I was brought up in Sheffield but not of high degree;
My parents doated on me, they had no child but me;
Then out I rowled in pleasure just as my fancy led,
Then I was bound apprentice and all my joys were fled.
I did not like my master, he did not use me well;
I made a resolution, not liking with him to dwell;
One evening from my parents and him I ran away;
I steered my course to London on an unhappy day.
A very rich young lady from London met me there,
And offered me great wages to serve her for a year.
At last with great persuasion with her I did agree,
To go and live in Holland which proved my destiny.
I had not been in Holland passing half a year,
Before my young mistress grew very fond of me.
"My gold and my silver, my house and my hand,
If you’ll consent to live with me shall be at your command."
I said, "Dear honoured lady, I cannot wed you both,
For I have lately promised and made a solemn troth,
To wed none but Polly, your pretty chambermaid;
Excuse me, my dear mistress, she has my heart betrayed."
Then in angry humour from me she did move away,
Resolved within herself to be revenged on me;
She was so perplexed in humour, she could not be my wife,
She soon contrived a tragedy to take away my life.
One day when we were talking in the garden fine and gay,
A viewing of the flowers that grow so fine and gay,
The gold ring on her finger, as I was passing by,
She slipped it into my pocket and for it I must die.
My mistress swore I’d robbed her and I was quickly brought,
Before a grave old justice to answer for my fault;
Long time I pleaded innocent but that would not avail,
She swore point-blank against me and I was sent to jail.
When that our royal assizes were drawing on apace,
Presently on me the judge did sentence cast;
To the place of execution they brought me to a tree,
And may God forgive my mistress for she has wronge`d me.
10 (not recorded )
All you who come to see me now, hear before I die,
Don’t laugh at my downfall nor smile at my disgrace,
Believe me I’m quite innocent, I bid this world adieu.
Farewell, my dearest Polly, I die through loving you.
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
This ballad was widely printed on broadsides in Britain and Ireland in its standard ten stanzas. There are no printings earlier than Pitts and Catnach of London in the early nineteenth century. Some of the Birmingham printers renamed him the Birmingham Apprentice, and Brereton of Dublin The Leinster Apprentice.
The ballad has remained popular in oral tradition. It is widespread in North America, and the Greig/Duncan Collection from North East Scotland contains no less than twenty-one versions from this region alone.