The Bonnie Bunch of Roses (2)
By the margin of the ocean,
One pleasant evening in the month of June,
When all those feathered songsters
Their pleasant notes did sweetly tune,
'Twas there I spied a female
Who seemed to be in grief or woe,
Conversing with young Bonaparte
Concerning the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-O.
Then up spake young Napoleon
And took his mother by the hand,
Saying, "Mother dear, be patient
Until I'm able to take command.
I'll build a mighty army
And through tremendous danger go.
And I never will return again
Till I've conquered the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-O.
"When first you saw great Bonaparte,
You knelt upon your bended knee
And asked your father's life of him
And he granted it most mournfully.
'Twas then he took his army
And o'er the frozen Alps did go;
Saying, "I never will return again
Until I've conquered the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-O.
"He took ten hundred thousand men
And kings likewise for to bear his train.
He was so well provided for
That he could sweep the world for gain.
But when he came to Moscow
He was o'erpowered by sleet and snow
And with Moscow all a-blazing,
He lost the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-O."
"O, son, be not too venturesome,
For England has a heart of oak,
And England, Ireland, and Scotland,
Their unity has never been broke.
Remember your dear father;
In Saint Helena his body it lies low,
And if ever you follow after,
Beware of the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-O."
"O mother, dearest mother,
Now I lie on my dying bed.
If I lived I might have been clever,
But now I rest my youthful head.
And when our bones lie mouldering
And weeping willows o'er us do grow,
The deeds of brave Napoleon
Shall conquer the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-O."
As recorded by Daithi Sproule on "A Heart Made of Glass,"
with possibly some confusion with the similar version recorded
by Nic Jones on his self-titled album.
The "young Napoleon" of this ballad is the son of Napoleon
Bonaparte by his second wife Maria Louise. Napoleon Francis
Joseph Charles Bonaparte (Napoleon II), the titular King of
Rome, was born in March 1811. He was thus a babe in arms when
the elder Napoleon invaded Russia; only three at the time of
Bonaparte's exile to Elba; four at the time of the Emperor's
return, the Hundred Days, and the Battle of Waterloo; and
just past his tenth birthday when his father died on Saint
Helena in 1821.
This song may well reflect the younger Napoleon's character; at
the very least it is certain that he died young. After several
years of illness, he passed away on July 22, 1832, at the age of
21, evidently of tuberculosis. Although the young Napoleon's
ancestry is perhaps uncertain (before the elder Bonaparte's death
Maria Louisa has borne two children by another man), those who
knew him reported that he shared his father's traits of tenacity
and intelligence. Fear, however, caused his Austrian tutors to
conceal as much
developed a burning desire to avenge the family's disgrace!
The reference in verse 3 to Napoleon sparing his wife's
father's life refers to Francis I, the Austrian Emperor,
whose nation suffered severely at Napoleon's hands.
The fourth verse is an understandable exaggeration. Napoleon
did not take a million troops to Moscow; in fact he never
put that many troops under arms. But hundreds of thousands
did start out on the Russian campaign. Badly hurt at
Borodino, the French took Moscow largely intact, but empty,
and had to face the bitter Russian winter with little in the
way of supplies. Few of the French would ever return.
But Britain ("the Bonny Bunch of Roses," a title of uncertain
origin) was clearly Napoleon's greatest enemy. It was England
that financed and fought the Peninsular campaign that so
so frustrated Napoleon's generals. It was English money and
influence that held so many coalitions together. And,
ultimately, it was England and Wellington that provided the
largest share of the might that defeated Napoleon at
Waterloo. Napoleon hated England, and knew he could not
have peace until she was defeated. But Napoleon could not
invade England without naval superiority, and Napoleon's
navy had been ruined by Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805. On
paper, Trafalgar was a relatively minor defeat. But it lead
to Napoleon's downfall.
The rather flowery language of this ballad clearly reveals
its broadside origin. At least two American version has been
collected. One is found in this collection; the other, from
Newfoundland, is printed in Elisabeth B. Greenleaf and Grace
Y. Mansfield's "Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland" and
reprinted on pp. 105-107 of John Anthony Scott's "The Ballad
of America." RW