_Reliques of Ancient English Poetry_, ii. 230.
"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 strongholds 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 those 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 _Epic[oe]ne_, first acted in 1609, Act 4, sc. 2: his _Tale of a Tub_, Act 4, sc. 4: and his masque entitled _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 5, _sub finem_.
"This ballad is printed from a black-letter copy in the Pepys Collection, improved from the Editor's folio MS., and by conjecture.
The full title is, "_The valourous 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."--PERCY.
When captaines couragious, whom death cold not daunte, 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 [the] brave sergeant-major was slaine in her sight,[L5] 5 Who was her true lover, her joy, and delight, Because he was slaine most treacherousle, 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; 10 A faire shirt of male then slipped on shee: Was not this a brave bonny lass, Mary Ambree?
A helmett of proofe shee strait did provide, A stronge arminge-sword shee girt by her side, On her hand a goodly faire gauntlett put shee: 15 Was not this a brave bonny lass, Mary Ambree?
Then tooke shee her sworde and her targett in hand, Bidding all such, as wold, [to] bee of her band; To wayte on her person came thousand and three: Was not this a brave bonny lass, Mary Ambree? 20
"My soldiers," she saith, "soe valliant and bold, Nowe followe your captaine, whom you doe beholde; Still formost in battell myselfe will I bee:"
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?
Then cryed out her souldiers, and loude they did say, 25 "Soe well thou becomest this gallant array, Thy harte and thy weapons so well do agree, Noe mayden was ever like Mary Ambree."
Shee cheared her souldiers, that foughten for life, 30 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:" 35 Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?
Shee ledd 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? 40
She filled the skyes with the smoke of her shott, And her enemyes bodyes with bullets so 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, 45 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; 50 Then her souldiers into a strong castle drew shee: Was not this a brave bonny lassee, 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: 55 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! 60
"Now 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, 65 Whom thinke you before you now you doe behold?"
"A knight, sir, of England, and captaine soe free, Who shortleye with us a prisoner must bee."
"No captaine of England; behold in your sight Two brests in my bosome, and therfore no knight: 70 Noe knight, sirs, of England, nor captaine you see, But a poor simple mayden 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 mayden as thee, 75 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. 80
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 owne country shee backe did returne, 85 Still holding the foes of faire England in scorne; Therfore English captaines of every degree Sing forth the brave valours of Mary Ambree.
5. So P. C. Sir John Major in MS.
BRAVE LORD WILLOUGHBEY.
Percy's _Reliques_, ii. 235.
"Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby of Eresby, had, in the year 1586, distinguished himself at the siege of Zutphen, in the Low Countries.
He was the year after made general of the English forces in the United Provinces, in room of the Earl of Leicester, who was recalled. This gave him an opportunity of signalizing his courage and military skill in several actions against the Spaniards. One of these, greatly exaggerated by popular report, is probably the subject of this old ballad, which, on account of its flattering encomiums on English valour, hath always been a favourite with the people.
"Lord Willoughbie died in 1601.--Both Norris and Turner were famous among the military men of that age.
"The subject of this ballad (which is printed from an old black-letter copy, with some conjectural emendations) may possibly receive illustration from what Chapman says in the dedication to his version of Homer's _Frogs and Mice_, concerning the brave and memorable retreat of Sir John Norris, with only 1000 men, through the whole Spanish army, under the Duke of Parma, for three miles together."
Lord Willoughby was son of that Duchess of Suffolk, whose extraordinary adventures, while in exile on the continent during the reign of Queen Mary, are the subject of an often-printed ballad called the _Duchess of Suffolk's Calamity_. See _Strange Histories_, Percy Society, iii. 17, and the Appendix to this volume.
The fifteenth day of July, With glistering spear and shield, A famous fight in Flanders Was foughten in the field: The most couragious officers 5 Were English captains three; But the bravest man in battel Was brave Lord Willoughbey.
The next was Captain Norris, A valiant man was hee; 10 The other Captain Turner, From field would never flee.
With fifteen hundred fighting men, Alas! there were no more, They fought with fourteen thousand then, 15 Upon the bloody shore.
"Stand to it, noble pikemen, And look you round about: And shoot you right, you bow-men, And we will keep them out. 20 You musquet and calver men, Do you prove true to me: I'le be the formost man in fight,"
Says brave Lord Willoughbey.
And then the bloody enemy 25 They fiercely did assail, And fought it out most furiously, Not doubting to prevail.
The wounded men on both sides fell, Most pitious for to see, 30 Yet nothing could the courage quell Of brave Lord Willoughbey.
For seven hours, to all mens view, This fight endured sore, Until our men so feeble grew 35 That they could fight no more; And then upon dead horses, Full savourly they eat, And drank the puddle water, They could no better get. 40
When they had fed so freely, They kneeled on the ground, And praised God devoutly For the favour they had found; And beating up their colours, 45 The fight they did renew, And turning tow'rds the Spaniard, A thousand more they slew.
The sharp steel-pointed arrows, And bullets thick did fly; 50 Then did our valiant soldiers Charge on most furiously: Which made the Spaniards waver; They thought it best to flee; They fear'd the stout behaviour 55 Of brave Lord Willoughbey.