Henry Martin is a lovely old song.  It’s not strictly period though.  It is, however, very close, appearing first in print in the early 17th Century as Child Ballad 167, and being a true story about the exploits of the privateer Andrew Barton and his two brothers.  It later appears with a name change in Child Ballad 250.

Sir Andrew Barton sailed under a letter of marque on behalf of the Scottish crown, but was considered by the English and Portuguese to be a pirate.  Under the guise of searching for Portuguese shipping, Andrew Barton levied a toll against any English ships he happened across also.  He and his ship, the Lion, were captured in August, 1511, at which time he was beheaded.

There is a marked difference between the stories “Henry Martin” and “Andrew Bartin”.  The earlier, being some 82 verses long, gives a full account of King Henry VIII calling upon his lords to stop the piracy, and the subsequent battle in which Andrew Barton is slain.  “Henry Martin”, however, describes a raid against a ship bound for London.

At this point I would like to give a shout-out to the wonderful people at The Mudcat Cafe, with their amazing archive of material, including tunes.  If it weren’t for them, I would not know that the tune for “Andrew Bartin” was still in existence.  When I learn that rather extensive song, it will be coming up under another heading on this blog.

Henry Martin

There were three brothers in merry Scotland
In merry Scotland there were three
And they did cast lots which of them should go, should go, should go,
And turn robber all on the salt sea.

The lot it fell first upon Henry Martin,
The youngest of all of the three
That he should turn robber all on the salt sea, the salt sea, the salt sea,
For to maintain his two brothers and he.

Well, he had not been sailing but a long winter’s night
And part of a short winter’s day,
When he e-spied a stout lofty ship, lofty ship, lofty ship,
Come a-bibbing down on them straightway.

“Hullo, hullo,” cried Henry Martin,
“What makes you sail so nigh?”
“I’m a rich merchant ship bound for fair London Town, London Town, London Town.
Would you pray for to let me pass by”

“Oh no, oh no,” cried Henry Martin,
“This thing it never could be.
For I have turned robber all on the salt sea, the salt sea, the salt sea,
For to maintain my two brothers and me.”

“So lower your topsail and brail up your mizzen,
Bring your ship under my lee,
Or I will give to you a full cannon ball, cannon ball, cannon ball,
And all your dear bodies drown in the salt sea.”

“Oh no, we won’t lower our lofty topsail,
Nor bring our ship under your lee,
And you shan’t take from us our rich merchant goods, merchant goods, merchant goods,
Nor will we point our ball guns to the sea.”

And broadside, and broadside, and at it they went,
For fully two hours or three,
Until Henry Martin gave them the death shot, the death shot, the death shot,
And then straight to the bottom went she.

Bad news, bad news, to old England came,
Bad news to fair London town,
There’s been no rich vessel, she’s cast away, cast away, cast away,
All of them, all of those merry men drowned.

I will admit to having known this song for many years, but this is a) the first time I’ve recorded it and b) the first time I’ve taken a really in-depth look at the history of it.  The words I have written here are the words I sing, and having sung this song many times over the past couple of decades, my version is slightly different to commercial versions (none of the context is changed, only a word or phrasing here or there).  There have been many covers of this song over the course of the 20th Century, and I encourage you to search them out.  Off the top of my head, you should be able to find this song covered by Donovan, Joan Baez, Burl Ives, Figgy Duff, and Sherwood, and I’m sure there are more that I have failed to recall.

In closing, my recording of Henry Martin.