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The roots of this song go back several centuries. A broadside of about 1689 entitled “The False Youth’s Unkindness to his Beloved Mistris” gives the verse:
“It’s not what you promised when by me you did lie, You promised to marry me and never me deny; If I promised to marry you it was only to try you, So bring your witness in and I never will deny you”
It seems that this theme was developed over the years. A printing dated between 1863 and 1885 gives the text as usually collected recently. Nearly all the versions are found in England, and many of the recent ones are from the traveller community. Several of the Brazil family sang this song and the verses often came out in a different order. Curiously, in Somerset, the Blacksmith became a “Shoemaker”.