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The Bonny Bunch of Roses facts for kids

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"The Bonny Bunch of Roses" (Roud 664, Laws J5) is a folk song written by an unknown balladeer from the British Isles, presumably with Irish sympathies.

The earliest known version of the tune is in William Christie's Tradition Ballad Airs, Volume 2 (1881), but there is another tune, of Irish origin. There is an obvious difficulty in identifying the narrator's voice. It is a conversation between Napoleon's son (Napoleon II, 1811-1832, named King of Rome by his father upon birth) and his mother (Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, Napoleon's second wife, whom he married after divorcing Josephine). The sentiment is sympathetic to Napoleon but is also patriotic. Napoleon was defeated because he failed to beware of the 'bonny bunch of roses' - England, Scotland and Ireland whose unity cannot be broken.

The Irish, who were themselves in an unequal union with Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, were divided in their attitudes towards Napoleon Bonaparte. Many thousands of Irishmen served in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars in both in English and Scottish regiments and in Irish ones like the Connaught Rangers and the Inniskilling Dragoons for example, many of them giving their lives in the struggle against Napoleon and displaying much valour in the process. However, at the same time, Napoleon knew that among certain people there was some bitterness towards British rule in Ireland, much as there was towards French rule in his native Corsica, as he well knew. Thus he decided to emulate the British in their support of Corsican rebels against Revolutionary France by supporting an heroic but ultimately doomed Irish rebellion, inspired by the egalitarian principles of the Enlightenment, which has come to be known as the 1798. With this in mind, it should perhaps come as no great surprise then if Napoleon's bravery captivated the imagination of a segment of the Irish population, nor his defiance even in defeat. United Irishmen and their sympathisers it can perhaps be deduced also adored the tragic story of the romance between the doomed emperor and his second wife, Marie Louise, which would explain why her words tell the story of Bonaparte's fall. On the other hand, the song stresses the unity of the English, Scots and Irish, suggesting acknowledgement of a common British identity in opposition to France and Napoleon among the soldiers from those three nations at the time.


The lyrics below are from 1881.

Near by the swelling ocean,
One morning in the month of June,
While feather'd warbling songsters
Their charming notes did sweetly tune,
I overheard a lady
Lamenting in sad grief and woe,
And talking with young Bonaparte
Concerning the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.
Thus spake the young Napoleon,
And grasp'd his mother by the hand:-
"Oh, mother dear have patience,
Till I am able to command;
I'll raise a numerous army,
And through tremendous dangers go,
And in spite of all the universe,
I'll gain the bonny Bunch of Roses, O."
Oh, son, speak not so venturesome;
For England is the heart of oak;
Of England, Scotland, and Ireland,
The unity can ne'er be broke.
And think you on your father,
In the Island where he now lies low,
He is not yet interred in France;
So beware of the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.
Your father raised great armies,
And likewise kings did join the throng;
He was so well provided.
Enough to sweep the world along.
But when he went to Moscow,
He was o'erpower'd by drifting snow;
And though Moscow was blazing
He lost the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.
"Oh, mother, adieu for ever,
I am now on my dying bed,
If I had liv'd I'd have been brave
But now I droop my youthful head.
And when our bones do moulder,
And weeping-willows o'er us grow,
Its deeds to bold Napoleon
Will stain the bonny Bunch of Roses, O."

Recorded versions

There are many recorded versions, including the Chieftains (with Dolores Keane as the singer), De Dannan, Fairport Convention, Glen Campbell, Harry Cox, Ewan MacColl, Cyril Poacher, Séamus Ennis, Nic Jones, Séan Garvey, Maddy Prior and June Tabor in collaboration with the Oysterband, and John Wesley Harding. Bob Dylan featured Paul Clayton's version on his Theme Time Radio Hour.

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