This ballad begins: 'In blythe and bonny Scotland, where the blue bells do grow, / There dwelt a pretty fair maid down in a valley low.' The woodcut included above the title shows a wooded valley. At the bottom of the valley a uniformed man is being brutally attacked by both women and men, one of whom is on a horse.
This song tells the story of the strength of Mary's love for her Henry. He was a soldier who was called to India whilst they were courting. Mary then suggests that they marry, and she joins up as a boy in order to be spared the pain of parting. As a result, she has to witness Henry's death in India, upon which she commits suicide. Much as wifely devotion was a cherished characteristic in women during the Victorian period, this display of unfeminine behaviour would have been frowned upon. Nevertheless there are other stories of women who cross-dressed in order to enter a man's world.
Broadsides are often crudely illustrated with woodcuts - the earliest form of printed illustration, first used in the mid-fifteenth century. Inclusion of an illustration on a broadside increased its perceived value, especially among the illiterate. To keep costs down, publishers would normally reuse their limited stock of generic woodcuts.
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Probable period of publication:
1860-1890 shelfmark: L.C.Fol.178.A.2(117)
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