The earliest known version of the tune is in William Christie 's Tradition Ballad Airs, Volume 2but there is another tune, of Irish origin. There is an obvious difficulty in identifying the narrator's voice.
It is a conversation between Napoleon 's son Napoleon II,named King of Rome by his father upon birth and his mother Marie Louise, Duchess of ParmaNapoleon's second wife, whom he married after divorcing Josephine. The sentiment is sympathetic to Napoleon but is also patriotic. Napoleon was defeated because he failed to beware of the 'bonny bunch of roses' - England, Scotland and Ireland whose unity cannot be broken.
The Irish, who were themselves in an unequal union with Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, were divided in their attitudes towards Napoleon Bonaparte. Many thousands of Irishmen served in the British The Last Waltz - Fairport Convention - The Bonny Bunch Of Roses during the Napoleonic Wars in both in English and Scottish regiments and in Irish ones like the The Last Waltz - Fairport Convention - The Bonny Bunch Of Roses Rangers and the Inniskilling Dragoons for example, many of them giving their lives in the struggle against Napoleon and displaying much valour in the process.
However, at the same time, Napoleon knew that among certain people there was some bitterness towards British rule in Ireland, much as there was towards French rule in his native Corsicaas he well knew.
Thus he decided to emulate the British in their Jazz Lament - Tom Coster - The Forbidden Zone of Corsican rebels against Revolutionary France by supporting an heroic but ultimately doomed Irish rebellion, inspired by the egalitarian principles of the Enlightenmentwhich has come to be known as the With this in mind, it should perhaps come as no great surprise then if Napoleon's bravery captivated the imagination of a segment of the Irish population, nor his defiance even in defeat.
United Irishmen and their sympathisers it can perhaps be deduced also adored the tragic story of the romance between the doomed emperor and his second wife, Marie Louise, which would explain why her words tell the story of Bonaparte's fall. On the other hand, the song stresses the unity of the English, Scots and Irish, suggesting acknowledgement of a common British identity in opposition to France and Napoleon among the soldiers from those three nations at the time.
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