Versions of this very well travelled ballad were collected from, among others, Harry Cox in 1945 and from Sam Larner in 1958, both from our native Norfolk.

 

The song imagines a conversation between Napoleon Bonaparte's young son, and Napoleon I's second wife. Mary Louise is warning her son against emulating his father and chasing glory in war. Many singers see the bonny bunch of roses as symbolising England, Scotland and Ireland or as a metaphor for the red-coated British Army. We've always thought they represent the spoils of war and that the young Napeleon's mother fears he will seek to capture them at his peril.

More information on the 'Mainly Norfolk' site here.

Bonnie Bunch of Roses (Roud 664)

By the margin of the ocean, one pleasant evening in the month of June,
The pleasant-singing blackbird his charming notes did tune.
Was there I spied a woman all in great grief and woe,
Conversing with young Bonaparte concerning the bonny bunch of roses-o.

And then up and spoke the young Napoleon and he took hold of his mother's hand,
“Oh mother dear, be patient and soon I will take command.
I'll raise a terrible army and through tremendous danger go.
in spite of all of the universe I'll come back with the bonny bunch of roses-o.”

“Oh my son, don't speak so venturesome, for England she has a heart of oak,
And England, and Ireland, and Scotland, their unity has never been broke.
And so my son, think on, your father in St Helena, his body it lies low,
And you will follow after, beware of the bonny bunch of roses-o.”

“And when first you saw the Great Napoleon, you fell down on your bended knee
And you asked your father's life of him and he's granted it most manfully.
'Twas then he took an army and o'er the frozen alps did go;
And he said, “I'll conquer Moscow and come back for the bonny bunch of roses-o.”

“And so he's took three hundred thousand fighting men, and kings likewise for to join his throng.
He was as well provided for enough to take the world alone.
But when he came to Moscow all overpowered by driving snow
And Moscow was a-blazing, he lost the bonny bunch of roses-o.“

By the margin of the ocean, one pleasant evening in the month of June,
The pleasant-singing blackbird his charming notes did tune.
Was there I spied a woman all in great grief and woe,
Conversing with young Bonaparte concerning the bonny bunch of roses-o.