The liner notes to John Barleycorn Must Die
explain: "Between the years of 1900 and 1910, Cecil Sharpe collected a number of songs, John Barleycorn among them. The many versions of this song are said to have come from Oxfordshire, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Somerset, and there are estimated to be between 100 and 140 versions. The earliest known copy is of the age of James 1 in the Pepoysian collection 1465 printed in black letter by H. Gorson (1607-1641). the popular interpretation is the effort of the people to give up the alcohol distilled from barley but in the last verse:
"And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl
And his brandy in the glass
And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl
Proved the stronget man at last...'
but there are many interpretations."
Bertrand - Paris, France