With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm

Album: The Classic Monologues (1934)

Songfacts®:

  • Although Al Stewart can be said to have founded the genre of historical folk rock with "Manuscript," songs about history including of historical characters were of course written long before that.

    "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm" is part historical folk song and part novelty song, and one of the finest fruits of the Weston-Lee partnership. R.P. Weston and Bert Lee met in 1915 at the office of music publisher David Day. This is one of their last compositions, and was written about two years before Weston's death in 1936. In 4/4 time, the lyrics were written by both men, and the music was composed by Harris Weston, the son of the former.
  • The American edition of the sheet music was published by Chappell; the original, English edition, features a photograph (credited to Columbia Records) of a moustachioed beefeater, who appears to be Stanley Holloway, the first of one of the many artists to record it. It was actually issued in a series called Francis Day's Musical Monologues.
  • Although this is a great chorus song enunciated by all performers with the apparent exception of The Kingston Trio as "With her 'ead tucked underneath her arm" the historical background to the song is anything but humorous.

    Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII, the much married, and tyrannical, king of England. Henry was born in 1491 and married Catherine of Aragon in 1509; she was some five years older than the new monarch and the widow of his elder brother, Arthur. Henry's first marriage lasted 24 years, but Catherine was unable to give him the son he yearned for to inherit the throne on his death, so Henry took it upon himself to annul the marriage and marry Anne. This second marriage didn't last, and as is clear from the song, Anne was less fortunate than Catherine. In September 1533, she gave birth to a baby girl, Elizabeth, but she also suffered three miscarriages. Her reward for presenting him with a daughter and future Queen of England, and failing to give him a son, was to be accused of high treason, thrown into the Tower of London, given a sham trial, and beheaded in short order while Henry pursued wife number three. Which explains why she is haunting the Bloody Tower and her treacherous husband centuries later, although it was not given this name until the 16th Century.
  • Of the many recordings of this song, one of the most alluring is a rendition by Graham Hoadly in ghostly beefeater attire during a performance of Just A Verse And A Chorus at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, in 1986. This was a musical tribute to R.P. Weston and Bert Lee which was put together by comedian and music hall historian Roy Hudd.

    The version performed in this show appears to include an extra verse where the headless queen walks into a local public house and attempts to order a drink only to be told by the startled barman "We don't serve spirits here".
  • Noël Coward claimed to have been the first person to use the word bloody on the air, ie on British radio. This does not appear to have been the case, although used here in its proper context of the Tower, bloody is not a swear word, which is clearly what Coward meant. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above

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