Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Lowlands of Holland: A new recording of an 18th century song

Alongside being a costumer, I am a singer. And my favourite thing, of course, is period music. =) Folk songs, especially. I particularly like the pithy political ones (Cam Ye O'er Frae France is my all-time favourite at the moment) and laments about drowned lovers, press-gangs, ghost ships, faeries, and all things sad and creepy. The Lowlands of Holland, known originally as "The Sorrowfull Lover's Regrate" or "The Maid's Lament for Her Lost Love," combines a bit of the political with a lot of the sad lament, and appeals to my Dutch heritage, so I was eager to find the original lyrics and record it.

You can find this and other songs on my bandcamp page, which I try to update whenever I have time to record things. I have no accompaniment or fancy recording equipment here in Halifax so this one's just a capella and untweaked, but hopefully people will enjoy it. I'm going to embed the song here so that you can listen as you read more about the song, if you so wish. It's quite long. It's worth listening to the end (or jumping to the end...), though, as it ends quite amusingly with a heartfelt prayer followed by the charmingly blunt "...I have no more to say."

For quite a while I've been looking around for an original publication of the lyrics to The Lowlands of Holland. In this particular pamphlet, from 1776, the song was titled "The Sorrowfull Lover's Regrate, or The Low-lands of Holland," and it can be found in the Edinburgh library. My university, thankfully, gives me access to their 18th century collections online, and I was able to get a facsimile of the original page.

(Let me know if you want a higher-res version)
Alas, the 1760 garland version referenced by early 20th century collectors is still nowhere to be found online, and of course earlier oral traditions, perhaps dating to the Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars of the 1670s (hinted at in alternative verses describing Holland as cold and full of money - European Holland - instead of warm and full of sugar cane - Surinam, Brazil, or some other part of New Holland), are now thoroughly lost.

Many versions hint more strongly at the presence of a press-gang to force the young husband off to sea, and place the events more firmly within the context of a war. Yet this late-18th century version still provides a window into the lot of seafarers and their families, as well as British views of Holland's New-World territories as merely an extension of itself. The strong connection drawn here between Holland and its colonial territories (to the point where only the presence of sugar cane tells the listener that 'the Lowlands of Holland' are not Holland itself) is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Britain was, at that moment, losing a large chunk of its own territory in North America, and could no longer draw that strong connection between itself and the arms of its own empire. Yet the verses concerning Holland's strength on the sea and its expansive ambitions also illustrates strongly that Britain was much more concerned with the encroachments of other empires in Jamaica and the Caribbean than it was with the departing Americans.

Hope you enjoyed it! My bandcamp page has a few other recordings on it (some medieval music, and one of my own compositions), and I'll be adding more to it as I find time to record things. I'll try to post here when I do.


  1. Fascinating! A hundred years ago (like, before I really started costuming) I was much more musical than I am now, but apparently I can only dedicated my time to one thing. (Pathetically.) You have a lovely voice and that's such a wonderfully melancholy song!

    Might you have any recommendations for an album of 18thc folk music? You may have inspired me to learn more about the music of the time I keep making clothes for! ;)

    1. Hey Amanda! Thanks very much. =) I don't know a lot of folk artists who do exclusively 18th century stuff; a lot of them do a wider mix of 17th-early 20th century songs. Steeleye Span is a good place to start, but be aware that they were largely concerned with the folk movement in the 1970s and thus they usually borrowed or arranged much more recent versions of songs, rather than going back to the original. For myself, when I find a song I like on a folk album, I start researching to find its origins and any earlier versions of it. You can also look through online lists of 18th century ballads and sea shanties, and then search the names of any that catch your eye on youtube to hear what they sound like - many artists don't have albums out widely, but will have tracks up on youtube or bandcamp. Hope this helps!

    2. Definitely. Thank you! :)