoke of her shott,
And her enemyes bodyes with bullets soe hott;
For one of her owne men a score killed shee:
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

And when her false gunner, to spoyle her intent,
Away all her pellets and powder had sent,
Straight with her keen weapon shee slasht him in three:
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

Being falselye betrayed for lucre of hyre,
At length she was forced to make a retyre;
Then her souldiers into a strong castle drew shee:
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

Her foes they besett her on everye side,
As thinking close siege shee cold never abide;
To beate down the walles they all did decree:
But stoutlye deffyd them brave Mary Ambree.

Then tooke shee her sword and her targett in hand,
And mounting the walls all undaunted did stand,
There daring their captaines to match any three:
O what a brave captaine was Mary Ambree!

"Nowe saye, English captaine, what woldest thou give
To ransome thy selfe, which else must not live?
Come yield thy selfe quicklye, or slaine thou must bee:"
Then smiled sweetlye brave Mary Ambree.

"Ye captaines couragious, of valour so bold,
Whom thinke you before you now you doe behold?"
"A knight, sir, of England, and captaine soe free,
Who shortelye with us a prisoner must bee."

"No captaine of England; behold in your sight
Two brests in my bosome, and therfore no knight:
Noe knight, sirs, of England, nor captaine you see,
But a poor simple lass, called Mary Ambree."

"But art thou a woman, as thou dost declare,
Whose valor hath proved so undaunted in warre?
If England doth yield such brave lasses as thee,
Full well may they conquer, faire Mary Ambree."

The Prince of great Parma heard of her renowne
Who long had advanced for Englands faire crowne;
Hee wooed her and sued her his mistress to bee,
And offerd rich presents to Mary Ambree.

But this virtuous mayden despised them all,
"Ile nere sell my honour for purple nor pall:
A mayden of England, sir, never will bee
The whore of a monarcke," quoth Mary Ambree.

Then to her owrie country shee backe did returne,
Still holding the foes of faire England in scorne:
Therfore English captaines of every degree
Sing forth the brave valours of Mary Ambree.

NOTES

1. A peculiar kind of armour, composed of small rings of iron, and worn under the clothes. It is mentioned by Spencer, who speaks of the Irish gallowglass or foot-soldier as "armed in a long shirt of mayl." (View of the State of Ireland.)

 

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