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Literature / The Famous Flower of Serving Men

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"The Famous Flower of Serving Men" is Child Ballad #106, with two sharply divergent stories.

In both variants, the heroine's mother sent knights to murder the heroine's husband and sometimes baby. The heroine dresses herself as a man and goes to court, where she works for the king.

In Francis Child's version, and many others, one day when the king is hunting, she laments her fate, and a servant who overhears her tell the king.

In others, the king goes hunting, chases a milk-white hind, and is led to the grave. There, the husband's ghost laments his wife's fate, and so the king hears of it.

In both variants, the king then executes her mother and marries her.

Child's variant here. One of the other type is here.

Tropes included

  • Blue Blood: The heroine, which underscores her fall
  • Death of a Child: In some variants, the heroine's baby is killed along with her husband.
  • Due to the Dead: She buries the husband and baby by herself
    They left me nought to dig his grave but the bloody sword that slew my babe
    All alone the grave I made, and all alone the tears I shed
    And all alone the bell I rang, and all alone the psalm I sang
  • Evil Matriarch
    • Wicked Stepmother: Some variants try the alteration. Given that the meter doesn't take it, it's a bit obvious.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: The king himself doesn't overhear her lament, but it's very convenient what she complains of.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: As a chamberlain
    • Important to note that "chamberlain" has two distinct meanings, one of them being basically the male equivalent of chambermaid and one of them being "high government official." The two meanings are not entirely unrelated, but it's specifically the first that's intended here.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: Chasing a deer brings him to the grave.
  • Important Haircut: Part of the Sweet Polly Oliver
  • The Marvelous Deer: The guide in one version — he starts to fear it will harm him before he finds the grave.
  • Meaningful Rename
    Wherefore in hast I chang'd my name
    From Fair Elise to Sweet William.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different
  • Rags to Royalty: The heroine.
  • Second Love: The king, to the heroine.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver