Pedigree: First known printing was in 1502, in Antwerp by John Doesborowcke. It was not printed alone then, but appears “without explanation” in Richard Arnold’s untitled work known later as “The Customs of London or Arnold’s Chronicle”, which contains lists of the City of London’s mayors, bailiffs and sheriffs, charters granted to the City, and trivia such as tolls paid by merchants, or discussion of the differences between Flemish and English currency. “The Nutbrown Maid” appears between the last two above items.
Synopsis: “The Nutbrown Maid” is a dialogue poem of thirty stanzas, which asserts at its beginning that its purpose is to refute some men’s complaint that a woman’s love is fickle or “all decay’d”. Both the two-stanza introduction, and each alternating dialogue stanza, end with variations of “He is / I am a banish’d man”, and “She loved / I love but him / you alone”. A “squire of low degree” comes to a Baron’s daughter, his own true love, and informs her that “a deed is do, wherefore moche harm shall grow”, and that he must become an outlaw. He tries to leave her, while she refuses to let him go, intending to go with him:
“Sith it is so / That ye wyll go, / I wol not leve behynde,
Shal it be sayd / the Nutbrowne mayd / Was to her love unkind.
Make you ready, for so am I…”
He tries to dissuade her with descriptions of the privations she would face, the challenge that she is not as faithful as she believes herself, even the “revelation” that he loves another, all to no avail. Her answer remains “I love but you alone”. Having seen proof that her love is “kind and true”, he reveals that he is not banished; he reassures her remaining suspicion by revealing:
“I wyl you bringe / and with a rynge / be way of maryage;
I wyl you take / and lady make / as shortly as I can:
Thus have ye won / an Earle’s son / and not a banyshyd man.”
Availability: “The Nutbrown Mayde” was collected by William Carew Hazlitt in Volume the second of his “Remains of the Early Popular Poetry of England”. Google Books copy here:
Google Books also has a copy of “The Customs of London / Arnold’s Chronicle” here: