Vicar of Bray (The)

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VICAR OF BRAY, THE. AKA and see "Country Garden," "Country Gardens." English, Air (4/4 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. This popular English song dates from the latter 18th century. The vicar of the title is said to have been one Simon Aleyn, whose parish was in the village of Bray on the Thames, near Windsor, according to Kidson. Aleyn was remarkable for maintaining his position from 1640 to 1688, throughout the intense political and religious turmoil and changes in England at the time; a proverbial saying arose from his tenure, that “the Vicar of Bray will be the Vicar of Bray still.” Nichols, in Select Poems, says that this song "was written by a soldier in Colonel Fuller's troop of Dragoons, in the reign of George I" (Chappell, 1859). Kidson, however, finds an early version of the song printed in the reign of Queen Anne in volume iii of Miscellaneous Writings in Prose and Verse (2nd edition, 1712), by Edward Ward, who had a reputations as a satirical writer. His song or poem is called “The Religious Turncoat,” or “The Trimming Parson,” and begins:

I loved no King in forty one
When Prelacy went down
A cloak and band I then put on
And preached against the Crown.

Isaac D'Israeli (1766-1848), writing in his Curiosities of Literature (published between 1791 and 1834) records:

The vicar of Bray, in Berkshire, was a Papist under the reign of Henry the Eighth, and a Protestant under Edward the Sixth; he was a Papist again under Mary, and once more became a Protestant in the reign of Elizabeth. When this scandal to the gown was reproach-ed for his versatility of religious creeds, and taxed for being a turncoat and an unconstant changeling, as Fuller expresses it, he replied, ‘Not so neither; for if I changed my religion, I am sure I kept true to my principle; which is, to 'live and die the vicar of Bray!’

The original tune was not the now-familiar “Country Garden,” but the words instead were set to other well-known song tunes, including “(Oh) London is a Fine Town” and “Bessy/Bessie Bell and Mary Gray.” For example, “Vicar of Bray” is set to the latter in Walsh’s British Musical Miscellany, vol. I (1734), and this is the tune sung until about 1770 or 1780 (Kidson calls the melody “quite unvocal and inappropriate”). In fact, states Kidson, the use of “Country Gardens” is a late 18th century marriage. with words and the new music found in the Convivial Songster (1782), Ritson's English Songs (1783), Calliope, or the Vocal Enchantress (1788), and similar publications. The tune associated with the "Vicar of Bray" since the late 18th century predates the union with the words, and first appears under the title “The Country Gardens" in The Quaker's Opera (1728) and other ballad operas.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources:

Recorded sources: Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Times), vol. 2, 1859; pp. 122﷓123.




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